Volume VIII - June 1, 2004


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Book Review by James J. Asher

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How our children REALLY learn—and why they need to play more and memorize less
by Kathy Hirst-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D.
$22.95 • Published by Rodale
www.rodalestore.com • 1-800-848-4735

The clever title of this book is irresistible, but there is a problem asking a professional psychologist to review a book with experimental results written for a lay audience. I find it impossible to evaluate those experiments because the writers simplify with conclusions such as this”: (p 173) “The first few years of schooling appear to be built on a firm foundation of children’s emotional and social skills... children who have difficulty paying attention, following directions, getting along with others, and controlling their negative emotions of anger and distress do less well in school.” “Does less well in school...” There is the glitch!

What does performing “less well in school” mean? As I explained in my book, A Simplified Guide to Statistics, telling us that one group performs better or worse than another is empty. The important piece of information is not that one group performs significantly better than another, but what is the magnitude of the difference? (In research, one way to express magnitude is a procedure called, effect size.)

Now, here and there in the book, magnitude is spelled out such as the statement that as infants make the transition into maturity, about 40 percent of their neural synapses disappear. As adults, we have fewer brain interconnections than we did as babies. That is contrary to expectation and therefore is a provocative piece of information. It is something I think most readers did not know before.

Another interesting statement “(almost all) babies speak on the right side of their mouth and smile on the left.” The reason is that speech comes from the left side of the brain (which controls the right side of the body) while emotion expressed in smiling comes from the right hemisphere (which controls the left side of the body).

What about language acquisition?
Around the world, in all languages, infants acquire language at about the same time—single words at 1 year of age and sentences at the age of 3.

Some “facts” I didn’t know
By monitoring changes in babies heart rate, it was discovered that infants in the womb tune into mother’s voice. At only two days old, switching from the infant’s native language to a “foreign” language produces a change in the rate of sucking on a pacifier—more intense sucking when they heard their native language. (More intense is rather coarse. For a precise evaluation what is the magnitude of the difference?)

At four and a half months, babies seem to know where a sentence begins and ends. This intriguing bit of information was obtained with a unique Headturn procedure that works like this: The child listens to sentences spoken to one ear at a time when the sentence is halted appropriately at the end of a thought or inappropriately in the middle of a thought. For example, Cinderella lived in a great big house (appropriate stop). Cinderella lived in a (inappropriate stop). Infants preferred sentences with appropriate stops or breaks suggesting that they are already tuned into the natural rhythm of sentences.

Implications for second language learning
Children seem to be natural pattern-seekers. For example, at 6 months they learn to recognize a word followed by their own name rather than someone else’s name. By 8 months “babies are even more sophisticated at detecting (grammatical) patterns... all this 5 or 6 months before they utter their first words. “

All of these experimental results presented by developmental psychologists seem to support Asher’s “silent period” as the optimal strategy for second language acquisition. In the classroom with students of all ages , TPR simulates infant development using language-body conversations (i.e., the instructor utters a direction and the student is silent but responds with a physical action). The result is high-speed pattern acquisition of the target language on the right side of the brain, and when enough of the language code is internalized, the student is spontaneously ready to talk. Pattern building with TPR results in a readiness to “babble”—that is, utter playful utterances in the target language. Infants start to babble at 7 months; TPR students are ready for playful utterances after only 10 to 20 hours of the TPR experience.

So, you want your baby to acquire several different languages
The writers suggest the ideal arrangement (based upon anecdotal evidence): Mother speaks to the infant only in English while the father speaks only in Spanish and the nanny speaks in German. To make this work, each speaker must be consistent.

Guidance for parents
The book is a blizzard of recommendations that most parents will find impossible to implement. Adult memory span will not accommodate all those details. My summary of the book may be all the guidance most parents need:

Drill and memorization don’t work. Leave your kids alone. Let ‘em play. Let ‘em mess around and get dirty. Stop trying to speed-up their natural development into maturity. Stop trying to get ‘em to read and write and perform calculus before they make the transition from diapers to pull-ups. They’ll get a job and get out of the house soon enough. They’ll be working the rest of their lives. Now is the time for them to just be kids.


For your reading pleasure…

Spanish language in midst of a 'cultural renaissance'
By Javier Erik Olvera, Rocky Mountain News
May 1, 2004
Pilar O'Hare is like any other preschooler. She likes to color and watch cartoons. She likes to play and loves recess. And at 5 years old, she's reclaiming her heritage, though she may not think of it in those terms. She's part of a growing number of young Americans embracing their ancestral language - Spanish. Some call this emerging trend a "cultural renaissance."

