Archive for the ‘History Teaching’ Category

Why Reading Levels Continue to Decline–PART I (of 2)

April 30, 2015

Students who still can't read

The problem of students who are unable to adequately read their grade-level textbooks is not new; the problem starts in early elementary school and only gets worse as students move up in grade levels.  Unfortunately, the rise of the internet in the past twenty years has only exacerbated the problem.

Let’s look briefly at the pre-internet reading situation in middle-class schools and above (poor schools have additional problems which will not be treated in this particular article).  Looking back, the most important function of the school library was to be filled with books to be used for school research projects which were at the correct reading levels for students.

Primary School Libraries

Not only were grade-level books provided, but there were plenty of below-grade-level books on every topic available to readers who were still below grade-level.  For example, a middle-school student with a lower reading level could still find good primary-level books on any research topic assigned. There used to be hundreds of books available through publishers, on every conceivable topic, for school libraries and public libraries to choose from.  Bookstores made them available to the general public.

Today, funding priorities are focused less on providing new books for the school library–partly because of the explosion of new topics and knowledge in our modern world, and also because of the explosion of information on the internet.  Now funding must be divided between  books, and new library computers.

The market for children’s non-fiction has plummeted since 2005.  Sales to both libraries and bookstores have dropped substantially. Therefore,  fewer nonfiction books for children are being written and published.  Publishers and booksellers decided to drop most nonfiction, and focus primarily on children’s fiction–for which there does continue to be a market.

Desirable Non-Fiction Book Topics

 The lack of nonfiction is particularly damaging for boys.  They tend to prefer autobiographies, nonfiction, newspapers, and realistic topics. Ever since 2005, as the internet has become more powerful, children’s nonfiction has declined.  This decline is preventing many boys from developing as readers. National standards in Britain and America drive the decline even further, “…as the strictures of the national curriculum have driven many publishers to stop producing anything very original, and how many books on Vikings and rainforests do we really need?”

Starting in middle school–most commonly Grade 6 and above–teachers now direct students to the internet for research, instead of to school libraries. One reason is that science classes are now often researching topics which are not even available in books in the school libraries–things such as genetics, and various types of cells–and this is happening in Grades 6, 7, and 8.

Students are now being asked to research obscure people for reasons of diversity in the classroom, rather than famous people.  This means that the information can only be found on the internet.  Students are now expected to use the internet for all research.  This is now true even in elementary school.  Students may be assigned reports on animals, for example.  Perhaps there are perfectly good books in the school library at the right reading level; however, it has now become “too much trouble” to even check , when one can “just look it up online.”

Using online sources creates a much worse problem–aside from the problem of whether a source is reliable, biased, or incomplete–that is, the problem of reading level!

Below is reading sample from a Grade 5 science text which more than half of students (even in good schools) might find too difficult to read without the teacher’s help.  Why?  Because students are now used to reading only fiction in reading class.  They are not used to the vocabulary in non-fiction; nor are they used to reading expository sentences..

Levers text

 

Not only have student reading levels declined in real terms, but the sources students are now attempting to use are usually written at far too high of a level for their age.  Students in middle school and high school usually go first to Wikipedia (and are often specifically told to do so by their teachers, particularly in international schools that have much less access to English-language printed material).  Unlike school library books or school text books of old, vocabulary is not controlled for difficulty.  Sometimes the articles are poorly written, and written by scholars who are just trying to impress other scholars with their difficult vocabulary.

Below is a section of what one of my 7th-graders attempted to read for a report on glial cells last year, using Wikipedia.  Most students now need adult help to translate and explain what they are trying to read.  To a poor reader, this may as well be in Chinese:

Glial cells text from Wikipedia

Those students who can afford it hire private tutors.  My students show up and say, “I have a project or report due next week on glial cells (or guard cells, or an obscure historical figure).  Can you help me?”  Students arrive knowing nothing about the topic, and are expected to research on line, and write a report listing their sources.  So, together we look on line and usually find very scholarly articles, which I, as an excellent reader in my 60s with a graduate degree and decades of experience teaching, sometimes have trouble understanding!  So we pull out little snippets of information from various articles, which I explain in plain English and then mark our source.  Even many Wikipedia articles are written by scholars, seemingly just in order to impress other scholars!

