Saturday, June 21, 2008

What do your words say?

Joey had an absolutely Cracker-Jack team of teachers this year, and the methods they used to gently, supportively, and lovingly get him to think about language and use it appropriately were gems I wish I could use on my college-age students without them going ballistic on me.

One of my favorites was Mrs. S telling Joey, "Here is what your words said: [Joey's mangled attempt to spontaneously create a sentence instead of quoting someone else]. Does that make sense to you?" She would sometimes ask other kids in the class if those words made sense, too- not in a humiliating way, but in a way where everyone was helping everybody else untangle what was said, so that everyone, including Joey, could come up with the words that were needed. He could hear the words and realize they did not make sense, and clarify wha he wanted to say with some help from his friends.

For example (and I use it because I already have it up on You-Tube), when i went in to visit Joey, i took a lot of pictures of him. Joey has always loved cameras and having his picture taken, even as an itty-bitty. He was very happy and excited. So when it came time for the News, Joey's news was naturally going to be about me and the camera. He had nowhere to pull words for that. There was no TV show he could quote, no-one else was having their picture taken, he was completely on his own. The words that came out were, "I am happy I get to play picture-taking."

We got it decoded to being happy I came to school, and happy to have his picture taken (watch the video, its really cute). Joey loves to imitate this phrase, especially if he doesn't understand what someone (especially Andy) said. He gets that little cock to his head and asks, "Does that make sense?" with a giggle.

I would love to go all Mrs. S on some of my students:

"When a leader stumbles his followers fall right on top of him."
“B ecause the art is the dunp thing in paintings, the big painters like Leonardo the winchy and other painter said a lot to the people by the paintings.”
"There is no denying there was a lot of Hellenistic influence in Greece."
"Power is communicated though art in many was. religiously you have Jesus who wore a purple rode, gold rope and was a very powerful person. That was a sign of power."

And those are from people who are English-speakers. I have plenty more that are silly only if you know something about art history. I'd just like to sit them down, and see if I can't get whatever they thought they were saying out of their heads and into their mouths (or pens). I need to know if they really understand the material, and we just have a communication problem, or if they really are this confused and lost!


Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

It might just be me, but I could understand perfectly what he meant.

Niksmom said...

I understood it, too, but...
Wow, Ms. S. is AWESOME in her approach. It is so important to help our kids find ways to communicate so that those who might not know them as well (and therefore understand all their nuances and -isms) can apprecaite what they are saying. The danger in not encoujraging this is that they are dismissed and marginalized.

Joeymom said...

I understand most of what my students are trying to say, too- but learning appropriate and proper communication is important. Some folks would have no clue what Joey was saying, or what these students intended to say. Some folks wouldn't bother to understand. Proper grammar is with us for a reason.

Stuart said...

"There is no denying there was a lot of Hellenistic influence in Greece."

Technically I suppose there is no denying...

bobbie said...

Mrs. S. sounds like a really great teacher. Yes, it would be so much more helpful if we could get people to say what they really mean. We should start with TV news people, because half of them give some pretty strange impressions to those who are not familiar with their subjects.

With teachers like Mrs. S. (and a mom like you) Joey is going to be OK for sure.

kristina said...

Yeah, and there was no denying that the Grecians had something to do with the Hellenes..... maybe you could say you'll YouTube their writing!

Hooray for Mrs. S!

kiribako said...

It always startles me to see those homophone replacements. "Leonardo the winchy" is a bit extreme, but I've been laughing at the "taken for granite" variety for years now. I always jump to the conclusion that the speaker/writer is ignorant. Then again, I know I'm not perfect. Speaking is a bit more spontaneous, but if you don't eliminate those mistakes from your writing, then you just don't care, or you really ARE ignorant. I don't grade papers, so I don't see those student examples on a daily basis - I think it would drive me crazy. I know it drives me crazy when I see the occasional slip-up in an edited source. I assume those arise from workplace stress.

I didn't think I would ever become a defender of correct English... I could understand what those student examples were saying, too. The ideas are muddled enough to begin with - having to decode them through the lexical errors is even worse. Like it or not, a large segment of our world has become permissive of this muddled thinking. There is a two-way street: Official sources are under pressure to dumb down so that they will be understood, but everyone would be better off if they held to a high standard.

If you follow Steven Pinker, then you know that natural languages are restricted from becoming too formal by the need to pass them along to new generations. Japanese is a good example of a language with two versions - one to teach children and one to use in extremely polite situations where children wouldn't be welcome anyway. In English we've got specialized languages like Legalese.

But back to permissiveness: Even college students can point to many examples in the real world where nobody cared to craft the words properly. What world do they plan to live in? You have a choice these days - but it will shut you out of a lot of subsequent choices.

Well, I'm crossing my fingers as I hit the 'Publish' button that I didn't take anything for granite.