Friday, February 22, 2013

The Ghost of Grammar Past

The ghost of grammar past is swirling around me as two related articles/posts have recently crossed by path.

First, I came across this infographic below dealing with  a vexing question: Does Texting Hurt Your Grammar?  The concern is that when texting we take shortcuts which 'look' bad when texting professionally, and may hurt students' incorporation of grammar rules.  Here are a few examples of shortcuts:

Does Texting Hurt Your Grammar? – Infographic

This  infographic (which I believe was crated by Best Infographics and also found at and also found at relates that "Children are more likely to remember these new texting rules and abbreviations than old school rules such as “i before e except after c” or other grammar rules."

My only question is where were these results obtained, and on how many students.  That said, it still is powerful and effective at making a point:

So what's the story and what does research tell us?

According to Alan Mozes (HealthDay Reporter, 8/8/2012) A new study ("Texting, techspeak, and tweens: The relationship between text messaging and English grammar skills" by Drew P. Cingel and S.Shyam Sundar - first published in New Media & Society, May 11, 2012) warns that texting among young teens may be undermining their grammar skills.  This concern stems from the results of standardized language testing and surveys among 228 middle school students grades six through eight between the ages of 10-14 from central Pennsylvania. Co-author of the study, S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University noted that:
 "...this is correlational, not causal...while we see an association between texting and grammar problems among teens, we cannot say that one is actually causing the other...However...compared to those who text very little, those middle schoolers who texted a lot did much more poorly in terms of their offline grammar skills...[suggesting] that kids who are using a lot of word adaptations while texting--saying 'gr8', for example, instead of 'great' --are unable to switch sufficiently back to proper grammar and spelling when not texting."
Interestingly, (unlike the study noted in the infographic above) in this study no gender differences were found.  Simply the more a tween used text shortcuts (sending and/or receiving), the worse their overall grammar performance.

There have, however, been opposing perspectives. Susan Sotillo, associate professor of linguistics at Montclair State University noted that "Children know that when you're in school, you do not use texting's up to the teacher to say it's not acceptable." She further noted that to see the impact of texting on grammar or any language skills, researchers must study thousands of people across a variety of backgrounds and geographic regions.

To make matters more confusing, at about the same time this infographic came out, posted a blog "Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar Is Wrong: And ending sentences with a preposition is nothing worth worrying about" (written by Patricia T. O'Connor and Steward Kellarman, Smithsonian magazine, February 2013). Here are some of their myth busters - although sadly, I'm not even sure kids today would even understand them:

  • Ending a sentence with a preposition is nothing worth worrying about;
  • There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction;
  • Perhaps the biggest grammar myth of all is the infamous taboo against splitting an infinitive, as in “to boldly go.” The truth is that you can’t split an infinitive: Since “to” isn’t part of the infinitive, there’s nothing to split. Great writers—including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne and Wordsworth—have been inserting adverbs between “to” and infinitives since the 1200s.

    The article continues by noting where "these phony rules" originated and why they persist. Read more:
The bottom line is that regardless of whether texting is hurting kids' developing skills in grammar and/or in writing, it is here to stay.  Communication is clearly changing and we have to incorporate those changes in and out of school.  With texting, tweeting, instant messaging, and infographics, we will be incorporating writing shortcuts AND our messages will, by the nature of texting and limits of time, become shorter and more succinct. So...

Given the state of constant texting and confusing rules of grammar... Below is a list of things parents and teachers can do to help their kids:
  • When texting to kids model correct spelling, grammar, and word usage;
  • Encourage and model editing when writing/sending cards, emails, papers, etc.
  • If/when you read newspapers / articles / web posts, respond - write letters or comments back and encourage your kids to do the same (when appropriate);
  • Point out and reinforce the difference between social texting with shorcuts and writing for school and work;
  • Point out the difference between the budding hybrid language of "techspeak" or "textspeak" (what they use when texting where the text is riddled with acronyms and abbreviations)  and 'proper' (oh I hate that word - any suggestions)  English;
  • Offer diverse writing opportunities and projects;
The bottom line is that regardless of whether texting is hurting kids' developing skills in grammar and in writing, for that matter, it is here to stay.  Communication is clearly changing and we have to incorporate those changes in and out of school.  With texting, tweeting, instant messaging, our will incorporate shortcuts AND our messages will, by the nature of texting and limits of time, become shorter and more succinct. So...