"I want her to know about her background," said Pilar's mother, Andrea Oliver, a Mexican-American whose parents decided not to teach her Spanish so she would fit in with her classmates.

The Spanish language is on the rebound among fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation Mexican-Americans, in part because of an increasing number of immigrants, primarily from Mexico. Mexican descendants now comprise nearly 13 percent of the nation's total 281 million residents, data show. The language is everywhere, with mainstream media sprinkling it into Saturday morning cartoons such as Dora the Explorer and used by prime time characters on NYPD Blue.

"This is a rebirth in pride, in cultural pride," said Vincent C. de Baca, who teaches Chicano and Native American studies at Metropolitan State University. "This is a cultural renaissance."
Read the rest of the article at:

Arabic Offerings Rare in Schools
By Mary Ann Zehr, Education Week
May 26, 2004
Since terrorists from Arab countries attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has been desperately seeking to hire Arabic speakers. But even now, more than 21 D2 years later, the nation has only a small pool of students who are seriously studying the language.
"The government is saying through every channel it can possibly say it through, ‘We need people who know Arabic,’" said Roger Allen, a professor of Arabic and comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
Yet only a smattering of public elementary and secondary schools across the country—perhaps no more than two dozen—teach the language as part of the regular curriculum. And while enrollment in Arabic classes at the college level nearly doubled from 1998 to 2002, from 5,505 to 10,584 students, Arabic is still one of the nation’s least commonly studied languages of those spoken worldwide, according to the Modern Language Association.
Read the rest of the article at:

Language's new lessons
Americans go to Mexico to immerse selves in Spanish
Mark Shaffer, The Arizona Republic
May. 11, 2004
Twenty years ago, the center of Mexico's Spanish language studies, Cuernavaca, had only four schools. Now it has 25.
Language schools also have been proliferating in the country's other old, scenic cities. A decade ago, there were no language schools in Queretaro, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende but now there are a dozen, said Javier Alberto Trejo, director of NAU's Queretaro program. Phoenix has cultivated relationships with language schools in Hermosillo in recent years for city workers with an interest in Spanish. Spanish schools are even a growth industry in Mexico City despite most foreigners' aversion to the city's smog and congestion.
Read the rest of the article at:

Learning in Their Native Tongue
By Mary Jordan, Washington Post
May 10, 2004
MEXICO CITY -- Jose Roberto Cleofas depends on red lights to make a living. As soon as cars brake for the stoplight in front of the Pizza Hut on Insurgentes Avenue, Cleofas, 14, moves in on dirty windshields and starts wiping.

"How else can I eat?" said the fifth-grader, one of the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who have migrated to Mexican cities in search of work as agriculture has failed in their dying villages.

The federal government is struggling to educate migrant children here and in other Mexican cities. The Education Ministry has opened more than 2,000 bilingual schools for speakers of 62 indigenous languages in the past 10 years.

In part, the initiative is a response to the armed Zapatista movement in southern Mexico in the 1990s, which embarrassed the government by bringing worldwide attention to its neglect of indigenous people. Most of the new schools are in rural areas where indigenous children are in the majority. Now, the challenge is to accommodate their growing numbers in cities where they are a minority.

Like 300,000 other Mexicans, Cleofas's first language is Otomi. There are 10 million indigenous Mexicans in a population of 103 million. During the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, indigenous people fled to remote desert and mountain areas and remain among Mexico's poorest, marginalized by racial prejudice and inferior schooling.
Cleofas attends the Alfredo Correo school, a two-story brick schoolhouse, where about 100 of the 124 students are indigenous, according to the principal. The school was chosen last year to be one of 76 city schools in a vanguard bicultural project, because nearly all students speak the same language and are from Santiago Mexquititlan, a farming village 100 miles north of Mexico City. The schools' computers are programmed in both Spanish and Otomi, and teachers are required to learn Otomi so they can communicate more easily with students who are not proficient in Spanish. The national anthem is even sung in Otomi.

Cleofas, who began speaking Spanish five years ago at age 9, said he no longer feels bad in class for not knowing a certain word in Spanish. Rather, he said, he enjoys helping others pronounce Otomi words. Science concepts are clearer when explained in his native language, he said, and when he sings the Mexican national anthem in Otomi "it rings with more meaning."

