One in Five Grade Four Students Not Meeting Expectations

by Penny on November 1, 2010 · 6 comments

academics,answers,chalkboards,chalks,classrooms,concentrating,educations,equations,Fotolia,knowledge,learning,mathematics,schools,students,teachers,thinkingAccording to Gordon Campbell one out of every five grade four students in BC is not meeting the basic expectations for reading, writing and math at a grade four level, furthermore one in three students entering Kindergarten do not have the basic ‘readiness’ skills for school.

 Sadly, I wasn’t too surprised by these statistics. Whilst Canada ranks very highly in the world on measures of education and literacy, there are some very concerning statistics that we should all be aware of. Despite ranking second on the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report card on education, Canada scores poorly in the area of adult literacy.

 Literacy is measured on a scale – you are considered literate if you can read. But simply being able to mechanically read is not enough for adults or children. On the OECD scale which ranks literacy on a scale from 1 to 5 and measures literacy as comprehension in regards to  Prose Literacy, Document Literacy and Quantitative Literacy,  48% of Canadian adults score at level 1 or 2 and only 21% of adults score at levels 4 and 5. Level 1 is equivalent to reading and comprehending at grade eight levels or below.

 What is even more interesting is the fact that those students who hold a university degree earn a $171 dollars on average for every $75 dollars earned by a high school graduate with no post secondary education. There is a direct correlation between academic success and financial success.

 So what is a parent to do to make sure that their child doesn’t become one of the above statistics? Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for working with your child, for recognizing what may be ‘danger’ signs that they are falling behind, for activities to help get them back on track. But today I’d like to start by suggesting that if we want our children to receive the best education ever, we need to make sure our teachers also receive the best training.

 I know what I have to say will upset so folks, and it is only my opinion, but it is an opinion based on personal experience.

 As a teacher, I can tell you that when I graduated from university with a degree in education, I was in no way prepared to go into the classroom. Yes, I had taken a course on teaching language arts at the elementary level, another on instructing math, a third on socials, a class on curriculum design, another on grading and assessing etc. But all of these courses focused on lesson design – not skills, not theory, not teaching strategies.

 I learned how to design a lesson around a Big Book for a grade one classroom. How to highlight words they would need to learn by sight, and how to ask strategic questions about the content of the story. What I didn’t learn was how children acquire language, how their brains function. I didn’t learn about phonemic awareness or phonics or the difference between semantic and syntactic cues. I didn’t learn how to organize skills into interesting lessons in a hierarchy that made sense based on reliable research and best practice.

 In my fourteen weeks of practicum in the classroom, it was also hit and miss. One practicum advisor called me sweetie and honey and left me alone to teach his grade six classroom on the first day (and every day there after) of my first practicum.

 A second practicum teacher, who had retired at 65 and then returned to the classroom, insisted that the only way to teach Kindergarten was through music – we did everything to a song and the piano, despite the fact I didn’t know how to play the piano nor can I sing.

 Finally in my third practicum in a grade four classroom I had a teacher who was a true mentor – however she had an experimental classroom for gifted children. She studied two themes each term, and each theme was taught in a completely hands on fashion. When studying First Nations, she cleared everything out of the classroom (desks, book shelves, chairs)  and literally build dwellings appropriate to the people they were studying, carved totems, smoked fish etc. It was pretty phenomenal to participate in, but didn’t help me much in terms of recognizing different reading or math levels, developing appropriate lessons to reach a range of abilities, or learning how to modify lesson plans if they weren’t working.

 When I graduated and started teaching grade one, I was flying by the seat of my pants. For the first two years in the classroom everything I did was an experiment, and the children were my guinea pigs. I was lucky to have two other grade one teachers who had solid experience and good work ethics to help me out and steer me in the right direction. I have always felt guilty about the kids in my class during those first two years who were subjected to my ineptitude and learning on the job.

 Since that time, like most teachers, I have educated myself – pretty much everything I know about how children learn, why language acquisition is easy for some and hard for others, how we process math, what it takes to retain new skills, how to manage a class, what will work for highly active boys and what won’t – has been self taught.

 Today, in any given year, I interview anywhere from fifteen to fifty new education graduates. Nothing, it seems, has changed. When I ask brand new elementary teachers to explain how they would teach the hard/soft ‘c’ phonics rule to beginning readers, most of them look at me blankly. When I ask what they would do for a child in class who is obviously falling behind in reading I get lots of narrative about finding material interesting to the child and reading one-on-one with them. When I ask them to explain the concept of conservation of number, most of them have to ask me what that means.

 The point is not to bash teachers. I am a teacher, and most teachers I know are hardworking and well meaning and self-educating. They care about their students. The point is that education at the elementary through high school level is what makes all other education possible. Doctors spend seven years training to treat us, three years of which are in a hospital setting. Lawyers spend anywhere from five to seven years (undergrad degree then law degree) studying and at least one year articling – that is working under a lawyer, before they can write the bar and think about working as a lawyer.

