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Monday, September 28, 2020

Interview with Leanne Sherred, Expressable, Online Speech Therapy. Innovators in E-Learning Series.

Speech therapy has long been associated with improved skills in reading and writing. Further, speech therapy helps students develop self-confidence and stop being bullied. However, speech therapy has often been difficult to obtain for a number of reasons. Now, speech therapy can be conducted online. Welcome to an interview with Leanne Sherred, co-founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy provider. 

1.  What is your name and your background?

Hi! I’m Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP, and I’m a speech-language pathologist. I grew up with a knack for doing cartoon voices and accents as a way to entertain my family and, oddly enough, this silliness helped me develop an ear for the voices and speech of others. It only took one class in college on the fundamentals of speech and language to become hooked. I quickly realized that communication is one of the most innate and fundamental human characteristics, and soon afterwards I decided to become a speech therapist.

I studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained my Master's in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Throughout my career, I practiced speech therapy in a variety of settings, including pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health.

However, overtime I became frustrated by the traditional speech therapy model of care. I thought there had to be a better way. So me, my husband, our goofy dog Kylo, and a few colleagues set out to create Expressable, an online speech therapy provider. 


 Leanne Sherred, M.S., CCC-SLP

2.  How did you become interested in e-learning / e-knowledge transfer?

I became interested in e-learning and teletherapy because of its potential to make instruction and opportunity more accessible. I say this with a big caveat, of course; there are still too many families in this country without reliable internet access or a modern, internet-connected device. While we still have a lot of work to do, I think online learning ultimately has the potential to be a great equalizer by removing many financial barriers and geographic limitations.

Take speech therapy, for example. As an online provider, we don’t have to pay many of the costs typically associated with running a traditional practice (i.e., expensive rent, overhead, administrative costs, etc). This allows us to pass these cost savings down to families, so they can receive the same quality of care at a fraction of the price.. 

3. What are your core beliefs and philosophies with respect to assistive technology?

I strongly advocate for using any type of tool that can help children and students with learning differences develop academically, socially, or emotionally. Ultimately these tools help children capitalize on their strengths in order to navigate or work around their challenges. Yet, I do think assistive technologies should be just that - assistive - and not necessarily used as a replacement for parents, teachers, mentors, and administrators. 

This is particularly relevant in speech therapy. Interactive tools and apps have their role in improving speech and language skills. However, it’s ultimately the day-to-day reinforcement of speech therapy cues, strategies, and best practices that will make the biggest difference in a child’s life. 



4.  What do you see as the relationship between true learning / skills transfer and different types of assistive technologies?

Skills transfer is our ultimate goal. Whether we do speech therapy in a clinic, hospital, house, or over a video session, there is always a difference between performance and learning. Our job isn’t truly complete until a client is able to generalize their skills to other settings outside of the “speech therapy session.”

Assistive technologies for a speech therapist can refer to different modalities of communicating. For instance, an individual with a motor disorder or autism spectrum disorder might utilize a speech-generating device to communicate their thoughts. Others might use a simpler picture-based system.

At Expressable, we leverage technology to achieve an access point to services that more people can reasonably achieve. The video session itself is held to the same principle that sessions in a clinic would be - the skill isn’t mastered until the client has generalized across all environments. 

5.  What is Expressable?  What was the inspiration behind it?

Expressable is an online speech therapy provider. We started Expressable with a mission to make speech therapy more affordable, convenient, and accessible for everyone. 

There were so many reasons that inspired me to start Expressable. While I absolutely love helping children and families reach their communication goals, working in traditional speech therapy settings for much of my career was disheartening. There were so many obstacles that detracted me from providing quality services. 


For one, many families I was serving were being issued denials by their insurance companies for speech therapy. What’s worse, paying the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs of private therapy is unattainable for many families, and watching them make personal and financial sacrifices was particularly heartbreaking. 

Second, while well-funded schools may offer quality speech therapy on site, many lack the staff and resources to provide adequate services tailored to the needs of each child. Additionally, while children make more progress towards their goals when parents are actively involved, speech therapy delivered in a clinic or school-based setting can limit quality face-to-face time with parents. 

And lastly was geographic access. Families benefit when they work with a speech therapist that’s specialized to their needs. However, selection of speech therapists in rural or remote areas can either be limited, non-existent, or require long commute times (which is frustrating for just about everyone!).

