Friday, December 15, 2006

Pronunciation and spelling

How much does a person’s pronunciation affect his or her spelling skills? I’d say a whole lot!! It’s interesting to watch these skills (listening, speaking, and spelling) in young children’s language development … and to note how these skills will probably affect them all their lives.

Here are some commonly mispronounced words in context:

~ My family use to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. <~~The verb should be used to; it's past tense, after all! But if the speaker doesn't hear the past tense, he won't spell it correctly.

~ We are suppose to visit my grandmother in June. <~~The verb should be supposed to; with the auxiliary (helping) verb are, the past participle should be used. Again, if a person doesn't hear it right, likely he won't spell it right either.

~ The story was about a drownded man. <~~The verb form should be drowned; since there is no such verb as "drownd," there can be no past tense or participle spelled "drownded"!!

There are umpteen more, but these are the most commonly butchered words I can think of at the moment. If you think of others and/or want clarification, be sure to let me know in the comments section below.

In first and fifth grades around here (Klein ISD in Texas), weekly spelling lists are phonetically organized. It’s fantastic. If there have to be spelling lists and tests, then having them organized in some logical or phonetic way is a good thing, I think.

In the process of working with my younger grandson on his spelling words each week, I’ve noticed that he has a much easier time than he did last year, even though this year's words are more difficult. Often they are vocabulary words, not just spelling words, so we discuss meanings and uses as well as any spelling issues he has. One week, he had words with the roots ped, port, and dic (pedestrian, import, dictate, etc.). He has learned how to put the words in his lists in “word families” and he studies them in this way.

The words my first-grade granddaughter has been studying are related and phonetic. Here’s one week’s list: much, inch, itch, lunch, such, bunch, munch, crutch, pitch, catch
Of course we had to discuss the meanings of munch and crutch, but she knew all the rest. Other lists she has been given are like this one – very logical, all words related in some aspect. In this way, she gains confidence and can sound out other words with these same sounds.

Excellent pronunciation is tied to good spelling since most English words are quite phonetic. It’s been obvious to me for decades; it’s becoming obvious to these two children also.

Questions? Please post any questions you have in the comments, whether you think it’s related to this topic or not.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Homework Help Websites

There are many good websites out there at which students can receive homework help. Just about all of them are multi-subject although a few confine themselves to a specific subject area, such as math.

Here is a list of the ones I consider the best, as well as my reasons:
Jiskha – message boards – free – There is a cadre of teachers who answer questions here, along with many opinions (some good and some not) from other people. It’s easy to tell who is in the cadre identified by the website’s owner; they are the ones who can post links to websites!

PATH – message boards and live-help “rooms” – free – Again, there is a cadre of teachers who have been through an extensive background check and training. Some of these teachers focus on answering questions on the message boards; others volunteer their time in the live-help rooms. A new type of assistance is in the planning-and-testing stages: help via e-mail. I've read that’ll be available in January. – live help – not free, but very good; all subjects.

And here are some that are all right, but rather cumbersome to use:

BJ Pinchbeck’s Homework Helper – click and find or conduct a search – free – no live help or message boards, but an extensive collection of links. Be careful of “broken” links, though! A few are quite outdated, and I don't think the links are double-checked often enough.

Homework help at Use the search bar at the top or find a category that you need in the list of links at the left.

There are many others. A search on Google for homework help can be useful! Most seem to be the click-and-find type (in other words, you look it up), but that assumes that you know what you’re looking for. Sometimes students don’t even understand their assignments; they need their assignments explained and then guidance to help them with content and writing.
Please post any questions you have in the comments -- whether you think they apply to this topic or not!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Problems in textbooks

Fortunately, most textbooks for English grammar/usage and writing are pretty straightforward and accurate. In fact, many of them seem fairly repetitive of others! Only the examples and exercises seem to change, while the same explanatory content is rolled out over and over. But sometimes there are problems.

Here's an example of a bad question in a textbook in current use somewhere in the US:

Which is a simple sentence?
1. Given the time of day, we were lucky to find a taxi.
2. Shelia used the lawnmower and Jacob drove the tractor.
3. Eventually she will.
4. Jennifer and Brian gave money to the orphanage.

Pity the unfortunate students (and their parents!) who have to deal with that one! In reality, there are three simple sentences and one compound sentence (with a comma missing!). But parents and students – and too many teachers – are very trusting when it comes to expecting errorless textbooks.

My suggestion to parents and students when facing things like this is not to answer it, but to ask the teacher the very next day about it. In this case, the student should point out the one compound sentence (#2) and ask which one of the others (all simple!) should be chosen.

If you have questions about anything, whether it's this topic or not, please post them in the comments.