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The Language Fix

A blog for sharing language and learning information

Philosophy Best Bits – John Rawls

  • He was an American philosopher who lived from 1921 to 2002.rawls-pic
  • Rawls reconciled liberty and equality in one way by saying that each citizen has the right to the maximum basic personal and political liberties that are compatible with a similar system that can be afforded to others.  His difference principle states that social and economic inequalities should be to the most benefit of the least advantaged members of society.
  • We should put our effort into ensuring that the rules of the game are fair. Once society is organized around a set of fair rules, people can set about freely playing the game without interference.
  • The adoption of his original position would allow individual people to make political decisions which may benefit more people than the current democratic systems prevalent throughout much of the world which typically rely on rules and structures inherently beneficial to those already with power.
  • His veil of ignorance was the tool required to achieve his original position. According to this hypothetical tool, justice is best achieved by creating starting points which ignore factors extraneous to a situation. While Rawls focused on society at large, and a desire to eliminate factors such as parents’ wealth, height, skin color, etc., as is so often the case, a sports analogy may help make things clearer. Fantasy football leagues usually start from behind a veil of ignorance in which players’ draft positions are chosen only by luck.  The NFL draft does not have this veil, as it starts out with knowledge of the previous season’s records and gives extra advantage to those who need more, in an effort to create more parity.

Specific Language Therapy Ideas – Comparatives and Superlatives

Tell me Use comparisons familiar to student to ask comparing questions. For example,

Comparatives:

  • Tell me what’s bigger: a car or a bike. Expected answer:  (A car is bigger than a bike.)
  • Tell me what’s quieter: a library or a gym. (A library is quieter than a gym.)
  • Tell me what’s colder: Alaska or Florida. (Alaska is colder than Florida.)
  • Tell me what’s drier: a desert or a jungle. (A desert is drier than a jungle.)
  • Tell me what’s more expensive: a house or a candy bar. (A house is more expensive than a candy bar.)
  • Tell me what’s more delicious: liver or spaghetti. (Spaghetti is more delicious than liver.)

Superlatives:

  • Tell me who the tallest person in your family is. My cousin Joe is the tallest person in my family
  • Tell me what the biggest planet is. Jupiter is the biggest planet.
  • Tell me who your best friend is. Priscilla is my best friend.
  • Tell me the most nutritious food that you can think of. Broccoli is the most nutritious food that I can think of.

Discuss world records, such as those in the Guinness Book of World Records.  For example, “Where is the biggest piece of string in the world? Who is the best selling singer of all time?

Ask “why” questions. Use both questions that are familiar to student as well as ones that are personally relevant. Require the use of comparatives and superlatives.  For example:  “Why don’t you like classical music instead of rock and roll?”  “Because rock and roll is better than classical.”  “Why can’t your little brother beat you in a race?”

Go on a scavenger hunt. Write a list of target comparatives and/or superlatives to find. See who can get the most.  For example, Find: the longest hall, someone taller than me, something heavier than a desk, the most confusing poster, etc.

Discuss “what ifs” using comparatives and superlatives.  These are situations where things could be different What if pencils were longer than cars? What if hammers were softer than tissue paper?

The Eightfold Path

(This is part of the Philosophy “Best” Bits series that can also be accessed from the top menu.)

Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path may be one of the best concepts to ever come out of any religion.  Buddhist tradition ascribes it as the fourth of the four noble truths, taught by the original Buddha, Gautama Buddha, as the way of overcoming life’s inevitable suffering.  While many may see the four truths’ admonition of life’s crappy nature as too pessimistic, it is much harder to find fault with its advice that we can better ourselves by periodically contemplating the habits of our ideas and our actions.  There are many excellent explanations of the Eightfold Path on the internet that can easily be Googled, and that go into more detail than the very basic outline I’ll provide here:

Right View – One aspect of this is that we should really try to understand The Noble Truths.  Another aspect of Right View – that the world, and us, and our possessions are impermanent – can truly help us come to separate our views of things from how things really are.