Hiring a private tutor

I learned a great trick years ago when I was in a professional writers’ group.  If you need good, concise information on an area or a subject, one of the best ways to find it is to go directly to children’s books, where you can find the information thoroughly distilled and written in clear, easy English.  I use this same strategy now and show students how they can search on the internet using the search terms “my topic + explained for children.”  It doesn’t always work, but it often does.  Sometimes we arrive at a website where something has been clearly explained at a reading level appropriate for middle-school students.

The thing which most excited me about the internet when it first began, especially as an overseas teacher with little access to English-language reading materials, was its potential as a world library at our fingertips.  Sadly, much of this potential is being lost for two reasons.  First, children are not developing adequate non-fiction reading abilities to function in society.  Second, most of what is available on the internet is written at far too high of a level for students to be able to benefit from it.

In most American schools, for the past several decades, the textbook has been seen by teachers as only one resource of many for classroom use.  In fact, years ago, over-reliance on the textbook was almost seen as the mark of a lazy teacher, within the teaching profession.  Unfortunately, the current result of this attitude has now led to teacher over-reliance on the internet, with students who are unable to understand either their textbooks OR the internet!  I personally have come around 180° to the view that students would be better served if they learned and discussed in class everything which is in the textbook.  Now, however, there is a new problem!  Many schools are now moving entirely away from textbooks as a way to save money, and teachers are mostly downloading random worksheets from the internet. Unfortunately, it is students who are again losing out on their education.

Part II of this series will discuss what parents, schools, and teachers can do to address these problems.

–Lynne Diligent

Advertisements

Why the Flipped Classroom Has Gone Too Far

April 20, 2015

 

Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom is just not appropriate for all subjects, all of the time.  This educational fad has gone way too far, and is being used for the wrong reasons.  Most importantly, it runs into problems when teachers attempt to use it as a time-saving device in order to cover more material, because only a small percentage of students’ reading levels are actually up to grade level.

While the flipped classroom sounds like a new idea, it is actually an old idea.  Several decades ago, it was called preparation–a good name–in Britain, although I am not aware of any specific name for it in America.  It often consisted of reading a selection in a text book before arriving in class, for example, so that one could better benefit from a lecture.

The flipped model works extremely well for math classes.  As an elementary teacher, I would look each day at the following day’s homework section.  I would give about fifteen minutes of instruction and guided practice specifically on what my third graders needed to complete that day’s homework. We did not waste time in class doing homework.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I expected all children arrive in class with their homework complete, in order to be ready for the most important part of the lesson, learning from mistakes.  Right or wrong, they all got nice, big A‘s on the homework for completing it in pencil (including showing all work and carry numbers or cross-outs).  If they did not show their work, or if the work was either undone, or incomplete, they got a large, red F.  Within a short time EVERY child arrived daily with homework done.  We then put pencils away, and got out ink pens which we called “marking pens.”  Each child corrected their own paper.  There was no incentive to erase wrong answers, because the child already had an A, just for completing the homework.  We spent the following 30 minutes going over the problems missed by the largest numbers of students, working them on the board.  Students learned so much when they could see where they went wrong.  In most cases, we found errors such as subtracting the ones place, while adding the ten’s place, in the same problem–or, in forgetting to add in carry numbers, things like that.  In math class, the flipped classroom works fantastically.

Using the flipped classroom as a time-saving device runs into trouble in subjects which require a lot of reading for two reasons.  One reason is that in many good schools, students are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of homework, leading them to take ineffective shortcuts.  Using Spark Notes, and similar services, just do not engage student interest, and students miss the benefit of the literature.

The most important reason the flipped classroom runs into trouble is that students’ reading levels are just not up to grade-level standard in terms of being able to read either text books, or literature, on their own.

This problem is not new.  It was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s.  Secondary teachers in Colorado at that time were required to take Reading in the Content Area.  It was a course designed to help secondary teachers help students who were unable to read their textbooks adequately.  Because of the decline in book reading and adequate reading instruction, together with the rise in technology, in 2013,  more than two-thirds of students in the United States were now below reading level for their grade.

4th Graders Who Scored Below Profient Reading 2013

Unfortunately, today, most students, even some of the best students are not even attempting to read literature (or their history, or science, text books).  Most are attempting to find the film online.  Poor readers who attempt to read Spark Notes have trouble understanding even that, and certainly no one finds Spark Notes inspiring.

