Help desk, SAT 2

I don’t know how to explain why this answer is right, so if you do, I would really appreciate your leaving a comment. (I had trouble with at least one other, so I’ll get that posted as well.)

Thank you !

This question appears on SAT Practice Test #2, Writing and Language Test. (Scoring guide and Answer explanations)

2. 

In recent years, public libraries in the United States have experienced reductions in their operating funds due to cuts imposed at the federal, state, and local government levels. [2] However, library staffing has been cut by almost four percent since 2008, and the demand for librarians continues to decrease, even though half of public libraries report that they have an insufficient number of staff to meet their patrons’ needs. 

A ) NO CHANGE
B ) Consequently,
C ) Nevertheless,
D ) Previously, 

My student’s first impulse was to choose B, which is correct.

He changed his mind because the text mentioned 2008, which is a while ago now. 2008 is previous to 2018. (I may not have his explanation exactly right, but that’s the gist.)

I told him:

  • In terms of content, don’t assume that a passage was written recently. This passage could have been written any time since 2008.
  • Look at the verbs.

Then I got stuck trying to explain.

Public libraries have experienced reductions . . .

Staffing has been cut . . . 

There’s probably some good way to explain that “previously” doesn’t make sense just in terms of logic and semantics, but I’m not coming up with it. So if anyone out there can, I’m eager to hear. 

Sticking with the verbs . . . I’m thinking now that a stumbling block, in terms of a high school student grokking this passage, may be the switch to passive voice.

I wonder if my student would have “seen” the logic with the second sentence switched to active:

In recent years, public libraries in the United States have experienced reductions in their operating funds due to cuts imposed at the federal, state, and local government levels. [2] However, library staffing has been cut Libraries have cut staff by almost four percent since 2008 . . . 

This reminds me of Whimbey’s zoonoses passage, with its non-obvious use of passive voice …. must get that posted.

Actually, I think I’ll give my student this passage tonight, and I’ll try this explanation tomorrow. 

UPDATE: Debbie S. says everyone gets this one wrong !

Autism, neurodiversity, and language learning, Part III

(Part III in a series of posts that will eventually take us to a highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is.)

Let’s begin here by augmenting the scenario discussed in part II: Imagine yourself going to another country where you don’t know the language and spending several years there seemingly immersed in that language, and that:

  1. all your basic needs are taken care, such that you don’t actually need to interact with anyone, and
  2. for whatever reason, you mostly choose not to interact with anyone, even passively, such that:
  3. even as you hear the syllables coming out of people’s mouths, you manage to hardly ever pay attention to what those who utter these syllables are doing, looking at, or otherwise attending to.

In this situation, I argued, you would learn very little of the spoken language.

Now let’s consider the written version of the new language. Imagine that the language uses a completely different alphabet—say the Georgian alphabet, which, in this sample text, looks like this:

Georgian

Imagine that you are as immersed in the written language as you are in the spoken language, and just as unfamiliar with it.

But suppose that, while you pay little attention to what people are doing when they speak, you pay lots of attention to print. You find these strings of squiggly shapes fascinating to look at, and so you’re constantly looking at signs and labels, paging through books and magazines, and scanning the captions to TV shows and movies.

street2

How much of the written language would you learn under these circumstances? Given that you haven’t picked up much at all of the spoken version, to what extent would you eventually be able to read and write the language?

In the case of a phonemic writing system like Georgian, the route to mastery is phonics. But without having learned the spoken language, you would have limited information about the sounds of these written words. TV captions might theoretically get you somewhere, but in general the captioned speech, and the captions themselves, go by too quickly, and aren’t sufficiently synchronized, for you to form clear associations. It’s therefore unlikely that you would glean enough information to learn, on your own, the general rules for sounding words out phonemically.

For shorter words that appear regularly as labels for concrete objects, you might manage some limited “whole word” learning, associating a particular string of squiggles with a particular referent. For example, you might eventually learn to recognize ქუჩა as the word for “street.”

But, no matter how much time you spend scanning the written language on your own, you will never get to the point of fully comprehending even the simplest texts in picture books like this one:

picturebook

…let alone being able to write or type out simple, grammatical sentences on your own.

What does this mean for autism? Stay tuned.

Autism, neurodiversity, and language learning, Part II

(Part II in a series of posts that will eventually take us to a highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is.)

So why is Receptive Joint Attention, as I noted in my last post, so crucial to language learning?

