Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Grammatical Structure of “Writing About Writing” Makes Sense, But Not Others

“Writing about writing” uses the same word as two different word classifications: progressive verb+"about"+gerund.

Some things don't make sense; Photo by Author

As a child, many of my favorite books included main characters who wanted to become writers. In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo March’s desire to write a great novel inspired my idea to write a great novel. From the L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, I mourned when Gilbert made fun of Anne Shirley, especially when he called her writing “highfalutin mumbo jumbo.”

Writers Alcott and Montgomery wrote about characters who wrote. This cycle feels familiar even today. Now there is an entire industry of writers writing about writing. Some make thousands of dollars from writers and wannabee writers purchasing these items. Even I fall into the trap of writing about writing. I enjoy helping others improve their writing and other language skills, though I haven’t made any money with writing advice yet.

These thoughts on “writing about writing” intrigued me on a grammatical level. The syntax (word order) is a verb+preposition+noun, where the first verb is in the progressive tense and the noun is a gerund (the progressive verb form used as a noun). I experimented with other verbs: reading about reading, dreaming about dreaming, or hearing about hearing. These constructions made sense while others did not: walking about walking, tasting about tasting, or climbing about climbing.

So what makes some verbs work, but not others?

I wondered about abstract verbs versus concrete verbs, but that didn’t quite make sense. For example, the abstract idea of “thinking about thinking” works yet the concrete idea of “typing about typing” works too. What makes sense comes down to word definitions and context. Otherwise, these are grammatically correct, but nonsense phrases.

In the end, words are more than letters, sounds, and word classes. They are the meaning generations of humans have imbued into these sounds. Each word has an idea associated with it. Thus, I am writing about writing.

So what progressive verbs can you think of that work as gerunds that don’t sound nonsensical?

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Masks, School, and Speech Delays Update

Photo and Masks by Author

I wondered before school started how masks would delay my son’s speech, which I wrote about previously. After the third week of preschool, clear masks arrived in the mail and I sent his teacher one. Also, I sent my son with a clear mask to school. The masks tend to fog inside the plastic portion and they are harder to breathe through. Hence the fog negates part of the purpose. While subbing as an aide, I only saw one teacher put on a clear mask while she taught students about dental hygiene. After the mini-lesson, she switched to a normal mask.

From working in schools, more teachers are wearing a face shield instead of the clear masks when they need to communicate with speech-delayed children. The face shields are even more than what is required in this situation according to Governor Herbert’s mandate. Face shields are a compromise between no mask and masks. So far, I have seen teachers wearing a face shield during special education services. As I subbed for my third son's special ed class, the students and teachers and aides could use face shields for that room.

My youngest son’s speech has improved some since beginning preschool. He is saying three of four more words. He has doubled his word count! His /t/ no longer sounds like a /d/. Also, I recognize more intonations to phrases. I am so pleased with these small yet large improvements. Currently, the speech therapist wants us to work on turn-taking activities to mimic conversation.

Working as a substitute teacher or teacher aide, I have observed how different schools have implemented the mask mandate. In most schools, the students and teachers wear their masks normally. The children still have their masks fall below their noses often and need reminders. Some masks are just too big to stay on their noses long. In this case, some parents have twisted the elastic twice over to make it tighter. I tie a knot in earloops on my oldest son’s masks. The clear masks for my toddler came with little sliding adjustments, which work well as long as they don’t slide completely off. My youngest son has already lost one slider.

One school I subbed at required masks on for more activities than outlined in the Utah school mask mandate. This school made no exception for PE, special education, and for speech-delayed children. During PE, the children dropped their masks more frequently while jumping and they had difficulty breathing. I had greater trouble understanding the children with speech difficulties in the special education classroom. And they had trouble understanding me. We said “what?” a lot. Sometimes we gave up on communication entirely. For children with special needs, this increased their frustration and meltdowns.

Thus, the exceptions are there for a reason.

Students and staff can remove their masks during recess and while eating. Having a small break during the day has helped my anxious teenager through the process. I am glad that we don’t have to wear masks while eating. I don’t know if it would be possible to eat with a mask on, but it might be interesting and messy to try.

While wearing a mask, my throat hurts at the end of the day. Kudos to teachers and other staff who do this every day! I used a cough drop to soothe my throat tonight. While I had a sinus infection and sore throat the last weekend of September, I drank warm water with honey and lemon juice. It soothed my throat, so I may need to try that for “mask throat.”

