Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Close Reading

by Ken Scherpelz, VP, Sales & Business Development

When I first heard the term close reading, I was tempted to correct the speaker by asking, “Don’t you mean cloze reading?” referring to an old method of measuring a student’s ability by asking the student to determine a missing word from the context of a sentence.

Such was not the case.

Nancy Boyles, graduate reading program coordinator for Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and author of six books on reading comprehension, defines it this way: “Essentially, close reading means reading to uncover layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.” Through close reading, re-reading and careful observation, students can learn to find more meaningful levels of understanding from the text.

Lately the emphasis in reading comprehension has been on reader response; that is, trying to show how the reader is connected to the text, or how the reader feels about and responds to the text. Boyles feels this approach leaves the reader with the notion that the text was written only to stimulate his or her own feelings and thinking, and in doing so it tended to leave the meaning and purpose of the text “a distant memory.” Close reading provides the means to focus on the true, and sometimes complex, meaning of a text, which is really why the author gathered and arranged the words in the first place.

Definitions of close reading use phrases like “engaging with a text,” “a transaction between reader and text,” “careful and purposeful reading” and even “encountering a text.” These phrases imply a much more intimate connection between a student and a text than the process of simply reading the text once and completing a set of surface “who-what-where” comprehension questions.

Close reading, which can be used in elementary and high school classrooms, differentiates itself from typical reading for meaning by emphasizing reading and re-reading texts to go beyond the typical comprehension question for which there is only one answer. The goal is not to summarize what the author wrote, but rather to pick apart the text in order to look closely at the elements the author used to achieve a specific purpose. Those elements might include word choice, literary techniques, patterns, structural elements, and cultural and historical references

A good author uses different elements with a specific intention in mind, and close reading helps to uncover how the use of these elements achieved (or perhaps did not achieve) that purpose.

Grant Wiggins, president of Authentic Education, works with school districts, colleges, and state and national education departments on matters of education reform. Wiggins points out that students who meet the English/Language Arts portion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) use the very tools and steps required for close reading, including:
• “analyz[ing] how and why individuals, events and ideas develop and interact over the course of the text”
• interpreting words and phrases in the text and analyzing how specific word choices shape the meaning or tone
• reading the text to make logical inferences from it and citing specific evidence in the text that supports conclusions drawn from the text
• analyzing the structure of the text to see how parts relate to each other and the whole

While reading teachers who are seeking to align their instruction to the CCSS may be initially pleased to see these obvious connections to close reading, they need to understand what is required of themselves and their students before jumping in and trying to use this method. Close reading requires a lot of practice and discipline. In fact, in some ways, students will need to “re-learn” how to read a sentence, a paragraph and even an entire book. Where students had been paying attention to factual detail in order to achieve a certain level of comprehension, close reading will now require that they pay equal attention to structure, word choice and other literary techniques in order to really understand the author’s purpose.

It will be interesting to see how reading comprehension scores change once more classrooms begin engaging in the close reading technique. For this movement to be successful, teachers will need training, practice and the ability to reconsider how they teach reading, as well as the ability to impart those same behaviors on their students when it comes to their reading.

Did You Know?

Close reading’s homonym, cloze reading, refers to a method that specifically trains students on context and vocabulary. The general idea of cloze reading*is to test a student by omitting a word or phrase from a piece of the text. This way, the student must not only analyze what word would make sense in context (thus honing in on vocabulary skills) but also associate the word with what he or she just read. A cloze cycle would involve “predicting,” “comparing,” “justifying” and “discussing”—all important to the comprehension process. Created by W. L. Taylor in the 1950s, the term cloze was shortened from the word closure, referring to the Gestalt psychology* term that describes the human tendency to complete familiar, unfinished patterns.

Fill-in-the-blanks are common in assessment, particularly on ELA exams, though cloze analysis specifically provides students with the chance to demonstrate their knowledge of syntax and semantic clues. By filling in the omission with a logical word or phrase, students display grasped concepts of grammar and meaning. Whether the approach is close or cloze, reading instruction has always been a crucial part of the education process, providing the foundations for communication and language.

