Question of the MonthTeaching children to read at an early...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

November 20, 1999

Question of the Month

Teaching children to read at an early age has become a top school priority. But how to do it best is the unanswered question. How did you teach your children to read? What techniques have you used that worked well with children? What methods didn't succeed?

We are looking for 300 words or less about teaching children to read. The deadline is Nov. 22. Letters become the property of The Sun, which reserves the right to edit them. By submitting a letter, the author grants The Sun an irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use and republish the letter, in whole or in part, in all media and to authorize others to reprint it. Letters should include your name and address, along with a day and evening telephone number. Write us: Letters to the Editor, The Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278-0001; fax us: 410-332-6977; e-mail us: letters@baltsun.com.

Malls aren't Main Street

The Sun recently ran a front-page article describing how the shopping mall is replacing Main Street as developers expand and diversify the activities within malls ("Mall becomes Main St.," Nov. 9).

But the article did not mention the main difference between Main Street and the shopping mall: Main Street is public space and the mall is private.

Shopping malls are carefully planned environments that exclude anything and anyone that does not support the management plan.

Nothing is permitted to disturb their focus on retailing.

As we spend more time in these environments, we should take notice of what we don't see.

Organizations or people with unpopular views or the wrong political agenda, for example, who are denied access to the shopping mall may increasingly find themselves without access to the shopping public.

The article also fails to mention that many jurisdictions do not require shopping mall owners to report all crime to local police. At a time of alarm over crime, this is a significant breach in access to what one might have assumed was public information.

The article celebrates what the public stands to gain under these trends, but fails to consider that something might be lost. When we lose Main Street, we lose public spaces that have been essential to our communities for more than 200 years.

The Sun owes its readers a more critical examination of this issue. Changes to the precarious balance between public and private space should not be overlooked.

James A. Smith, Baltimore

Students need better feedback

As a former public school teacher with many years of experience teaching, I have read with great interest The Sun's articles regarding the quality of instruction in our public schools.

To the several suggestions for improving it that have been presented, I would add: Improve the quality of teacher-to-student written feedback on graded papers.

Frequently, because teachers must budget their time among lesson planning, committee assignments, continuing course work and family demands, they give minimal time and attention to grading student papers.

Sadly, such practices as simply placing a check at the top of every student paper, regardless of the quality of the work; presenting multiple guess worksheets; having students mark papers with no teacher oversight; and returning papers weeks after they were collected, or not returning them at all, have in many cases become standard operating procedure.

Students soon recognize that they are not being held accountable for the quality of their work and respond accordingly.

One solution would be for the principal, assistant principal, or someone else with the authority to hold teachers accountable to collect at random and carefully review teacher-graded student work.

I know principals and assistant principals have much to do, and not enough time to do it. But I also know their main goal is high-quality instruction.

One way to assure that this is occurring every day, not just when the teacher has a scheduled observation, is to carefully examine the quality of the daily feedback teachers give students.

The extra time needed to implement these suggestions might be gained by reducing the number of required committee and faculty meetings both teachers and administrators must attend.

Yvonne Bender, Baltimore

Parent's role is not that of best friend

After the widely recognized failures of the 1960s and 1970s, I thought we were done with education experimentation. But we continue to tinker with education in the hope of getting those test scores up.

Recently, a few educators seem to have stumbled on the answer -- the only answer. We need responsible parents who care, and who want to nurture a child to responsible adulthood -- instead of just feeding, clothing and entertaining him or her.

Too many parents find it easier to be their child's best friend than their mentor.

Now our public schools are evolving into day orphanages, that have to pick up the slack -- and provide nutrition for the body, education for the mind and moral fabric for the soul -- that these parents fail to give their offspring.

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