Right Intention – It’s not enough to just do the right things.  We must habituate doing the right things for the right reasons.

Right Actions – We should attend to the effects of our actions, and attempt to adjust our future actions accordingly.

Right Speech – Be aware of the harm our words can do, especially gossip and non-constructive criticism.

Right Livelihood – I like this one, because I’ve really seen nothing like it anywhere else.  Sure, we all have to earn a living, and often we have to do things we’re not crazy about in order to provide for our families, but sometimes this involves doing things which help small groups of people at the expense of society as a whole.  A well contemplated life will involve scrutiny of one’s vocation as well as the consideration of change if necessary.

Right Effort – Buddhism stresses the middle way.  We should be constantly considering our actions and efforts involved.  This involves our time resources.  It may be that we are putting too much time and effort in one area, and this time and effort can be better spent somewhere else, but we can only know this through consistent deliberate attention.

Right Mindfulness – This involves not spending too much time in the past or in the future, but instead attending to the present task at hand.

Right Concentration – Can we block out distractions effectively?  Can we properly distinguish between distractions and what’s really important?  If not, try to do better.

Here’s a good visualization of The Eightfold Path, from the Mindful Teachers website.

Specific Language Therapy Ideas -Clauses/Phrases/Expanding Sentence Length

Say More!”, an embedding activity:

Directions: Squeeze the following sentence parts into already existing sentences to make them “say more.”

Example #1  sentence parts: with the beautiful hat, that had hopped all the way from the swing, next to the piece of paper, after finding the critical clue

Sentences:

  • The girl was riding a bike.
  •  The pencil rolled on my desk.
  •  There was a frog on the slide.
  •  The detective determined the identity of the burglar.

Example #2  sentence parts: instead of a period, when the boy was surprised, that the Governor should be impeached, between the words “if” and “you”

Sentences:

  • I don’t agree with the politician’s opinion.
  • Our teacher told us to write an exclamation point at the
  • end of the sentence.
  • The comma should be removed.

Role playing:  For example, ordering a meal at a fast food restaurant with extras and/or without some condiments.

Example statements:  “I would like a hamburger with extra ketchup and no mustard.” “I would like a drink with no ice.”

Explain the rules of a game, using conjunctions or relative pronouns.  Write down the words ahead of time, and cross off as used.

Example statements:  “Decide who goes first before you start.” “You can pick up the card that the other person laid down.”

(This is part of a list that includes more areas, and is in the process of growing ever larger, which can be found on the top menu, or by clicking here.)

What Even is a Lie?

Communication partners don’t always attempt to cooperate.  Often, the whole intention of their communication is to deceive.

The work of an important language philosopher has just gained relevance after recent events – a statement that admittedly can’t often be made.  Although this is an excellent example of how philosophy can actually help us better understand the world, evidently either philosophers are dropping the ball in getting this word out, or no one has been passing along their attempts.  Anyway, it all has to do with this sudden “post fact” world we’ve suddenly found ourselves in.  And how there have been so many distortions of the truth lately it’s blurred everyone’s ability to discern truth.  And what exactly even is a lie?

With his work, generally developed from the 1940s to 1960s, the English philosopher, Paul Grice rocked the world of academics with his theories on meaning and ordinary language.  The previous sentence is actually an example of Grice’s implicature.  I didn’t state it, but by adding the words, “of academics” to the phrase “rocked the world,” I implied something beyond the sentence’s literal meaning.  By flouting the maxim of quantity, which basically says that if a person is adding more to a statement than seems necessary, he is probably doing so for a reason.  This reason is the unsaid implicature of the statement.  (My implicature was that only the academic world noticed).

In addition to quantity, Grice also created the maxims of relevance, quality, and manner.  If, when speaking, someone uses language that seems irrelevant, or of false quality, or strangely ambiguous, there must be an alternative reason why.  Another example is of a previous boss being asked about a job applicant’s previous work flouting the maxim of relevance when claiming the former employee to have “perfect handwriting.”  The inference would be that the job applicant is not qualified, since the previous boss failed to follow the maxim of relevance.

