Saturday, February 23, 2013

Say what?

I need to make it clear that I think that the English folks at Virginia's Department of Education do an excellent job making all kinds of resources available to teachers and students in support of their Standards of Learning Assessments. They also allow teachers to apply to work on the committees that see the tests through just about from start to finish. Every effort is made to construct valid measures of students' abilities to read and write.

But I have to tell you about the practice writing tool that is available on line. It's a stripped down word processing program that children will use to type their essay responses to prompts in March. The tool is user friendly, right down to my favorite feature-- the indent button. You would not believe how many times I have to reteach how to indent a in literally. But that's a different story for a different day.

This entry is all about the spell check feature. This is the first year students may not use paper dictionaries, but they can use a feature that will underline suspicious words in red and offer suggestions, if you left click your mouse. It's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Lissen here, all y'all. That spell check doesn't care for dialect atall. Makes sense, right? I think so, but here's where I got into trouble. I was modeling an essay for my students using the "if I could visit anywhere in the world" prompt. Well, I decided to go back in time and visit with my grandparents at their home. It was a lovely summer night, full of corn shuckin' and sweet tea drinkin', and my grandpa talkin' like my grandpa did.

The words were "git" and "gonna." They look harmless enough, don't they? When I was showing my kids that dialect will most likely be considered a misspelling by the program, and that they should just double check to make sure they are spelling their dialect consistently and purposefully, if needed-- I clicked on the suggested words to prove my point.

Hmmm. One of the recommended words for "git" was "tit." I innocently clicked "gonna" to be rewarded with "gonads." Just so you can picture this, I had set up my projector in order to magnify the program on the screen in the front of the room.

I can't really say I was surprised. I mean, those words are in the dictionary. I just found myself wondering about the essay that would necessitate those words, and the scorer who would undoubtedly need a cold drink after work. And then I pictured a young Hunter S. Thompson sharpening his wit for a standardized test, and my heart got a little warm just thinking about the whole ding-dang lexicon being open to all of our kids.

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