* Note: Hyperlink points to PDF download.
(DYK by Kate Carroll)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Ni-Hao, Ahlan Wa Sahlan

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

Learning another language is a challenging yet fun task that many adults consider but don’t actually try. It often makes its way onto many New Year’s resolutions lists but is neglected just as quickly. With easy-to-use phone apps and other software tools, excuses are disappearing. New studies show that bilinguals have a serious advantage over monolinguals. In the past, being able to speak more than one language was regarded as advantageous primarily for college hopefuls and career seekers. Now, researchers have a much better understanding of what being multilingual really does for the brain, and the effects are monumental.

Psychologist Ellen Bialystok of York University has done multiple studies concerning bilingual individuals and their ability to utilize two separate “networks” of the brain while speaking. “The evidence is very dramatic. Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network 
that’s going on in your brain.” By constantly switching between the two languages, the speaker is exercising brain functions, keeping the speaker constantly alert. This exercise helps to promote cognition and the ability to think critically in a way that does not come naturally to monolinguals. Bialystok also noted in her research that those who are bilingual have a higher chance of delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s.

The European Commission appointed their own research team to analyze the benefits of being multilingual. David Marsh, coordinator of the international research team, believes that the work done by neuroscientists holds the key to linking multilingualism to improved functions of the brain. The research compiled by the team showed that there is one area of the brain used primarily for short-term memory. Like Bialystok, they believe that exercising the brain could help hold off dementia. Unlike Bialystok, however, the team also reports that the differences found in an already-multilingual brain could also be found in a person just starting to learn another language. Their research did not differentiate between children and adults, though children who grow up multilingual have more time to exercise and develop brain function.

Raising a multilingual child in a diverse home is much easier than in a monolingual one. Foreign languages in schools are extremely popular for this reason, but many schools that provide classes are still not utilizing the full potential of the students. Marsh highlights his concerns through his research, stating that not all children can learn languages as a separate subject like math or science; instead, he suggests integrating language into all other subjects. In Utah, 20 percent of public schools provide an integrated language curriculum where students spend half of their day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish, French, Mandarin or Portuguese. On a smaller scale, public schools in Milton, Massachusetts offer a French Immersion program, which begins in first grade and is taught entirely in the oral and written form of the language. 
If more states followed similar models, the country would be able to produce more multilingual citizens. This would not only improve positions in international public relations, but it would also improve the education and capabilities of the nation.


Did You Know?

In October 2013, the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn hosted a free “crash course” language event they called Foreign Language Hopscotch. Taught by native speakers, students were given the opportunity to expose themselves to 22 languages in just three hours. Hosted in seven classrooms, about a hundred people gathered in rooms to learn languages such as Japanese, Spanish, Hindi, Russian and Igbo. Some of the students sat in on only one or two classes, while other stayed the entire day to try to pick up on the nuances of a new language. 

The classes didn’t promise fluency, but were intended for students to learn “snippets” of the language—useful, and sometimes humorous, sentences that would teach them a range of language skills from greetings to ordering food. According to C├ędric Duroux, program director for the Walls and Bridges festival (a 10-day event that also includes the hopscotch approach to learning a language), it’s impossible to become fluent in a half hour. However, Duroux notes that students can “go back home with a clearer sense that each language goes with a different culture, which goes with a different idea of the word itself. . . . [T]rying to connect with different languages and cultures is a way to change your perspective on the world as a whole.”
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is Ours the Short Attention Span Generation?

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Is paying attention something that should be taught? Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College argues that it is; without this skill, society will lack the ability to take on the difficult problems it faces. Inequality, climate change and health care are examples of complex issues for which Professor Schwartz says we will need complex solutions. He determines our present state as characterized by an inability to distinguish between short and simplified arguments—such as the one he is presenting—with longer and more complex analyses. There is a wide range of diverse opinions on the topic of attention spans and its relation to modern usages such as the internet. Nicholas Carr has warned that the internet is rewiring our brains to make us less able to concentrate. On the other hand, Jonah Lehrer has argued that the internet is beneficial for the development of certain motor skills such as hand-eye coordination.

Professor Schwartz is especially critical of the ways we cater to shorter attention spans. He cites examples of this such as teachers assigning resources that include short videos as well as online news reports and blogs that seldom exceed 500 words. The problem, he says, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We do not expect people to pay attention; therefore, we do not press them to, and we “discover” that they cannot pay attention.

