Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Friday, December 30, 2011

On the human ability to invent language

We're finishing a short visit to Houston where we've had the joy of spending a few days with our grandaughter Shoshana who has been much studied by Yetta in her oral and written language development.

Now we have her kids, our three little great grand children, as subjects. Ezrial who will be four in January is totally conversational though she spoke in intonational patterns until past three. Juliette, who will be 2 in January has mastered English phonology, understands everything, and is becoming converstional.
Yet her most charming language is her negatives and positives. Mmhmm in rising tintonation is yes and Mmm mm with a falling intonation is no..

Little 5 month old Levi  smiles and chortles happily - and Julliette responds ":happy baby brother"
So we now have had three generations of progeny to study.
Everyone has shown a somewhat different pattern. Softa (the hebrew for grandma) is our daughter Karen whose written language development Yetta studied as she was beginning first grade. 23 month old Julliette was calling Yetta safta showing either her classifying her with Karen in her mind or seeing them as similar in features.

These are digital natives  More than once when we answered the phone we could hear the sounds of Shoshana and Justin's home. Juliette had pushed our button on the  cell phone. We've only seen the kids thorough skype for the past several months and when Shoshana told them we were coming they ran to the computer. Juli seemed perplexed with how we got out of the computer screen. Both girls are familiar with ipads, The younger went right to the single button on my model 1 and began pushing it vigorously.
Shortly she was looking at pictures and listening to music.
Ezrial  found every game and went on to the next after about 1 minute.

You can expect to hear more about the brilliant language development of these wonderful new subjects.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reading in Asian Languages

Reading in Asian Languages: Making Sense in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
is the title of the new book I co -edited published by Routledge in November 2011
 The book is the happy result of my good fortune in having a series of bright Asian students who taught me bout their languages while I taught them about reading.

Some key premises of the book are:
1, There is single process for making sense of written language regardless of language, orthography,or
culture,alphabetic languages
2. The model I have developed of the reading process is a good fit for non-alphabetic languages.
3, There is much misinformation and misunderstanding in the Western World about writing with Chinese 
    characters. Among these are:
a. The Marco Polo myth-We think they persisted in character based writing because they didn't know better,
    Actually he followed the well-worn silk-route Chinese merchants had been using for centuries.
b. Memorizing thousands of unrelated charachters.   There is system to the characters. All characters are composed of only 8 different strokes arranged in four quadrants. Within  each character there usually 
is a radical that relates it other characters- fruit for example. So finding  a new character in context, a reader would have multiple cues about the meaning.
c. Chinese is hard to learn. Not so. at least it is no harder to learn than any other system. Many children in Japan, Taiwan and mainland China are already reading when they begin school.
d. Character based writing is inappropriate for computers  use.
 Computers don't use the alphabet. They use numeric codes. The CHinese computer works much like alphabetic ones. As the writer starts a character the computer offers a choice of possible completions.
  I'm proud of this book. We hope it will spread understanding of the systems used by millions of people.

The chapters are authored by present or past students . Thanks to my co-editors Mieko Iventosch, Shaomei Wong, and Yetta Goodman. Shaomei;s adaption of my miscue taxonomy to Chinese is included. It is a major contribution to research in Chinese reading.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where to begin


Rob Burling is reading my book On Reading and asked me an important question. He found the boat in the basement ingenious and admitted he missed most of the miscues in his first reading.But he wanted to know how the reader would have learned to read the words that are correct in the story.
Here's my response.
I'm glad you found the Boat in the Basement ingenious.
The answer to your question is in understanding that reading is learned in much the same way as oral language- All three systems must be present in authentic language and the three systems- Graphophonic, lexicogrammar, and semantic support each other. Those are Halliday's terms The middle level the lexico-grammar is important because wording and syntax are assigned at the same time. The word choiice assumes the grammar and the grammatical choice assumes the wording.

The current work on text linguistics makes clear that words only exist and have meaning in the context of other words. They cannot be "identified" without knowing the phrases in which they occur. Much of language iis formulaic. The reader prediicts through the door  and thus doesn't attend to that in the text it is though.

Phonics as I say in phonics facts is quite important but it is highly personal, that is the set of relationships between the standardized spelling and the phonology of each person's oral language. The work on children's writing development shows that they are inventing spellings consistent with their own phonology. In a developmental study by Prisca Martens her daughter sarah began writing her name as sarah but at a later point she wrote Sawu. 
That means that phonics is learned and used in the process of reading and writing.
Teaching phonics outside of the real language context would only reinforce phonetic spelling. As children read they naturally move to conventional spelling.

