Slice of Life: A Bad English Assignment Gone Nerdy

It’s Tuesday! Time for Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers Blog. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share our thoughts and our lives. Join in, share your slice of life and read more slices here.

Our family is busy and seldom together at mealtime. We understand and fend for ourselves, foraging for left overs.  The weekdays slip by.

Last Sunday night we planned a family dinner.

For many reasons, we ended up at a local Italian restaurant/sports bar. It’s one of those places where no matter where you sit you see three televisions. I don’t care or know much about football, but I was instantly memorized along with everyone else; cheering, wincing and commenting on the games. I guess that could be an acceptable family dinner if we were viewing the same game, even the same commercial. But we can’t; we all see different screens.

At some point someone, perhaps the waitress, breaks the spell and my daughter starts a conversation.

I hate it when a teacher asks for our opinion and then grades it as if there was a right answer.

Apparently, her high school English teacher asked students to write the connotation, good or bad, of certain words. The example she gave was skinny and thin and goes on to say:

He may think skinny has a bad connotation, but I’d love to be called skinny. How can he consider my connotation, my opinion wrong. How can he grade that!

She has an excellent point. First, there is a serious cultural literacy gap between a forty-something male and a sixteen-year old female with regards to the word skinny. And secondly, the idea of simply grading this kind of thinking as correct or incorrect struck me as lacking in imagination and in the belief of students’ ability to consider and debate ideas.

My son, English major cum laude, takes this complaint as an invitation to launch into a discussion about the origins of English words. “You know,” he says, “the source of the word often dictates the connotation of the word.” He goes on to talk about how there are so many words for the same thing in English because of the many languages that have contributed to English.

With this, we all jump at the challenge of naming synonyms, considering their connotations and origin: cathedral/church, swine/pig, affordable/cheap, intelligent/smart, lady/woman, feline/cat, child/kid. The televisions have lost their power.

Food is served and we talk, reconnect. Every now and then, another synonym pair pops up.

We leave the restaurant, still trying to think of words with the same meaning, discussing connotations and origin.

Who would think a badly constructed English assignment could have such a silver nerdy lining.


16 thoughts on “Slice of Life: A Bad English Assignment Gone Nerdy

  1. I wish we had these kinds of conversations of the English language (and even the assessment by our kids’ teachers) around our dinner table. My boys are reluctant to talk school (driving us — two educators — a bit batty).
    I would say, I agree with your daughter on her complaint, too. That’s the skinny of it.

    • Maybe it takes a bit of time. My kids are a bit older and I think my daughter was talking in large part to get feedback from her older bro rather than us. We just happened to be there! And yeah The skinny — love that meaning! thanks!

  2. Sounds like a great evening with the family! I totally agree with your daughter- how can her English teacher say her opinion is wrong????!!!!!

  3. I love hearing this snippet of dinner conversation. My daughter will be moving soon and this is what I will miss most, those impromptu conversations that can’t happen over the phone. I have been using thesaurus talk in my class for a few weeks with our OLW work. I think the next discussion should be about connotations.

  4. Not so much a simple conversation as an important one. I often ask my own students for “feedback” about assignments and class topics. Often, their feedback is so superficial. I wonder what they really think?

  5. I feel like I was at the next table listening in to this conversation. I’d want to join in if I was. I love how the power of words won over TV. It warms my nerdy heart!!! Thank you for sharing your family dinner!

  6. I remember conversations where someone nearly always would run for the encyclopedia! Of course, in a restaurant, now, we’d only use Google. I’m glad you had this Nerdy talk, Julieanne, but am amazed that the comments in a conversation are graded. Why would any student venture a contribution?

  7. I’m feeling the same as the group. It’s wonderful that your family talks seriously around your table and so sad that teachers are feeling so desperate.

  8. Language as a topic can be fascinating. I don’t think it is often part of a dinner time conversation. I wonder whether people nearby eavesdropped.

  9. Oh my gosh, Julieanne, I LOVE this post. What a great reflection on the power of precisely the right word, and what an important post for teachers to read since so many do ask for the “right opinion!” It should be a universal oxymoron!! Thank you!

  10. I wish I was a part of this conversation! Nerdy? Yes but nerdy is good in this context. Better the family to share knowledge and debate big ideas than the one that complains about things out of their hands. That teacher, poo on him for that. Skinny is everywhere positive in modern culture today- skinny jeans, skinny lattes, skinny sandwhiches – all meanings in context are interpretable! I love a skinny latte as a good choice while my mother would say the opposite. Good girl for questioning though! Glad I stopped over to read this slice!

  11. What a delightful Slice this was to read! You had me both sitting there at the Italian restaurant with your family and sitting here in my home office thinking of synonym pairs! Such fun to read and think about.

  12. Having conversations like these is one advantage to having older kids. I love their passion! So glad your daughter spoke up. She certainly knows how to construct an argument to support her opinion!

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