Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Weekly Text: August 28, 2015

Is there a way we can assist our students in remembering what we teach them in the classroom? More broadly, can we help students become stronger, more effective, and therefore more satisfied learners, particularly in terms of retention (de rigeur now for hyper-tested students), by showing them how memory actually functions? The answer, or part of the answer at least, thanks to Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is yes. Professor Willingham writes a column called “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” for The American Educator, which is an excellent quarterly journal of research into pedagogical practice and educational policy issues published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). I’m amazed at the consistently cogent and useful scholarly research the AFT presents in this first-rate publication.

Anyway, in the winter 2008-2009 issue, Professor Willingham published his column under the title What Will Improve a Student’s Memory? This is a cognitive science experiment in three parts that demonstrates the role of thought and memory in the learning process. These materials, which I developed for use in teaching a lesson adapted from Professor Willingham’s first demonstration of memory, will help you and your students conduct the first of these three experiments, then sort out its immediate results. Through this clever and concrete demonstration, students will learn that thinking is the parent of memory–as Professor Willingham emphasizes.  I like to start the year with this lesson; in fact, I teach it on the first day of school, before discussing classroom norms and expectations, as a way of setting the tone (i.e. your learning comes first) for the year.

To get to the instructional material: you’ll need click through to the article link above, then scroll down through the PDF to page 26, “Demonstration of the Three Principles.” You’ll use Demonstration 1: once you’ve read through the procedure for the demonstration, you’ll see how you can use the attached learning support, linked above as well, with the lesson plan loosely aligned with Common Core Standards (they don’t provide much for an exercise of this kind), to make this comprehensible to students.

I find this lesson, taught to a well-focused class, as most are on the first day of school, generally takes less than the 44 minutes my school has deemed adequate for conveying new information and providing students with an opportunity to use it. After finishing the procedural work, and sorting out the results of that work to assess its meaning (it’s part of the procedure in the article), I like to ask students a few questions. The big question is, of course, Why did you remember the words you rated for pleasantness? Another query I use is What can students and teachers do to work together to study words in a way helps students remember their meaning and use them in their future discourses? (Do your students understand the concept of discourse? It seems to me it’s a word and concept high school students really ought to know.) I also ask questions that prepare students for some of the work we’ll do that is animated by Professor Willingham’s first demonstration: Is there something common to words that can help us understand them as families? which helps to rationalize the use of word root worksheets. Is there a way to learn words by thinking about what they might mean?  justifies the use of do now focus on one word worksheets.

Most  of the vocabulary building work I’ll publish on Mark’s Text Terminal derives directly from my understanding of the cognitive mechanisms Professor Willingham’s first demonstration exposes. This lesson, if nothing else, may help you persuade resistant students that this is a useful way to learn new words and the concepts or things they define. I hope you find this useful. I would, as always, be interested in hearing about how you used it.

Clive James on Humanism

“Gradually, I realized that I had been looking in the wrong place. As a journalist and critic, a premature post-modernist, I was often criticized in my turn for talking about the construction of a poem and of a Grand Prix racing car in the same breath, or of treating gymnasts and high divers (in my dreams, I astonish the Olympic medalist Greg Louganis) as if they were practicing the art of sculpture. It was a sore point, and often the sore point reveals where the real point is. Humanism wasn’t in the separate activities: humanism was the connection between them. Humanism was a particularized but unconfined concern with all the high-quality products of the creative impulse, which could be distinguished from the destructive one by its propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it. Builders of concentration camps might be creators of a kind—it is possible to imagine an architect happily working to perfect the design of the concrete stanchions supporting an electrified barbed-wire fence—but they were in business to subtract variety from the created world, not to add to it. In the connection between all the outlets of the creative impulse in mankind, humanism made itself manifest, and to be concerned with understanding and maintaining that intricate linkage necessarily entailed an opposition to any political order that worked to weaken it.”

From Cultural Amnesia (New York: Norton, 2008), “Introduction,” p. xix.

The Weekly Text: August 21, 2015

This week’s text is two short worksheets to help students deal with the commonly confused and misused homophones two, too and to. These are modified cloze exercises, and therefore mostly self explanatory and easy to use. In any case, here is the Homophone Worksheets Users’ Manual to clarify the use of these materials.

I hope you find them useful.

The Weekly Text: August 14, 2015

Here, at last, is what I hope I can focus on sufficiently to sustain as the gravamen of Mark’s Text Terminal, The Weekly Text. In each of these weekly installments I’ll post something I’ve developed to assist struggling students in building their literacy skills. I make no promises–the school year can get quite busy–but I will do what I can to publish something new every week.

This inaugural Weekly Text is a vocabulary building worksheet that derives from the Latinate word root bellBell means war and is at the root of several words in English (i.e. bellicose, belligerent, and, as below, antebellum). I imagine most educators would agree that learned people ought to understand and know how to use these words. Unsurprisingly, most of these words have cognates in the Romance languages, as antebellum does. If you’re teaching English language learners, the Latinate word root is a bridge between English and Spanish.

These words are mostly abstract, but carry a hint, as so many Latin nouns themselves do, of the concrete. There is room in the lesson or lessons one might write to attend this worksheet for an exploration of the differences between concrete and abstract nouns. Furthermore, there is room for a discussion on the concepts represented here, and some questions teachers might ask are: What is war? What does war look like? What is the difference between war and peace? What is bellicose speech and behavior? How can a society know, by the bellicose or belligerent behavior of some of its members, that it is at risk of going to war?  Finally, I generally make sure students understand the difference between belligerent as an adjective and a noun, because in the latter case, the word can turn up in a sentence like The Axis and the Allies were the belligerents in World War II. In this sentence, students need to understand that belligerents means combatants.

Finally, here’s the Word Root Worksheets Users’ Manual document for a fuller exegesis of this type of worksheet.

The Short Bus

Have you read Jonathan Mooney’s The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal (New York: Henry Holt, 2008)? If you serve struggling learners, this is probably a book you’ll want to read at some point. Mr. Mooney has, thankfully, become something of a presence in the world of special school populations. His book opens with this excellent epigraph from French philosopher and critic (whom I have, in general, found impenetrable) Michel Foucault that might be worth considering as we prepare for another school year:

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normal is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.”