Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What Are Those?! A Brief Discussion of Memes

What Are Those?! A Brief Discussion of Memes
By Elian Mota
Middle School Language Arts Instructor

            I’m willing to bet that, at some point, you’ve heard your middle-schooler talk about memes. Whether you’ve heard them utter some seemingly random catchphrase, or seen them post a strange picture with an even stranger caption on one of their many social media forums, our kids seem to have adopted this new way of communicating with each other that often seems so strange and esoteric to us ancients who lived in the mythical pre-internet “olden days.” Sometimes, it can be downright frightening to think that our children are communicating in ways that we don’t quite understand with audiences that are far bigger than any we ever had in our every day lives. It is my hope to perhaps ease some of that fear by talking about what memes actually are, and by letting you know that they are nothing new.

               When kids talk about memes today, they are most often referring to internet memes. Internet memes, as described above, often take the form of an image by itself or with an added caption. Here are examples of both:

            Internet memes can be stand-alone posts, but they are often used as responses or reactions to other social media posts. There is a seemingly unending variety of memes, and this contributes to their precise meaning being hard to pin down. Also, the same meme source picture can become something entirely different depending on the added text or the situation in which it is used.
Internet memes can also often take the form of catchphrases or sound bites from a variety of sources, like video games, movies & shows, clips (think of Vine and Instagram), and songs. They are often uttered well outside of the domain of their sources, which can sometimes cause them to be harder to decipher without the visual context clues provided by picture-and-text-based memes. For example, if you bring home a new pair of shoes for your kid and they respond with “What are those?!” it doesn’t mean that they’ve suddenly forgotten what shoes are in form and function. Rather, they are using a meme in the form of a catchphrase that came from an entry in the popular Urban Dictionary website, and later a Vine video, to indicate that they do not agree with your style sensibilities.

              So, what did I mean when I said earlier that memes are not a new thing? Certainly, relative to human history, the internet is very much a new thing. Well, internet memes are just a very specific form or category of memes. Memes have been with us, by all accounts, since we have been human. When I introduce a new concept to my students, the first thing I like to do is look at the etymology of the word used to name the concept, so let’s start there. The word “meme” comes to us from the same root as our words “mimic” and “mime”: the Greek word mimeisthai, which means to imitate or to represent through imitation. This etymological knowledge really gets to the heart of what a meme is- it is something that is repeated or imitated.
              The word “meme” as we know it comes to us from the famed and controversial academic, evolutionary biologist, and author Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. A famous quote from that book sums up a lot of what Dawkins discusses therein: “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”. To paraphrase Dawkins, he believes that there is a non-organic counterpart to genes which, in the same way that genes are responsible for the human organism replicating and propagating the traits that were biologically favorable or successful enough to allow their bearer to survive and reproduce, memes allow socially or culturally favorable or successful ideas to remain with us. Basically, memes are to human culture what genes are to human biology. Further, Dawkins believes that, just like genes, memes not only replicate; they mutate, too.

           My favorite example, probably because it helps me to understand what I think is a pretty crazy idea, is fire. Humans aren’t born with the ability to make fire, and it is not part of our genetic legacy, like our capability for tool creation and use (which other non-human animals certainly have). Long ago, someone figured out how to make it, probably through the heat created by friction. The other humans who witnessed fire being made seemingly out of nothing likely thought “hey, that’s a pretty good idea,” and then replicated it. All of a sudden, everyone was doing it. Not only was everyone copying the idea, but the idea was mutating and evolving: two sticks became a stick and a base, which became a fire bow or drill, which became two pieces of flint, which became, eventually, a Bic. The idea of mechanically creating fire caught on and spread like, well, like wildfire. That is what makes it a meme- a culturally significant or valuable idea, practice, style, process- whatever- that catches and spreads.

              So now you know what memes are, and you know that they are nothing new. Knowing these things, you can hopefully feel a little better about attempting to engage in conversation with your child about them, and I feel like you should. We all should. Instead of dismissing internet memes out of hand as childish or pointless, we may recognize that they indeed have cultural value and can tell us quite a bit about the culture we live in and the culture that is being created by the generations following us. We should discuss their role in our personal, social, and political lives. We should see their value in helping to create better writers through the development of things like awareness of context and of audience. We should be able to see the beauty of conversations that can happen entirely in pictures and how that can help to foster abstract thinking and the creation of new imagery that can help us take all forms of art in new and meaningful directions. And, finally, we should be able to laugh with our children, because there are few things funnier than a dank meme (look it up).

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Stages of Spelling in the Young Child and the Benefits of Using Inventive/Phonetic Spelling

Do you ever think of how you learned to spell? 