The villains Professor Schwartz finds include the news and social media, magazines and political advisers, and no doubt this list includes many facets of modern life. Mostly, he sees it in his students, whom he diagnoses as having “diminished attention.” He calls Millennials the “short attention span generation” and is anxious to prescribe more exercising of “the attention muscle.” As with the process of strengthening biceps, which involves working toward lifting progressively heavier weights, it is important to gradually increase the weight of our mental lifting. One study by Lloyds TSB Insurance confirms the professor’s view of the Millennial generation: it found that our attention spans have shortened from twelve to five minutes over the past ten years. People over 50 paid attention significantly longer than younger generations. Another study by a UCLA professor showed that neural activity is completely rewired after only a few days of regular internet use.

Schwartz also gives examples of how educators are working to improve the problem of diminished attention. At some schools, first graders are taught to “SLANT”: Sit up, Look and listen to the speaker, Ask questions, Nod and Track the teacher. He argues that this is important to teach, since not everyone comes to class equipped with the same attention-paying skills. Another study Schwartz cites shows “grit” (measured as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals”) as a more accurate predictor of academic success when compared to SAT or IQ scores. This is interesting because it suggests that mental endurance, which Professor Schwartz says requires the ability to pay attention, is a key to success.

The debate is still open as to whether Millennials are benefitting or losing its ability to concentrate from using the internet and other forms of technology, a debate that will surely carry on into the future.

Did You Know?

While the debate over the internet’s effect on our minds and ways of life will surely go unanswered for a long time (if not indefinitely), the discussion is very enticing. Nicholas Carr’s approach to the topic focuses on the web enabling thought interruption and the inability to engage. In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Carr discusses the possible ways technology has altered various processes in our lives, a topic brought on by his own concern over his lack of concentration and deep analysis. The titular Shallows refers to the “sea of words” in which Carr claims he had once been “a scuba diver” but now feels he can only “zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” If the internet is supposed to be a space to host and encourage the boundless exchange of language and thought, then why, based on discussions and the existence of viral media, does it seem we are all reading/viewing/consuming the same material?
Carr goes into several different realms that the internet’s accessibility has influenced, and many others have ventured to do the same. Perhaps the importance lies in the discussion itself: the mere fact that it exists demonstrates that people have not lost the ability or the interest to seek the answer to the omnipresent why.
(DYK by Kate Carroll)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trouble Afoot in the Wikiverse

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2014 Intern

Since its launch in 2001, Wikipedia has been the subject of disdain for many an educator, but most internet connoisseurs now acknowledge the encyclopedia site as an authoritative and indispensable resource. As the largest and most comprehensive compilation of free knowledge in the world, it is the first of its kind. However, some are predicting that the golden age of the Wikiverse may be coming to a close due to recent waves of controversy.

The most common criticism of Wikipedia is that its volunteer network of editors, or “admins,” provides biased or inaccurate information because contributors do not necessarily have to be experts in any given field. This critique may stem from a lack of understanding about the sophisticated bureaucracy adhered to by the carefully-vetted admins, as well as about the processes governing the addition of new content, which have become increasingly complex in response to cases of vandalism on various pages—possibly to the point of discouraging new editors. A 2005 study published in Nature compared Wikipedia articles on various scientific subjects with corresponding entries in Encyclopaedia Britannica and found only a slight difference in the average number per article of misleading statements, mistakes or omissions—nearly three for Britannica and about four for Wikipedia. The journal concluded that this “expert-led investigation carried out by Nature—the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science—suggests that such high-profile examples . . . are the exception rather than the rule.”

Unfortunately, such results do not seem to be able to outweigh the various controversies in Wikipedia’s past, such as some of 2005’s well-known cases of internet vandalism. Since then, there have been others, including a recent scandal that exposed a group of fake accounts, known as “sockpuppets,” designed to produce paid promotional articles as part of the largest coordinated scheme that Wikipedia has uncovered. The sockpuppets spread the efforts on behalf of small-time products and companies across several user accounts. Admins traced a network of hundreds of accounts back to a single user who was active beginning in November of 2008. The network was tied to a company called Wiki-PR, which claimed that it merely helps clients guarantee accuracy for their Wikipedia pages; however, Wikimedia Foundation lawyers were not buying it, and after further investigation issued a cease and desist order to the company’s CEO. While the sockpuppet investigation may demonstrate the dedication and skill of Wikipedia admins in hunting down the nefarious accounts that edit promotional articles, it also may overshadow the other, possibly more threatening, problems faced by Wikipedia, such as the homogeneity of editors that could result in homogenous new content. Will Oremus at Slate suggests that the site may benefit from paid editing if that will bring on more editors of different backgrounds and diverse interests.