The key part in all of this is Grice’s idea of the cooperative principle – the idea that people cooperate when they converse, and if they don’t appear to be doing so we infer, often unconsciously, that there must be a reason why.  Grice thought that the reason for these noncooperations was that there was something extra-linguistic that we must be attempting to communicate.  But Grice missed something big.  Something that can help us all understand exactly what is going on when people lie.

Communication partners don’t always attempt to cooperate.  Often, the whole intention of their communication is to deceive.

Though he didn’t intend to discuss liars, and how to determine what exactly a lie is, a major part of his work can help us in our attempts to do these things.  It has to do with matching a message’s substance with the critical component of intent.  A lie is not only when somebody says something that’s not true.  And not every time that somebody says something that’s not true is it a lie.  People make mistakes, and when these mistakes aren’t meant to deceive they are not lies.  If Joe tells his girlfriend that he gave her a gift on their first anniversary, and his girlfriend pulls out a diary entry that states otherwise, to which he answers, “Oh, I must have been thinking about my previous girlfriend,” he probably just made a mistake.  A big mistake – but not a lie.

Instead, a lie is when someone passes along something he knows to be false.  (It could be argued that passing along something someone wants to be true without verifying it, such as what happens on Facebook so often, is a form of dishonesty, but it would be an argument with more counterarguments than I want to get into at this time.)  A lie would be when Joe vividly remembers not giving a gift, because he forgot, and now he’s just trying to pass along false information in the hopes that in believing him, his girlfriend will not get mad.

Grice’s implicatures can help us hone our personal lie detector systems.  Maybe the girlfriend remembered some sort of gift, but if Joe nervously adds more information than he’d probably actually remember (violating the maxim of quantity), or changes the subject (relevance), or gets unusually emotional (manner), or adds in something else false, such as the gift of a beautiful card that she knows she didn’t get (quality), her possible lie warning system should start going off, and she should start asking more questions.

There’s one additional and related point that hasn’t seemed to have been addressed at all.  It’s trust.  Any lie erodes trust.  We teach this to our kids and then forget it when it comes to politicians and the media.  A lie proves that a source is capable of further lies.  A lie in the absence of a sincere apology followed by a series of subsequent truths means that not only is a source capable of further dishonesty – that dishonesty is almost assured.

Philosophy Bits – Jean Paul Sartre

You can find tons of information about Sartre and his background all over the internet.  I just want to paraphrase a few highlights from his beliefs that I think stand out.

sartre

  • Everything we do affects not only ourselves, but by our choices and actions we are constantly setting examples for the rest of mankind.  This is similar to the old, “actions speak louder than words” adage.
  • When people would rather adhere to existing rules and norms rather than face the “terrifying” freedom of creating ourselves, we willingly possess what Sartre called, “bad faith.”
  • We should not just remain open to change, we should be vigilantly seeking change to improve ourselves and our world.
  • “Hell” is other people.  This could be interpreted to mean  that it is important to sometimes seek time to ourselves.
  • In people, existence precedes essence.  Sartre uses the example of a butter knife as the opposite, because the knife exists only after it’s purpose is known.  People exist and then make their own purposes.

Some good places to find more on Sartre’s unique philosophy:  The Philosopher’s Mail; The Existential Primer; Sartre’s “Blog”

Language Therapy Ideas – Categories

Role play:  you are helping to plan the menu for a new restaurant.  You’re in charge of the dessert (or something else). Or, you are describing where you live.  Use categories to describe the city, state, province, country, the form of government, etc.

Example statements:  “Let’s serve apple pie, cookies, chocolate cake, and ice cream.” or “I live in St. Louis. It’s a city, like New York. We live in a state called Missouri, like California is a state.”

Use categories to decide who goes first in an activity. Think of a category member. Each person takes turns guessing the category member. Whoever  guesses  (or gets closest) the correct member  goes first.