By providing online speech therapy, we’re able to reach more people, lower the point of access, and break down geographic barriers. Best of all, teletherapy makes it easy for parents to attend sessions alongside their child, at a time most convenient for their family, so they can stay in sync with their therapist and promote communication-building skills at home throughout their child’s daily life. 

6.  Please discuss how Expressable works.

It’s really simple! It starts by signing up for a free consultation on our website with a licensed speech therapist. During this call, we work to better understand your needs, communication goals, and answer any questions about Expressable.

If you decide that Expressable is a good fit, we’ll match you with a speech therapist based on your needs, availability, location, and preferences. After that, you simply schedule recurring sessions on a day and time that works best for your family (evenings and weekends included). 

All sessions are delivered online using our HIPAA-compliant video platform (think Zoom or FaceTime, but on the other end is a speech therapist). If you ever have any questions, your therapist is available anytime via secure texting. And finally, our therapists focus on “teaching” children just as much as “coaching” parents, arming them with knowledge and exercises so they can incorporate lessons learned during the sessions at home. 


7.  Please share a few success stories.

Speech therapists are constantly tracking data to meet incremental goals - so every goal met is a success! If we see a client all the way through to the point of dismissal, that’s amazing because it means they’ve met age-appropriate level, functional level, or their own personal goals.

Some goals are more hard-fought. Building communication skills can take time and dedication. Those victories can be some of the sweetest! A few of my favorite clients have been families that get to be the main driver of a child’s first words. Whether it happens during the session or during the week with the parents reporting back - the excitement and joy is always palpable, and we share all of it with them! 

A child on the autism spectrum who engages for a minute more than they previously had, a 10 year-old who now speaks in class without apprehension of being teased for her R sound, an adult who gives a presentation at work without stuttering - I’m lucky enough to say I’ve had many, many success stories! The motivation of our clients and families is always what impresses me the most.

8.  What are two books that you would like to recommend to our readers.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Indeterminacy, Freedom, and Female Authorship in Emily Dickinson’s “All overgrown by cunning moss"

 It is illuminating to assess the impact of one writer’s imagination on that of another, who may be working in isolation, even in another continent. For Emily Dickinson, the work of Charlotte Bronte, publishing under the pseudonym, Currer Bell, was of particular interest, perhaps because of Charlotte’s desire to disguise the fact she was a female, and also that the use of a pseudonym emboldened her to write about transgressive topics, and essentially liberate herself from society’s numerous and sundry cages for women, especially at the time that Dickinson lived, in the middle of the nineteenth century. 

“All overgrown by cunning moss,” is a poem written by Emily Dickinson around the year 1859. It is one of the earlier poems and does not reflect the impact of the Civil War.  The manuscript is in the Houghton Library, and a facsimile can be accessed online.

The poem is quite brief. It consists of three stanzas of four lines each. The rhyme scheme is ABCD and the lines have no consistent metric feet, except to say that they alternate between relatively longer and shorter lines. 

Emily Dickinson wrote and bundled her poems in fascicles. The manuscripts are now in the Houghton Library, Harvard University. 

Emily Dickinson’s poem often deal with death, graves, and mortality, and this poem is no different. The “little cage” of “Currer Bell” is the grave, “all overgrown by cunning moss.” It lies in Haworth, which is the last town that Currer Bell, the pseudonym for Charlotte Bronte, lived. The repetitions of certain words give rise to certain meanings. First, there is “This Bird” (stanza 2), which is capitalized, as is the “Nightingale.”  The grave is overgrown with weeds; it’s the resting place (the final cage) of the name of the nom-de-plume, “Currer Bell.” However, the actual author referred to as the Nightingale, or, Charlotte Bronte, has long escaped, and is in neither nest nor cage. In the poem, Charlotte Bronte is in the eternal green of the Yorkshire hills, and in “other latitudes” which could signify the world of the intellect. Among Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, the “Nightingale,” refers to the creative spirit, and a voice of nature. 

What Emily Dickinson probably did not know was that Haworth was not a charming, verdant town or village when the Brontes lived there.  Instead, it was a grimy mill town with polluted air and water, due to the toxins produced by the textile industry, which had transitioned from a cottage industry (everyone had a loom in their front room), to own of dirty, crowded factories and no sewer systems. The life expectancy was just 25 years of age when the Brontes lived at Haworth (Cahill, 2018). 

