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Problems with Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.)

I’ve already detailed sixteen reasons Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work in a related article; however, readers of my blog have added “fuel to the fire” by identifying two more problems with Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) that merit attention.

Although teachers modify the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.), to suit their tastes, here are the three basic Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Procedures:

  1. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.
  2. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. The teacher passes out a D.O.L. worksheet with the error-filled sentences. Each student writes the corrections and proofreading marks on the worksheet. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.
  3. The teacher displays or writes two error-filled sentences on the board. Students write out the corrected sentences on binder paper or in a composition notebook. Next, the teacher calls upon students to come up to the board and write corrections and proofreading marks.

With each of the three approaches, as the students mark the board, the teacher orally reviews the relevant mechanics, spelling, and grammar rules and verifies the accuracy of the sentence edits. With Procedures #2 and #3, students self-edit their own corrections and proofreading marks during this review.

Problems with the Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Instructional Approaches

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1. With Procedures #2 and #3, students are required to multitask their own sentence edits while watching the board edits and listening to the teacher review the relevant rules.

Analysis: Doing two things at once is not good instructional pedagogy. My take is that none of us can chew gum and walk at the same time as well as we can do one isolated activity. Listening is a full time job; discussion is as well.

2. Procedures #1, 2, and 3 review the “rules” orally and not in written form.

Analysis: Oral review is just not effective instruction and is a key reason why teachers complain that students do not retain the skills reviewed in Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.). After all, the reason we bother teaching mechanics, spelling, and grammar is to help students improve their writing. It makes sense that students should write down relevant rules and examples and then apply these rules to both to authentic writing, such as mentor texts (What’s right?), as well as to edit error text designed with specific mistakes connected to the rules for the purposes of error analysis (What’s wrong?).

Instead of Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.), I prefer an analytical approach in which students write down (or are provided) the mechanics, spelling, and grammar  “rules” and then discuss these in the context of both exemplary mentor text and text that requires error analysis and/or sentence manipulation. Next, the student applies the content and/or skill in the context of a short writing application. Finally, as a formative assessment, the teacher dictates sentences which require students to apply each “rule.” Students then correct and self-edit their sentences.

For example, if teaching a lesson on gerunds:

  1. Students copy down (or are provided) this “rule”: A gerund is an “____ing verb” that is used as a noun.
  2. Teacher reads the “rule” and elicits examples from students: “Running is good exercise. ” “Listening to Mr. Pennington makes me sleepy.” “Smoking cigarettes causes cancer.” Notice the variety of sentence constructions in the examples.
  3. Discuss the use of the gerund in this literary model (a quote by Dave Barry displayed or written on the board): “Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face.” Identify the gerund, discuss the use of the gerund in terms of syntax, meaning, and style. “What makes this so funny?” Elicit and discuss possible revisions.
  4. Discuss this sentence (displayed or written on the board): “A necessary skill has become driving.” Identify the gerund, discuss the use/misuse of the gerund in terms of syntax, meaning, and style. Elicit and discuss possible revisions.
  5. Have students complete a short sentence diagram of “A necessary skill has become driving.” Model on the board and discuss.
  6. Instruct students to apply a gerund to respond to “A necessary skill has become driving.” Call on students to share their writing applications.
  7. Dictate this sentence and refer students to look at their “rule” for assistance: “Revise this sentence by placing a gerund at the beginning of the sentence: The product 28 results when you multiply 4 times 7.”
  8. Display this answer and require students to correct and self-edit: “Multiplying 4 times 7 results in the product 28.” Discuss any other possible revisions and set expectations for students to use and highlight gerunds in their writing assignment today.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. (Check out a seventh grade teacher teaching the direct instruction and practice components of these lessons on YouTube.) The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK  to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

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Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work

Most teachers are familiar with Daily Oral Language, abbreviated as D.O.L. or under the guise of similar acronyms. Teachers like the canned program because it requires no teacher preparation, it provides “bell ringer” busy work so teachers can take attendance, and it seemingly “covers” the subjects of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. D.O.L. is probably the most popular  instructional technique used to teach grammar. The second most often used technique would be the “teach no grammar-nor-mechanics technique” as is frequently employed by writing process purists who save this “instruction” until the last step of a process piece, if they ever get to it at all. However, the subject of this blog is the former technique, and why D.O.L. does not work.

