Thumbs—they’re good for more than just hitchhiking.
Teens these days do not use their thumbs for hitching rides on the side of the road. They use their thumbs to text rapid-fast messages to their friends on their cellphones. But, because keypads on cellphones are so tiny and typically thumbs are not, and each number key represents multiple letters, the tight maneuvering can lead to quite a few spelling mistakes.
Mistakes that can lead to hilarity—and to neologisms.
That’s right. The rapid-fast world of text-messaging has lead to the coining of new words. Well, new slang words.
For instance, did you know that pwn means own and that noobs means newbies?
But how can a spelling mistake become a word added to our common lexicon? It has to do with staying power. And these days a slang word is more likely than ever before to stick around. That’s because of where the slang is being used—in the cybersphere—it has more chances to reach across age groups, demographics, cultures, and societies. It can permeate. It can get picked up in the main stream and suddenly, what was once a spelling mistake can now be overheard in conversations on the street being held by parents, business professionals and even grandparents.
But do we have to worry about how slang and short forms is affecting teens’ language development? Not if they are able to use whole forms and demonstrate complete and competent language skills in they areas that need to, like in proper speech or on an essay.
This viewpoint on teens and text-messaging is a departure from our opinion of text messaging and language development in children who are in the lower-level grades and who are still are acquiring their language skills. (Read Texting versus Writing)
According to Katherine Barber of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the fact that teens are developing new slang words is a good thing. “If the kids are picking up new words and new meanings then that means that they’re playing with the language,” she says.
Spelling mistakes and the slang words that develop from rapid-fast thumb texting mean that kids are thinking about words, spelling and meaning, and that teens are playing an active role in language development.
Teens thinking about language and new words? They deserve two thumbs up.
Content for this Blog post from an article that originally appeared in the London Free Press Sunday Feb. 18, 2007 called Thumb Typists Reshape Language by Dean Bennett.
Read More »
Viewed from a holistic perspective
When we throw away phonics as the first and primary method of decoding and switch to whole word (whole language) method, we are telling our kids something that isn’t true. We are saying that there is no code — that there is no order to the development of language. That words themselves are the blocks of the language.
But words cannot be used as parts of a whole. In other words, you make words from letters but you don’t make new words by splicing two or three other words together. So, in fact, words are not the blocks of the language — letters are!
However, that’s not what we tell our kids. By depriving them of the understanding that letters, not words, are the blocks of the language, we are making language incoherent. It can’t be understood; there is no pattern; it can just be memorized. Can you imagine having to memorize by sight every single word in the English language? Well that’s what we condemn kids to do when we teach them whole words instead of letters.
This causes another problem — the problem of thinking. If we begin by the whole word method, we are encouraging a number of practices. We encourage and reward memorization and we encourage estimation — if you don’t know the word, guess. In fact, by allowing students to think that meanings are interchangeable, that if you don’t know what it really means, guessing is okay, we are pretending that words don’t have specific meanings. But every word stands for one, and only one specific concept.
It is not true that any old meaning will do. It is not true and it is not fair to the student to imply it is. It says that accuracy is not important and that fuzzy or “sort of” thinking is all right.
So we encourage kids to memorize and match, tell them that accuracy is not important, forgive and allow fuzzy thinking and pretend that creative (inventive) spelling is fine. Then what happens? High school, university, college and life happens. Students end up thinking associationally, not conceptually. They can’t problem solve, don’t take academic risks, need structured programs and lots of help and guidance — all of which impede the development of real self-esteem.
They don’t “get it,” don’t make the connections or see the relationships. They are disorganized, not motivated, sometimes confused, angry or defensive. They are not achieving their potential because they haven’t learned how to think critically.
Ask any high school English or Math teacher, go to a university and inquire of the English, philosophy, business or psychology departments, or speak to business leaders, about the literacy of many recent graduates. You will see we already have this problem. It’s not going away, it’s going to get worse.
And it begins when we cast the first seeds of doubt in the pristine minds of our children. A child who has learned to speak already knows (implicitly and probably without the words to defend himself or herself) the importance of accuracy. Watch kids play and observe how carefully they keep each other accurate. Even understanding a single word means that that child understands that there is something the same as other words but that there is an important something different as well and that child is capable of understanding that difference. That child insists on clarity, honesty and integrity in his or her dealings with the world.
