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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 it’s 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.

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”

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.

What’s Wrong With Vouchers? We’re About to Find Out

Get ready. The United States seems primed to undergo the largest experiment ever pitting public versus private education. Never mind that similar smaller scaled experiments, such as the 20 plus year Milwaukee’s School Choice Program, and voucher programs from Cleveland to Louisiana to Chile, have all produced results ranging from mediocre to sub-par; Donald Trump’s recent announcement of Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education has indicated a new scale to this battle.

DeVos is one of the central soldiers of a small army of wealthy conservatives who have relentlessly fought to funnel funding from public to private, under the guise of giving parents greater choice. She seems to have no experience in education, other than her part in this long battle, detailed here. Despite losing the overwhelming majorities of these battles in the form of failed voter initiatives, and legal challenges, a small handful of wealthy conservatives have used their clout and incredible persistence to continue the fight. And now, with DeVos as the key leader of American education, and with the Tea Party in control of vast swathes of America, from congress to the state legislatures, to the presidency, the voucher movement appears to have the wind at it’s sails like never before.

On the surface It sure sounds like a nice idea that if you don’t like your kids’ current schools, you should have the ability to enroll them in a different school – without moving yourself – but this notion consistently whitewashes the fact that what tends to bring many public schools down are the requirement that they educate the less advantaged, from the disabled to the poor. So what’s wrong with vouchers? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • There’s no accountability. There are no voter chosen school boards, no mandated reporting of test scores, and multiple reports of corruption that so frequently follows a lack of accountability.
  • There’s no proof they work. Earlier reports of their efficacy in raising student achievement have not held up under recent scrutiny. Now the consensus is that there’s no good evidence supporting them, and the research that has been done has not only not been able to weed out extraneous variables, it may even suggest that public education is better. And, not only is there absolutely no evidence that they’re cost effective, what evidence there is suggests otherwise.
  • They often use public funds to support religious institutions. This article excellently describes how the racist origins of America’s voucher movement have come to be intertwined with the Religious Right’s more recent acrimony against public school’s secularization.
  • They’re discriminatory. Private schools can always choose who (and critically, who not) to accept. Get rid of this allowance, and any private school immediately gains the problems inherent in public schools.

Few come out and say it, but many educators have experienced first hand the hostility of some whose taxpayer dollars have to go toward special education. Ultimately, this discrimination is what has fueled much of the voucher movement. Many people continue to be outraged that “my money” is used to help “other people,” without “my consent.” The voucher battles are just another in a long list in the overall culture wars, the ultimate crux of which continues to be: Do we want to live in an inclusive or exclusive society? Of late, the allies of exclusivity have been organized, powerful, loud, and winning.

Best Bits of Great Philosophy – Nietzsche

I feel like digressing.  My purpose in doing these “Best Bits” is to create something I believe should, and doesn’t yet, exist.  It is to create an easy to remember encapsulation of those aspects of famous philosophies most relevant to the lives of ordinary people.

nietzsche-doll
Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after witnessing the beating of a horse.  He spent the final 11 years of his life in a mental asylum.  (Image courtesy of pixabay.com)

Anyway, on to Friedrich Nietzsche’s best bits:

  • We should each strive to create for ourselves the kind of life we would not mind
    repeating over and over again.  This is what we should take out of Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence.  When evaluating a future course of action ask yourself if you would want this in your “do over” life, if one were to exist.
  • Nietzsche’s will to power depends upon a desire to improve and to move forward, and is highly individualistic, as opposed to the humility and submission advocated by certain religions.  Having this will to power helps to deter exploitation.
  • His Ubermensch, loosely translated as Superman, was meant to be the ultimate aspiration of every man.  Ultimately we are each responsible to create our own life’s meaning, and Nietzsche created an exemplar model of how this may look.  The main point is that we do it ourselves, for our own lives, especially by rising above the herd mentality of others.  If your values come uncritically from others, it’s time to at least begin critically examining them.
  • Nietzsche’s idea that God is dead was not presented as something good or bad, but as an observation, the point being that people create values based on themselves.  Since there’s no omnipotent father figure looking out for our needs, we better do our best to help ourselves.
  • Probably my favorite of Nietzsche’s many quotes and aphorisms, (here slightly paraphrased):  “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  Sure, it benefits mankind to critically examine bad stuff, but take care not to dwell, and make sure not to forget the positive in life too.  Our worry itself too easily makes things worse.  Our worries deepen the abyss.  Even when things seem bad, at least you’re alive, and it helps everybody not to forget to focus some on that.
  • If you want more information, many others are out there to help you.  Many others, with much more.

The Necessity of Noise

My plan was to, after the election, return to writing stories solely on language and learning, as I have done with this blog for over eight years. But then the unexpected happened this past Tuesday, and while I still have the desire to write, my desire to write specifically on language and learning at this moment is severely muted. I understand that followers of this blog have done so with the expectation that because of the previous language and learning focus, these type of posts are likely to continue. I know that I still retain a passion for both of these general topics, and fully expect this passion to be fulfilled in the form of these sorts of posts sometime down the road. Probably even soon down the road. On election day, though, something horrible happened, something ultimately shaped by years marred by incorrect “learning” and intentional misinformation. A political blog has never been my intent, but my sincere belief that too much acceptance of this misinformation has played a big part in what has happened, and I just find myself able to focus on anything else while this acceptance goes unaddressed. So here goes my catharsis.