Nevertheless, death permeates the poem, and the statement that “the Yorkshire hills are green – “ (Dickinson, 1999) juxtaposes the green of life with final “cage” that keeps “Currer Bell.” It's a deceptively simple poem, and the term “cunning moss” is probably key to it all. The “cunning moss” – the intelligent growing plant life that sprouts up to cover and disguise, is keeping her secret safe, while “cage” (the grave) which is “interspersed with weed” contrasts with the “other latitudes” and the Yorkshire hills.  

Like so many of Dickinson’s poems, “All overgrown by cunning moss” becomes a fascinating exploration of indeterminacy. The grave and what it has inside it are ultimately impossible to capture, define, or identify. The name of the person is only the pseudonym, and the captor, “This Bird” have long gone, not found in any nest, or in any state of being, for that matter. The “frosts too sharp” precipitated translocation; the sense that a bird (entity) willed itself to “other latitudes” which seem safer, albeit impermanent.  

In this poem, indeterminacy is a kind of freedom, even as it means erasure and the impossibility of recognition in the mortal coil wherein the pseudonym existed, at least in sufficient capacity to escape and to thus defy a socially constructed form of being.  


REFERENCES

Cahill, J. (Aug 11, 2018). “The ultimate guide to Bronte country: Haworth, Yorkshire.” Beyond the Lamp Post. 11 Aug 2018. https://www.beyondthelamppost.com/bronte-country-haworth-yorkshire/  Accessed Sept 16, 2020.


Dickinson, E. (n.d.) “All overgrown by cunning moss, J148, Fr146.” Emily Dickinson Archive. Houghton Library, Harvard University. https://www.edickinson.org/editions/2/image_sets/74779. Accessed 11 August 2020.


Dickinson, E. (1999). “All overgrown by cunning moss, (146).” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52200/all-overgrown-by-cunning-moss-146 Accessed 16 Sept 2020.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Language and Ironic Imagery in Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat"

I’ve been re-reading some of the short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. I like “Sweat” – it’s basically a “twist of fate” kind of “poetic justice” story that takes place in the 1920s in a historically all-Black town in Florida, probably modeled after Eatonville, Hurston’s hometown, which was founded by 27 individuals on August 15, 1887 (Florida History Network, n.d.). 

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Delia, a hard-working black woman has worn herself out running a laundry business to support her husband, Sykes (who is often called "Syke" in conversation). He, in the meantime, grows increasingly indifferent to her as she has lost her looks due to all her hard work over the years.  He uses her appearance as an excuse to take up with Bertha, a woman who is new to town.  Bertha is heavy, and just what Sykes likes: “Ah sho’ ‘bominates uh skinny ‘oman. Lawdy, you sho’ is got one portly shape on you! You kin git anything you wants,” (Hurston, 2013, https://biblioklept.org/2013/01/21/sweat-zora-neale-hurston/). Unappreciated, and openly humiliated, Delia still tries to make amends with Sykes, but to no avail.  


Hurston was a Columbia University-trained anthropologist, who documented the language, lives, and customs of individuals and communities. She studied the people in the all-Black communities of Florida, interviewed a former slave who was on the last voyage of a slave ship to the U.S., and studied Voodoo (Voudoun) in Haiti.  Consequently, her short stories display a genius for language and characteristic cultural customs.

Zora Neale Hurston

As for literary devices, in “Sweat,” Hurston creates visual echoes that have the potential to generate a multiplicity of interpretations.  For example, the bullwhip that Syke uses, and which startles Delia has a snake-like appearance.  Later, Sykes encounters a rattlesnake roughly the same size as the bullwhip. He decides to keep it, despite Delia’s pleas to kill it because it is dangerous and it terrifies her.  Sykes even has the temerity to tell her that he  likes the rattlesnake more than he likes her. 


“Naw, now Syke, don’t keep dat thing ‘roun’ heah tuh skeer me tuh death. You knows Ah’m even feared uh earth worms. Thass de biggest snake Ah evah did see. Kill ‘im Syke, please.”