Additional tools/references to help or hurt:
    • Unpack Your Adjectives
    • School house Classics: Grammar Rock

 That's it for this time!
Thanks for your visit... and please leave your opinions, reflections and suggestions in the comments.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


As defined in Wikipedia, a fad is:

"...any form of behavior that develops among a large population and is collectively followed with enthusiasm for some period... fads may be driven by mass media programming, emotional excitement, peer pressure, or the desire of 'being hip'... a fad is generally considered a fleeting behavior whereas a trend is considered to be a behavior that evolves into a relatively permanent change.."
Let's have some fun reviewing a few fads we've faced related to parenting and education:

Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (1946), challenged the then contemporary opinion that babies should be fed according to tight schedules, and that showing them too much affection make them weak and unprepared  for the world. Instead, he promoted a 'gentler' approach telling parents they knew more than they thought they did and so should trust their own instincts and common sense.

While there is something to be said for openly showing parental affection and relying on common sense, different cultures follow different avenues of 'common sense' and there are times when 'common sense' just doesn't hold. For example, Spock recommended putting babies to sleep on their stomachs (so as not to choke on any spit-up, etc.- which makes some sense).  This, however, was discredited in the late 1990's as stomach-sleeping was found to be linked to sudden infant death syndrome. Furthermore, while loving and showing affection is important, so many children have grown up feeling 'entitled' and seeking immediate gratification that many are now advocating the need to show affection WHILE teaching rules, promoting delayed gratification, and adding structure to home and school life.

Whole Language (vs. Phonics) - Whole language, popularized in the 1970's-late 1980's de-emphasized spelling, phonics and grammar, focusing primarily on reading and writing for meaning. In its height, educators promoting whole language did so at the expense of teaching phonics, letter blends, and rules of grammar and spelling. While criticized for ignoring the structured teaching of language rules, Whole Language classrooms encouraged frequent reading, 'guided reading' in small groups, student read-alouds, and independent reading in the classroom.  Reading and writing were done for 'real-life'/meaningful purposes, emphasizing the love of books and engaging reading materials.  All very positive, and successful with strong language learners.

Weak language learners and dyslexic children, however,  had tremendous difficulty learning under this approach. In direct contrast, the Orton-Gillinghan Approach - emphasizing a very structured approach to phonics has proven remarkably successful for dyslexic and weak language learners. 

Educators now call for "balanced literacy."

Inventive Spelling - encouraged kids to spell phonetically guessing sound-spelling relationships as a means of encouraging writing fluency with spelling instruction later focusing on analysis of spelling errors.

Then, of course, we are constantly faced with DIET FADS here are just a few:
  • South Beach
  • Atkins
  • Hollywood Diet
  • Liquid Diets
  • Detox Diets
  • Fat-Free diets
The problem with fad diets is that while these different diets empower people to shed pounds, they don't work to help you KEEP the weight off long-term.  What does work is consistent exercise while eating healthy (not overly processed) foods in variety and moderation.

What I find so interesting about these fads is that they seem to represent extremes and as a result the parenting and educational pendulums tend to swing between these extremes.  So often these fads show merit when integrated together - maybe because there are all kinds of learners in each and every class.  Maybe, we just need to look at what it is about the fads that so appeals to us and integrate them without losing our way.

Thank you for your time and visit.
What are some of the fads you loved/hated?  
Please share them in the comments.

BEFORE YOU GO... here are some fun links to fads of the past...

