Friday, December 25, 2009

All Snuggied In

Well, we're having quite a fine blizzard here in Nebrasky. My sister's boyfriend claims he's coming to get me for brunch. We'll see.

Update: Rash picked me up and delivered me home in one piece. Had a great time and am home again, more than ready to be snowbound for the next few days.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Spelling Shmelling

It's the last day before winter break and the now traditional English department last-day-of-the-year egg casserole is baking. You know the one: eggs, bread, half-and-half, jalapenos, chorizo, cheese. Mine is never as good as my mother's was, nor is it as good as my sister's, and I do not care for it, but my co-workers insist it's divine. I have donned my semi-ironic sequined sweater and am braced for the sublime madness of finals and holiday sugar bombs showing up everywhere.

With a little time to kill, checked out my Twitter feed (yes I'm a Twit, aren't you?) and as usual, Charles Blow had an interesting link to wake my brain with.

A British education blog, School Gate, posts this: Should Spelling Be Inventive?

The first paragraph is a proud summary of all the British schools gearing up for a big spelling bee. "Some things in life are either right or wrong and spelling is one of those." I agree with that sentiment, and instantly think of color vs colour, then grey vs gray, and shake my head, try to focus. Where are we going?

The author of the article quotes a principal from a Georgia (USA) elementary school regarding spelling:

“However, for written expression activities students are allowed to use inventive spelling (spelling words by how they sound)," the principal writes, "to help get their thoughts on paper and avoid spending too much time on asking how to spell words.”

Oh dear. As all those Spelling Bee entrants know, you can't go through life spelling "inventively". I am not a fan of homework for primary school aged children, but I am fine with spelling tests because children simply need to learn the correct ways to write words.

And don't think that attitudes like this are limited to the States. The guidelines in this country are usually interpreted (at least in state schools) to suggest that teachers don't correct all the wrong spellings in a child's work, so as not to make them feel too downhearted. This of course means that many children don't realise that they have spelt a word incorrectly - and then don't learn how to spell it right in the future.

(My Yankee spellchecker tells me that she has misspelled "realize" and "spelled" up above but I'll defer for now.)

Let me just address what I believe the principal was getting at (or what I would have been getting at.) First, the use of the word "inventive" might have been an unfortunate choice. I think he was trying to say that for first drafts, the young writer's attention should be given to ideas, not technicalities.

I urge my students to set aside concerns about spelling, grammar, even logic, when taking a first stab at a topic. This is not because I'm afraid they'll become downhearted. It's because these important aspects of revision, introduced too early in the writing process, cause them to become fainthearted. The writing is flaccid and careful-- no going down blind alleys where wonder may lurk, no risky plunges into damp jungles of thought, no, they're too busy looking up believe.

Later they're expected to pull out the dictionary and take the red pen to their own work. Too often young writers toil under the misapprehension that if they are very careful on a first draft, it will be perfect and no more work will be required of them. They don't want to waste a jot of ink or effort, so they grip their little pens and clench their little brains and what comes out is stiff and possibly proper and usually dull. I want them to go wild.

Full disclosure: I am a terrible speller, and I admit this to my students. I tell them adults who claim to have all the answers, all the time, are liars or fools, and they'd better get used to looking up answers and checking with experts now or they'll grow up to be liars and fools themselves. Thank heavens we don't have closed-circuit cameras in the classroom (yet).

p.s. Despite the silly Christmas sweater picture in my previous post, my dogs are usually naked all the time.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Lost Snow Days

You've seen The Lost Weekend, right? That's the one where Ray Milland goes off on a bender and breaks your heart. I'm grateful to say I haven't had one of those weekends in a couple of decades, but that in no way means that I've healed all up. My addictions have simply taken other forms. It's the old game of whack-a-mole.

I am currently wallowing in the pure benevolence of the Universe. Snow Day Number Three. I don't remember the last time we had three snow days in a row-- it may have been when I was a kid, the glorious blizzard of I want to say '75. I was a teenager and old enough to get up to no good, that much is certain. But this is not about that.

First, yes, I had plenty to occupy me, important things that needed doing. I needed to replace my toilet seat (and have needed to for some time, purchased the replacement parts and the necessary tool some weeks ago) and I did it. I needed to get started on a bajillion batches of peanut brittle, and am now seven batches in (or eight, if you count the one ruined when the phone rang, thanks Cathy, but it was worth it!) Water the plants, feed the birds, print my free Annual Credit Report, shovel out the driveway to facilitate commiserating with my neighbors' exasperation when the plows go by and fill it up again, done, done, done, and done.

But the really important stuff, all having to do with this keyboard, with quieting my mind and overcoming the shlump (not schlump, that's something else, and not "w#&*!r's b*%#k", do not use those words around me please) I've sunk into since my ill-fated stab at NaNoWriMo (NoNoWriMe), these things I have not done. That sentence stands as proof that I'm having a little trouble with my writing.

It's just another addiction, see. Not booze, not vicodin, nothing I couldn't drive after doing. It's this damn glorious Internet. But wait, let me explain. It's not what you think.

It started with a little housekeeping. I says to myself, Let's once and for all catch up on that dang Google Reader feed. I love the Google Reader feed, a handy tool that enables me to keep track of all the blogs and news sites that at some point seemed so important or interesting that I never wanted to miss a single post. Read or deleted all 455 posts, even unsubscribed to a few feeds that no longer seemed so interesting or important.

Problem: as I'm whacking them off the front end, they keep stacking up on the back end. Became obsessed with getting them down to zero. Did so. then there's four new ones. Knock 'em down. Two more. Bam, bam. Six more. That's where my keyboard time went.

I started this post Thursday evening. It's Saturday morning and don't ask what Friday back at school was like. I'd tell you, but there are 48 things I need to read right now.

ps One other dubious accomplishment--made my dogs put on the sweaters from Aunt Mary and pose for Xmas pics. Alice is resigned, Gert is Not Amused.

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