“Doan ast me tuh do nothin’ fuh yuh. Goin’ roun’ trying’ tuh be so damn asterperious. Naw, Ah aint gonna kill it. Ah think uh damn sight mo’ uh him dan you! Dat’s a nice snake an’ anybody doan lak ‘im kin jes’ hit de grit. (Hurston, 2013, https://biblioklept.org/2013/01/21/sweat-zora-neale-hurston/)"

 

From a Freudian literary critical perspective, Hurston's use of the bullwhip and the snake are fairly obvious symbols of a male phallus and are used to represent male oppression of women. Specifically, they represent Sykes's domination of Delia, and a situation in which Delia willingly subjugates herself, since she will not leave Syke, even when she has to defend herself with a skillet.


In her analysis of "Sweat," literary critic Catherine Carter points out the way that snake is used as a symbol connecting the drama of Delia and Sykes to Biblical narratives, particularly those in the book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden (Carter, 2014).


Shortly after making the statement, the rattlesnake escapes the laundry basket and bites Sykes in the neck, killing him. In the end, the instrument of his own cruelty kills him.  Hurston makes that ironic parallel very clear.


What may not be quite as apparent is the connection that Hurston is making to slavery and the internalization of the relatively recent experiences of slavery and the consequent enslaved mindset.  The bullwhip is an image that evokes the idea of a slave owner’s or an overseer’s bullwhip. The slave owner, who was legally allowed to whip the men and women trapped in slavery, was also legally allowed to consort with any female who caught his fancy, and to openly mock and deprecate other women, including the mother of his children.




It is useful to keep in mind that Delia first mistook the bullwhip for a snake. Later, the rattlesnake, roughly the size of the snake, kills Sykes. However, given the visual analogue, one could also suggest that a poetic justice would also be served if the slave owners and overseers where killed by the instruments of their own torture.


Most writers who analyze "Sweat" focus on gender roles, the oppression of women, and women finally talking back. Those themes are certainly in "Sweat." However, Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat" is also an anthropological look at echoes of slavery's implements of torture, and the internalization of slavery's various mindsets, which range from submission, sadism, and liberation. 


Works Cited

Carter, Catherine. “The God in the Snake, the Devil in the Phallus: Biblical Revision and Radical Conservatism in Hurston’s ‘Sweat.’” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures, vol. 67, no. 4, 2014, pp. 605–620. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2017381029&site=ehost-live


Hurston, Zora Neale.  “Sweat” Biblioklept. 2013. https://biblioklept.org/2013/01/21/sweat-zora-neale-hurston/


The Florida History Network. "August 15, 1887: Eatonville, Florida becomes one of the first all-black towns in U.S."  The Florida History Network.  n.d. http://www.floridahistorynetwork.com/aug-15-1887---eatonville-becomes-one-of-first-all-black-towns-in-us.html

 

Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Interview with Jude Schroeder, Twinkl Standards-Aligned Digital Resources for Teachers

With more students turning to online learning, either in their schools, their home, or learning pods, it is important to make sure they will be able to perform well in the requisite standardized assessments.  Welcome to an interview with Jude Schroeder, Twinkl, an amazing company with a wide range of web-based highly engaging activities for young students. What makes Twinkl unique is that they align with State and national standards.  

1. What is your name and your background? 

My name is Jude Schroeder, and I am the Country Manager for Twinkl in the United States. I started my career as a 5th-grade teacher and spent 13 years teaching at elementary level before moving into a publishing role. 


2. What is Twinkl? Please give a few examples as well as a general overview of Twinkl's materials. 

Twinkl is an award-winning educational publisher. We provide instantly downloadable digital and printable teaching resources for educators across the United States and in over 200 countries and regions around the world. This includes materials for planning, independent and group activities and assessment. 



3. What is the philosophy behind Twinkl?

Twinkl helps those who teach! Whoever you teach, wherever you teach, whatever you teach - we've got what you need.

4. I love the fact that your materials align with State Standards. What kinds of materials do you have that align with Standards? 

How can they be used? 

We create thousands of resources every year that align with Common Core State Standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, and Next Generation Science Standards. 

From informational presentations with interactive discussion prompts to levelled reading comprehension passages, hands-on STEAM projects to digital assessment packs, editable grading rubrics to vibrant anchor chart packs - we create what our customers need in their schools, classrooms, and homes. 

