Tag Archives: learning

Your Lyrics Will Be Graded

I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis.  You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.

As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas.  This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them.  Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested.  Who knew?

Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays.  Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  Click to enlarge!


I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.

So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics.  I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!).  But that seemed like low-hanging fruit.  Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.

This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain.  It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious.  At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.

  1. If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base.  A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution.  S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict.  The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other.  Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content.  Along those lines…
  2. Our methods of assessing students are crap.  We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything.  That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks.  As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding.  Just look at the term “Standardized Test.”  It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold.  At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes.  The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same.  Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop.  This is expected to motivate them.  All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords.  “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.”  How about this?  How about every student starts with a zero.  Not an F, mind.  A zero.  As they do assignments, they get points.  At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade.  It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up.  Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain.  Every day, every semester, every class.
  3. It turns out that every person learns in a different way.  This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis.  Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way.  It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model.  From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.”  That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
  4. You’ve heard this all before.  Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades.  Kids aren’t learning.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test.  It’s common knowledge at this point.  As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look.  Schools are failing our children.  What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever.  Just shrug and move on, America.  Your education system is a mess.  Oh, well!  It happens.  Right?  No!  No, damn it!  I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.”  (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention)  By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished?  That’s not a shift.  That’s not even a blip on the radar.  So why aren’t we seeing real change?  Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers.  They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change.  Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs.  Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
  5. No more complacence.  Educators need to band together.  Families need to support them.  We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders.  As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time.  And write ineffectual blog posts about it.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more.  If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.

I don’t know.

Here’s a chinchilla.

Ice Chinchilla


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Filed under education, Humor, Language, Music, Politics, reading, writing

My Language Right Is!

I hope you’ll forgive me for going off on a slight tangent today.  It has nothing to do with books, but everything to do with language, which is another topic that I am immensely interested in.  Currently I’m taking a Linguistics course called “Teaching English as a Foreign Language,” and it got me to thinking about a lot of things.

Now, there’s no way to say this without sounding like I’m bragging, but I’m honestly not trying to do that.  For one thing, this is information that is relevant to this post.  Secondly, let’s face it, my family reads this blog, so I think they’ll probably be quite happy to read that my Linguistics professor called me a “Language Genius” the other day.  Her words, my capitalization.  Apparently my Japanese teacher reported that she’d never had a student like me before.  The fact of the matter is that my Japanese teacher was fascinated that I had picked up as much of the language as I did, and the reason she is fascinated is because there is a critical period (many Linguists would say) for learning languages, and it is much younger than 18-20.  So it’s rare to see an adult pick up a new language that they weren’t exposed to as a child.  This is all relevant, I promise.  It’s all leading up to this observation I’ve made about language learning, and I feel that it is worth thinking about, and worth sharing.  So what better place to share it than here?  Seriously, I have no other options.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve observed: People (in this case native English speakers) tend to fall into two traps when learning a new language that inhibits their acquisition of that language.

Trap 1: They assume that their native language is “right” (with reference to grammatical structure) and that the language they’re learning is somehow “wrong” if it does not follow the same structures as the native language.  Which leads to…

Trap 2: They assume that their native language is related in any way to the new language they’re learning, when really the two are almost completely unrelated.

Allow me to explain.

I think that language teachers should emphasize a difference between translating one language into another, and expressing the same or similar meanings in two different languages.  Take the following two sentences, for example.  (The Japanese will be written out phonetically in English as well, so you can read it)

  • 私はスーパーに緑りんごを買いに行きました。

Watashi-wa soopa-ni midori ringo-oh kaii-ni ikimashita.

  • Yo fui al mercado para comprar unas manzanas verdes.

If you take these two sentences and translate them into English, you get:

  • Japanese: I supermarket to green apple(s) buy to went.
  • Spanish: I went t’the market in order to buy some apples greens.

Now, it is important to recognize that the above translations do not make sense in English, but that they do make perfect sense in their own languages.  Both of those sentences mean the exact same thing as “I went to the market to buy green apples.”  And I feel like people do fall into these traps where they try to directly translate from English to the language they’re learning, which is where you get problems with false cognates, for one.  (“Embarazada” is not Spanish for “Embarrassed.”  It means “Pregnant.”)  And then another problem is that of direct translation, where you assume that every language will follow the same rules as your native tongue, so you say “Yo quiero a comprar una manzana” because you know that “a” in Spanish means “to” and “comprar” means “buy.”  What you wanted to say was, “I want to buy an apple.”  What you said was, “I want to to buy an apple.”  Why?  Because Spanish has one word for the infinitive of verbs where English has two.

To Buy – Comprar

To Eat – Comer

And so on.  But we (English speakers) are used to seeing two words there, so we assume that Spanish has to have two words there, too, in order to make sense.  It doesn’t.  Because languages that aren’t English don’t have to make sense in English.  They only have to make sense in accordance with their own rules and structures.  I feel like I’m making a mess of this.  It was all so clear in my head, and now I feel like it’s very muddled.  Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead.

I’ll finish with this: The title of my post is incorrect English, but if that were Japanese, then it would be A-Okay.  So, in conclusion, your language is no more or less correct than any other.  Languages all express the same meanings, just in very different ways.  So when you’re learning a language, you have to approach it as an infant would – as if you have no previous exposure to anything like it.  Because learning a new language really should be like starting fresh, learning to talk all over again, not learning how to say good English in something that’s not English.

Word of the Day: Cognate (n) –

Hmm…None of these dictionaries are saying what I want them to say.  “Cognate” apparently has a lot of possible meanings, but the one I’m referring to is this: Words that sound similar across two or more different languages and have the same (or similar) meanings.  e.g. Telephone and Teléfono (Spanish).  And “false cognates” are two words that sound really similar but have different meanings.  These usually throw people off when learning new languages because drawing associations between words like that is a pretty common tool for memorizing new vocabulary.  An example of a false cognate is the embarrassed/embarazada thing or “pan” and パン(pan), which is the Japanese word for “bread,” not a pan.  Interestingly enough, that was taken from Portuguese, I think, so the Portuguese word for “bread” and 「パン」 are probably cognates.  Ok, that was officially the longest Word of the Day ever.  Sorry I couldn’t find an official dictionary definition.  You can look it up if you’re still confused.

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Filed under Grammar, Humor, Language