The internet will be keeping an eye on Wikipedia as they continue to deal with the sockpuppet ring. They responded to the 2005 study by posting progress of their site corrections; will Wikipedia be making changes to daily operations in order to entice a larger number of diverse editors? The Wikiverse may have another ingenious solution up its sleeve yet.

Did You Know?

When you ask Siri or Google Now a question, the answer it gives comes from Wikipedia. Also known as “the encyclopedia anyone can edit,” the site’s content is created by a community of users called Wikipedians. A recent study commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia’s financial and logistical support, pointed to the fact of Wikipedia’s declining number of new editors. The editors, who follow somewhat arcane procedures to edit articles, tend to be seasoned editors and not newcomers. And they are approximately 90 percent male. Critics say unless the site can attract new editors, the quality of the articles will decline. This is correlated with the lack of diversity in the topics of the articles. For example, 84 percent of articles referring to a location were in Europe or North America, and Antarctica is the subject of more articles than any nation in Africa or South America. The study points to the new editing rules that have been made to maintain the quality of the articles following the incidences of vandalism and outright hoax articles in 2006. However, critics say these rules are also keeping newcomers away.

Wikipedia has made some changes to its website in response to these findings, such as enabling a text edit format for editing articles and adding a “Thank” feature to give positive feedback to contributors. But it remains to be seen if and how Wikipedia can reverse the declining trend of new editors.

(DYK by Nick Perricone)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Does Your Degree Prove Skill, or Seat Time?

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

Since 1893 when Harvard president Charles Eliot introduced the 
credit hour, colleges around the country have provided educations based on the number of hours students spend in a classroom. Employers, however, are looking to see the skills of new graduates rather than how long they spent studying core classes. This is causing many colleges to rethink the education they supply for their students.

Colleges are not the only ones looking into beefing up the education of young Americans. Under the Title IV Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), the Department of Education asked schools to create programs for students that were not based on lecture time. The goal was to provide students with an education that can be quantified by testable improvement in key areas rather than by simply adding up hours of classroom attendance.

While many schools have risen to the challenge, one school in particular has set the pace for others to follow. In 2012 Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) unveiled its new competency-based program, College for America, giving students the ability to receive higher education at a quicker rate then traditional colleges. Students are tested to ensure they gain skills necessary for the workplace like critical thinking and communication. There are 120 competencies in total that students must meet before they receive their associate of arts degree, and each competency must be met individually before the student is able to move onto the next. Employers looking at a transcript from a College for America grad will find a portfolio of projects that demonstrate the graduate’s abilities instead of grades. In 2013 the program became the first non-credit-hour program to receive regional accreditation and eligibility for federal financial aid. Another online university to receive both recognitions is Cappella University. Attending either of these universities not only helps students gain an accelerated, experience-rich education, but could also help cut back on the cost of higher education.

Cost aside, Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, has concerns for the quality of education one receives in a credit-hour structured school. “Competency is a student-centered, learning-outcome-based model. Where you get the education is secondary to what you know and are able to do.” The Lumina Foundation believes in outfitting American students with the best post-secondary education possible to ensure we as a nation are on par with the education standards of countries around the world. Merisotis provides a valuable point; many colleges that already exist are providing exceptional educations; however, it should be the students and what they learn that is highlighted on a transcript and not the hours that it took them to gain that knowledge.

Frederick M. Hurst, director of Northern Arizona University’s new Personalized Learning Program, points out, “if you look at someone’s transcript and it says they have three 3-hour courses in history, an employer doesn’t know what that means other than someone knows about these time periods in history. If you break it down in a different way and talk about the writing skills that a student got out of those courses, that’s a skill someone will need in the workplace.” For many schools it may not be necessary to rethink the structure of their curriculum; instead, professors could write short but detailed reports on the skills a student gained in their course. These reports could be given alongside a transcript, showing employers the graduate’s dedication to their coursework as well as what that coursework says about the graduate as a potential employee. Finally, the most important change that needs to be made to America’s higher education is that students be outfitted with more proven skill sets in order to ensure more graduates have the ability to work in careers suited to their degrees.