With one-click, you can also save our resources to Google Drive. You can also choose whether you want to print your chosen materials or assign them digitally for completion on a tablet or laptop - the choice is yours! 

5. Who writes the materials for Twinkl?

Twinkl's award-winning resources are all created and checked by current or former teachers and are brought to life by our talented in-house team of editors, graphic designers, and illustrators. 

6. Please describe two or three examples of Twinkl resources in action. 

Over the past year, there have been over 240 million resource downloads from the Twinkl website! Our resources have never been more "in action" than they are today! 

Across the United States and around the world, children have been engaged in fun dramatic play with our stick puppets, developing mathematical skills using our math mystery projects, and writing journal entries to put in their Twinkl time capsule. Even during a global pandemic the world keeps learning and we have been in awe of all the amazing things teachers, parents and carers have done to support young people. 







Saturday, August 15, 2020

Interview with Daniel Nalesnik, Founder of Hack Chinese, Rapid Vocabulary-builder App

Many people would like to be able to gain a deeper appreciation of China and Chinese culture. Learning Mandarin is a highly effective way to do so, and a gateway to a world of experiences and new perceptions. However, most people feel a bit intimidated by what appears to be an extremely steep learning curve.  Now, however, there is a completely new approach to learning Mandarin, offered in the app, Hack Chinese.

Welcome to an interview with Daniel Nalesnik, founder of Hack Chinese. 

 1.  What is your name and your background? 

My name is Daniel Nalesnik. I have a Bachelor's degree in computer science and two Masters degrees in finance and business administration.

Daniel Nalesnik - Hack Chinese

When I was 25 I started learning Mandarin Chinese. At that time, I was by no means “talented” with languages; I had taken 7 years of French through high school and college, and even to this day can only remember a few words.

My first ever Mandarin class shook my world: this language felt twice as hard as French (and as I would find out later, is actually many times more difficult), and yet precisely for that reason I was deeply driven to get better at it.

Within a year I had quit my job and moved to China for a year of language lessons in Beijing and Shanghai.

In 2010 I returned to the US for grad school, eventually taking a corporate job in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2014 I moved to China with the same firm, and then quit in 2017 to create Hack Chinese.

I still reside in Hong Kong, the most amazing city I’ve ever lived in.

2.  Describe a few of the extreme experiences that you had in your formative years that made you passionate about Mandarin. 

I’m not sure this is an “extreme experience”, but there is one thing that constantly stokes the fires of my passion for Mandarin.

When I realize that spoken Mandarin (whether it be a passage from a textbook, a dialogue on a television show, or just friends chatting), which was once completely incomprehensible to you, is “all of a sudden” effortlessly and completely understood, as if it were spoken in English.

“All of a sudden” is how it feels, but of course it’s the fruit of consistent work over a long time: learning words, practicing listening, studying grammar, etc.

Comprehension, when it is as instant and effortless as with English, is nothing short of beautiful; which is why I often tell students to taste these experiences as early -- and often -- as possible, as they will provide more motivation than anything else you (or a gamified app) could do.

3.  What is your app, Hack Chinese? 

Hack Chinese is a spaced-repetition based tool that helps students grow their Chinese vocabulary.


People are often quick to compare Hack Chinese with something like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone, which is like comparing apples to oranges.

Apps like Duolingo teach (usually beginner) students everything about the language: vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, speaking, listening, and even culture. 

Apps like that are a fantastic way to “test the waters” with a language to see if you like it enough to stick with it for the long run. (After all, learning a language to a point of real proficiency is a multi-year task at minimum.) 

But once you finish their curriculum, you’re an advanced beginner (at best) with a very long way to go.

Hack Chinese is for students who have decided to take the plunge: they want to reach the upper echelons of Chinese proficiency, and while they are willing to put in the enormous required time and effort, they want to be as efficient as possible. 

For serious students, Hack Chinese is just one tool in their toolkit, but an important one.

What Hack Chinese does specifically is it tries to solve one particularly gnarly problem: learning Chinese vocabulary. Chinese vocabulary is harder to learn than words in other languages (with characters, pinyin, and tones), and there is a LOT of it.

While learning a few hundred words is a task that almost any learning method can handle, more thought is needed when the volume of words known grows much bigger. For example, a physical flashcard system will become unwieldy when you approach even 1,000 words.

Hack Chinese is designed for students who want to learn 5,000, or 10,000 words.