Do you remember memorizing words and writing very limited sentences when writing because you were only able to write what you could spell?  Do you ever wish that you could have just been given the okay to write as you heard the sounds and could focus more on the creative aspects of what you were writing rather than the correct spelling of each and every word until you are able to learn the correct spelling over time?  The following writing is to explain and to show the stages of spelling that your child is learning and experiencing, along with how this way is beneficial to their overall successes as a writer.

                     You are walking down our hallway and are excited to see a new project on display on the wall outside the kindergarten classroom.  You are amazed by the detail your child has put into their latest drawing and you can’t wait to read what they have written.  And then…you look at the writing below.  Are they letters or are they words?  They have to be sentences, right?  What is this unknown writing?  And you may be thinking, “How am I going to read this when my child asks me to read what they wrote?”  Along with thinking this, you may be also thinking that there is no way they are ever going to learn how to spell words correctly!  How can this writing help them learn to spell?  We have to get a tutor and get to working on this or they are going to spell like this forever!  There is no way this is helping them learn!
        I want to reassure you that this is an exciting and beginning step to help them learn how to spell and to write creatively, with the correct spelling coming at a developmentally appropriate time for each child.  This form of spelling is referred to as invented or phonetic spelling.  It is the beginning step of your child using their knowledge to spell words using letters and/or the sounds they already know or are learning.

             In 1975, linguist Charles Read examined the writing of thirty preschoolers who were able to identify and name the letters of the alphabet and to relate the letter names to the sounds of words. He observed and stated that the students had "invented" spellings for words by arranging letters.  He noted that the children chose to spell the words phonetically much the same.  They were able to “detect phonetic characteristics of words that English spelling represents.”  From this, he concluded that “learning to spell is not a matter of memorizing words, but a developmental process that culminates in a much greater understanding of English spelling than simple relationships between speech sounds and their graphic representations.”

        There are five stages of development that were coined by Richard Gentry in 1982.  He built on Read’s research in pinpointing these five developmental stages of spelling:  precommunicative, semiphonetic, phonetic, transitional, and correct.

Precommunicative stage
The child uses symbols from the alphabet but shows no knowledge of letter-sound correspondences. The child may also lack knowledge of the entire alphabet, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters, and the left-to-right direction of English orthography.   (stmecyxmg, plkejoijak, etc.)

Semiphonetic stage
The child begins to understand letter-sound correspondence that sounds are assigned to letters. At this stage, the child often employs rudimentary logic, using single letters. (u = you, ps = please, d = dog, etc.)

Phonetic stage
The child uses a letter or group of letters to represent every speech sound that they hear in a word. Although some of their choices do not conform to conventional English spelling, they are systematic and easily understood. (wuz = was, mak = make, r = are, etc.)

Transitional stage
The speller begins to assimilate the conventional alternative for representing sounds, moving from a dependence on phonology (sound) for representing words to a reliance on visual representation and an understanding of the structure of words. (Some examples are EGUL for eagle, younighted for united).

Correct stage
The speller knows the English orthographic system and its basic rules. The correct speller fundamentally understands how to deal with such things as prefixes and suffixes, silent consonants, alternative spellings, and irregular spellings. A large number of learned words are accumulated, and the speller recognizes incorrect forms. The child's generalizations about spelling and knowledge of exceptions are usually correct.

What does all of this mean and how can I help my child progress and develop in each of these stage? 

In the precommunicative stage, your child may write random letters in one long string or sentence-like structure.  They see that letters make words when reading a book with you, although they may not know the names or sounds of the letters at this point.  Supply them with paper, a chalkboard, or other writing supplies to do so and encourage this.  They are at the beginning stage and are excited to feel like they are real writers!  They may want to take your order when playing restaurant, write a grocery list, pretend to be like big sister and write in a journal or diary, pretend to be working at an office, or write about their day with a drawing attached.  They are learning that the letters make words and encouraging this will help them feel confident and proud in this beginning stage.  They will also be excited about doing it more and more, which in turn will naturally extend into the next stage.

The following stage is semiphonetic, where a child is learning the names of the letters and their corresponding sounds.  They are figuring out how to write a limited amount of sounds to represent words.  They may only write the beginning sound or up to 2 sounds of a word at this point.  Once again, supply them with writing utensils and encourage this to continue happening.  You will not have to push this step, but rather enhance it by positive responses and acknowledgement for how they are growing in their writing.  Try not to correct what they have written, but you can work with them on letter sounds that they are still learning and figuring out.  As they do this, they will become more and more successful at hearing the beginning sound and perhaps another sound in the word.  As they practice they will begin to move into the next stage.