Many secondary English teachers (including elementary reading teachers, and secondary science and history teachers) are now assigning reading for homework, in order to cover more material and just have discussion in class.  The problem with this is that two-thirds of students are either not able to read effectively, and do not even attempt to read because of feeling overwhelmed.

So what do teachers need to do in order to combat these problems effectively?

First, they need to read the book (or text book section) themselves, in the mindset of a student, thinking about vocabulary which many students may not know, and noting it down.  They need to think about the major ideas and how those ideas relate to life today.

Next, they need to introduce the book or reading selection with a short, inspirational talk, that will make students feel like they can’t wait to read more!  They need to talk about and explain vocabulary (whether it is old-fashioned language or science terms) before students start to read.  History teachers need to think about the problems they are teaching about in a historical context and how those problems relate to life in the world somewhere today. Introduce the similar problems and questions of today and how they are being dealt with in the modern world, then look at the same questions in how they are being dealt with in the novel, or in history, or in the science text book.  Discuss what could happen in the future with the same issues.

Rather than starting a unit with reading the text book or novel, start the unit with a discussion of the students’ life questions about the issues which will arise in the reading selection  Here are three examples:

R-20091229-0074.tif

History:  While studying various political decisions of Roman Emperors, first discuss similar problems in the modern world.  Open with a question, “What do you think about when you hear of an apartment building collapse that kills people because of shoddy building practices?  What should be done?”  Or, “What’s it like to be stuck in rush-hour traffic?  What would it be like if the highway were also clogged with pedestrians, donkey carts, and horse-drawn carriages all at the same time, and it happened four times a day instead of two times a day?”  Then, “Now let’s see how they dealt with these same problems in ancient Rome.”

Rhett loves Scarlet, while Scarlet loves Ashley and uses Rhett!

Rhett loves Scarlet, while Scarlet loves Ashley and uses Rhett, in Gone with the Wind

Literature:  “How many of you have ever had the experience of being in love with someone, only to have that person be in love with a different, third person?”  Then, “The problem of love triangles is universal throughout human history, and that’s what this novel is about.”

Science (Astronomy):  “Does alien life exist on other planets, or in other galaxies?  What do various current scientists think about this, and why?  Which planets and stars are most likely for this?  What kinds of planetary conditions are thought to be necessary?  Could we actually travel to other stars or planets, and how long might it take?”  Then, “Now let’s turn to the text book and begin reading together about the planets.”

Lastly, MUCH more time needs to be devoted to in-class reading (even in high school).  If teachers are concerned about embarrassing some students reading aloud, or if there are poor oral readers, students benefit greatly (even in high school) from the teacher reading aloud well (and adding in inflections and pauses), while they follow along.  It also gives everyone a chance to stop and discuss various points, such as how they feel about actions characters take, or what situations they find themselves in.

Teachers need to inspire and motivate students, and help students to see connections that they would not see on their own.  If the teacher is excited about the material, he cannot help but communicate that love and excitement to the students.

–Lynne Diligent

 

 

The NEW Math: Part I – WHY We Have It

September 5, 2013

Test Anxiety

“PLEASE, can you help me, Mrs. D.?  We are having a math test TOMORROW and I don’t understand anything!”  This has been the most common complaint I have from my sixth- and seventh-grade tutoring students (ages 11-13).  Whether the topic involves geometry, equations, story problems, or even more basic calculations, nearly all my students (excellent students, too) are having the same dilemma.

If you are a parent or educator who has wondering for years (as I have) WHY we HAVE the new math, this post will explain it clearly.  (Part II explains why the new math is not working in many schools.)

 The New Math Style

The new math style in some schools appears to be, “The teacher doesn’t explain—he or she merely facilitates ‘groups’ while students (hopefully) just teach themselves.”  Like many people, I have felt confused for several years about the new style of math teaching.  Instead of presenting a lesson, giving students guided practice, and then sending them home to do independent practice (homework), the new style, which my tutoring students are experiencing, seems to be, “Don’t follow a text book (even if they are available).  Instead, just find some seemingly random problems off the internet (seemingly without any overall coherent plan of units), tell students to put themselves into groups, and pass out the photocopies.  Tell the students, ‘See if you can find some solutions to these problems.  Do this for three or four days, then tell students, “We will be having a test on Friday.’ “

Imagine middle-school students with these feelings being asked to get into a group and work on random problems.  It is not likely to go well.

