I am a grandfather involved in the homeschooling of a four-year-old and a six-year old. I have read your "Students Can Learn on Their Own" home page with interest and admiration. But would you please define for me the word "learnings" as you employ it? Does it mean subject matter, material learned, material to be learned, techniques and skills, all of the preceding, or something else?

I would appreciate hearing from you.

JC Malone


Thank you for your e-mail! I am glad to know you were interested in my home page.

Mostly, what I had in mind by learnings is knowledge, since students can acquire a great deal of knowledge on their own. I have heard some objection to my concept of the studious classroom, but I defend it, since so many classrooms these days are chaotic, where little learning of any kind is taking place. If students are acquiring knowledge, none of us needs to be ashamed.

Again, thanks for your interest!

Robert Jackson


At a meeting today for teachers, the presenters emphasized the need for our students, many of whom are disadvantaged, to become actively engaged in learning activities, moving about the room, talking with classmates, responsive learning, etc. This style seems to be in opposition to what you are describing. I would appreciate your comments.

John H. Hardy


I don't see how students can really be focused on their learning tasks in the kind of talkative atmosphere that the presenters seem to have promoted. The theory seems to be that disadvantaged students haven't expressed themselves sufficiently, whereas my point of view is that students need language learning, not talking.

I am learning Italian now from a CD-ROM, and the relevance to "black English" has occurred to me. From the CD-ROM, I listen to the speaker and then (sotto voce to myself) imitate her pronunciations and intonations. I am also learning Italian grammar. How useful it would be for students who habitually speak black English to use a similar CD that teaches standard English. This, to me, would be better than having students express themselves over and over again using idiosyncratic grammar and pronunciation.

A couple of years ago, I often spoke with a woman in a client company who was so diligent with her pronunciation that she even said "quest-i-on." What dedication! Yet, she said aks and would often say, "Let me aks you a quest-i-on." This lady was making a valiant effort; she just hadn't been adequately educated.

Robert Jackson


In our school system there is an emphasis on changing instruction from being teacher centered to being student centered. The students should do more of the talking and sharing than the teachers. Teachers should be facilitators, guiding the instructional process. Do you agree?

Janice Reed


All of us want students to be real persons in the classroom - to be respected, to be listened to, and to be understood. They should make some choices. However, there should be no mistaking that it is the teacher who is responsible for teaching. The teacher is the authority in the classroom. The more that students realize how much there is to learn, the more successful classroom life will be, because students will then eagerly pursue knowledge. It is the teacher to whom they will look for opening up avenues to learning.

Robert Jackson


In the high school where I teach, quite a few students are graduating with poor spelling skills. Is there a place for self-directed materials for such students?

Joseph Kraus


There certainly is! However, first of all the school has the responsibility for pointing out to such students 1) that they are weak and 2) what materials are available for them. Testing in English class should reveal their weaknesses in the various areas of language usage. Then, the teacher can direct such students to appropriate materials. For students to improve in spelling, for example, there are CD's such as Spell It Deluxe (Davidson and Associates) and Spelling Blizzard (Sierra), workbooks such as Recipe for Spelling (Pro-Ed) and My Words (Pro-Ed), software such as Reading Power Modules Software (Steck-Vaughn-EDL), testing materials such as Test Your Spelling (Usborne Books), puzzles such as Spelling Puzzles (Usborne Books), and outlines such as Schaum's Outline - Punctuation, Capitalization, and Spelling (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill). Self-directed instructional materials are available in many areas of the language arts.

If the school does not take the initiative, students who in high school are still poor in skills should go to their teachers and say, "I need self-instructional materials so that I can learn to improve on my own," and they should not stop until they have found what they need.

Robert Jackson


I am a substitute teacher in a suburban town. Does "Students Can Learn On Their Own" have any relevance for me?

Denice Cole


The most relevant article, accessible through the home page, is "Test Often, Test Widely." When first entering a classroom, every substitute teacher should have on hand a packet of tests or quizzes to hand out, in case any student or even the whole class doesn't have enough to do. In the elementary grades, these tests can be in the language arts areas (reading, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling) or in math, since these areas apply to any elementary grade. In secondary grades, the tests can be on such general topics as health information, history information, geography information, science information, or current events.

Wrong answers are a way of letting a student know that he or she has a great deal to learn. They give the message, "Time to buckle down!"