Cleofas has already attended school longer than many indigenous students, who typically don't finish primary school. He said no one in his family had ever finished fifth grade. He said he had moved to Mexico City last year, aspiring only to earn money cleaning windshields. But he now likes school, especially math.

The soaring number of indigenous children in urban Mexico is being compared by education officials to the situation in the United States. In both countries, the influx of migrant children is prompting schools to introduce native languages in the classroom. And in both countries, multicultural education is facing some resistance.
"Yes, there are parents who don't like it," said Nancy Miranda, head of the parents association at the Alfredo Correo school. She said some parents believe assimilation and speaking Spanish are the way to get ahead in Mexico.

Some parents said the cost of training teachers in indigenous languages and creating special bilingual textbooks was a wasteful expenditure for an already thin education budget. Rather than have their children learn Otomi, some parents interviewed said they would prefer their children learn English or French, the languages wealthier Mexicans study.

Sylvia Schmelkes, coordinator of bilingual and intercultural education for the Education Ministry, said some of the opposition is based on discrimination against indigenous people.

"Racism is very profound in Mexico," she said. "You can ask any Mexican whether he or she is a racist, and they'll say, 'Of course, not.' . . . Nevertheless, in direct interaction, it exists."

Miranda, the parent association head, said some parents object to the growing number of indigenous children in their neighborhood school. She said some parents unfairly complain that the newcomers "are slower to learn, don't know how to speak, are lower class."

Miranda, who is not indigenous, said she feels it is "neither positive nor negative" that her son Donovan, 9, comes home singing songs in Otomi. But she said there are practical benefits for him to be part of this experiment: The school receives additional funds, computers, and attention. President Vicente Fox visited recently to see the new program, considered a blueprint for integrating indigenous languages and customs in additional urban schools next year.

Students in the program receive scholarships of a few hundred dollars a year to make up for the cash that children might earn if they dropped out of school.

As Miranda spoke, the recess bell rang in the tidy school in the upper middle-class Roma neighborhood. Boys and girls wearing the school's blue uniform ran onto the concrete playground, some laughing and telling jokes in Otomi.

Most of the indigenous children at Alfredo Correo live in shacks haphazardly built in alleyways in a neighborhood of ornate homes and expensive apartments. Life is harder for them, said school principal Juan Valente Garcia Lopez. Nearly all are so poor they quality for subsidized lunches of oranges, bananas, peanuts and milk, which were stacked in boxes outside his office.

Garcia said his job was to create an environment that raises self-esteem: "School represents a place where they are treated equally, where they aren't discriminated against, where they are happy."

When classes end for the day, Cleofas walks two blocks to the busy street corner where he earns, on a good evening, about $6 for eight hours washing windshields. Nearly all his classmates also work after school. Most of them sell handmade dolls from their village, or gum and candies.

"Usually their mom is working in one spot, but they are off on their own," said Rosalba Esquivel Fernandez, a first-grade teacher. She said most of her students, who are as young as 6, work on the streets until after midnight.

The migration of indigenous families to such major cities as Tijuana, Monterrey and Mexico City is more visible every year, in large part because of the women and small children it is bringing to urban street corners. The mothers commonly wear colorful traditional dresses and carry a baby strapped to their back. Children knock on car windows selling homemade handicrafts for the equivalent of $1. It is a business born of desperation.

"All that is left is a ghost town," said Domingo Gonzalez, a town official in Santiago Mexquititlan, Cleofas's village. So many people have left, he said in a telephone interview, because there is "no food, no jobs, nothing here."

The price of Mexican corn, the staple many indigenous people have grown on small plots for generations, has been undercut by less expensive U.S. corn that has flooded the Mexican market in the 10 years since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Alejandro Lopez, director of Mexico City's office of indigenous affairs, estimated that as many as 40 percent of Mexico's indigenous people now live in urban areas, compared with 20 percent 15 years ago. He said there has been nearly a four-fold increase in Mexico City since 1990, with about 500,000 indigenous people now living in the capital.

In the northern city of Monterrey, public school officials are struggling with how to help thousands of new indigenous students who speak dozens of languages. Regina Martinez Casas, an academic researcher, said the rapid growth of the indigenous population in Guadalajara is generating culture clashes. She said an indigenous girl, who by custom would be married by age 13, is now exposed to other 13-year-olds who are studying and "putting rings in their belly button and having fun."

