Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quoting Angelou's Quotation

There's an article in the Washington Post today (  about the new Martin Luther King, Jr statue.  Renowned poet Maya Angelou has voiced her disapproval of how the statue creators paraphrased of one of King's speeches, and she is quoted as saying, "The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit."  Now, I'm not taking sides on this one, and I certainly do not want to take too much away from Angelou's point, but this brings up a great teachable moment that I couldn't pass up.  Angelou uses the word "quote", when really, she should have said, "quotation".  Why? 

Quite simply, "quote" is the
verb, and "quotation" is the noun!
It's simple..."quote" is a verb and "quotation" is a noun.  What Angelou should have said was, "The quotation makes..."  I hear this all the time, and have certainly caught myself making the same mistake, but it never hurts to know the correct form.  So, quite simply, if you are talking about something that has been said or written (a "thing", if you will), the correct word is "quotation".  If you are doing the action or describing someone else's action, use "quote". 

N.B.  I did find some research that suggests that "quote" as a noun is acceptable in casual and informal writing/speak, but the English purists out there don't seem to like that one bit!

Some examples:
I love the quotation, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
The girl quoted many quotations in her essay.
We read many famous quotations while at the library.
She quoted Einstein quite often.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Choices make the world go 'round (and get stuff done!)

Offer choice when trying to
get your child to complete a task that
might be less than desirable.
 I caught myself asking my 21 month old, "Katie, do you want to help Mama clean up your toys?"  I realized immediately I had made a mistake. She may be less than 2, but she's not crazy.  Of course she doesn't want to clean up.  Who does?  She answered, "No!" and ran away. 

I started thinking about I should have and could have phrased the questions differently and better, and was instantly brought back to my teaching days.  Kids, like most everyone, like to feel like they're making their own choices about their actions.  Few people like to be told what they need to do.  Rather than asking a closed, dead-end question like, "Do you want to eat your vegetables?" or "Would you help me clean up this mess?", the better route would be to offer two choices.  "Katie, do you want to eat your green beans or carrots first?" or  "Katie, would you like to pick up your blocks, or do you want to pick up your puzzle pieces?"  That way, the task is getting done, but the child feels like it's on her terms.  Either way, the answer she picks still gets the goal accomplished, but she's not responding to a question that makes her feel trapped.

I used to use this all the time with my 5th and 3rd grade students, so I know it works for kids of all ages.  The next time you're trying to get your child to perform a task that may be less than desirable, try phrasing it as though he has options.  Rather than, "Emma, are you ready to start your homework?", try, "Emma, do you want to do your math homework, or read for 30 minutes first?"  Rather than, "Chris, do you mind taking out the trash?", try, "Chris, would you rather take out the trash or clean the bathroom sink?"

So now, dear readers, I ask, "Would you rather leave a comment on this blog entry or the one that I wrote earlier in the week about sending your kids off to school?"  The choice, is, of course, yours! :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sending the Kids Off to School (and You into Depression?)

I read this post from Janice D'Arcy of The Washington Post's OnParenting ( this morning and it really got me thinking about how the first day of school impacts much more than just students.  As a former teacher, I can assure you that your kids are in good hands, but that doesn't change the fact that starting school can be a big step for parents, too!

In her post, D'Arcy writes about how sending her little One off to Kindergarten for the first time is a gut-wrenching, tear-worthy experience, and I think that's something we don't consider often enough.  She mentions that she feels all sorts of guilt and regret for not packing in more activities and time with her child before the "big send-off".  We often hear about "empty nesters", who send their kids off to college, but how often do we allow moms and dads of 4-, 5- and 6-year olds to wallow in the fact that their "babies" are now, and for the next 15 or so years will be, be school-aged?