Trump = hate, hate of others, hate of Jews, blacks, gays, women, Hillary, Obama, and yes, liberals. He ran on hate, and won because he too easily convinced his hate filled supporters to hate his opponents more than him. I have no reason to believe other than that he will continue to use this hate to his benefit. While not certain, the likelihood seems very high that his benefit will damage many in this country. The evidently recent spike in hate crimes seems likely to be only the beginning.

Many events conspired to all fall one way, aligning perfectly to bring about what happened Tuesday. But there is one more insidious than the rest, one perhaps more powerful than all the rest, and one that evidently continues to go largely unnoticed. Here it is – There is a Republican narrative, and Fox, Breitbart, Rush, etc. all share in it. This narrative is a tool in the Republican agenda, and that is to win at all costs, even if that means using hate and lies to do it. By not verifying the assertions of those with this Republican agenda, many otherwise non-hateful people have been unwittingly serving their purpose. I’m truly saddened that it has come to this, but the support of this agenda speaks louder than any response these people can give, other than a complete repudiation of Trump and the modern day conservative movement. For years our attempts at dialogue have been met with hate, misdirection, and attacks, and I have come to the point that sometimes words just don’t work. This Republican narrative is a virus, one so far immune to words. But those of us who remain uninfected must continue to fight, or this virus will continue to spread. The defeat of how we previously chose to fight has shown the necessity that our actions must be ratcheted up, now with more and more harshly condemning words and PEACEFUL protests. Hopefully this will work.

The kinder Trump voters keep pleading to just give him a chance. The harsher ones have been telling the rest of us to just quit being crybabies. Both requests are shaded by the implication that those of us who are upset by Trump’s election should just shut up. Well, we have no choice but to give him a chance. I can’t vote against him for another four years. But I refuse to be quiet about the poisonous stew of hate, fear, and misinformation that brought him to power. Also, I sincerely believe that too much of this recent quiet itself on the part of Democrats, and the non-Republican media (now maliciously referred to as the “main stream media”) has contributed to this stew.

I realize how it seems that I’m only hurt and frustrated because Trump won. Many on “my side” seemed content with the status quo before only because it seemed as though we were winning. This, unfortunately is true. What Trump’s victory, and the sweeping victories of the Republican party on November 8th , however, has done is this: it has hammered home how wrong this apathy was. None of us should ever be content to allow hate, fear-mongering, and lies to go unchecked, no matter who controls what.

For too long nobody believed Trump could win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. Often what allows horrible things to happen is the belief that they can’t.

(This Slate article shares my sentiments pretty well.)

A Critical Comparison of the Pros and Cons of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

The people of the United States are about to elect a president in what may become one of history’s most influential democratic elections – and they are about to do so with an astounding lack of the information normally necessary to make decisions of much lesser magnitudes. Critical examinations of the candidates have been consistently marred by both deliberate misinformation and a ratings obsessed media circus in which an ever-changing stream of one absurd headline after another continuously supersedes in-depth analysis. The two remaining candidates have been treated as near equals, both positively and negatively, despite the contrary facts. These facts are out there, but their scattered nature makes it far too easy to lose track. This post will be far different from any other previous posts to The Language Fix, but the magnitude of this election, the direction it seems to be heading, and the continuous misuse and abuse of information makes action critically important. And so here it is: a collection of the facts, and a side by side display of the pros and cons of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that highlights how apparent it is that not only are their accomplishments and negatives not equal – they’re not even close.

(Click on image to enlarge.  Click on PDF or DOC for files in those formats.)

hillary-vs-trump-pros-and-cons-image

 

The Best Schools Do What?

Last week came the final report of a bipartisan group of more than two-dozen U.S. state lawmakers and legislative staffers who took 18 months to study some of the world’s top-performing school systems, including those in Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Ontario, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan.  The group, part of the National Conference of State Legislatures, released its findings, titled No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State, which specifically looked at what the top schools do that schools in the U.S. don’t.

There were three big takeaways, as reported in this story on the report.

  1.  They level the playing field of the youngest learners.  Ontario, for example, offers free, full-day kindergarten not only to 5-year-olds but to 4-year-olds too.  They provide more resources for schools in disadvantaged areas, and provide incentives for the best teachers to teach in these areas.
  2. They emphasize better teacher preparation.  Not only are teaching programs better, but they spend a lot more time on activities such as working in teams with other teachers to develop and improve lessons, observing and critiquing classes, and working with struggling students.  And yes, pay is higher, resulting in more selectivity at the top teaching universities. Teachers in these top performing countries are often paid on par with accountants and engineers.
  3. They emphasize vocational education.  Classes for auto repair, welding, carpentry, etc. are better funded, and more up to date.  They are not considered lower esteemed as they often are in the U.S., and are funded accordingly.

Sure, the U.S. has fermented many obstacles toward attaining these things, such as bitter politics, and severely unequal funding with a tremendous emphasis on local wealth.  For a long time the answers to these problems have been obscured by different opinions on what the end result should be.  But this report and other recent ones like it have cleared the fog and hopefully, removed the excuses.

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