Imagine middle-school students with these feelings being asked to get into groups and work on random problems. It is not likely to go well.

Of course parents’ reaction to this is panic.  Eighty percent of the children are LOST with this approach. Those who can afford it are rushing to math tutors, who teach the children by traditional methods what they should have learned in school.  Those who cannot afford it have children who fail.

Let us look at a “hammer” analogy.  Instead of saying, “Let’s learn how to use a hammer and see if we can get a good result with the nail pounded in correctly,” the new approach effectively asks, “Let’s learn why the hammer was developed, and how and why it works in theory….but don’t waste your time becoming competent in using one!”

hammer nailing into a board

Next, students are given a national or state test consisting of pounding nails into a board, which of course they FAIL!   Meanwhile, the “experts” lament that they are unable to do it!  

This is exactly what has happened with math education.  Teachers using “traditional” methods have been drummed out of education (mostly retired), while younger teachers have all been trained to use the “new” methods.  

WHERE did this approach ever come from?

I finally found the answer I’d been searching for, in a MOOC (FREE online course offered through Coursera, taught by world-renowned British mathematician Keith Devlin of Stanford University, Fall 2013, called Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.)

Keith Devlin

Keith Devlin

Devlin explains that in the job market, there is a need for two types of mathematical skills.  He describes Type 1 skills as being able to solve math problems that are already formulated, and it’s just a matter of calculating the correct answers.

carpenter measuringmachinist measuringloan officers

Type 2 skills involve being able to “take a new problem, say in manufacturing, identify and describe key features  problem mathematically, and use that mathematical description to analyze the problem in a precise fashion.”

aircraft designBoeing CEO

“In the past,” Devlin says, “there was a huge demand for employees with Type 1 skills, and a small need for Type 2 talent.”  In the past, education produced many Type 1 employees and a few Type 2 employees.  However, in today’s world, the need for Type 2 thinkers has greatly expanded.  Not only do scientists, engineers, and computer scientists need to think this way, but  new business managers also need to, in order to be able to understand and communicate with math experts and make decisions based upon properly understanding those experts.  So the “new math” curriculum is an attempt by the “experts” to produce many more Type 2 thinkers; yet, it is FAILING to do so.

Prior to the late 1800s, math was viewed as “a collection of procedures for solving problems.”  In the late 1800s a revolution occurred among mathematicians which shifted the emphasis from calculation to understanding.  The new math of the 1960s was the first attempt to put this shift into the classroom, and the results were not successful.  I see the current shifts to put new math into the classroom as the second attempt, which is different from the 1960s attempt (children are not studying various bases these days), yet no more successful in reality.  Part II of this series will explain the three reasons WHY this is happening.

 –Lynne Diligent

The New Math:  Part II – Why It’s NOT Working in So Many Schools

Young Student Remembers Past Life?

January 20, 2013

Soldiers

Several years ago, while teaching third grade, the school asked me to have students write stories.  One of my third-grade boys (age 8) wrote a story unlike any I have ever seen in all of my years of teaching.  Instead of writing about the usual kinds of stories which children do, he wrote about his experience as an adult man during war.

His story was about trying to save his family while he was being called off to war.  He was rushing to hide them in the basement and get them necessities, while trucks of soldiers were coming by to pick him up and take him with them off to war.  It was in Europe, and there were trucks.  It’s been several years, and I no longer recall all the details, but the essence of the story has stayed with me ever since.  Out of all the stories my students wrote over the years, it is the only one I can clearly remember today.

As someone who believes in reincarnation, I’ve always wondered if, in fact, this child’s story was a past-life memory.  It was shocking to read.  It sounded like one of the World Wars.  His concerns sounded just as if an adult man of 35 was speaking about his feelings.  There are a number cases now researched and published of young children who remember past lives, and even past lives in wars.

I mentioned the story to his mother, and she responded, “I know.  He’s just like an old man, in a little boy’s body.”

–Lynne Diligent

Middle Eastern Student Shares REAL Reasons Behind Anti-American Protests

September 21, 2012

Anti-U.S. Protests in Pakistan

The Arab World does not hate America because of their materialistic culture, their television programs, or their freedoms.  It’s not about that.  The real reasons behind the anti-American protests come down to an imbalance of power between the United States and the Arab World.