While I recognize that I'm in a completely different situation, taking my 21 month old to "school" (read: organized playgroup in a local community center on Friday mornings from 9:30-noon) did stir up a few feelings that I wasn't expecting.  You always hear that you shouldn't blink because your babies will be grown up in that time, and I have to say it seems like just yesterday we were bringing her home from the hospital.  Now she's old enough to eat snack, play and be without me for hours at a time?!  I'm thankful she's independent enough to do all of this without me, but I can't help but think that maybe I'm a little too disposable.

I'm sure this is more dramatic than it needs to be, but I do like that D'Arcy was brave enough to speak up about her feelings on sending her child to school for the first time.  What do you think? Have you had similar experiences?  Is it hardest when they first go to Kindergarten, or is middle school the kicker? What about high school and sending your kids off to college?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All Right, Let's All Get This Right!

It's nitpicky* (let's come back to that in a second), but it's time we all learn that there is no such word as "alright".  It's always two words: all right.  The great news is that there is no confusing rule to remember when to use alright and when to use all right, unless you can't remember that the former is totally incorrect 100% of the time!

So, throw out "alright" with last week's leftovers and feel confident that you'll always be right with all right!

*Back to nitpicky, it's a pretty common phrase, but have you really stopped and wondered where it comes from?  According to sources I came across, it refers to picking nits (yes, the eggs of lice) out of hair.  That's a tedious and meticulous job (as any mother with kids who have lice can attest), just as to nitpick in the figurative sense is to find fault or analyze in an overly critical way.  Similarly, I've heard it originated from chimps who spend much of their time laboriously picking nits from each other's hair.  Gross and yet so interesting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Math Phobia - Let's Cure It Together!

Math Monster, be gone!
 I taught 5th and 3rd grade for 7 years and am taking a little time off as I prepare to have my 2nd kiddo.  Someone recently asked my opinion about kids' math-phobia, its source and more importantly, its solution.  Here's what I think.

As you well know, many kids struggle with math.  I'm probably not going to get a whole lot of love from parents or fellow teachers, but one of the biggest disservices we do for our kids is teach them "tricks" to remember math algorithms.  As teachers, we are so pressured by making sure our kids do well on state tests that we look for a quick fix, and teach kids tricks that we assume they'll remember long enough to get them through the test-taking period. 

For example, when teaching kids long division, I've heard many fellow teachers teach their kids the saying, "Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister", which is supposed to help kids remember the steps,  "Multiply (Mom), Divide (Dad), Borrow (Brother) and Subtract (Sister)."  It seems like a great system until it's crunch time, the kids are under stress and have no idea if it was Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister or Sister, Dad, Mom, Brother or Uncle Sam, Aunt Patty, Grandpa, Cousin.  There's no meaning to which the kids can connect, and therefore, there's little chance the kids will remember the correct steps in the long-term.  Summer comes and goes and as the child enters the next grade, he's right back at square one as far as long-division proficiency.  So, his next teacher teachers him the saying "McDonalds, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Sonic" to "help" him remember the steps of long division and here we go again....

Our U.S. educational system is also very flawed (in my opinion) in that we spend small amounts of time on each of 6-7 math strands each year.  In Kindergarten, kids get a quick unit on number sense, geometry, patterns and algebra, etc., and then they see each of those units again in 1st-8th grade.  The problem with this is that there are so many units that each one is only touched upon for a short time.  There is a ton of breadth and not a lot of depth.  As compared with many Asian ways of teaching math (which focus on 1-2 strands only for the entire year), our system doesn't allow the investigation needed for kids to truly grasp what they are doing.

Unrelated as these two points may seem, they actually are very similar to one another.  My suggestion to parents and teachers who have math-phobic students is to start back at square one, and really spend time with your kids helping them to truly understand the basics of math.  If your child struggles with long division, I'd be willing to be that he doesn't grasp that it's really repeated subtraction.  (Have you ever sat down to think about division in that way?)  Asking a child to learn division, when he doesn't understand subtraction is like asking a kids to string together a compound sentence when he doesn't know the alphabet.  Without the proper foundation, his math tower (upon which more and more is constantly piled) is bound to topple. 