We like to think of language development as two forces shaping it : invention is the force from within that causes the learner to invent language and convention is the external force that is exerted by the language the child hears and sees. That works in oral language and written language learning is an extention of oral language learning.

So the answer to your question is that the learner is not learning words and then using them to make sense. The child is learning to make sense and in the course of that  coming to to control the wording.
 As you know language is overwhelmingly  redundant. Each element in an utterance limits what can follow. But language is also very ambiguous. Every language has homophones and homographs. That's why I became aware that ever language learner has  a "set for ambiguity". We are able to make sense of ambiguous language
because we have all three levels to support each other.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More from Aurora

12/15/11 Tucson
We had a wonderful 2 days of work in Aurora Colorado. Charlotte Butler has been doing some marvelous
staff development with her secondary English group.The secondary English program is reading-writing workshop built around retrospective miscue analysis.
It's not without its problems. This year the district has recreated reading intervention classes in the high schools. Students with low test scores are automatically programmed into it. That means no electives. We met with the lucky young man who is teaching four such classes.He knows how to work with low achievers. but...

On the other hand what a pleasure to meet peer coaches who work in one or more schools supporting teachers. They are knowledgeable about and clever in their use of miscue analysis and retrospective miscue analysis.

One coach working in  a k-8 school described how she was able to get a teacher to stop supplying words to the kids as they read. She helped her see the strengths their miscues showed.

Another teacher raised questions the teacher of high achievers had raised with her about the values of retrospective miscue analysis for students. We had a wonderful discussion of why even high achievers need to revalue themselves and the reading process. We talked about kids who get good grades but are  uptight about their reading and writing and read so cautiously that they are inefficient. They can profit from realizing that they don't need to  read everything in the same intense way. Understanding how reading works frees them to use the process flexibly.

Others  shared the case studies they've been doing. We encouraged them to put them together in a book.

We sat in with Charlottes's whole team as they discussed the data they are gathering for a study of the effectiveness of their program. They face the problems we all do of helping their colleagues to see the value of what they are doing, Simple test results always look more explicit even if they tell you much less than the more complex evidence we can offer.
You can check their website at http://instruction.aurorak12.org/instructional-resources/literacy/secondary/

Perhaps the most lasting effects of Charlotte's efforts will be in the growing number of teachers who teach differently because they have revalued reading.

The Pedagogy of the Absurd

In an era in which a series of Presidents and Secretaries of Education don't understand that  the term grade level is an artifact of standardized tests and lament that 50 % of all students fall below grade level it not hard to understand why I call this era in American education, The Pedagogy of the Absurd. Grade level is the mean score of those tested in each grade to standardize the test. By definition half are above and half are below.grade level. Even Garriison Keiler , who invented the Lake Wobegon effect (where all the children are above average) responded sharply when I wrote him about his misuse of grade level in his column.
 I believe that in the future people will look back and chuckle ruefully at the things that are being done in and to the schools. For example people in the future will roar with laughter at the sub tests of DIBLES. Now it's hard to laugh at he pain being felt by parents of 5 and six year olds who beg not to go to school because of DIBLES. My files are full of desperate letters.

There are growing islands of enlightenment to keep me optimistic. One such is Aurora  Colorado. In this penny pinching era they spend 10% of their budget on staff development. Their secondary English program is built around retrospective miscue analysis. They are giving support in many ways to their teachers starting with treating them as informed professionals. They maintain a demonstration classroom where teachers can come for a period away from their own classrooms to teach with an excellent teacher. Debi Goodman and Alan Flurkey from Hofstra have been teaching courses for their staff  to build their understanding of reading and assessment.

Tomorrow Yetta and I head to Aurora in suburban Denver for a few days of  professional uplifitng interactions with their staff. More from Aurora tomorrow tomorrow morning.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Welcome to my head

Unlike the closed blogs I've used to develop books and ideas with a small circle of collaborators, I intend this blog to be a platform for me to expound my personal views and interact with anyone seriously interested in discussing them. Come one come almost all. I'm not interested in being slandered, misrepresented and dragged into the gutter by those not interested in serious discussion in my own parlour, so to speak. So I'll control comments- I won't edit them but I'll be judge of what violates this rule.

That said welcome to the aging head of Ken Goodman