This week, one of my students commented on the recent violence occurring in reaction to the anti-Islamic video and the French caricatures.  She expressed a viewpoint which has merit, but which I have not seen reported elsewhere.  Quoting my student:

“The Muslims feel in competition with the West.  They feel that they have to be better, on top, the winners.  Every time the West does something, even on television, Arabs feel they have to compete.  For example, when America created the show America’s Got Talent, the Arab World created Arabs Who Have Talent.  When the West created The Voice (with Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) the Arab World created The Voice in the Arab World.  To copy American Idol, they created Arab Idol.  They copy every single thing!  They always feel in competition with America, because they feel America hates them, and does not like Arabs.  They always feel they have to be the best, but particularly better than America, most of all.”

Egyptian Winner of Arab Idol

My student also explained that the reason Muslim populations always take the side against the United States in international disputes is that they feel the REASON America doesn’t help Palestine is because they are Muslim, and that they help Israel because they are Jewish.  (Of course, not every person believes this, but generally speaking, it is quite commonly believed, even among the well-educated.)   “Here,” my student said, “they always take the side against America because they believe America doesn’t help Palestine because they are Muslim; they help Israel because they are Jewish.”

Today I watched to see what the reaction in third-world countries would be to the second print-run of the French caricatures.  Surprisingly, I found only very minor protests against France, and continued protests against the U.S., such as mobs burning the U.S. flag and pictures of President Obama in Pakistan.

Why were the protests against France so feeble, while weeks after the YouTube video, the protests against America continue so strongly?

A BBC interview with Pakistanis, on the streets of Lahore following the protest, also supports this same point-of-view my student had.  The BBC asked, “Where is all the anger coming from?  Is it all over a low-budget movie, or is it something else?”  Half of the respondents said it was because of hurt feelings over religious insults, while the other half said something different:

“They’re not just angry because of the movie.  They have their personal political issues, their personal problems.  They are angry about the wars (U.S. power in the region).”

“Whenever the powerful countries try to take over the resources of the weaker countries (how America is perceived in the entire Middle East), obviously the people living in those countries will try to protect their rights, and try to protect their resources.  Every country should have equal rights with every other country (angry about lack of power).”

“They are angry over poverty and unemployment.  There are many rich people and very poor people, and the difference is very great.  They are angry because they don’t have enough food, and mostly because they don’t have enough power.  So they are not just angry because of a simple movie.

Basically it comes down to a question of power.  Those who are choosing to protest actually have underlying anger issues at the United States that go far beyond the YouTube film.  What they are angry about is the imbalance of power–that the United States seems so overwhelmingly more powerful than the Muslim countries, and the Arab World.  There were comparatively few protests against France  because France does not have the same overwhelming power and influence when compared to Muslim countries.

At the end of my discussion with my student, I asked, “So, what you are saying is that the only way to get the Arab World to stop protesting against America  is to stop helping Israel, and to become weak (at least weak enough to be no threat to the Arab World)?”

“Exactly!” my student replied.

–Lynne Diligent

Each Tutor’s Most Crucial Dilemma

March 3, 2012

“Thinking back to literature tutoring days, there’s a fine line between helping students, and doing the work for them.  Students and parents are happiest only if the tutor crosses it.  How do you handle such situations?”  a fellow tutor asked me.

This is the tutor’s most crucial dilemma, in a nutshell.

Most successful long-term tutors have also been teachers.  As teachers, we want students to benefit from doing their own work.  However, as tutors, we have to remember who we are working for, if we wish to stay employed.

Most students who choose to use a tutor are not reading the required books in school anyway.  Few students are.  These days, tutors or not, I’m finding that upwards of 90 percent of students are just watching the movie, and a few students are going to Spark Notes and reading those notes, or taking those quizzes.  (Few actually read the Spark Notes well, and even fewer bother to take their quizzes.)

As a tutor, what I’m really being paid for is to make sure my students get good grades.  Parents are willing to shell out money for this, but not so much for someone who tells students that they must read on their own and who does not coach non-reading students for their tests.  So, what is a tutor to do?

Formerly as a teacher, I prided myself on getting all of my students to LOVE reading for pleasure, and to become truly interested in whatever subject we were studying.  Presently as a tutor, I pride myself on getting my non-reading students to read SOME, and to APPRECIATE what we are reading or studying.

