I don't usually write about my students, but in this case, I can't help myself. I was working with one of my music students yesterday. As we get tuned up I usually make some small talk. I asked if she had any tests coming up after February break. She said she did and when I queried further, she told me one was in vocabulary. I like words so I probed further. She said it was going to be a big grade and the test would include all the vocab they've done since the beginning of the school year. I asked her if she'd begun studying for it yet and she said no. She told me that she studies her old tests, and mainly looks at what she had answered incorrectly and the words, that although she learned for a test, she didn't really retain. She said she felt her vocabulary was pretty good because she's a reader.
I asked if she remembered any of the words on past tests she'd gotten wrong. One she could think of was pseudonym. I asked, "But now you know the definition, right?" She nodded in the affirmative with a big smile and wide eyes, to emphasize that she really really knew it now. Far be it from me to pass up such an opportunity to be delighted at what my students "know." So, I asked her what the definition of pseudonym was.
She smiled that same broad smile of accomplishment and proudly said, "It's the name of a pen." I asked her if she was sure and she said yes. I asked her if that's what her vocab book or packet said the definition was. She nodded and told me yes.
I explained that it may have said the definition was "pen name" but not "the name of a pen." I asked her if she had any idea what a pen name was. She said, if it didn't mean a brand, she had no clue. I asked her if her teacher explained what the 2 parts of the word meant -- especially the prefix pseudo. She said no, they're never told what parts of words mean.
I explained that pseudo meant imitation or fake or false or not the real thing etc. I explained what a pseudo-intellectual was. Then I told her that some people who are authors use names that are not their own, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes their names are uninteresting or don't have the same vibe as the genre they write, like if Ann Jones wrote romance novels, she might take a pseudonym like Felicity Longmeadow, etc.
I told her how the nym on the end was like the nym on the end of synonym, homonym and antonym. That in pseudonym it means "name" but it also sort of does in the 3 examples here. Same name, sounds like name and opposite name and that we can think of "word" and "name" as the same thing with those 3 words.
She was absolutely fascinated and said she'd never forget what pseudonym means, now that she understood it.
This girl attends a "very good" public middle school. She's bright and a straight A student. So, I doubt that anything was offered to her to learn other than a list of seemingly random words with likewise seemingly random definitions. I cautioned her that if there were other bizarre definitions of vocab words, to ask her older siblings or parents, because I'm convinced that without my intervention, she would define pseudonym as "the name of a pen" and still not have a clue what it means.
It's a resounding vote for home schooling, or at least competent instructors who actually know how to teach.