1. D.O.L. is proofreading, not sentence construction. As such, D.O.L. is error-correction, not meaning-making. Jeff Anderson, author of Everyday Editing, calls such activities “error-filled fix-a-thons.”

2. D.O.L. has no scope and sequence. It is random, repetitive, and hodgepodge. Many D.O.L. programs claim to offer grade level editions. Who determined that parentheses are at third grade instructional level and semi-colons are at the fourth grade instructional level? Check out the author’s Common Core aligned grammar and mechanics scope and sequence for one that does makes sense.

3. D.O.L. is implicit, part to whole instruction, divorced from any meaningful writing context. Correction is not teaching, and no D.O.L. program that I know of has effective teacher prompts to teach the grammatical concepts.

4. D.O.L. aims to teach writing without writing. Would a seamstress teach sewing by having her students spend all their time analyzing stitching errors? No. To sew, you have to practice sewing. To write, you have to practice writing.

5. D.O.L. involves little critical thinking. Writing involves decision-making about why and how sentences should be constructed for different rhetorical purposes. “Grammar is something to be explored, not just edited (Jeff Anderson).”

6. D.O.L. is not diagnostic. D.O.L. has too much repetition of what students already know, and not enough practice in what students do not know. Teachers need to use diagnostic assessments to determine individual student strengths and weaknesses in grammar and mechanics and then use instructional materials to effectively differentiate instruction.

7. D.O.L. rehearses errors and imprints them in the long term memories of students. The more visual and auditory imprints of errors, the more they will be repeated in future student writing.

8. D.O.L. correction does not transfer to student writing. Students fed a steady diet of D.O.L. throughout elementary, middle, and high school repeat the same old comma errors in the university setting. D.O.L. simply does not teach “deep learning.”

9. D.O.L. is bad test prep. Although teachers often advocate use of D.O.L. for this purpose, the multiple choice format of standardized tests is dissimilar. Tests generally ask “which is right?” not “which is wrong?” Check out the PAARC and SBAC tests for more.

10. D.O.L. uses bad writing models to teach good writing. It teaches what is wrong, not what is right. Although some error analysis can certainly be beneficial, at least as much time should be spent analyzing what makes good writing so good. Good “mentor texts” (Jeff Anderson) from both professional authors and student authors can teach what students should aspire to and emulate.

11. D.O.L. teaches from ignorance. “If they don’t become familiar with the concepts they are asked to edit for BEFORE they are asked to edit, of course they won’t do it well. How could they? How can you tell if something like a mark is missing if you don’t know where it is supposed to be in the first place?” and “But do we start history class with all the wrong dates and names on the board and ask kids to fix them? What about learning the concepts first (Jeff Anderson)?” Students cannot show what they do not know.

12. D.O.L. doesn’t teach the whys and hows of grammar and mechanics. Math teachers do not just teach the process of long division; they also teach the concepts behind the process, using examples, manipulatives, etc. to provide the “deep thinking” that students need. Students need to know why commas set apart appositives, for example. Students need to know how position of word choice affects meaning, for example.

13. D.O.L. isolates writing instruction from student writing. Students are invested in their own writing, not in that of pre-packaged print shown on the LCD projector, or SMART board®. Relevance and personal connection motivates student buy-in. “If the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear (Regie Routman).”

14. D.O.L. does not provide enough practice. One isolated error correction does not teach to mastery. Good teaching involves instruction and immediate guided practice, followed by independent practice with teacher feedback. D.O.L. is throw-it-all-against-the-wall-and-hope-some-of-it-sticks instruction, not the targeted practice that students need to learn and retain the grammatical and mechanical concepts.

15. D.O.L. is boring. Ask students. They almost universally characterize D.O.L. as “repetitive, irrelevant, unhelpful, and a waste of time.”

16. D.O.L. has little research base to indicate that it works. Why use what does not work, when workable, effective alternatives are available for effective instruction in grammar and mechanics?

Here is the most effective alternative…

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons.The complete lessons also include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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