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Archive for May, 2015

Music to My Ears

I have a good friend who always reminds me that there are no coincidences.

A couple of months ago, I put together the following graphic, a matrix inside of a circle showing etymological relatives:

ope circle

A few days later, I got an inquiry from a friend inviting me to come to Nashville, Music City, home of the Grand Ole Opry.

Nearly four years ago, I was hired to give a presentation on morphology, which was recorded and posted online. About a month later, I was at a conference in Chicago, and a woman came up to my booth and introduced herself. She had chanced upon the recorded presentation, watched it, and wanted to learn more, so when she found out that I was presenting live in Chicago (with Pete Bowers and Marcia Henry), she drove up from Nashville to Chicago to be a part of it.

Since then, she’s followed English spelling to Philadelphia, France, and Canada, to Chicago, to Ohio at least once. She’s not only hardcore dedicated; she’s hardcore brilliant. Often she’ll capture an understanding in words that just take my breath away. She is quick but patient, rigorous but flexible, and impressive in cultivating an understanding with both children and adults.

This is the remarkable teacher who contacted me recently and asked me to join her and her colleagues in the Music City later this month for a day and a half of private training. After several years of Mohammed coming to the mountain, the mountain is so pleased to now go to Mohammed.

I think that makes me a mountain.

Moreover, thanks to this Mohammad, I also have the pleasure of announcing a workshop open to the public on Saturday, May 30th, at Vanderbilt University. This came about because this same dedicated, patient, brilliant woman reached out among her local contacts to see who might be interested in offering a venue for teachers to encounter real English spelling. Vanderbilt responded; the registration flyer is available here, or register at this link.

It’s a brave thing to step toward the forward edge of a field, especially when it requires us to rethink familiar and comfortable practices. Sometimes, in education, people forget that that edge is not a front, but a frontier. Language study shouldn’t make us soldiers, battling about others’ ideologies, but explorers, mapping out the terrain of the orthography and cataloging its natural resources.

Let’s see, music, work, and new frontiers. Sounds like Nashville to me. Hope you can join us!

Vanderbilt_Cooke_Flyer

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I Saw the Sign

Some days, I don’t do much other than teach. On days when I have 3 or 4 online classes scheduled, the in-between times often feel unproductive. These times include necessities like eating or homeschooling or hanging up the wash, but they also include things like doodling, posting on Facebook, or getting aimlessly lost in the Online Etymology Dictionary for a bit. Most days, I just don’t have it in me to squeeze two hours of tax prep or grading exams in between online lectures about strong verbs and syllable structure.

Anyone who’s taken a LEXinar can probably imagine that my brain needs a break before I start another one.

One Tuesday in March was exactly this kind of day. I began my day at 8am with an online course, followed by another at 3:30, and another at 6pm. The hours between 9 and 3 should have been really productive. I should’ve been able to do at least two hours of writing, or putting together a crockpot meal, or processing and uploading videos. But I didn’t. I exercised, and then I sat. A lot. I read fluff, quite a bit. I felt guilty, too. That takes energy.

What I didn’t realize until later that day was that my brain was hard at work on something, but not in the foreground. I didn’t know I was working until I was basically done. Right around 3pm, as I was prepping for my Spelling & Glamour LEXinar at 3:30, I had an epiphany about something our orthographic community has been puzzling about for quite some time. I quickly opened my Zoom room, and sent out an invitation for friends in France, Canada, and San Francisco to join me for a few minutes if they could. Much to my delight, France joined me right away from his dinner table. Much to my surprise, Canada was actually in San Francisco that day, so the two of them joined me from the same screen. Also in the room with San Fran and Can was a gaggle of teachers with whom they had been working.

So I set about explaining, quickly, what I had been thinking about. It had been a long time in the making, but it really began to crystallize the day before, in the final installment of a Syllables LEXinar with a really great group of orthographic thinkers. Here’s a screen-shot of what I sketched out as I explained my thinking to this crew: Zoom pete Michel Gail

This screenshot captures our conversation about etymological markers, the nature of the English phoneme, allophones, zero allophones, digraphs, and graphemes that are etymologically driven. That’s a lot for one short talk!

What I realized after six hours of feeling guilty and unproductive is that my brain needs that time off. It needs — I need — time to think unhurriedly, not on a deadline, to relax. That’s when I do my best problem-solving. Sometimes, time isn’t supposed to be productive; it’s supposed to be generative instead.

After my lazy afternoon, my conversation with France, Canada, and San Francisco exploded into clarity and rigor. A new line of investigation into etymological markers was laid out. Since then, additional conversations have brought depth and understanding to our study of syllables, phonemes, our orthographic concept model, and so much more. Recently, I realized that an understanding of etymological markers (a future LEXinar, to be sure) and an understanding of syllables in English both hinge on an understanding of the zero allophone.

So, in studying one lazy day, I saw the sign. I saw the significant value of time off for my brain. Because of this, I made a decision to take the month of April off from LEXinars, to regroup and think and write and figure out what was emerging as really meaningful in my study.  Now that it’s May 1st, I’m announcing a new set of LEXinars that have grown organically out of this month off:

✦ The International Phonetic Alphabet

✦ The Nature of the Phoneme

✦ The Zero Allophone

✦ An Introduction to Structured Word Inquiry

These LEXinars address the “What About Phonology?” question I wrote about here. They reexamine phonology and how it’s written down, and they question the value of an accurate understanding. Quite a few people have inquired about LEXinars — these new ones, and the favorites like Old English for Orthographers or Syllables: Fact and Fiction. In order to know whose schedules I need to accommodate, I’m asking folks to register (preferably online) first, and then we’ll schedule courses in May, June and July. More information is available here.

Just what is that <g> doing in <sign>? Yeah, yeah, I thought I knew too. Come join the conversation!

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