Did You Know?

Another option for training students for the job market is a vocational school, intended to prepare students with a set of skills for a particular job. 

In the United States, there is a bias against vocational schools, marking them inferior to four- and two-year universities. This bias, however, is “dysfunctional” according to Mark Phillips, professor of secondary education at San Francisco State University. Phillips notes that ignoring the importance of vocational schools is destructive to society. “Many of the skills most needed to compete in the global market of the 21st century are technical skills that fall in the technical/vocational area. The absence of excellence in [these] fields is also costing us economically as a nation.” His opinions are passionate, but they aren’t the only ones out there.


According to an op-ed in The New York Times by Willam C. Carson, chairman of the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools, there are plenty of studies to show the success rate of trade schools, including the Department of Education Center for Educational Statistics
 High School and Beyond.” (While the op-ed is from 1989, the study is ongoing and includes data from the 2000s.) Another study showed that students who attended private career schools were more likely to get a job after graduation than their peers who attended public schools. Perhaps the day of reconsidering vocational schools is drawing near, especially in a time of economic struggle and a lack of students armed with “real-world” skills. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Rising Role of Technology in Higher Education

by Alexandra Garner, Spring 2013 Intern
With technology advancing so quickly, college programs are finding it hard to keep up to date—most college and university board members are more than 50 years old, not “digital natives,” yet they recognize that technology is a necessary part of educating today’s students. According to a survey held by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), more than twice as many board members think online learning will be “important” or “essential” in five years compared to today. The same survey discovered that more than one-third of board members believe their institutions are moving too slowly with online learning, showing that board members understand the importance of providing educational technology to students. Questions to consider are overwhelming: Should more colleges offer online classes to students all over the world? Should the curriculum for educating students include teaching online as a component? Should colleges explore or expand massive open online courses (MOOCs) as a way of offering college credit to anybody who can complete the course with a passing grade or as a supplement to courses for those already enrolled?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, pioneers in educational technology, have embraced technology in the field of education, starting edX, a nonprofit company featuring online course programs with goals including understanding the different ways students learn and technology’s role in that process. With students in over 150 countries, edX was created for students and institutions seeking to transform themselves “through cutting-edge technologies, innovative pedagogy, and rigorous courses.” Thirty universities offer free courses through edX, in topics including science, math, music, philosophy, economics, finance, law and literature.

The flexibility of online courses allows students to connect to the material at any time and as often as they like. Online education particularly benefits students in rural and remote areas, who find the process more accessible and affordable. The edX platform has enrolled 1.25 million learners, which is over ten times the number of living MIT graduates. One professor states that the number of students who completed his MOOC is approximately equal to the number of students he has had in the classroom in his entire career. MOOCs are also beneficial to the university, as they reach many thousands of students at a comparatively low cost. MOOCs allow anyone to try different courses or pursue a certificate, and there are many different reasons why people enroll. Many people often enroll in the courses simply to look around and try the subjects out—something much more difficult in traditional college classrooms. For this reason, the attrition rates for MOOCs are enormously high, a statistic that many people use when arguing against the concept. In reality, the rate of students completing the courses is much higher when you better determine who are the “dedicated” students; i.e., students who watch the videos and complete the first assignment provide a much better look into serious MOOC students than those who simply press the “enroll” button.

Despite the significant benefits, online courses may be less practical for certain subjects—a professor cannot grade thousands of papers per semester, and papers are vital in critical thinking and humanities courses. MOOCs cannot provide creative writing workshops or one-on-one meetings with professors. Although it is clear that technology will significantly impact the college experience, there are important aspects of education that technology cannot replace, such as the experience of hands-on problem solving and teamwork, skills from lab research or workshops, and the art of public speaking. Universities and colleges are at a point where they need to decide how they want to experiment with technology. How extensively will technology transform higher education, and at what rate?

Did You Know?

