Thursday, March 27, 2008

One O'Clock Jump 

S & E had a little dance party. They dressed in matching outfits and jazzed to the tunes on S's computer. (Note that at one point she is examining the computer in the background - it's because that's where the music is coming from.) She actually danced quite a bit more than the video suggests, it's just that whenever mommy was there with the camera, suddenly mommy was the most interesting thing around. A lot of the still shots were her doing her own one-o'clock jump. You just can't tell because, well, they're still shots. Enjoy the film! Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to rotate the action shots. And our camera has no sound. So, I tried to reproduce it as best as possible.

All I have to say is, it's better than her dancing to this which, I'm ashamed to say, is what she was doing earlier this evening. (Clapping along to the beat and all.)
For those who don't speak the language of stats, beware this song. To clarify some of the finer points, it's Cox, as in the person. And the other more racy sounding parts are actually quite tame (and boring) if you know the language of statisticians. The gal who sent S this link to him told him that if he understands the whole song, he truely is a stats geek. I hereby announce that he is, indeed, truely a stats geek. He understood it all. I, on the other hand, understood about half the references. What does that make me? :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fellas, and Kid Sisters 

On April first we get to see "the fella" (as in "Ella and the fella," my dad's name for his two Mc grandbabies). I'm excited. Perhaps we'll see if this fella is the first grandson on both sides, or if my parents lucked out with a seventh granddaughter. (Although, there is a slight chance that this be a boy and NOT be the first grandson. But I don't want to wish that on L.E.B. or on myself. :) )

And finally, a shout-out to my kid sis, who is no longer a kid, but always my sis. Happy Birthday! I remember the day you were born. I got a child's cross stitch kit. I thought it was pretty cool. A present, and it wasn't even my birthday. I thought you were pretty cool, too. I've since lost the cross stitch kit. But you haven't lost your coolness. Moral of the story: You're more precious to me than cross stitch, and I hope never to lose you or your friendship. Have a wonderful good Friday, sis! I love ya!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A breath of fresh air. 

This morning two things greeted me. One was the sweet smell of dew on a day that promised to be warm as I walked to the nearest grocery store for some essentials. "AH.... FRESH AIR!" I thought. As soon as I got home, all the windows in the house were opened.

The other breath of fresh air was this article, found in my inbox, that justified many of my silent musings over the past two years.

You see, as my (former) district mandated, I've been teaching my subject from a "whole language" type approach. Basically, expose kids to the language in meaningful ways, with interesting activities, and they will learn.
Any time I've suggested in a lesson plan that I might explicitly teach a grammar point, it's been recieved with caution, much less than enthusiastically. "Do mini lessons on grammar if you must, but don't spend too much time on them" has been the message. Teaching them from the get-go explicitly what a noun or a verb is, and then reinforcing it is, well, dull. Pointless. Route. Spend more time just EXPOSING them to the language. Use the books and resources to explore the language together. People are wired for language, expose them enough and everything will fall into place.

Okay. So, I buy parts of this. Yes, grammar CAN be boring, but it ALSO can be interesting, engaging, and fun (as seen by the example in the article above). I'm never going to be one to push worksheet after worksheet in my students' faces, that's just bad teaching. And so I buy that it's goood to get authentic material that will interest the students, it's good to talk around a theme to reinforce vocabulary.

But I got frusturated, because although this method works very well for some, (and is probably more successful at the elementary ages, I would guess), it misses with a population of people. The logical, sequential learner is left a bit frusturated, not able to fully grasp what they've learned or mastered even while the teacher sees growth. They look for patterns and are frusturated when their patterns are proven false. They want to know how it works. In addition, the high school student who is new to the country may find that the "authentic texts" that best fit his or her language proficiency level are also written for first graders, with lots of colorful pictures. Trying to get a high schooler involved or engaged in that can be a bit difficult.

In addition, students moving from school to school never get major holes in their English acquisition filled in, thus not showing significant growth.