JointAttention2

One way to see why is to imagine yourself going to another country where you don’t know the language and spending several years there seemingly immersed in that language. The key word here is “seemingly.” For imagine, as well, that:

(1) all your basic needs are taken care, such that you don’t actually need to interact with anyone, and

(2) for whatever reason, you mostly choose not to interact with anyone, even passively, such that:

(3) even as you hear the syllables coming out of people’s mouths, you manage to hardly ever pay attention to what those who utter these syllables are doing, looking at, or otherwise attending to.

Under these circumstances, how much of the language would you pick up?

Perhaps you would, willy-nilly, learn the meanings of a few really regular patterns—for example, the phrases for “hello,” “goodbye”, “please,” and “thank you”—along with a few labels for whatever concrete objects are deliberately pointed out to you.

But, since you aren’t routinely linking the ambient syllable sounds in your new environment with what the speakers are doing while uttering them, most of those speech sounds will continue to be just that: syllables without meaning.

In other words, language immersion works its magic only if you’re actually paying attention to speakers.

What about written language? Stay tuned for the next post…

Autism, neurodiversity, and language learning, Part I

Recent events—including the publicity surrounding the movie “Far from the Tree” and a highly contagious and dangerously inaccurate meme about what autism is–have me bursting with things to say about autism and language learning. There’s way too much for one post, and it’s hard to know where to begin.

So I’ll begin where it all begins: Joint Attention.

This is what Joint Attention looks like:

JointAttention1

In words: two or more people attending the same thing.

Joint Attention is often a two-step process. First, Person A first notices that Person B is directing his attention at something (e.g., by noticing that Person B’s eyes are pointing fixedly in a particular direction). Next, Person A, perhaps curious about what it is that has grabbed Person B’s attention, shifts his own attention to the same thing:

JointAttention2

Sometimes Joint Attention involves leading as well as following: Person B might deliberately try to direct the Person A’s attention over to a particular thing that Person B wants both parties to attend to (for example by saying “look” and/or pointing to it). This more active joint attention is at play not just in informal showing & sharing moments (“Look at my new toy!”), but also in deliberate teaching (“This is a right triangle.”).

But when it comes to learning, especially language learning, it turns out that the more passive variety of Joint Attention (a.k.a. Receptive Joint Attention) is critical. According to a recent meta-analysis, frequency of Receptive Joint Attention behaviors is significantly correlated with language development. That correlation holds for both neurotypical children and children on the autism spectrum. But for children with ASD, the correlation between Receptive Joint Attention and language development turns out to be especially strong.

Why might this be and what are the implications for autism and language learning… and for the accuracy of current memes about autism?

Stay tuned.

 

 

Is “its” on it’s way out?

Here’s another candidate for a rule that will be gone in 20 years: the distinction between “its” and “it’s.” Everywhere, even in published material, the latter seems to be displacing the former.

And what with basal ganglia and contagious speech patterns, we’re probably all subconsciously learning to favor “it’s”. The more often we favor it (it’s), the more often we favor it.

One could even make a grammatical case for this displacement–one that doesn’t invoke the French! Possessive nouns get the apostrophe (“the cat’s pajamas”), so why not possessive pronouns*?


*In fact, we already have one pronoun that does get an apostrophe: “one”, as in “one should mind one’s ps and qs.”

Basal ganglia to the rescue (or how to walk in Paris)

In France this summer, I had an illustrative experience re:information-integration learning.”

Information-integration” learning is unconscious or implicit learning (heavily reliant on the basal ganglia). It’s the opposite, more or less, of book learning. 

I say “more or less” because I’m not sure the two systems are ever completely separate.

They seem to specialize in different jobs; that much, I think, is clear.

They seem also to compete: when one is “turned on,” the other is “turned off” or at least “turned down.” (I think that’s right–I remember reading it–but I don’t remember my source. So take it with a grain of salt.)

In any event, it appears that people really can be better at one than the other, as folk psychology would have it. There are intuitive types, and there are cerebral types. 

But the two systems seem to support each other as well, though I don’t think anyone knows how that works. I’m not sure anyone even has a proper theory, though I could have missed it.

Anyway, back to my summer.

You do a lot of walking in Paris. Obviously. (Sidebar: that new study finding that exercise, in the form of brisk walking, does produce weight loss if you do enough of it certainly holds true for me.)

The problem with walking a lot in Paris is that there are no flat surfaces anywhere, ever. Every sidewalk is a zillion years old, and no sidewalk has ever been re-finished or re-poured or whatever it is people do to ancient sidewalks to make them walkable and safe.