Example statements:  “I’m thinking of a month. You guys keep guessing months until somebody guesses the one I’m thinking of. Whoever gets closest or guesses it first goes first.

Team up:  With category pictures or word cards, have students divide into teams, e.g. the liquids and the insects team (or the “Wet Bugs”) versus the mammals and planets team (or the “Hairy Planets”). Play a memory game. Alternately, simply see what team can be the first to get to 5, or 10 after the instructor picks cards from a pile.

Blurting game:  Give players or teams various age appropriate categories.  Blurt out category members one at a time. If a team members states “that’s mine” before the other team states that’s theirs, they get a point.  Play to ten or twenty or whatever.

Tic Tac Toe:  Require students to label categories before placing their X’s and O’s. The winner in this example is the first to get four in a row. For variety and target specificity, create your own, or create with students.

category-tic-tac-toe-example

Magazines.  Search for curriculum relevant categories that you’d expect to find in magazines, like liquids, capital letters, etc. Use these pictures for category card activities. Search for category names or names of members to find pictures. Cut and paste on a document, and print out when document is full. Glue onto index cards and/or laminate if desired.

Language Therapy Ideas – Attributes and Functions

In addition to some changes in this blog’s format, I’ve added a new page which can be accessed at the top menu, called “Language Therapy Ideas.”  The plan is to have a fairly comprehensive list of language therapy ideas listed by skill area, starting with attributes and functions.  It can, and hopefully will, be added to periodically.

Attributes/Functions

Homework maker:  Create a list of from five to ten words at student’s level.  Write directions such as the following:  “Provide a function for each vocabulary word.”  Write helper next to a blank line for any helper to sign.  Provide individualized incentives for completed return.  For example:attribute-homework-example

Catalog.  Get out a catalog. Talk about why people buy the items for sale in that catalog.

Example statements:  “Why would somebody want a coat?” “It keeps you warm”. “Why do people buy wallets?”

Textbook.  Get out a textbook. Instruct student to describe vocabulary words at or below student’s level by using functions.

Example statements:  “What was a covered wagon?”“It was used to shelter pioneers during long trips.” “What is the Constitution?”

Look around you. Describe functions of objects in your environment or of things commonly seen in offices. Take a walk, and describe functions of things seen in the hall out the window, etc.

Example statements:  “What is a stapler?” “It attaches papers together.” “What is a trash dumpster?” “It holds the building’s trash until the garbage men get it.”

Specific interests.  For example, for younger kids, talk about video games, television, or sports, or for older students talk about cooking, construction, or health care.  Discuss
specific interests.  Use the internet if needed.

Example statements:  “What does a cutting board do?” “What does a remote do?” “What do anesthesiologists do?”

Just Released International Testing Results Are Clear

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results released on Tuesday compare critical thinking abilities in math, science, and reading of 15 year olds in 69 countries, as it has been doing every three years since 2000.  It pretty clearly shows what effective countries are doing as far as education policy, as well as what doesn’t work.  Here’s what the smarter countries do:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Maybe the best piece of educational advice I’ve ever heard is a quip that can be applied equally to individuals, organizations, states, or countries.  The quickest way to improve is to pay attention to what you don’t do well, and focus on that.  So, generally grading the U.S. in these areas would reveal:

  • Making teaching more prestigious and selective – FAIL
  • More resources to neediest children – PASS in some states; FAIL in others
  • High quality preschools – PASS in some states; FAIL in others
  • Establish cultures of constant academic improvement – FAIL in many places.  (Note that the cultures of constant athletic improvement so common in secondary school sports show that we do know how to create a culture of constant improvement.)
  • Establish consistent, rigorous standards – Almost PASSED, but recently rejected by voters nationally, and in many states.

Increasingly, we know what works.  Maybe the continually increasing discrepancies between states and countries that are succeeding compared to those who don’t might start motivating some to start doing better.  First though, we have to pay attention.

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