If you feel that a student needs to be kept REALLY busy, don't give him or her the answers but require that they be found through research.

I know of two particularly good sources for tests.

THE INTERNET. Do a search for "tests of knowledge" or "quiz." You will find many tests and quizzes, followed by answers to the questions.

TESTS IN MICROFICHE. The Educational Testing Service's "Tests in Microfiche" includes hundreds of unpublished tests available to educators. If these tests are available in your school system's professional library or school of education library, you can copy and use them (microfiche reader and printer required).

The suggestion in "Test Often, Test Widely" of dictating a paragraph for every student to take down in his or her own handwriting is a good one for substitute teachers. In short order you can learn a great deal about each student's handwriting, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization skills.

Robert Jackson


I am hoping you can help me - I feel like I am at the end of my rope.

My nephew, whose education I am responsible for, has all through his six years of school been an average-to-poor student. My problem is that all of his teachers have told me that he is the smartest child in their class but I am unable to find the key to motivate him. I have tried many things and I try to talk to him and tell him all the time how smart I know he is. He is in the sixth grade now and 3 weeks into the school year I was called to a parent/teacher conference, both of the teachers I talked to that day said they think he is college material but now 18 weeks into the year he is failing all his classes. In searching on the net I would like to utilize some of your suggestions and help him make up a lot of lost territory, but I have to find a way to reach him first. His last period teacher says he just sits in her class. He won't even get his books out - he just sits and stares at her.

Please, if you have any suggestions, I would appreciate any help.

Karen Marie


Motivating students is not easy - I realize what a hard task you have undertaken. I wonder if what is presented to your nephew all seems trivial to him. Maybe he's not interested because he sees school work as dull. I would like to suggest that you take out from the library a really interesting and stimulating book, such as a book by Carl Sagan, and read it with your nephew. Such a book might lead elsewhere, such as to books by and about Richard Feynman (Nobel laureate in science), whose autobiographical books are amusing and interesting.

I would like to suggest my Web page for substitute teachers - - for the list of sites of quizzes. Students like quizzes if the setting and the test are informal. They are interested in the results (the score), provided that the results are personal, just for them. Have him take quizzes and see if he gets interested in learning more about areas he doesn't know much about. Other parts of the page for substitute teachers might also be of interest to you. Also, he might get interested in on-line museums, referred to in my article "Internet Resources for Students," accessible from my home page,

Getting him interested in school is something else. I think I would try to motivate him from home and hope that he at least tolerates doing school work. Since he's very bright, he might be willing to do extra assignments from school. However, often teachers feel that students who aren't doing the basic work of the class aren't good candidates for extra assignments.

I am interested in your problem. Please give me feedback.



I am trying your suggestions with my nephew and I would like to ask you another question for my neighbor, Donna, if I may. First, I would like to thank you for your fast response to my earlier question.

Donna has a 13-yrs-old son who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder/Progressive Developmental Disorder. Her problem is he is now in the sixth grade and the school system he is in has no idea how to deal with him. He is currently in a self-contained classroom. The other children in the classroom are at a lower level than he is, but she is unable to mainstream him into regular classes. Some of these other children are barely able to write their names, and he on the other hand is functioning mathwise at a first grade level and reading at grade level but does not comprehend what he reads. Her question to you is how does she deal with a school system that is unable to deal with her child or has no knowledge of his disorder. She has offered to print the information she has and forward that to them, but this has not received a lot of positive response. They have all but left this in her hands, and as a working mother she is at a loss on how to provide the best education for her son. I told her of your quick response and helpful comments and suggested you might be able to help her also.

Thank you again.

Karen Marie


copy: Karen Marie

Karen Marie told me of your son's condition and his problems in school. There is a lot of information and mention of support groups for his condition in the Internet, but you probably already know this. I have been using Dogpile ( to make searches, since it pulls information from a number of search engines, and using Dogpile I saw what a lot of information there is. If the classroom teacher doesn't seem to know what to do for your son, you should talk with his school psychologist or his principal or both. Take copies of information from the Internet or other sources with you to the conference. Suggest to the principal or school psychologist that the classroom teacher be invited to the conference.

It is very true that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." Keep after them with regular meetings and phone calls. VERY IMPORTANT.

Please give me feedback. I am interested.


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