We make this possible by ironing out all the inefficiencies, removing as many hurdles to getting started, and relentlessly reducing the “maintenance cost” of keeping your vocabulary strong and your learning system intact.

4.  There are usually two approaches to learning a language:  conversational, and grammatical.  Hack Chinese seems to be completely different.  To begin, it seems to start with three random words, with no explanation about either grammar or conversation.  I've just finished the first lesson, but from what I'm gathering, I'm gathering Cognitive Legos that I'll put together later.  Right now, though, my pieces do not fit together very well.  Why should I stick with it? What will happen as I progress?

I’ve heard of many approaches to learning a language, and learning vocabulary is a part of all of them. 

Hack Chinese doesn’t try to teach you everything. Instead, it tries to be the best possible solution to one very important problem: growing your vocabulary. Provided you have a foundation in the language (and understand Pinyin and tones), and are dedicated to practicing what you learn (by reading, watching TV, etc.), sticking with Hack Chinese will give you a humongous vocabulary. 


A large vocabulary provides innumerable benefits: reading your textbook is easier. Learning grammar is simpler. Watching television is more enjoyable. More conversations are comprehensible. Etc. 

No matter what, you’ll never regret knowing more words in the foreign language you’re trying to learn!

5.  What made you develop your radical new approach?  Do you have any success stories?  How old are they? Can this old dog (well, this old Corgi) learn Mandarin? 

Language learners are very familiar with spaced repetition due to its efficacy. In fact, the market is flooded with spaced repetition tools, so the main approach is not radical at all.

What sets Hack Chinese apart is that we realized spaced repetition just gets you in the door; it’s not a differentiator. Yes, we do spaced repetition (really well), but what we also do is add layer after layer of polish (more often than not by removing extraneous features!)

Instead of offering you 100 customizable options, we bake in the best practices, and give you a few meaningful options to play with when you need them.

My favorite success story so far comes from a woman who graduated with a linguistics degree last year, then moved to China. In January of this year she was at HSK 1 (150 words). Today, about 8 months later, she’s approaching knowledge of 9,000 words!

Keep in mind, she hasn’t just “been exposed” to 9,000 words; those memories are strong and recallable for her. We know this because we test her every single day 

To be sure, she has spent a lot of time, about 40 minutes per day, to achieve this outcome. But for students who are willing to spend the time, Hack Chinese provides a framework that enables all that hard work to matter.


One of our most dedicated students is in her 60s, and has a more relaxed approach: she studies 10 minutes a day, and has seen slow and steady vocabulary growth for over a year.

6.  Who is using Hack Chinese right now?

We have users from all over the globe, especially in China and the United States (particularly California!)

Are they planning to be in an immersive situation any time soon? 

Many of our students live in China already. We have one particular feature that these users love: as they encounter a new, unknown word “in the wild” (on a menu, in a conversation, on TV), they can add it to their study plan using our integrated dictionary. If you look something up once, it’s likely you’ll need it again in your life, so adding it to your long-term study plan right away makes sense

When I was in Tianjin last year, I found myself using Google Translate for phrases such as, "I am sorry that my credit card was declined. I need to verify that I made the purchase. It will be okay."  The app on my phone spewed out: 
 
对不起,我的信用卡被拒。我需要验证是否已购买。会好起来的。
Then I pressed "play" and a pleasant female voice spoke the words. I have to admit that having such a convenient app was a huge disincentive for learning the language.  

Make no mistake: as technology advances, the necessity for learning a foreign language for the sole purpose of communication will eventually decrease to zero.

In-ear, real-time, heads-up display, real-time augmented reality contact lenses (can I stuff any more buzzwords in here?)… all of that stuff advances in one direction only.

But if communication is the only reason someone is learning Chinese, you aren’t the type of student Hack Chinese was built for anyway. (In fact, learning Chinese is so hard, it would be wiser to hire a translator to be with you every time you need them, instead of investing thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in lessons, apps, textbooks, etc.)

There will always be students who want to learn a foreign language for the cognitive benefits, the deeper cultural understanding, the sense of achievement, etc. These are the students who Hack Chinese was built for.

7. Can Hack Chinese help me overcome my urge to gnaw on a rawhide bone and watch the neighbor's cat instead of spending that 15 minutes morning and evening with the Hack Chinese app? 