This all sounds great in theory, but what about reality?  My suggestion is to start small.  Kids know more than you (or they) think.  Obviously, the younger your child is, the easier it is for her to catch up.  If fractions are your child's nemesis, "catch" her talking about sharing half her cookie with her sister, or dividing up the pizza among her 4 friends.  Use real-life, meaningful scenarios to get your kids thinking about math.  Ask them tough questions and make the commitment to do some research yourself.  Do you really understand what it means to "borrow" from the hundreds place when solving a subtraction problem, or do you just cross out the 7, make it a 6 and put 10 on top of the 0 in the tens place? 

Kids are like dogs in that they smell fear.  If you grew up eeking by math class and clearly don't get it, I'm willing to bet your kids are going to hate math and try to slip through as well.  Maybe it's time for both of you to make the commitment to learn more about math than just the tricks that your teachers taught you years ago. 

Just "sum" food for thought!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Report: Happy Hippo, Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton

Who doesn't love Sandra Boynton's books?  They're funny, cute, kid-appealing, and this one in particular has a really important talking point for kids.  Happy Hippo, Angry Duck takes a light-hearted approach to kids' feelings and letting them know that being sad, angry, happy or frazzled is totally and completely normal.  As always, Boynton's illustrations attract kids, but it's the message in the book that I find so compelling.  I think so often we forget that kids need to know that being confused or angry is just part of life.  She ends on such a positive note by saying ". . .I hope you are happy.  But if you are not, you have friends who will help you."  We need to emphasize to even the youngest kids that they are surrounded by family and friends who love and support them no matter what.  Two thumbs up for this multi-purpose book!  We found it on Amazon for just $5.99! 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Let's Explore this Further (or is it Farther?)

Here's another one of those pesky word pairs that tends to get mixed up by a lot of well-meaning folks.  When do you use "further" and when is "farther" the correct word to use?  (And, no, it's never "Happy Farther's Day")
This jockey is riding farther (and faster)
 than anticipated!

So it's pretty easy, actually.  "Farther" is correct when you are talking about an physical, measurable distance (as in, Her car is parked farther away than mine).

"Further" should be used when you are talking about additional time, quantities or degrees (as in, We need to discuss this word pair further to be totally clear on it).

I keep the two straight by using the "far" in farther to remind me that that one relates to distance.  We ran farther than she did.  The sun is farther from the Earth than is the moon.

Have any further comments or questions, please share them below!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

No Muss, No Fuss, No Clean-Up: Fun Geometry and Communication Activity

Looking for another easy, low-cost, no clean-up activity? How about one that improves kids' communication AND geometry skills? Check this out!  Have your child draw a simple picture like the one shown here.  It requires little artistic ability from the child, which means there shouldn't be any stress involved.

 When she's finished drawing, DON'T LOOK at the image.  Instead, get your own sheet of blank paper and sit with your back facing her.  Her job is to describe to you her drawing in enough detail and geometric and positional language that you can draw your own version of her original image. 

For instance, she might start out by saying, "Draw a circle".  Well, without having seen the original, you may pick up the pink marker and draw a huge circle that takes up the entire page.  What she'll soon see is that she needs to say something like, "Draw a small gray circle with a black circumference."  Then she has to convey to you that there is a purplish-blue triangle hanging from the bottom left side of the circle.  But, she'll have to let you know that it is an equilateral triangle, as opposed to a bottom-pointing isosceles triangle or something else.  She also have to let you know that the triangle is similarly sized to the circle.  Next, she'll have to use her language to get you to draw the kite/diamond and the floating orange pentagon.

You can make up your own rules, such as the listening artist is allowed 5 clarifying questions, or the original artist is allowed to peak at the listening artist's work as it's being drawn so she can be more exact with her descriptions.
The possibilities are absolutely endless, and there's no reason multiple kids couldn't participate in this, if you're needing a little break.  One child could still be the original artist and a whole group of kids could be the listening artists.  Have fun! And, as always, happy learning!