 Teachers? According to the University of Victoria’s own website, if you graduate from the University of Victoria’s Education Department Post Degree Professional Program you do one five week and one eight week practicum for a total of 13 weeks of hands-on teaching. If you do a full Bachelor of Education, you do an additional three week practicum for a total of 16 weeks in the classroom. How can 16 weeks, potentially spread between three different grade levels, prepare you to take on a classroom of 25 or so children, with differing levels of need?

 If we want to start talking about ensuring that every student meets the basic requirements by grade four of reading, writing, and doing math at a grade four level, perhaps we should start by re-examining how we teach teachers.

 Let me know what you think.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Oncearunner November 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The Education programs in BC are actually more intense than what you’ll find in other provinces in terms of preparing new teachers. In most Ontario universities, a Bachelor of Education program first requires a 3 or 4-year degree in a teachable field. The B. Ed program itself is only 8 months long with in-school assignments on Fridays and only 10 weeks of practicum work in the classroom, split across 2 or 3 different schools.

Learning about the theory of education holds little relevance unless you can practice it in real-life situations. Classroom management is a learned skill, and can really only be improved with experience. More practice = better skill = higher educational service.

There is a real movement going on, especially in the United States, about the quality of education and how the delivery of it has changed little since the Industrial Revolution. Major changes have been implemented over the past 20 years here in Canada (IEP programming, inclusionary classrooms, guided reading programming), but very little has changed in how teachers are taught to teach. There is a new documentary from the team that brought the Academy Award-winning “An Inconvenient Truth”. “Waiting for Superman” is about the state of education in the United States, and really focuses on how the education system is failing students. If you haven’t seen it, check it out, playing in theatres now.

Teachers do an undervalued job in our society, and it takes special people to deliver high-quality education to children. Patience, understanding, knowledge of curriculum, and public relations management are just some of the skills needed to be successful in this field. The new, bold initiative from the government sets the standard high, and to implement it properly, government funding will need to be in place to ensure teachers get the support they need to help students achieve success.

Penny November 9, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Hi Oncearuuner,
You make some great points! I agree that theory without practice has little relevance – I am arguing that teacher training needs more of both! Teachers have a great deal on their plates, and more is added to the curriculum each year. When I started teaching courses such as planning, sex education etc were not the responsibility of school. With more curriculum to cover and fewer resources to do it with, it is hard to meet the needs of every student. That being said, more training and better training will help teachers learn more about how to work with the diversified population of students they now see. How many teachers have any training in working with autistic students until they have a child on the autism spectrum in their class? How many teachers have specific training on working with students with auditory processing disorders? Disgraphia? We should be looking at what works and placing teachers in training in the classrooms of high performing ‘master teachers’ – for months not weeks.
That being said, if we want to invest in teacher training and we want the teachers of tomorrow to make a longer commitment at the university level, then they, just like lawyers and accountants and doctors, need to know that the salaries they will earn make the additional schooling worthwhile…

Tina December 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Your article fails to mention the other large group of people in a position to help children meet their academic goals: Librarians. Librarians, especially those who choose to work with children, are often experts in language acquisition and emergent literacy. They can help parents to select great reading material as well as provide advice on how best to use that material with kids. Our public library system provides numerous resources for parents and kids, as well as events for kids or families to promote school readiness and academic success. Exposing your kids to the library on a regular basis, as well as ensuring that your children see you reading on a regular basis, are key factors in a child’s reading success. Great teachers are vital, but so are great libraries and librarians. A wealth of free resources (books, dvds, toys, cds, magazines, games, and more), as well as experts who are there to answer any questions you may have – I don’t understand why every family doesn’t use their local public library. My family goes for new books and dvds weekly, and we enjoy talking to the librarians about my child’s language and reading development – they always provide great suggestions for books, toys and activities.

Penny December 7, 2010 at 11:07 am

Thanks Tina, you are right. Libraries are very often under utilized. They are great places not just for books but access to resources such as the expertise of the librarian! Every family should have a library card, and I would urge families with young kids to sign them up for the summer reading program at their local library.

Julie December 31, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I have a daughter in Grade 1. I cannot see much difference in the curriculum since I came from
Quebec over 30 years ago. When I left Quebec students were advanced 2 grades if moving to either the West or East Coast.
The schoolwork I see my daughter doing is below what I did in Grade 1. My daughter is very bright and reading at a Grade 3 level, She is also doing elementary times tables,but she has to stay within the level expected of her grade. She does not like Grade 1 because she is bored and the teacher does not know what to do. I provide the outside stimulation to keep her focused on learning.
I would like to see something created that allows students to work at their own pace, where the fast learners do not have to be held back and those that need extra help are not left on their own.

dawn April 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Hi Penny,
You stated ‘Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer up some suggestions for working with your child, for recognizing what may be ‘danger’ signs that they are falling behind, for activities to help get them back on track. ‘
Where might i find the next few weeks? i searched your posts and it looks like youve moved onto report card stuff?

thanks! dawn

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