Designed to provide the content of a college class to a much broader audience, massive online open courses (MOOCs) are ongoing experiments in higher education. After a course led by a Stanford professor on artificial intelligence attracted 100,000 students two years ago, some more recent attempts to bring college course content online have followed with disappointing results. Udacity, a Silicon Valley company, initiated a MOOC at San Jose State University (SJSU) for a low price and college credit, but its first pilot program ended with passing rates of only 50 percent or lower. Their subsequent trial of the pilot program was open to students who already had college degrees and had significantly higher pass rates, more in line with those of students on campus at SJSU. But students who enrolled for these MOOCs cited reasons like a love of learning and hopes for furthering their career skills rather than the MOOCs being the only available options for taking certain college courses.

Supporters of MOOCs’ potential role in education say that their presence is evolving. Instead of simply constituting the course itself, MOOCs are becoming supplemental to college and high school classrooms with videos available for watching anywhere. So-called “communicative MOOCs” are also appearing, and these MOOCs have the goal of facilitating discussion rather than providing a lecture directly from a professor.

The nonprofit online education initiative edX will offer lessons that can be used in a variety of ways too, whether in a high school classroom to prepare students for AP exams, or as MOOCs that any learner in the world can use to his or her benefit.

(DYK by Nick Perricone)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hypercorrection: A Millenial Paradox?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

[Note: The first paragraph of the Slate article referenced here contains potentially offensive language, but we feel the remainder is worthy of exploration. Ed.]

Ever wondered why you or others say amongst instead of among, or amidst instead of amid? Wonder no longer! The preference for these words is an example of a strange phenomenon in which Millenials, a generation of increasingly tech- and abbreviation-savvy individuals, are using erroneous or antiquated forms of words used by others every day.

Is there a name for this phenomenon? You bet—it dates back to 1922, when linguist and grammarian Otto Jespersen coined the term hypercorrect in his book Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin; the term was published in that year’s Oxford English Dictionary. The modern OED defines hypercorrection as “the erroneous use of a word form or pronunciation based on a false analogy with a correct or prestigious form.”

Some of the most common hypercorrections in modern English include replacing like with as or who with whom, refusing to defiantly split infinitives or compound verbs, substituting the pronoun I for the object me, or using double adverbs or incorrectly formed Latin plurals. Hypercorrections often occur because we have an unfounded belief about proper form or a misunderstanding about descriptive and prescriptive grammar. Not all grammatical rules are created equal, and in fact adhering to some of them can make our language clunky or even incomprehensible to the average English speaker.

How does amongst fit in here? In American English, amongst was nearly as popular as among in 1720, but the former largely fell from use until the new millennium. Ben Yagoda at Slate suggests a humorous but unlikely inspiration for the comeback was Mike Myers’s Saturday Night Live character Linda Richman, known in the 1990s as the host of “Coffee Talk” and for her exaggerated New York accent and her catchphrase “Talk amongst yourselves.”

While it is oddly formal, amongst is not technically a hypercorrection because it is not erroneous. Well, then, what is it? Yagoda offers the term “‘Runyon-correction,’ in homage to the Guys and Dolls gangsters who, putting on airs, are discordantly proper when referring to ‘an individual with whom I’m acquainted.’” The grammar faux pas can also be seen as the result of Millenials and modern Americans becoming so used to the informal style of blog, email or text message composition. As Yagoda puts it, “Amongst and other formulations represent a kind of better-safe-than-sorry strategy. That amongst has moved well past the Millennials suggests many of us now lack footing on the formal-informal landscape. Sometimes you just want a word that sounds official.”

So, are hypercorrections and Runyon-corrections paradoxical or indicative of a new strategy of writing and speaking? Talk amongst yourselves.


Did You Know?

How do words make it into the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the way hypercorrect did in 1922? According to OxfordDictionaries.com, the team at Oxford University Press is constantly trying to keep track of new words that should be considered for the dictionary. Their most important resources for doing this include the Oxford English Corpus, entire documents from the web, and the Oxford Reading Programme, an “electronic collection of sentences or short extracts drawn from a huge variety of writing”—everything from song lyrics to scientific journals. Once there’s evidence that a word has been used in a variety of sources (print and web only; it doesn’t include broadcasts), it becomes a candidate for one of the Oxford dictionaries—meaning it doesn’t necessarily make it into print. In addition, the word has to be used for at least a period of two to three years for it to be officially considered for a printed dictionary. Lexicographers have to test whether or not the word will be “ephemeral or . . . a permanent feature of the language.”