The third is the phonetic stage, at which time the child will begin to hear more sounds in each word they are trying to write.  They will be able to hear the beginning sound of each word, a middle sound, and the ending sound.  They may also hear other sounds in longer words as well.  They may be able to hear blends (bl, tr, sw, st, etc.) or they may still only hear the beginning sound.  In order to hear more of the sounds in each word you can help them stretch a word or help them speak like a robot when they say the word.  The goal with these methods is to help them hear each individual sound in the word.  Remember that at this stage they may or may not spell words correctly.  In the English language some words are spelled the way they sound and others are not.  The emphasis in this stage is hear the individual sounds in each word and to be able to spell words freely and without restrictions.  They will dive into this stage and want to write more and more when given the chance to, increasing their exposure to words and helping them work towards the next phase of their writing.

The fourth stage is the transitional stage.  This is the stage where the phonetic part and the correct spelling start to merge, although not always correctly.  Your child is gaining in their reading and writing abilities by this time.  They see words correctly as they are reading and are now able to remember how some of them are spelled.  They will begin to merge how a word they know is spelled into other words they are attempting to spell.  A terrific example is in the word united.   You may notice that they try to spell it with letter combinations they are familiar with such as:  you and night.  Therefore, they may spell it as younighted.  This is an exciting step!  You can see how they are beginning to put it all together!  At this stage, talking about various spellings of words would be a beneficial discussion to have as the words come up. They are beginning to understand how it is all coming together and may very well be getting ready to begin memorizing correct spellings of words.

This leads us to the final stage of writing.  You guessed it!  This stage is the correct spelling stage.  Your child may not spell every word correctly but with continued practice and exposure to words they will become more and more proficient in this skill.  Just like any skills, some of us are great spellers and others have to work harder at it…along with some help from Google, spell check or other source as needed.

You may be wondering what else you can do to help them move through each stage.  In all of these stages do not find the errors in their spellings, but rather wait for their cues.  They will begin asking questions about the letters, sounds and spellings.  Talk about and expose your child to many real word written word experiences, such as: books, signs, menus, toys with letters and words on them, etc.  Let them be the guide and think of yourself as the cheerleader, supporting actor, or assistant in this learning to spell process.  Encourage them in order to help them grow and progress in each step at their own pace.  They will begin to show you that they are ready for the next step as they begin to ask questions.  They may ask you if it is “a c or a k” in a particular word or if it is “an x or a ks” in another word.  They will begin questioning why words are spelled a certain way or why the word does not look the same when they write it as when they try to read it.  They may also want to write a sentence and not fully understand that there should be spaces between each word, a capital at the beginning of the sentence, and a punctuation mark at the end.  This is often typical and will come with more and more practice.

With all stages of learning to spell, remember this…practice makes permanent and no two children learn exactly the same way.  Your child may take longer in the semiphonetic stage, but progress quickly through the phonetic stage.  They may skip over the semiphonetic stage and jump straight into writing phonetically.  Enjoy each stage of spelling and writing that your child progresses through.  Be there as a support and cheerleader for them.  Guide them at their own pace, as all children learn at their own pace that is best for them.  Slow down if you need to, but also enrich and challenge them if they are ready to do so.  They will give us the cues that we need and will blossom in their skills with our guidance and support.

The early beginnings of writing are open to such creativity and rapid growth!  Spelling words in these stages gives students the ability to write words without having boundaries of spelling every word correctly.  Their writings are given such a powerful voice when they can write beautiful, fabulous, gigantic, and amazing to describe their drawings or feelings (although they may look like bootifl, fabulus, jigantik, umazing).  They beam with pride as they figure out that they are true writers and know that they are able to share this with others as their teacher reads their journal, they write a note to a friend or book buddy, or parents read their project hanging in the hallway.  These early successes are so important to them at the present time and into the future.  Their early successes help them build confidence and love to learn!

Happy writing!

