Tuesday, October 6, 2009


 Just last week, I was bragging about how my First Grader maxed two dictation tests in a row. When I saw the words on this week’s list, I was pretty sure he would not be able to spell even one of them right.

Electricity, dugout, canoe, vehicle, aircraft, biplane, underground. No points for guessing they are doing ‘The History of Travel’ in Social Studies. One word seemed not to belong to the set – photograph. I checked again. The word was not photograph, it was pantograph. Pantograph? Did my son really know what it meant? I cannot be accused of having either a bad vocabulary or of being weak in general knowledge- if I had not encountered the word before, could my son really know what it was?
Since I was too proud to ask my son, I googled the word. A pantograph is a mechanical linkage device used for copying drawings. Very interesting, but I just couldn’t see the connection between a pantograph and transportation. Swallowing my pride, I asked my son what it meant. Something to do with trains, I gathered. Back to goggle – ‘pantograph’ and ‘ train’ told me that a pantograph was device that collects electric current from overhead lines for electric trains and trams.
I leant something new, but is there any point in the school teaching that to my not yet six year old? Aren’t concepts more important than names? Can’t the time my son spends in learning names of people, places and things that mean next to nothing to him be better utilized in teaching him something more concrete?
I have no issues with the teacher describing a pantograph to the kids, but is there any point in making them learn the word? And in learning to spell it? Wouldn’t it make a little more sense in getting kids to learn words that would help them to start reading independently?
Or maybe I am missing something here?!

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Cruella Collett said...

I'm with you on this one, Natasha. I'm guessing the teacher just automatically put the word on the list as one that was difficult and thus something they should learn how to spell (which makes no sense - they should, as you say, learn how to use words they will actually need). Sometimes the reason the intention behind an action is difficult to understand is that there is no intention...

Bubbly Bala said...

I for once fully agree with your views. I thought Rayan's school was a fraek asking them to learn to spell all sorts of wierd words they are never likely to come across in their later lives. But I find that it is happening even here.
The only solution I can think of is to tie up all those who dreamt up this syllabus to lampposts and shoot them. Also analyse their brains later.

Anonymous said...

Putting difficult words on lists just to show off a kid's knowledge is useless. I definitely agree that they should be starting to recognize easy letter cluster - cat, hat, in, on etc.. so that they can start reading and writing!

A little request, if possible: it would be wonderful if you could take off word verification as sometimes it takes ages for me to try and get a comment up here! Thanks! :-)

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Mari - yes, I wonder if the teacher even thought before putting that word on the list. Normally, they are rather sensible about things - I wonder why they are so pigheaded when comes to spellings.

@ Bala - quite pathetic, isn't it. Though I am not sure if the solution need be as drastic as the one you propose. If all the parents started boycotting difficult words, that may well serve a similar purpose.

@ Fiona - Sorry about the word verification thing. I thought I had disabled it, but apparently not. Have removed it again - let me know if it still shows up, and I'll take a look again.
Precisely. And while I have nothing against words like ice-cream which at least have a functional utility, pantograph is pure showing off!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I can't imagine why the teacher would do that. My 8 year old's lists this week are all just tricky English spellings: for words that end in ch, sh, s, ss, x, or zz add an es to make plural, etc. But words ending in a vowel+y, just add an s to make plural. Sigh. Just learning all the random oddities of English.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Natasha--so with you--I am amazed that they are learning what they are at six, but a word they will NEVER use unless they go to work in the field seems pretty darned silly. If you are traveling and getting on the train, you are unlikely to need to describe how the darned thing WORKS. (especially as nobody you said it to would have a clue either).

I don't think Ann Arbor teaches kids to spell *scratches head*

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Elizabeth - I too wish English were a sligtly less complicated language. What is the point of teaching phonics, when then you tell them that a knife is not spelt nife? But would English read as well then?

@ Tami - precisely. I mean, it is fun to know, but when you are 38, not when you are 6!
And our schools don't teach kids to spell either - they send home word lists and make the parents teach!

dipali said...

Never encountered this strange word in all my long years! I wonder what got into the teacher's mind.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I'm in your camp. Usually the lists that come home have a common theme, but there are times that I look at one or two of the words and scratch my head. I understand it helps hone her memory skills, but I see little point in her learning words that she will never use in conversation or read in any of her books.


Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ dipali - quite ridiculous, isn't it? The only good thing is that I learnt a new word.

@ Elspeth - precisely. When there are so many other words out there to be learnt.


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