I use all sorts of techniques to achieve these aims.  I sometimes rewrite books that use difficult language, to tell the story in simpler language.  I read these simpler rewrites with my students, and once they understand, they are sometimes motivated to read the original.  Sometimes they are unable to read the original, but at least they read SOMETHING, and learned about the story, and are able to pass a test asking them about the story.  We discuss the story and how we feel about it as we read it (even if it is in its easier version), and the students gain an appreciation for the piece of literature.

Is this acceptable?

As a tutor, I cannot take the same attitude I would take as a teacher.  As a tutor, I am coming from the perspective that students are not reading, and are not going to read.   If I can get them to read ANYTHING (even if I have to “spoon-feed” it to them), they are reading more than they would if they were not coming to me.  If I can get them to APPRECIATE the story, they are appreciating it far more that if they were not coming to me.  If they are PASSING THE TEST, they are learning far more than if they were not coming to me.

spoon-feeding students

Should we spoon-feed pupils?

So yes, I DO cross that “line” as a tutor, but I try to do it stealthily, where I sneakily make the student work and understand more than he planned to do before he came to me!

This same dilemma exists in helping with writing assignments, with math homework, and with everything else that a tutor does  As a tutor, I try to help lighten the students’ burden, while at the same time actually teaching the student on a one-to-one basis, in a way which would be impossible in a full classroom.  For example, I often do math homework problems on individual white board along with the student.  Then we compare answers.  If they are the same, we move ahead.  If they are different, we go back through the problems step-by-step to see where we diverged.  I feel students learn more this way.

I would like to hear about how others deal with this dilemma.  If you are a tutor, where do you draw the line?  If you are a teacher, what are your thoughts?  If you are a parent, what are your feelings?

-Lynne Diligent

Why A College Degree Does NOT Slow Brain Aging

January 23, 2012

The idea currently being promulgated by aging researchers that a college degree itself increases mental capacities later in life by at least a decade is just plain WRONG.

A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond (New York Times, January 2012) summarizes some of the latest aging research and states, “For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school.

Having been a teacher for a decade in America and two decades in Africa, I’d say something else is at work here, skewing the statistics. This research has simply put the cart before the horse.

It’s no doubt true that exercising mental capacities maintains a better level of brain functioning, it is NOT the college degree which is creating the improvement.   It is that higher-functioning people (and more wealthy people) tend to be the ones who complete their college degrees!

Having lived in Africa for two decades as a teacher, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe many people who were illiterate, many who left their education at all sorts of different levels, and many college graduates.

What happens is that those who have learning disabilities, listening and/or attention problems, intelligence deficits, or other problems which prevent them being successful in learning tend to drop out all along the educational path.  It is the higher-functioning people who go on to complete their education.  If a researcher comes along later and says, “These people are higher-functioning later in life because they earned a college degree,” the whole premise is wrong.  Those people are higher-functioning because they always were higher-functioning.

In America, we are now trying to push everyone into college.  Having a college degree will not give everyone the benefit of an extra decade of a higher-functioning brain.  I know some people in America who struggled mightily to get through college in six years, who in spite of their degree, don’t like to read (because they had learning disabilities to start out with).  It is not a person’s college degree which keeps their brain active.  It is their PERSONALITY.

 

Furthermore, I have known certain people who never learned how to read or write who enjoy conversing on current events; who follow active hobbies, crafts, dancing, or sports; who read, write, or blog; who take a course or who teach something to others; or who regularly participate in social activities or weekly luncheon clubs.  All of these things can keep one’s brain active.

Study, or a college degree is just one type of activity.  The aging researchers quoted in the article linked to above are just being far too narrow in their focus.  College-educated people have already self-selected themselves into a group which has high cognitive functioning.

It’s not the college degree that keeps one’s brain from atrophying.  It’s the personality, the interest, the spark for life.

–Lynne Diligent

English Chaos!

January 16, 2012

G. Nolst Trenité, aka Charivarius

This amazing poem, containing over 800 notorious irregularities in English spelling, is better known abroad by foreigners than by native speakers.  (I only learned, myself, of its existence from foreign speakers.)

The Chaos was written by G. Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), a Dutchman, in 1922.   Trenité was a student of classics, law, and political science, and a teacher in the Netherlands, later in California, and finally in Haarlem.  He published several textbooks in English and French, and wrote many columns for an Amsterdam weekly newspaper using the pen name Charivarius.

