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04 September 2018

A Bilingual Math Lesson

Today, we had a legitimately bilingual math lesson.

Three years ago, when I first felt the Holy Ghost nudging me, saying that I needed to do bilingual instruction, I was paralyzed by my own inadequacy and perfectionism, and terrified to try. I didn't know the words. I didn't know where to get the words. It was just me and the dictionary on my phone, and I was pretty certain that wasn't enough.

Mrs. C. said it was.

Mrs. C is an expert: she teaches at a local bilingual immersion school. I figured if anybody knew what is possible, she would. So I started trying. I don't know that I would have been brave enough to follow where the Lord was leading me, had she not been so encouraging; He gave me exactly what I needed when He arranged for us to sit around by the pool chatting about how bilingual teaching works while our kids splashed around during swim lesson time.

This was before I discovered the HiNative app, and I only knew one person that was fluent, so I sent her a couple of Facebook messages, asking about math words and phrases. Only, while she said she was happy to help me learn Japanese, she wasn't very interested in talking about math phrases: she said, "It's exactly the same as  in English." And it is. Which is why it's been such a great place for us to start: math has its own terminology, and it really is very similar, even when the languages are as dissimilar and English and Japanese.

In the past, we've done some work with numbers, and practiced both addition and subtraction in Japanese using math cards, but because of my limited vocabulary, all of the explanations and actual teaching have always been in English. Today, I finally had enough Japanese to actually do the majority of the lesson in Japanese! I did make sure that there was plenty of physical cues with pointing at or moving the rods, and a few key points I did in both English and Japanese, but the vast majority was done in our second language. Peanut didn't seem to care one way or another; she's had Japanese around to one degree or another nearly since she was born, and she just takes it in stride most of the time, but I was super excited and singing inside through the whole lesson!

We started out with some Cuisenaire Rods, which she is already familiar with and reasonably comfortable with working with them to figure things out. I had her build a staircase, and then we grabbed a green six rod, and started working on some number-bonds kind of things. We didn't call it that, because I have no idea what kind of name you'd give that concept in Japanese, but it was number bonds work, where we were emphasizing the small numbers that add up to six.

It was interesting, chatting at her in Japanese, and having her respond to me in English. That's how she did most of it, though as she was trying to figure out what number the larger rods represented, I was able to nudge her into doing some of the counting in Japanese. Realistically, to just have me speaking Japanese and her understanding is pretty huge, and I'm really happy with this kind of progress at this point: receptive language precedes expressive language, and she was doing well with a significant increase in the amount of Japanese that she was hearing.

After we built the rod model of all the ways you can add whole numbers to get six, we finished the lesson by going back and writing down the addition problems to represent our work with the rods. This required me to learn some new words: just like we tend to read a problem, "four plus two is six", the Japanese have a similar phrase, but when it came to actually writing the equations, I needed to go with her character by character. I did the first couple, to help her figure out what the heck we were up to, since I knew she was also coping with a bunch of new words, and then had her finish up. Additionally, I needed to ask her if she knew how to write a couple of the numbers --and I'd never tried to say that before. So I made something up, said it, and while she worked, I quick typed my sentence in on HiNative. There are frequently enough Japanese native users on that answers to questions come within just a couple of minutes, and happily, today things were quite quick AND it turned out I was actually already asking my question in a natural way (woot!).

Excited by this success, I tried to pull more Japanese into one of her brothers' lesson, but I haven't looked up the words for multiplication or division yet, and he was converting measurements which was fine when it was centimeters and meters, but when I needed to talk about liters that was a problem. He's also generally less comfortable with the ambiguity that is inherent in working in a new language: he wants to know that he understands, and to be fair, converting measurements is considerably more involved than counting to six! But we did make a nice connection between all those prefixes you see in metric measurements and our Latin work, and that was a fun lightbulb moment: I don't think he's going to have any trouble keeping them all straight.

I still haven't really figured out how to bring this kind of success to other areas of study: my vocabulary is still quite small, and the kids have even fewer words. But the good news is, even with small vocabularies, we're all definitely making consistent progress, and that is hugely encouraging.

24 August 2018

Agency in God's Plan

Agency is the capacity to choose; it has sometimes also been called free will. Conditions of liberty allow the greatest possible "space" in which to exercise Agency; tyranny, by definition, is the attempt to oppress or repress another person's Agency.

Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give. It is inherent in the spirit of man. It is a divine gift. … Whether born in abject poverty or shackled at birth by inherited riches, everyone has this most precious of all life’s endowments—the gift of free agency; man’s inherited and inalienable right.
-David O. McKay, Agency and Responsibility

In the Church, we tend to prefer the term Agency over free will, and I'd guess the reason for that is that modern scripture uses the term in passages like this one:

22 August 2018

Languages By Ear

This post is part of a series.
Part One: Listen, Listen, Listen
Part Two: What To Read
Part Three: A Web of Language
Part Four: {this post}

Gouin talked about the importance of making our first and primary instruction in the foreign language we have chosen aural instruction: the ear, he said, is the primary organ of language learning, not the eye; our children should hear new words before they see them. The same is true for adult students of languages: training the ear is key to success.
How is it, then, that so many people pronounce so badly the foreign languages that they have begun to learn at school? We believe we have found the true answer to the enigma. The first great cause of a bad accent is reading — reading undertaken at the wrong time, too soon. The second cause is reading degenerating into a bad habit; and the third cause still seems to us to be reading. Let us explain.
-Francois Gouin, The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages
Gouin then goes on to explore the three ways that premature and incorrect use of printed materials damage the student’s accent. First, if the student sees the word before he hears it, he will attempt to pronounce it using the phonetic rules he is already familiar with, and of course the pronunciation rules of English applied to French (or any other language) yield terrible results. If this continues uncorrected, the student runs into the second hazard: his reading builds bad habits of pronunciation that become ingrained. In addition, Gouin discusses the way that focusing on written lessons first accustoms the student to translate in his head first, and only speak afterwards, which slows both the recognition and production of sounds and greatly impedes the journey to native-like fluency. The solution he offers is to focus on aural language first: the student should learn with their ears before anything else.

Read more at By Study and Faith.

21 August 2018

Expanding our Linguistic Web

Last spring, I started reading Gouin's Art of Teaching and Studying Languages, I wrote a series of posts about it for By Study and Faith, and we started using our own madeup series of phrases we've been learning in the kitchen. I didn't finish the book at that time because the ereaders I was using couldn't keep my place, and I eventually got frustrated with trying to find where I'd left off, but I slipped it into our most recent book box, and it came the other day, so I've started reading and I'm thinking about foreign language instruction again.

The book is a reprint, and it has a number of typos where the scanning process was imperfect, but even with that, I'm enjoying having a real paper copy to hold in my hands; I like those so much better.

So I found my spot again, and started reading.

In order not to load our text with too many examples, we leave on one side all such exercises as would arise from the possible and ordinary  accidents which are connected with this series and complete it. We will simply point out that, as an aim can be attained, it can also be missed. ... The maid who upsets the water in carrying it to the kitchen would miss her aim. ... The development of the indirect and complementary series of accidents  is hardly less rich in terms and sentences than the development of the direct series itself.
-The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages, (reprinted) p 43

This is an interesting prospect. We've been working on an "Applesauce Series" and it's gradually generalized into whatever fruit (real or pretend) is handy when we're doing it. And we've "cooked" some crazy things, though I think that the real food we've cut up has had more impact on their skills: it seems that real activity is considerably more effective than pretending for this activity. The kids are doing quite well with this in terms of receptive language: I can tell them to do a number of variants on our Series that we've been working with. Productive language is more unsteady, but that is to be expected, and is exaggerated by the fact that I have not been doing well with integrating this into our regular kitchen talk.

But this idea of adding in accidents is interesting. I think that may be just what we need. Maybe a variant Series would go like this:

Pick up the apple.
Place the apple on the cutting board.
Pick up the knife.
Cut the apple in half.
Be careful not to cut your finger.
Move your finger away from the knife.
You have cut your finger.
Your finger is bleeding.
Don't get blood on the apple slices.
Go to the sink.
Wash the cut.
Put a bandaid on the cut.

It is, perhaps, slightly gruesome to just write them out, but this adds several new sentence options to our conversations, and I'm pretty sure that my kids would have a blast hamming it up, acting this one out, and fun is an important element in these activities!

I think that this will be a good way of keeping our exercises fresh. We're also experimenting with how to deal with different conjugations, though I'm finding that aspect tricky: I have to work really hard to stay in the tense that I select through the whole exercise, and while the kids are recognizing the similar stem and fundamental meaning, they're not really getting the finer details that the conjugations give. That's one area where having someone that's genuinely fluent would be really, really useful. But we're making progress, and it's steady, which is the goal.