BUT -- NO TEXT BOOKS was the rallying cry. So, children's books it was. Or, I cheated and used this resource, which the kids enjoyed but which I felt slightly guilty about. Interesting stories written to the level of the students, that were engaging and not "dumbed-down" little kid stories. What could be better? What could be wrong with it?... Following the stories were a series of activities. Some of which could be seen as "worksheet-like." I feared that if my boss saw that she might not agree to the resource, and then, well, then I'd lose my most valuable "in case of a substitute" reference book. Granted, I tried not to use the follow up material as given, I usually made the reviews into games, but, still... worksheets=bad. Going to the library and spending hours and days trying to come up with SOMETHING that was written at a level appropriate to my students and then hand-writing lesson plans based on those materials = good. At times my prep took longer than the class I was to teach.

And the whole time I kept wondering, "what would be so bad about sequential grammar instruction as part of the class period?" No, not as the WHOLE class period. I'd get bored with that. But ten minutes out of an hour and a half every day would transform my students' writing and understanding of language. After all, (my philosophy is), language is part art form, part mathematics.

If you're still reading my rant, I applaud you. To reiterate:
Grammar teaching = bad. Worksheets = bad. Textbooks = horrible. Be creative, be authentic, teach to a theme. That's what I heard. And I bought into the positive statements, and felt very very constrained by the negative ones. How do I teach well without giving some rules, without reminding of rules, without playing games to reinforce grammar? How much grammar is allowed? Focus on vocabulary, not grammar. But how can I focus on words without teaching how those words string together, or morph to be placed in other parts of the sentence? How do students learn that one can live ON an island but IN Hawaii and must be AT (or IN, but not "on") the school AT 3 pm ON Saturday --- how do they learn preposition usage without rules? Those are tiny words. Easy to gloss over. Easy to miss the rules, especially when the rule is different in their L1. Easy to assume the rule is the same. And those are tiny things. Surely not what we should focus on in class. And yet essential things. Terribly important for their success.

In a conversation with my colleagues (including my boss) on this topic, my boss said something along the lines of "how many native English speakers really know when to use 'who' vs. 'whom,' and in the end, how much does it matter for communication?"

"Yes," I replied, "But you can get away with more if you have an English accent. The moment you have a foreign accent, people are listening for your mistakes. When a native English speaker makes a mistake, we assume it's because they were speaking too fast, or weren't paying attention, or that it's a dialect thing. When a non-native speaker makes a mistake, we assume it's because they don't know English well. It may not be fair, but to be seen as fluent, our students must speak English BETTER than their native-speaking peers." The one non-native English speaker in the meeting nodded her head vigorously. I struck a chord.

In the end, I think I've found my dissertation topic. It'll be long, it'll be hard, I'll probably never write it, but I have a direction I want to go. I have a theory. Students' brains are wired for the grammar of the language they know first. In order to learn another language fluently, some intentional re-wiring of grammar must take place. How does that rewiring take place? Some through exposure, no doubt. You quickly learn that in English you ARE hungry, you don't HAVE hunger. But how should a teacher encourage this rewiring? What works best? I like the whole language method for points. But I also see great weaknesses. How, then, should we teach?

A breath of fresh air, assuring me that I wasn't totally wrong to be somewhat frusturated by the constraints placed on me. Also spuring me on to more research and schooling. I'm very thankful my husband knows a little about statistics. :) Could come in handy in the future.

Oh, AND I found out this morning that we get to see our baby in less than two weeks!!!

Saturday, March 08, 2008


I got over the morning sickness "hump" on Monday or Tuesday. Started to almost feel human again.
I caught influenza Wednesday.
I hear it might be because I'm pregnant, but the flu is worse in me this year than I think it has ever been. It caught up to me on a plane on the way to visit our new home.

So, our trip to our new future home!!! --->

Good news: S passed the last test, he's been approved, and we WILL be moving to the frigid northland next year.
Good news: We found a couple of good housing options. It's too early to see what will come available, but we have our names on waiting lists.
Bad news: It took all the energy we had to find those two good housing options. We spent much of the rest of the time in the hotel room staring at the ceiling trying to sleep.
Bad news: As such, we didn't get to tour the area as much as we'd hoped or take pictures of neighborhoods as requested by Kahn and Nala. We really wanted to see ... THINGS and explore.
Good news: E still got to explore a lot. She loved exploring all the corners of the hotel room while S and I laid on the bed and said things like, "E... Where are you going?" to keep her entertained. OH! And
Good news: When one is sick, there's nothing quite like having someone looking up at you like this (picture below) t0 put a smile on your face.

She really does have teeth at a year old. She just hides all four of them on the top.

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