Cleofas sat at a computer in his school's new media lab, toggling between Spanish and Otomi during a lesson on the human nervous system.

A shy boy with black wavy hair, Cleofas said that his mother died last year and that he survived on a little corn and the edible parts of cactus plants until he left his village for Mexico City.

"There is nothing left at home. It's better here," he said, wearing new tennis shoes and sport clothes he bought with his earnings from washing windshields.

He now lives with his sisters, who had previously migrated to Mexico City. Cleofas said school has given him goals and that he is now thinking about studying medicine, because, "I'd like to help others."
Just maybe, he said, "I'll be a doctor one day."

Find the article at:

Resources you might be interested in….

Rosetta Stone Chosen by Mohawks to Assist in Language Revitalization
Fairfield Language Technologies, developers of the Rosetta Stone® language- learning software, recently announced its collaboration with the Mohawk community of Kahnawa:ke, near Montreal, to develop language-learning software in Kanien'keha, the Mohawk language. The Kahnawa:ke-Rosetta Stone collaboration aims to restore the use of Kanien'keha in the community by targeting beginner learners who were not raised speaking the language, or do not currently have access to it. The program will be made available to the entire community, from adults to schoolchildren.
For more information, contact:
Linda Delormier
Tel: (450) 633-0808
Email: kanienkeha@kahnawake.com
For more information about Rosetta Stone, visit:
To read the complete press release, visit:

EDUTOPIA MAGAZINE - Free Subscription

The George Lucas Educational Foundation will launch Edutopia Magazine in September. Their promotional material says it will feature new departments, rich photography, and a crisp, smart design. They also claim it will reinvigorate your spirit (oh my!), enhance your career, unlock a world of possibilities for what can be accomplished in your classroom or your district, AND will include the techniques, tools, and technologies used by innovative educators, as well as profiles of educational heroes famous and unsung. Wow, claiming so much, it's bound to disappoint, but what the ding-dong! It's free, and you never know...
You can sign up for a FREE subscription at: http://www.glef.org/mag/fa

Reengaging Disconnected Youth Action Kit

National League of Cities says this kit contains a wealth of new policy and program ideas for municipal leaders and draws upon the latest research and best practices from across the nation, with sections on education, workforce connections, transitions, and system building for disconnected youth. The kit also can be downloaded from National League of Cities website or by sending a request to iyef@nlc.org or leaving a message at 202/626-3014. I haven't seen it yet.

New Book from Rebecca Freeman with foreword by Jim Cummins:
Building on Community Bilingualism
Rebecca Freeman illustrates how national English proficiency and academic achievement requirements can work in tandem with promoting multilingualism at the local level. The 15 chapters in Freeman's book include her ethnographic study of language planning in one predominately Puerto Rican community in North Philadelphia.
Part One: Promoting multilingualism in the United States
Part Two: Exploring language ideologies in North Philadelphia
Part Three: Translating polices and programs into practice
Part Four: Dual language planning for social change
Freeman argues that schools in multilingual communities "have a responsibility to build programs that encourage ELLs and heritage language speakers to maintain and develop their native language and/or heritage languages" (p. 348). However, language education choices should be carefully considered and based on the needs and resources of the local community.
The book is available at amazon.com and from Caslon Publishing at:

New Book:
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning
By Peter H. Johnston
In productive classrooms, teachers don't just teach children skills: they build emotionally and relationally healthy learning communities. Teachers create intellectual environments that produce not only technically competent students, but also caring, secure, actively literate human beings. Choice Words shows how teachers accomplish this using their most powerful teaching tool: language. The author provides examples of apparently ordinary words, phrases, and uses of language that are pivotal in the orchestration of the classroom. Grounded in a study by accomplished literacy teachers, the book demonstrates how the things we say (and don’t say) have surprising consequences for what children learn and for who they become as literate people.Foreword by Richard Allington
Choice Words can be downloaded in sections free of charge from the publisher's website.