Aside from laughing at how many fashion/entertainment fads are coming back or how some were just so silly, these fads can be made into an excellent exercise in mass media promotional campaigns and the power of visual literacy.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Expanding Horizons with 21st-Century Learning Tools: Interactive Visual Dictionaries

Image found at
In line with 21st-century learning, are 21st- Century learning tools.  For this post I thought we'd explore the expanding genre of interactive multi-media visual dictionaries by looking at two very different options. The first by Merriam-Webster and QA International, the Visual Merriam-Webster; the second is Visuwords. The third is

According to Wikipedia - another 21st-Century tool (albeit developed in the late 20th century):
A visual dictionary is a dictionary that primarily uses pictures to illustrate the meaning of words. Visual dictionaries are often organized by themes, instead of being an alphabetical list of words. For each theme, an image is labeled with the correct word to identify each component of the item in question. Visual dictionaries can be monolingual or multilingual, providing the names of items in several languages. An index of all defined words is usually included to assist finding the correct illustration that defines the word.

Option 1: In 2007 Merriam-Webster (the dictionary and 'language reference publisher') and QA International (a developer and producer of visually innovative reference works) joined to develop and introduce the Visual Dictionary Online  (

In 2007 when it was first launched (according to Merriam-Webster):
"Visitors ... search ideas within organized subject fields to...more than 20,000 terms with full definitions... 6,000 stunning illustrations...15 major themes offer a variety of topics..Additional features include a Game of the Week, played by associating words with images, and audio pronunciations spoken by real voices. 
Two years later Merriam-Webster/QA International boasted that their Visual Multimedia 4th Edition includes:

  • 6,000 hyperrealist illustrations
  • 20,000 defined terms covering almost 800 topics
  • Grouped into 17 themes that present every aspect of everyday life, from sports, astronomy, the human body and the arts to cooking, gardening and the animal kingdom. 
  • Several language interfaces (terms written and pronounced in English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German)
  • It also offers five different games that measure the knowledge of the user in each subject.
The way you use this dictionary is to click on one of the "themes"and then select the terms you're interested in.  This dictionary was, in my opinion, limiting because you couldn't just look up a specific word, you had to find it within one of their 'themes.' So, for example, when entering "welcome" and "grammar" no words or images appeared. Second, while this dictionary is visually driven (because you could only find a word by clicking on a "theme"  and then look at the words/terms available), it was not necessarily 'multi-media.  Second, while they say they have 17 themes, I only found 15 ("Astronomy; Earth; Plants&gardening; Animalkingdom, Humanbeing; Food&kitchen; House; Clothing&articles; Arts&architecture; Communications; Transport&machinery; Energy; Science; Society; and  Sports&games"). Finally, the fifteen/seventeen "themes"  were fairly general and limiting - even if there are over 6,00 images and 20,000 defined terms.

Option 2: Visuwords...also found under SnappyWords is another visual dictionary which is much more visually driven and interactive. In fact, I was wowed by its innovative 'feel'. While the Merriam-Webster visual dictionary feels much like a standard picture dictionary, this site is actually well worth a visit as "dictionary" and "thesaurus" truly take on new expanded dimensions and is visually and verbally interactive. I was mesmerized! It uses Princeton University's WordNet, which is an opensource database built by University students and language researchers.  It is available as a free resource on the web.

As you arrive at this website, a random word appears on the screen (until you enter a specific word of your choice).  That word is clearly written and  related words are visually linked (much like a neural mind map) illustrating how they are related to each other. Move the icon over each related word and a definition appears. A color-coded key appears on the side to help you visually learn:
  • each word's part of speech (nouns are blue, verbs are green, adjectives are peach, and adverbs are pink), 
  • topic domains, 
  • cause-effect relationships between words, 
  • opposites (red), 
  • "instances" (examples - are turquoise), 
  • "is a member of" (yellow), 
  • "is a part of" (aqua), 
  • "is a substance of" (brown), 
  • "is similar to" (orange),  
  • and shows derivations (gray).

