It Means More than 20 Cents

I don’t teach English, but my master teacher does. This doesn’t matter except when I’m her substitute.

I used my master teacher’s lesson plan and an improvised method, I taught the class how to understand of this article, originally published in The New York Times.

I’ll spare you from reading the article, but suffice it to say that it was written for adults who understand the word, “paradigm.”  My kids didn’t.

The lesson plan, courtesy of some organization that writes these things, was part of a unit about fast food in America. It called for having the students read the beginning and end of the article — students would do the same for at least three others — and predicting what it was about. Eventually, we would hypothesize the intended audience for this article, comparing it to the intended audience for another, similar article from The Sacramento Bee.

My class stalled at blank stares. Fancy-schmancy words and complex sentence structure from The New York Times weren’t in their paradigm, to be sure.

They read the last paragraph aloud, this time. They still didn’t follow me. I asked what they had problems with, and they ‘fess up.

For the sake of background, I probably could teach English with some level of competency. Before graduating with a journalism degree, I had been an English major for a year-and-a-half.

Thing is, I’m not “highly qualified.” Allegedly within No-Child-Left-Behind-compliant guidelines, I could teach freshman English, but not the ever-so-greatly advanced sophomores or upperclassmen.

For my reader’s perspective — just the one of you, naturally — there are books in this senior English classroom that can’t be much higher than an eighth-grade reading level.

Just sayin’.

In any case, it was a full minute before I realized they simply didn’t know what a paradigm was.

Explaining it as a frame of reference, and a way of looking at the world, they then understood that the point our friends at The New York Times made was through some quoted expert. This expert would cast fast food companies as unscrupulous bottom-line feeders. My students understood all this, if perhaps in not so many words.

Success was ours, so we moved to the next line of questioning. We talked about the article’s intended audience.

“I think this article is for everybody,” interjected my loudest student.

“‘Everybody’ includes 4-year-olds,” I said. “Would 4-year-olds know about paradigm?”

Moral of the story? Break it down. Break it down again.


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