For all the challenges, Utah teachers and students have done well. They have demonstrated great resiliency during this pandemic. Right now, everyone is working as best they can to keep schools open. Life will return to normal.

My Son's Speech Therapy and School Mask Conundrum

Photo by Author

Originally written on August 20, 2020

As an infant and toddler, my youngest son had frequent ear infections. The infections were indicative of fluid retention in his middle ear. The fluid prevented his ear drums from vibrating properly, thus causing conductive hearing loss. The doctor placed ear tubes in his ear two years ago so his middle ear can drain since his Eustachian tubes weren’t draining properly.

My son’s expressive language is stuck in the babbling and one-word stage, which is the spoken language level of a one-year-old. He says a few words like tickle, no, ma, and da. Mostly, he babbles. Occasionally, his intonation sounds like a word or phrase. Overall, we have to repeat sounds many times before he imitates them. He responds better when he imitates his brothers or the sound is linked with an action.

His receptive language is much higher. He can point to objects or follow one-step commands. For example, when I say “Where’s the ball?” with a book, he will point to it. And he will throw trash away if I ask him too as a one-step command.

Because my son is stuck in the one-word/babbling stage, seeing is important to his language development.

What role does sight play in learning language?

From the moment children are born, they are imitating our facial expressions. Psychologists believe this imitation derives from our “mirror neurons.” One such imitation and expression is when an infant smiles around eight weeks old. They also imitate the manner of articulation from what they see and hear parents say. The imitations carry through an infant’s cooing and babbling stages. Babies will take turns in conversation of smiles, coos, gestures, babbling, and other actions. For example, if you stick your tongue out, a baby will copy that, but usually at a slower pace.

The School Mask Mandate

Ever since Utah Governor Gary Herbert ordered that all students wear masks (or face shields), I have wondered how this would affect my toddler with a significant speech delay who will be attending special ed preschool. He would probably be covered under the disability category, but I didn’t know. I figured I could do a face shield for my son and the teacher would be wearing only a face shield. I discussed this with the preschool speech therapist when she visited for extended school year visits. She hoped that it would only be face shields.

On August 14, Gov. Herbert ordered that teachers must wear a mask with the face shield. All students must wear a mask, unless they have a doctor sign a medical exemption form. Section (3)(e) of the mandate states a communication exemption:

an individual engaged in an activity where the ability to see the mouth is
essential for communication, including an individual who is deaf or hard of
hearing while communicating with others, an individual who is
communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, or a
teachers-student dyad participating in speech therapy, in which case the
individual shall wear a face shield without a mask or use alternative
protection, including a plexiglass or similar barrier;

I tried to get some clarification from my son’s previous preschool teacher during our extended school year conversations about this. She stated that students and teachers must wear masks from the last update. She didn’t seem to know anything about the exceptions for speech therapy. It seems there is a lack of communication about the exceptions.

Overall, I am very confused; some teachers are confused too. Because the rules change frequently, parents and teachers are both scrambling to figure this out. Preschool starts next week, so the kinks are yet to be determined.

Last week, I made five masks for each of my four sons to last a school week. I included my toddler because I don’t know exactly what is going on.

Amid the confusion, my older children have adjusted to school with masks. Maybe my youngest will adjust well too.

On Monday, I read an article about masks with a clear portion over the mouth. BYU deaf students were considering this alternative for themselves and their interpreters. Some read lips and also want to see the facial cues in ASL.

I am considering these clear masks for my son. I asked his new preschool teacher if she would wear one. She said she’d try it out. I will be purchasing one for her most likely. This will all cost more money, but I don’t know what to do. My son needs to see the teacher’s mouth in order to imitate speech sounds better. I believe he could copy some sounds, but not as accurately.

What can I learn from blind babies’ language development?

While writing this post, I realized that sight is not absolutely critical to learning language. For example, blind babies learn how to talk. I wondered how they learn to communicate. I found some answers on Family Connect. A blind baby learns more through touch and sound. An adult can put their babies hands on their lips or hands.

So masks will not stop my son from learning to talk, but it may make the process longer.

However, children are very resilient. Their plastic neurons forge new connections to adapt to the different learning circumstances.

This school year may be different, but children will still learn.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Writing Process for Poem My Moonbeam Spills on Your Face

As a teenager, I often gazed at the moon and stars through my bedroom window. God’s creations bore witness of his love for me. I contemplated how I could personify this message in poetry.

Screenshot of comments
Screenshot by Author
Second poem with suggested edits screenshot
Screenshot by Author
Third revision
Photo by Author
Final revision
Photo by Author