Then we tell the child to ignore all that he or she knows about how to learn. We say accuracy isn’t important and that our written language doesn’t have a code. Some schools forbid teachers from telling kids that words are made up of letters which have specific sounds. In other words, we imply that how the child has been using his or her mind is wrong.
What they figured out for themselves can’t be trusted. They are wrong for life! If one thinks of the amount of struggle an adult goes through in order to understand life and then considers that this same struggle is occurring daily in the hearts and minds of our children, one might begin to see why it is so important for them to feel that they are capable of understanding. Their very survival depends upon it.
But our reading programs pull the rug out from under our children. We discount the achievement of their minds and the confidence and pride they have developed as a result of that great achievement. In fact, what a child accomplishes in learning to speak is probably the greatest achievement of his or her life. It is certainly the hardest.
Instead of celebrating this great achievement — one that required precision, logic, understanding — we tell them to memorize and trust. We drive a spear into the very soul of their self-confidence and feelings of self-esteem and it is no wonder that they prefer to memorize and live in a structured universe. If their own minds are not safe or competent then the only other option is trust and follow.
But it’s just a reading program, you say. And teachers love kids and want to help them and school boards don’t want to cause problems, they want to educate kids as effectively as possible. Yes, all that may be true, but it doesn’t change the facts.
All the good intentions in the world will not change the principles of a bad program and will not lessen the severity of its effects. Whole word or whole language reading programs are not teaching our kids to read well and are a major part of the reason why students are not thinking more clearly and effectively.
We have known how to teach kids to read for centuries. Modern teaching methodology has produced creative and effective teachers. Let’s use these strengths to marry excellent teachers with effective programs.
Read More »
Viewed from a holistic perspective
Whole Language versus Phonics is a subject engendering much discussion these days. Parents are demanding a return to the teaching of reading by phonics while school board trustees and administrators are claiming their whole language reading programs are effective. Teachers are often confused and kids are stuck in the middle. It may be possible to understand this issue better if we examine some of the primary principles underlying the act of reading.
Children first hear language by listening to their parents. But they do not merely copy the sounds of their parents. A child must make an enormous mental step in order to begin learning this language. Every word in our language represents a particular and single concept. When children first learn language, they first have to understand — in a mind that has no language at all — that the strange sound they are hearing is connected to whatever the parent is pointing or referring to.
For example, when you say “Mommy” to the child and point at yourself, how will the child know what you are doing, or that the sound you have made even has any meaning at all? Understanding that the sound refers to one specific concept is a feat that requires the child to understand that it is necessary to categorize information in order to make greater sense of his or her universe.
Without language, we can only think about what is in our conscious mind right now. All the learning of the past would be lost to us. Without words to summarize and represent concepts, we would have to develop each concept anew every time, much like the lower order animals do.
Children learn language through their ears. They hear sounds, learn to distinguish the differences between these sounds, learn to blend diverse sounds together, learn what concepts are, and what the individually blended sounds (words) stand for. All this information is filed in the subconscious and the language is verbal.
The next step seems logical. The child already understands all the concepts of language implicitly. If they can speak in clear sentences, they already have comprehension! We do not have to worry about that. Our task should be to teach them how to access the incredible amount of stored knowledge and literature humankind possesses.
By teaching children to understand the code or script we use to write our language. It is a unique code and it is designed to be built from the ground up, much the same way every single verbal or mental concept is formed. Amazing! Language and thinking are developed together and in the same way. In fact, language was developed so that we could further enlarge our knowledge. It is primarily a tool of thinking, not for communication.
Reading should be no different. If we first helped the child to understand abstract concepts by making sure they understood concrete ones — by teaching verbal language — then we should teach reading in the same manner. That would suggest to our children that there is some logic and order to the learning of written language just as there was in the learning of spoken language and in thinking.
The building blocks of reading are letters, and there are only 26 of them. All words flow from these basic 26 units. If for no other reason than it is logical and rational, we should consider using only phonics-first reading programs for our children. It is empowering and important for the development of their self-esteem.
But there is much more. Next time.
Read More »