20 July 2018

Hymns for 2018-2019

We'll be continuing to use the By Study and Faith hymn rotation this year, and one of the things I always find useful is to have a playlist. I try to have at least a couple days where we sit down at the piano and work on explicitly learning the words, but a lot of our hymn learning is informal, just listening to the playlist, and as we go along, I try to keep the current hymn right at the top of the list, so that when we turn it on, and we're paying the most attention, it's the new song that we're currently working on. This doesn't get us to a place where we all know 100% of the words 100% of the time, but it does get must of us to knowing most of the words. And my kids will sing their old hymns off and on, and that's success to me.

When I make these playlists, I do have some ideas in mind for how I'm choosing which videos go in my playlist. One thing you'll notice is that I avoid the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: I'm a bit of an aberration, I guess, because I just don't love the Choir. But also, I want the music to encourage my kids to feel comfortable with making their own music, and not being hung up on it being "perfect", so I make a point of including a good collection of home-grown videos when I can find ones that I enjoy listening to. I also enjoy folk instruments. Not only do I like that style, but my kids are learning violin, including folk songs, and I want them to look at the music and think, "I could learn to do that" so that they see themselves as potentially being the artist: it's too easy to leave music making to "professionals" and fall into the trap of not realizing that professional musicians are as retouched as professional models are Photoshopped, and try to hold yourself to an impossible standard that they used computers to retouch and remix and play with. There's a place for that music; much of it is extremely lovely. But I want my kids to know that regular music played by regular people is also good, so I include them when I can.

So here's my playlist for the year:  

03 July 2018

Commonplace Book: June

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education.

23 June 2018

On Classical Education: Embodied Learning (part 1)

Discussing the principles of Embodied Education in the context of a Classical / Charlotte Mason education in an LDS homeschool.

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Repetition and the Habit of Attention
Embodied Learning (part 1) {This Post}
Embodied Learning (part 2)
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

Dr. Perrin, in his Embodied Education lecture, starts out by talking about how education is more than just what happens in the mind: education involves our whole being, and the senses are how we take in our experiences. It is more dimensional than the "rational enterprise" that we think of,  because we are more dimensional than that: we are rational, thinking being, certainly, but we are more than just minds. Knowing that education is primarily about character, and about how we go about bridling our passions and ordering our affections, Dr. Perrin asks about environment:

Think about our classrooms. Think about your university education, you high school education: what were the hallways like? How were the windows? Did you enjoy your desks? They were "great". How about the parking lot? The whole design of our educational institutions, without us even being aware of it, are shaping our expectations, our hopes, and our ideals. Our affections. 
-Dr. Christopher Perrin, Embodied Education

That's pretty intense. What did your school experience teach you about the way that the world is supposed to work? When he asked about "my" desk, one of the things that I remembered is that I really didn't even have a desk that was mine: I sat in a different desk every hour, and each teacher changed the seating chart whenever they wanted, often without warning. It wasn't malicious; it was just the way things were; part of the mechanics of classroom management. The desks weren't designed to belong to anyone anyway: there was no storage, no way to personalize them short of defacing them, no privacy, no security. They were just hard plastic chairs, screwed into the frame that held up the writing surface, with a little wire frame underneath in case we had "extra" books. Although I have never known a single person who liked those desks well enough to put one in their home, I remember being excited when I was finally "old enough" to use that kind of desk: it was something of a milestone because only the high school students had them.

What kind of values do our educational institutions embody?
What are the values embodied in our homes?
How do the values differ?

22 June 2018

Dealing With Prereading

This past year has been the first year where my oldest had significant quantities of reading in books that I assigned based on the curriculum we're using (Ambleside Online) but that he read independently in a book that I had not previously read, or that I'd read so long ago that I couldn't remember what happened. In the not-too-distant future, I'm going to have three kids reading challenging books, and I'm going to need to be able to have intelligent conversations about these books, and also keep the household running.

My strategy is to keep a prereading notebook. It's just a regular composition notebook, which I covered first with scrapbook paper and then with contact paper. That's what I do with most of my notebooks, and they are practically indestructible: my scripture journal has been with me for five years, most weeks drug to church and back in my backpack, and it's still beautiful. Which means that I can count on this notebook, which will see lighter use, lasting nicely as well and plan on it not falling apart before my youngest is reading these same books. Also, being pretty helps me to like it, and want to use it, and that helps me to get the job done. It's remarkable how much difference it makes to have an attractive notebook, even if it's just a composition book that I got for $.50 in back to school sales at the end of summer.


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