Kelley Berryman
Kindergarten Teacher
Topeka Collegiate School

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Seeking the right preschool

What do parents seek in high-quality preschool math experiences? It’s more than 1+1=2.
From the moment children are born, they are learners.   They learn to cry when they have needs or wants. They learn to babble just to get a parent to smile in response.  They learn to crawl, walk, and then run. That same learning is evident when a child learns that rectangular shapes have pictures and stories that come alive when the pages are turned in a book while on a parent’s lap. When they are eager to go to grandma’s house and are told to wait just 5 more minutes, they quickly realize that 5 minutes represents time- and patience.  
G:\Photos\100th day of school\100th day 1-27-2017\100th day 3.jpgDaily I see these early learnings with our preschoolers who are engaging new concepts, letters, sounds, numbers, symbols and vocabulary. Their personal observations of their world begin to make sense in science, music and art. They learn rules of play in recess and physical education, as well as the power of a world language in their Spanish class.   
This is the natural progression and promise of each child.
G:\Photos\Brochure & Web Site Photos\B 06-09-1st-2nd-Edward-and-He.jpg
In the article  A Stanford Professor Says we Should Teach More Math in Preschool, author Jenny Anderson provides clarity to the importance of early education in math.  It confirms what Topeka Collegiate faculty already know- early education is priority one for future success.  The article underscores the importance of mathematical thinking within the earliest years of learning. In fact, research showed that math skills for kids entering kindergarten were a strong predictor of both math and reading skills in the third and fifth grades. For young learners, the world is open to their imagination. Additionally, their thinking is strengthened when learning is done through play.

G:\Photos\Robotics\IMG_0171.JPGFinding the best preschool for your child’s first formal learning experience isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be complicated. Visit preschool programs and ask questions specific to math philosophy and problem solving curriculum.  Is science, art, directed play, music, and a world language an integrated part of the child’s day? And, as this article suggests, be sure to provide a preschool experience for your child that focuses on numeracy, as well as literacy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What I have learned as a parent from fishing

Fishing does not bring back a multitude of happy childhood summer memories for me. Unlike my summers of softball, swimming and ice cream sandwiches, fishing provides me with images of mosquitoes, aching legs, and the desire to get out into the water as opposed to merely standing looking in it. I did not fish often as a child, but when I did, I was always slightly wishing I was doing something else. Even though I don’t reminiscence fondly about the activity, I definitely see the value of it for the children of today.    
Over Memorial Day weekend, my children discovered the comforting solace of fishing in their paternal grandparents’ country pond, especially my youngest boy, who just recently turned 11. Hours he spent casting into the blueish-green pond off an old dock. Later over dinner, he explained the joy of figuring out when to fish: dusk and dawn, where to fish: the cove by the trees, as well as the tricks to his pole and “his” (Wal-Mart purchases) lures. I listened with amusement to the joy he felt when he caught eight fish, which was three more than his older brother. He proudly describes removing the fish and the throwbacks. I was careful not to ask if he noticed any bugs, or if his legs ached from the standing or if he felt time move at a snail’s pace over the hours of casting.  Rather, I kept those ideas to myself, grateful that he was able to discover the joy of this pastime without my shadowed experiences.

That is how childhood should be for today’s kids. They deserve the opportunity to discover the simplicities of life for themselves. By experiencing the joys of fishing, reading novels, tackling advanced math thinking, or attempting a new sport on their own without the intrusive memories of other’s experiences, they are able to learn for themselves. As adults, we owe it to their development for them to try things and experience their own mosquito bites, boring movements, and the capacity to feel things for themselves.    

When my son is attempting multiplication decimals, I must refrain from telling them how easy it was for me as a child. The learning and success of multiplying decimals is for him to discover for himself. 

When my daughter sought out how to play the dulcimer, I stepped back, provided the opportunity, but kept to myself my ten agonizing years of violin “playing.” My years as a struggling musician are not a part of her experience of learning the strings, the sounds, and the challenges.    

Whether a parent’s memories are of success or disappointment, it is important to let the child experience things. This is true for successes, but even more importantly for mishaps and mistakes. Please don’t think I am encouraging dangerous or harmful activities. Of course not. Safety is always a priority. But I am encouraging us to allow our young people to experience mistakes and awkward moments for themselves without our rescuing them. This is true, too, for the social maze of childhood friendships and the natural conflicts and navigation that comes with any relationship. Don’t rescue them. Don't be "helicopter parent".  Be the ear and the support, but let them experience, feel, and travel through those experiences.  We all know that learning is best when we learn from mistakes and by experience.

So the next time your child is given the opportunity to try something new or explore a new task, open the door for them and let them walk through it for themselves. Both the successes and the failures will be theirs. The mistakes they make today will make them stronger tomorrow. Each child must fall to experience a scrape and must experience their own fishing mosquito bites to truly feel life as a fisherman. They may love it or hate it, but it will be theirs to feel. And someday they will say, ”I remember fishing as a kid and loved it.” They will thank you for that experience and then ask you “why didn’t you ever fish, too?” Then the conversation around two generations’ memories will be shared and treasured.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Under pressure will you be resilient?