As directed on their website:
"Look up words to find their meanings and associations with other words and concepts.... Enter words into the search box...double-click a node to expand the tree.  Click and drag the background to pan around and use the mouse wheel to zoom. Hover over nodes to see the definition and click and drag individual nodes to move them around to help clarify connections.
"...type a word into the search query at the top of the page and press 'Enter'. A network of nodes or 'synsets' (a single concept that is represented by a number of terms or synonyms) will spring out from the word that you entered... For example when you look up "seem", you see that the word is connected to four synsets each represented by a green circle. Green denotes verbs... Two of these synsets have the lone word "seem"; one has two terms: "appear" and "seem"; and the third has three terms: "look", "appear" and "seem". Each of the four synsets has its own definition. Hovering over a node with the mouse will reveal all of the synonyms for a given synset as well as its definition. Some synsets will also show a few examples of usage. These synsets link to each other and to other synsets according to entries in the WordNet database...You can grab any node and pull it away from the others to clarify connections."
Here's one example..."Welcome::

 And another example..."Grammar":

I could literally spend hours looking up words, not only to learn more about them but to look at the very different visual maps each produced.

Vidictionary : Is a new online video dictionary.  it defines and expresses words through images.  Click on the target word and a window opens up with a video describing the word and while it is (usually) read and has music to help describe it. Words can be accessed
  • alphabetically  
  • by parts of speech (verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions.  
  •  via "collections" (animals, color, geography, materials, onomatopoeia, objects, places, prefix, spatial, sports and games, transportation, video & photo FX, water, and weather.
  • featured words
Here's one example of a "featured" word..."invisible"

Finally, before closing here is one more related option...VOCABAHEAD:

Vocabahead promotes itself as a multi-sensory vocabulary trainer but can be used as a dictionary/thesaurus as well.  What's nice about VocabAhead is that it really is a multi-media means to study and build vocabulary.  You enter a word, it gives you a verbal definition, an audio recording 'reads' the definition, they use the word in a sentence, and an illustration reinforces the word's meaning. Another nice feature is that you can create your own vocabulary lists to study. There are graded word lists (grases 6-11) as well as a Master List and SAT list.   In my opinion, while this is not terribly interactive, the paired illustrations, definitions and audio components can help build memory and word associations.  Here is a YouTube introductory link (and note there are iphone apps for this as well):

So what do you think about 21st-century learning tools and the direction they're taking?  Please share your opinioins in the comments.
In the meantime, thank you for your visit.
The 21st-century is still relatively young and our visions of what it offers are young as well.  Don't forget to leave your reactions, suggestions and visions of what 21st-century tools might look like in the comments.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Delayed Gratification and Impulse Control

In a recent post written at the beginning of this year I unabashedly gave four pieces of unsolicited advice (the best or the worst kind depending on your perspective- you can see for yourself at Advice...). One of my suggestions was:

"Help your kids learn to Delay Gratification: Our world moves so quickly.  Something happens, we immediately respond. Someone upsets you, you tweet about it or post something on Facebook. The problem is that as a result, kids in particular make bad decisions because they act reflexively - because they can, and don't necessarily think things through..."  
In this post, I hope to relay why this is so important and what parents can do to help.

To begin with...A person's ability to delay gratification relates to their ability to recognize the rewards of patience and waiting, while at the same time being able to practice impulse control, self control, willpower and self-regulation.

Why It's so Important: This demand for immediate attention, immediate results, immediate reinforcement and immediate gratification is prevalent everywhere:
  • In my writing courses, my students frequently and impulsively press 'send' spending little to no time editing their work. As a result it often contains careless errors in spelling, grammar, sentence structure and word usage that detract from the often insightful comments they are trying to make.  Slowing down, editing, and attending to details before sending off the work (delaying the gratification that it's over and they can move on) can make a huge difference.
  • Research shows that children who learn to delay gratification are better able to complete assignments (McComas, Jennifer J., Rehfeldt, Ruth Anne, Stromer, Robert. (2000) Designing interventions that include delayed reinforcement: implications of recent laborator Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 33, 359-371.)
  • Often when bored and frustrated we eat to 'feel better' when sometimes instead of eating we should be waiting, or simply doing something we prefer not to do. Learning not to give in to immediate urges and needs can help.
  • The need or demand for immediate gratification results in tantrums that might have been avoided.  This is true not only for young children. We increasingly see articles about inappropriate responses and demands for immediate attention in school and in the workplace. 
Learning to delay gratification as children will help our kids as they navigate, home, school, social and work-related situations.

Teaching kids to stop, think, and delay reactions (and gratification) may stop them from impulsive mistakes they may later regret.