The poem is extremely difficult for non-native speakers to read correctly.  The author originally added it as an appendix to a book of English pronunciation exercises.  The point is that non-native speakers can never tell how to pronounce words encountered in writing.

For any non-native speakers, YouTube has a reading aloud by an Englishman HERE.

Several versions, which have been added to by others over the years, are in circulation.  Some of these circulating versions have nearly doubled the length of the poem.  Below is the author’s original version.

The Chaos, by G. Nolst Trenité, aka “Charivarius”

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.


I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.


Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it! 10

Just compare heart, hear and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word.


Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Say – said, pay – paid, laid but plaid.


Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,

Say: gush, bush, steak, streakbreak, bleak, 20


Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;

Woven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, shoe, poemtoe.


Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

Missiles, similes, reviles.


Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining, 30

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far.


From “desire”: desirable – admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,

Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,


One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind, 40


Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, broochninth, plinth.


Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,

Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

Peter, petrol and patrol?


Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet. 50

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.


Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discount, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward,


Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live. 60


Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes with Thalia.

Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyant, minute, but minute.


Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;

Would it tally with my rhyme

If I mentioned paradigm?


Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy? 70

Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

Rabies, but lullabies.


Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

You’ll envelop lists, I hope,

In a linen envelope.


Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.

To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache. 80


Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed but vowed.


Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice,


Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label. 90

Petal, penal, and canal,

Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,


Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,

But it is not hard to tell

Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.


Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor, 100


Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the A of drachm and hammer.

Pussy, hussy and possess,

Desert, but desert, address.


Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

Cow, but Cowper, some and home.


Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“, 110

Making, it is sad but true,

In bravado, much ado.


Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.

Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.


Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.

Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,

Paradise, rise, rose, and dose. 120


Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

Mind! Meandering but mean,

Valentine and magazine.


And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,

Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

Tier (one who ties), but tier.


Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring? 130

Prison, bison, treasure trove,

Treason, hover, cover, cove,


Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.

Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.


Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;

Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn. 140


Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

Evil, devil, mezzotint,

Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)


Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,

Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

Rhyming with the pronoun yours;


Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did, 150

Funny rhymes to unicorn,

Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.


No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.

No. Yet Froude compared with proud

Is no better than McLeod.


But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,

Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme. 160


Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

But you’re not supposed to say

Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.


Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,

How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

When for Portsmouth I had booked!


Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty, 170

Episodes, antipodes,

Acquiesce, and obsequies.


Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,

Rather say in accents pure:

Nature, stature and mature.


Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

Wan, sedan and artisan. 180


The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.


Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em –

Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.


The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight – you see it; 190

With and forthwith, one has voice,

One has not, you make your choice.


Shoes, goes, does [1]. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,


Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry, fury, bury,

Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath. 200


Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisne, truism, use, to use?


Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,

Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

Put, nut, granite, and unite


Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer. 210

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.


Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;

Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.


Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry. 220


Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.


Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,

Rally with ally; yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!


Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver. 230

Never guess – it is not safe,

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.


Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

Face, but preface, then grimace,

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.


Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

Ear, but earn; and ere and tear

Do not rhyme with here but heir. 240


Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,

With the sound of saw and sauce;

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.


Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable, but Parliament.


Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen, 250

Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.


A of valour, vapid, vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),

G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

I of antichrist and grist,


Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.

Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

Polish, Polish, poll and poll. 260


Pronunciation – think of Psyche! –
Is a paling, stout and spiky.

Won’t it make you lose your wits

Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?


It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington, and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.


Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father? 270

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Though, through, bough, coughhough, sough, tough??


Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

–Posted by Lynne Diligent

Attend Filmmaker Luke Holzmann’s Free Film School Course on Line

January 16, 2012

As a teacher (or even homeschooler), have you ever considered how adding filmmaking capabilites could enhance your teaching abilities with students?

The only materials you need to do so are a computer with high-speed internet connection, and a simple point-and-shoot digital camera with video capabilities (although higher levels of video cameras or those with more manual controls are always a plus).

Filmmaker Luke Holzmann now offers a free, online, 36-week course to all who are interested.  A brief description of the course and simple materials needed (which most of us already have) can be found HERE.

Filmmaker Luke Holzmann

Many teachers, students, and adults are interested in filmmaking, but most don’t have a clue where to start if they are not actually in school especially for this purpose.  Check out this exciting course, either to enhance your career skills, or as an enjoyable hobby.

I’m going to try it, and I’m signing up today.

–Lynne Diligent