Twice a week, Middle School students and faculty gather to explore topics of importance. Subjects range from school celebrations to individual recognitions to our school’s nine core competencies. Often we invite guest speakers. Last week, it was my turn. I would like to share what we discussed, a topic as pertinent to adults as it is to students. You m
ay have heard this story, but I think it is worth revisiting.

In times of adversity, will you be a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

A daughter complains to her mother that her life is difficult. Schoolwork, friendships, home chores, and extra-curricular demands on her time have her feeling down and put-upon. The mother takes her into the kitchen and begins to boil three pots of water. The daughter looks at her, confused, and asks for an explanation. The mother says, “Daughter, in each pot I will place a different item: a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean.”

After boiling the three items for a while, the
mother asks her daughter “What do you observe?” 
She observes the carrot has changed from its firm and solid appearance to soft and mushy, losing all its character. The egg began with a hard outer shell and soft malleable inside, but after boiling, its insides have become hard and stiff. The coffee bean did not change its appearance, but rather it impacted the water, making the boiling water rich with a coffee aroma.  

The mother says, “You will have challenges and obstacles in your life. It is up to you to decide how you will respond. Will you wilt under the pressure, and become mush? Will you look the same on the outside but become a hardened person on the inside?  Or will you be able to take the pressure and use your strengths to make your surroundings a better place?”

I asked our Middle School students the same question. When times get difficult will they be like a carrot or an egg, or will they be persist and add goodness to their family and their world?
It is a good question for each of us. Our children will have challenges in school, and as they grow, they  will be faced with even greater challenges. The greatest gift we can give our children is unconditional love and the skills to be successful in any pursuit. That is my hope for our school - that together, families and faculty, we prepare each student for future challenges and obstacles. We are arming them with the confidence, skills, and attributes to be capable leaders with good moral character. No water will be too hot for our children, they will be the coffee bean, equipped to enter the “real world” with pride, confidence, and the ability to lead.   

The next time you hear your child complain about something, (perhaps not having the latest phone, coolest spinner, or not liking the meal in front of them), remind them that the world is a metaphorical boiling pot of water and we are helping prepare them to be its leaders. Each family, parent, and faculty member at Collegiate is here to make them stronger, more appreciative, more capable, and more resilient to the challenges that our wonderful world provides. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Beyond The Book for Topeka Collegiate Faculty

For most students, going on a field trip is a favorite part of school. They get to be out of class, with their classmates, traveling to a destination that helps them learn and gain experiences. It is one of the many things that demonstrate our #BeyondTheBook philosophy. Field trips require teacher preparation for success. The learning objectives are clear and the experiences are certain to add to children's understanding. Field trips provide an opportunity for young learners to observe the world around them and to seek clarification and enrichment.  

Knowing how beneficial Beyond the Book field trips can be, I arranged for our faculty and staff to go on a field trip. During their professional development time in March, our entire staff traveled to Oakhill Day School in suburban Kansas City. Oakhill is an accredited, non-faith-based independent school which serves students ages two through grade eight. During this field trip, our faculty took the role of professional learners. They observed other teachers and were able to collaborate with other teachers. They discussed important areas such as curriculum, student motivation, teaching styles, strategies to make learning fun and challenging, and assessment methods. Observing other educators and students was enlightening and the conversations very valuable.  Every teacher came back with a report that combined affirmation of current practice and ideas for future implementation. They were eager to learn from others.

Each day I witness outstanding educational work by the faculty of Topeka Collegiate.  They are committed to our school's mission and each child's success and well-being. And make no mistake, our faculty and staff pride themselves in being not only the very best they can be, but also continuous learners.

They read for professional growth because they work to make each year, each unit, better than the last. They celebrate one another's success and cherish the diverse strengths of one another. The faculty field trip accomplished many things; it was fun, collaborative, and reflective. By gaining valuable insight, teachers will reflect on their own practices and perfect their effectiveness.   What a wonderful way to model what we hope our students will become: lifelong learners.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Kids try!

Kids! Don't you just love 'em?!

Whether your own kids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, or students, each child is special, unique and lovable.  

I am in my 22nd year as an educator and each day is a gift.
And sometimes more of a surprise gift...

Today  I found the Family Circus comic to be on target with what it is like to work with young people.  They are helpful, inquisitive, creative, and they do mean well. Even if it isn't quite what we were wanting or needing.

That is what makes parenting, teaching, and mentoring so challenging.
They need us to learn from.
They need us to support them when they make mistakes. They need us to show them the way even if the way may seem obvious to us.  

So thank you to all the parents and teachers who challenge, love, and forgive the little ones.  It is because of these three things that will make each of the young ones grow to stronger, kinder, and more success adults.