What Parents and Teachers Can do:
  • Sometimes we have to say, "NO" - for more on this see: "Yes..when"...The Antidote for Parent-Child Power Struggles
  • Help children learn to wait.  For young children this is often difficult to do, and to help them learn to wait (and avoid tantrums), you can tell them "no" but offer other, more appropriate alternatives.
  • Model delayed gratification.  When things move too slowly or you don't receive what you want to receive, model how to more appropriately deal with delays and frustration.  For me, driving and getting stuck in traffic is the most difficult time to model these appropriate responses - I often shout to the vehicles in front of me - of course only my kids hear...and while I feel better, they don't and in those cases I am not practicing what I preach.  The point is that modeling appropriate responses and how to gracefully accept delays is really important.
  • Reward and praise your children when they do control their impulses and behave appropriately
  • Instead of always buying "extra's" for your child, pick one special item that you will help them save up for.  They can earn money from the Tooth Fairy, from doing extra chores around the house, and/or from saving allowance.
  • Talk to them about the importance of waiting gracefully and/or accepting disappointments. After movies, when traveling, after reading books when this occurs, talk about it.  Talk about the frustrations characters experience and the different ways the frustration can and should be handled.
Here are a few of my favorite books and graphic novels where the characters must delay gratification and as such are excellent books to help begin these conversations, and model appropriate responses:


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum - all ages (the book - illustrated by W.W. Denslow as well as the new graphic novel illustrated by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young - published by Marvel) is an outstanding example of how Dorothy must face challenges, fears and disappointments before returning to Kansas (not to mention the Wizard who must also wait).  In addition to simply reading this and discussing the need (and rewards) of delayed gratification, you may also want to read the original and the graphic novel and talk with your kids about the differences between the prose text and graphic novel stories.

 Rust: Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp (Grades 4+). This graphic novel is about Roman Taylor who struggles to keep his family's small farm from failing after a war which took his father.

Resistance, Defiance and Victory  by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis (Grades 5+) - a graphic novel trilogy is about life in occupied France during World War II.  The main characters must decide whether to collaborate with the Germans (to gain 'favors') or delay gratification and face rationing of supplies as well as struggle through the war without knowing whether their father has survived. Not only does this trilogy deal with delayed gratification, it also is a wonderful (historical) fiction story that accurately relates life in France in the late 1930's to early 1940's.

Americus by NJ Reed and Jonathan Hill (Grades 6+) is about a boy who has to wait to read a coveted book (which his mother is trying to ban from the library).

A Wrinkle in Time  by Madeline L'Engle (Grades 5+) available in prose text as well as graphic novel - is about teenager Meg Murry who along with her brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin O'Keefe are transported through a "tesseract" (a fifth-dimensional wrinkle in time) to rescue their father.  Feel free to go to this link for lesson plan suggestions: Science Fiction: Skills, Chills and Thrills

Zita Space Girl by Ben Hatke (Grade 3+) is a graphic novel about Zita who must travel to another world to rescue her friend Joseph whom she inadvertently sent through first. She must go through various trials and obstacles before finding him ad responsibly bringing  him back to their world.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Grades 5+) is about a budding silversmith apprentice in Colonial Boston who suffers a debilitating accident and must slowly discover a new path and fate.  Along the way he finds himself embroiled in the American Revolution.  Not only is the book about how Johnny faces mounting disappointments, it accurately reflects life in Colonial Boston.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Grade 4+)  is also about a child, in this case a girl, who suffers a debilitating accident shortly after the death of her mother, and here too learns to face life's harsh lessons with patience and grace.  This novel is written solely in prose and poetry and the author's use of language is breathtaking.

There are also fairy tales about delayed gratification you can discuss: Hansel and Gretel (where Hansel just cannot help himself and he begins eating at  evil witch's house) getting them into all sorts of trouble is one such story.

Delaying gratification is an issue we must wrestle with all our lives.  Helping our children develop coping skills and impulse control will help them now and throughout their lives.

How do you help your kids with this issue?  Please share this in the comments.
In the meantime, thank you for your visit and your shared comments.