Oral vs. Written Language–Two Talks on Twitter

In the last 24 hours, I’ve participated in two different but intersecting discussions on Twitter—one on phonics, the other on autism. Their point of intersection: the question of oral vs. written language.

First, Phonics

The phonics discussion was one I couldn’t help jumping into. A distinguished education professor and specialist in reading instruction dismissed someone’s linguistically accurate observations about consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) patterns by telling them they should take a class in linguistics. I’ve taken many classes in linguistics, so I piped in as follows:
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A review of In A Different Key

I’ve just finished reading In a Different Key, a book by John Donvan and Caren Zucker subtitled “The Story of Autism.” It’s the most comprehensive, in-depth, even-handed history of autism I’ve read so far.

Published in 2016, the book begins with the first formal diagnosis—back in 1942, Leo Kanner’s “Case 1”—and proceeds through the various wrong-headed theories (“refrigerator mothers”; normal children “locked inside”; post-natal, vaccine-induced “brain injuries”) and wrong-headed approaches (institutionalization; psychotherapy; behavioral modification through cattle prods); to the panic about a growing autism epidemic as the diagnostic criteria shift and as the reported rates increase from an original estimate of 1 in 4,000 to a rate of 1 in 66 at the time of publication. (We’re now at 1 in 59).

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After 100+ autism interviews, it’s time to debrief

I’m finally coming up for air after an intensive autism project funded by National Science Foundation. We had seven weeks to conduct at least 100 interviews–mostly with parents of autistic kids and with autism-focused teachers and therapists. The unrelenting stress of those seven weeks (which also involved weekly homework, lectures, and presentations, two trips to Boston, and a boot-camp ethos throughout) reminded me of the unrelenting stress I felt during the most difficult eras of J’s childhood.

And the difficulty I found in tracking down autism parents made me wonder whether autism is quite the epidemic people say it is.

My specific target was parents of children somewhere in the middle of the autism spectrum: kids who can recognize and produce at least a few spoken and written words, but who continue to struggle at least to some extent in putting those words together into grammatical phrases and sentences.

In the end, I spoke with about 40 parents, just barely enough to meet our weekly quotas and not get yelled at. Actually, the fear of being yelled at—funny how that doesn’t fade away with age!—was ultimately a good thing, as it resulted in some really interesting interviews.

Here are my main takeaways (some of these will be familiar to anyone familiar with autism):
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On pause

On Twitter today, a page on colons & semicolons as pause indicators:

I don’t know why you’d teach colons and semicolons as pause indicators, let alone why you’d represent punctuation signs as musical notation. To teach punctuation, teach the clause. 

That said, writers can and do use punctuation marks to create a pause when they want one:

5-Eats_Shoots_and_Leaves_pdf

From Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves

The little words

Classic test prep works amazingly well at times.

I’m starting a new job teaching English as a second language, and, along with six other people, am being trained to pass a standardized test of teaching knowledge. (The test may be a state department requirement. Not sure.)

The training and testing material are challenging.

You’re given 20 abstract terms that all sound alike; then you take a multiple-choice test on which all the answers sound alike.

Plus you have to do all of this fast. After just a couple of days of training, we took a practice test; a couple of days later we took the real one.

Amazingly, I found that I could get virtually every answer correct using one of the tactics I teach for the SAT/ACT:

Look at the little words.

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Jeopardy fail

Yikes

Teacher’s night on Jeopardy, & one of the categories is “alphabetically second.” Meaning the correct answer is the second item in an alphabetized list.

Question: What is the second book of the Pentateuch?

Answer: What is Deuteronomy?

Three teachers onstage, and not one of them knows the sequence “Genesis, Exodus.”

Another one bites the dust

I think one or the other of us has written posts on the subject of dying grammar and punctuation, but I don’t remember what they were or what we said. 

Yeesh

So I’ve started a new category called “dying grammar and punctuation.” 

Dangling modifiers are a major category of dying grammar; I see them constantly and am even hearing them on news programs as well. 

Today I came across another category that I’m pretty sure is fading: possessive pronouns in front of gerunds, as in “do you mind my sitting here” versus “do you mind me sitting here.”

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