The list of words that don’t make it into the print version but are added to Oxford Dictionaries Online can be, as some may argue, heavily cultural or colloquial. For example, the word selfie was named the word of 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries, adding it to the online database. It hasn’t yet been added to the OED but is being considered. Research shows the word’s popularity has increased by 17,000 percent in the last year. The word is traced back to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum, but the hashtag (e.g., #selfie) promoted its popularity, helping it to become widespread in mainstream media by 2012.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Arts and Music Help Improve Literacy

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

In 1993, a surprising study was published claiming that college students who listened to Mozart before taking a test did better than those who did not. This sparked the belief that mothers who played Mozart to their babies while still in the womb were doing them a great service because listening to classical music would make them smarter, despite the original researchers never suggesting such. Since the study and the following fad, the idea that art and music have a correlation to smarter students has been one of great fascination; as a result, many new studies have been published to either support or debunk the claims.

The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) out of University of California, Berkley, more recently published an article about the effects of art and music on children, specifically highlighting the efforts and opinions of experts in the field of brain research. The Dana Foundation, a private organization that provides grants and publications in the field of brain research, was one of the many groups cited by the GGSC. Experts began studies for the Dana Foundation in 2004 to find any possible effects of art and music education on children. Three years of data collecting resulted in a publication entitled Learning, Arts, and the Brain, making one fact clear: having an appreciation for art does not make a child instantly smarter, though that doesn’t mean that art and music do not have a positive influence.

One of the studies focused on children aged four through seven and their attention-focusing abilities while engaging art. They interacted with computerized programs that simulated engaging with art. It was found that the children were able to exercise their attention spans, which improved cognition.

Elizabeth Spelke, neuropsychologist at Harvard University, took on the “Mozart Effect” more literally, demonstrating through her study that students with a background in music education showed improvements in reading maps and solving select geometry problems. Another study that examined neuroimaging for the reactions of specific parts of the brain to music reported that students who tuned their ears for music were honing their ability to distinguish differences in sound. By recognizing notes and pitch they were refining their early literacy skills.

The National Endowment for the Arts published a similar article concerning the importance of visual stimulation and its positive effects on literacy in young children, furthered with suggested activities for children and parents. The article highlights the importance of introducing children to things that are visually stimulating, explaining that children begin understanding the world through visual aid. 
Encouraging children to engage with art widens their visual appetite, builds their personal preferences toward art and strengthens their ability to critique creative works. They also gain vocabulary by explaining what they see and asking questions when they don’t understand what they are interacting with. These critical skills help children prepare for school in all of their subjects, not just in art. The ability to critically analyze art can be translated into literary critiquing skills and the learned attention to detail would be helpful across all disciplines, but especially in classes like math and science where precise measurements are essential.

While many people who have supported keeping arts in schools have cited the “Mozart Effect” and other studies that suggest exposure to art makes students smarter, they were not completely wrong. Art and music training alone cannot make a child a genius, but the skills that they gain can certainly give them the upper hand when these skills are applied to their studies.


Did You Know?

Although the “Mozart Effect” has long been debated, it has been shown that students involved in the arts perform better on the SATs—at least according to Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner, researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as noted in an a Boston Globe article from 2007. One important part of their research, however, was to demonstrate that just because academic performance and the arts may be correlated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other. In their survey released in 2000, the findings sparked a bit of controversy. Hetland and Winner noted that students involved in the arts may be the students who would’ve gotten good grades anyway, despite their artistic involvement. They noted in their findings that studying various forms of art does not actually cause an improvement in cognitive skills in areas outside of the arts. The researchers reported that they “found inconclusive evidence that music improves mathematical learning and that dance improves spatial learning. We found no evidence that studying visual arts, dance, or music improves reading.” But despite the controversy, Americans for the Arts’ statistics showed that “students with four years of high school arts and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.” In fact, the students who take art and music courses not only score better, but they score from 67 to 104 points better than their peers, depending on the year. These statistics apply to the Critical Reading and Mathematics sections only, not expanding across the Writing portion of the SAT. (DYK by Emeli Warren)