Navajo Materials
Salina Bookshelf's website states that as an independent publisher of textbooks, they offer children's picture books, reference books, and electronic media in Navajo and English. Some books include an audio CD narrated in Navajo and English for use in the home or classroom. Authentic depictions of Navajo life, both contemporary and traditional, are portrayed throughout the entire collection of materials offered. They recommend that their resources be used in classrooms, adult centers, libraries, and homes to teach the Navajo language and culture. The resources include narrated audio CD's, audio cassette lessons, children's books, adult books, textbooks, and workbooks. For more information, contact:
Salina Bookshelf, Inc.
1254 W. University Ave., Suite 130
Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
Toll Free: (877) 527-0070
Tel: (928) 527-0700
Fax: (928) 526-0386

Thinking about it…

"Globalization engenders difference. Or, put another way, globalization is making difference 'normal.' In a globalized world, the ability to cross cultural boundaries, work with others by understanding and empathizing with their points of view, and the ability to consider multiple perspectives will become increasingly important."
- Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Professor of Education at Harvard University

The Elements of Common Sense
By John Rosenthal, New York Times
May 3, 2004
SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Pity the poor greengrocer. He leaves his native country in hopes of building a better life for his family, struggles to learn a new language with an alien alphabet, saves up enough money to buy a produce stand and works 16-hour days to make ends meet.

But thanks to Lynne Truss's best seller, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," which implores readers to "be a nuisance . . . and if possible use a bright red pen" whenever they spot errant apostrophes, if this hard-working immigrant makes a sign for "carrot's," some fussbudget will now be emboldened to correct his punctuation, even though the sign's meaning is perfectly obvious.

Poor punctuation is not limited to those who lack education or language ability. People with master's degrees in English still sometimes confuse "its" and "it's," which should remind us that the rules of punctuation can be as hard to remember as the Pythagorean theorem. And at times, they are downright arbitrary.

Consider this sentence, from this very page on April 11: "A mystery is solved, a work of fiction is set free." Although the meaning is clear, sticklers object that the sentence is a comma splice, because it contains two complete thoughts separated only by a comma. For it to be "correct," the comma should be replaced by a semicolon or followed by a conjunction.

Even more confounding, had the sentence read "a mystery is solved, a work of fiction is set free and children worldwide rejoice," the comma would be unobjectionable, because the sentence would then be a list. In this case, the punctuation police would merely argue over whether a second comma, after the word "free," was required. The Times abhors such serial commas, while The New Yorker adores them.

That professional writers routinely flout the rules of punctuation with impunity further muddies the situation. That they do so knowingly (one hopes) matters not, since readers who don't know the difference may simply consider it good writing because they see it in print.

When The Times opts for CD's rather than CDs, it's considered house style. But if a shopkeeper mislays an apostrophe, the kind of people who worry about whether anal-retentive has a hyphen are quick to criticize. Cormac McCarthy seems allergic to most forms of punctuation, but his run-on sentences won him a National Book Award. If less-heralded writers forget a question mark, however, sticklers pounce. John Updike and José Saramago have license to splice commas at will; the rest of us are expected to mind our semicolons, lest we be branded illiterate.

In her book, Ms. Truss claims there are a staggering 17 rules of use for the comma alone, "some of which are beyond explanation by top grammarians." Yet still no amount of punctuation would be sufficient to clarify this sentence: "Read John Arthur's explanation." The surest way to distinguish the intended meaning ("read Arthur's explanation to John") from a confusing one ("Read the explanation from John Arthur") is not with punctuation, but by rewriting it altogether.

That's the point of punctuation: not to spin a web of arcane rules, but to remind us to write (and think) clearly. It's obvious that force-feeding the rules of punctuation isn't working. Therefore I suggest a more tolerant approach.
The question that readers and editors should ask is not whether the punctuation violates the rules, but whether the meaning is clear. Is anybody addled by the film title "Two Weeks Notice?" Have you ever seen "dont" without an apostrophe, and wondered what the author meant? Of course not.

I'm not advocating punctuation anarchy. Punctuation that serves to eliminate confusion is as imperative today as ever. But as the language evolves we should put the most picayune punctuation rules out to pasture, the way we do with obsolete rules of grammar.

Years ago, splitting infinitives was verboten. Today, even grammarians can't muster a persuasive argument against it. Indeed, when students ask for an example of a split infinitive, their teachers are likely to cite the one from "Star Trek" ("to boldly go . . . "), which by now seems so natural that to say it any other way would sound stilted. With enough tolerance, who knows what lurks on punctuation's final frontier? Some day we may even regard isn't (with an apostrophe) as quaint as to-day seems today.

John Rosenthal is the executive editor of The New York Times Almanac.


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