Not to mention all the Parisian dual mini-curbs. You’ll be walking along, and, all of a sudden and out of the blue: CURB.

CURB, and not where you’d expect it, either, i.e. not at a discernible corner, where a proper curb ought to be.

Then, 1 step further along, SECOND CURB. Double curbs in the middle of a block!

Why?

Early in our stay, walking down a broad sidewalk in the 14th, I think it was, staring at my Google map trying to figure out where the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I was, I took a really bad fall–straight onto my knee, hard, then onto my wrist. Bam, then bam again. 1

After that, I kept taking multiple almost-falls: step, step, trip, lurch, catchmybalancestep, step, trip, lurch, catchmy-balance, repeat, repeat, repeat. Incredibly not fun. I wasn’t having fun anyway (that’s another story–and, yes, I know it’s a Life Failure not to have fun in Paris) and the constant tripping-lurching-balance-catching added to the woe.

I was beginning to think the problem was that I’m old, and was spending time wondering how any old people ever manage to walk in Paris, or do they all just drop dead of broken hips at 70 or 80, when I remembered that the one and only time I’ve ever sprained an ankle happened in Paris, as I stepped off a curb, at age 30.

Which of course raised the question of why I wasn’t seeing 30-year old French people falling off curbs, but never mind. 

Point is, I was not enjoying my hikes across the city or even my shorter expeditions in the neighborhood (which was fantastic, by the way! Rue Daguerre. If you’re going to Paris, stay in the 14th!)

I’d had one bad fall, and the constant near-misses were driving me crazy.

Then one day I looked up from Google maps and realized I had been sailing down the Boulevard Raspail for blocks and blocks without having once checked the sidewalk for potholes, bulges, or double-curbs in the middle of nowhere. I was just walking, and walking fast to boot, without looking down. 

I was walking like I lived there–which, by then, I basically did. 

That has to have been information-integration learning. Those weeks (two or three weeks, maybe?) of trial-and-error walking taught my unconscious brain how to walk in Paris and not fall down. 

I couldn’t begin to tell you what I was doing differently.

Was I lifting my feet higher than I do in New York?

But then wouldn’t that make the potholes more of a problem? 

Was I checking the sidewalk without realizing it?

I have no idea.

It was pretty great, though.

Information-integration learning Rule-based learning 
“Life” learning “School” learning
Unconscious Conscious
Implicit learning: you can’t necessarily put what you’ve learned in words (& if you can, words come to you later) Explicit learning: you can put what you’ve learned in words
Intuition, everyday categories (good versus bad, dog versus cat), social rules, habit Formal concepts, theories, disciplines, etc.
Grammar Vocabulary
Learns relatively slowly Learns quickly
Can’t learn “offline” (learning stops after a “lesson” is over) Can learn “offline” (learning continues after a lesson is over)
Must have immediate feedback – students must know whether their answer was right or wrong after each answer or no learning occurs Can learn with delayed feedback – students can get their tests back days later and still learn from their mistakes)
Can learn several things at the same time (e.g.: can learn the orientation and the width of a stimulus) Can learn just one thing at a time (can learn the orientation or the width of a stimulus, but not both at the same time)

Source: Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning
J. David Smith, Joseph Boomer, Alexandria C. Zakrzewski, Jessica L. Roeder, Barbara A. Church, and F. Gregory Ashby  Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 447-457

And see:
The most important research on learning I’ve ever read 

1. For the record, this is why I don’t get bone scans. Every 3 or 4 years I take a really hard fall, usually dog-related, I land full-weight on one kneecap or the other–or, alternatively, half-weight on one kneecap & half-weight on one wrist–then I get up dazed but intact. Dazed-but-intact after a headlong fall onto a hard surface is a diagnostic, I figure. 

While we’re on the subject of fading rules…

Another 20 years from now, comma splices won’t be comma splices.

They’ll just be commas.

That’s my prediction.

Twenty years from now comma splices will be correct because:

a) no one under the age of 30 (or thereabouts) knows what they are 
and
b) no one over the age of 30 (or thereabouts) has any idea how to teach them. 

Also, comma splices don’t exist in French.

French !

The French have a whole Académie dedicated to “fix[ing] the French language, giving it rules, rendering it pure and comprehensible by all,” yet they don’t have a rule that says No comma splices.

Well, I say: If French people don’t have to care about comma splices, neither do we. 

And see:
Académie française
Participles that may be on their way out