Probably not, rawhide bones are pretty irresistible to most Corgis! :) But this is what we do:

Many apps are ‘gamified’ to make you addicted to earning badges or experience points. But experience points aren’t intrinsically valuable. (If someone asked you how your Chinese was, telling them how many Duolingo badges you had earned would be a pretty odd way to reply.)

What is intrinsically valuable is knowing 1,000 more words. We focus our gamification on simply making transparent your progress with intrinsically valuable skills.

For the right type of Corgi, this is more attractive than even the most succulent beef flavored chew toy.

8.  What are your plans for the future?

Hack Chinese has been a passion project of mine for a long time. It took me several years to decide to give up my corporate career and start something on my own. 2020 has been great for Hack Chinese, and I hope to be able to continue to make it better for years to come.

I currently live in Hong Kong, but I’ve been in Asia for almost a decade and my parents in the US keep reminding me that a) they aren’t getting younger and b) all of their friends have children. I’m not sure what it all means! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

9.  Please recommend a few books that a curious Corgi would enjoy. 

I’ll give you three books!

My favorite book of all time (read in 2015): Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I read all books with a highlighter close at hand, just in case any section is so life-altering that it makes me stop reading and close my eyes while I contemplate. With Sapiens, almost the entire book was highlighted. This book is truly on another level for me. Nothing else even comes close.


My favorite book last year: Atomic Habits by James Clear. Instead of encouragement (which often goes in the ear and out the other), James’s book is purely pragmatic: what techniques actually work to help you develop and keep good habits, while kicking destructive ones away? I can not recommend this book more highly. It recently hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list!

Favorite book this year (so far! ← my humblebrag slyly indicating I read a lot): Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Turns out, being awake is like brain damage that only sleep can repair. The ways in which your body heals and repairs itself during all stages of sleep are so profound that I’ve started drinking alcohol in the afternoon. (Huh? What did I just stay? You heard me right, I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out why!)


Friday, July 31, 2020

Learning Pods: Types, Design, Teaching and Assessment Strategies, Standards, Motivation

“Learning pods” are springing up around the country in response to the perceived inadequacies of distance learning during the pandemic.  Parents, subject matter experts, learning content providers, and assessment specialists are joining forces in order to assure the best and safest possible educational solutions that align with their individual State standards. 

There are different types of “learning pods” or “micro schools.”

Interview with Susan Nash, Ph.D. regarding Learning Pods and opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way.

Outdoor school with one rotating parent

At least five families get together with their children and they meet outdoors. in backyards or in parks  They try to team with students in the same school and the same grade.  So, there may be five families, with children ranging from 2nd to 6th grade.  The parents take turns, and each parent commits to one day per week.  It reminds me of Cub Scouts or Blue Birds.  The great advantages are the low cost (each parent volunteers), the fact it’s outdoors (which works in California, but perhaps not in Vermont). The downsides are the lack of subject matter expertise on the part of the parent, and the fact that everything will have to be done with books. I do not see where the parents will be able to deliver the actual lessons or course content in an engaging way.  If each student has a telephone or tablet with earbuds, that could work, assuming there is connectivity and a good data plan for streaming.

 

Here’s an example of a group in San Diego that is planning the outdoor pod approach:

https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/san-marcos-families-to-create-outdoor-learning-pods-for-distance-learning

 

Neighborhood homeschooling pods

It’s not quite clear if the parents rotate or if they  arrange for one or two parents to make sure that the homeschool-based micro school is working. The difference between this and the outdoor school is that the course content and materials could be from a homeschool group, which means that they are not tied to the local school district. Parents are opting for neighborhood homeschooling in the case of feeling nervous about sending the child back to school for face-to-face instruction.

 

Some districts are giving students an option, which means that teachers are going to be either teaching face to face or online, either of which could lead to a bit of teacher burnout.

 

There are concerns about education equity, as this new article points out:

https://www.wbur.org/edify/2020/07/30/homeschooling-pods-fall-inequities

 

Tutor-led homeschooling

Higher income families are arranging for learning pods that are taught by private tutors who are generally teachers who have taught for private schools. They use standard materials that align with State standards, but supplement with subject matter experts. There is a focus on higher-level tech skills and the parents are investing not only in the instructors, but also in computers, equipment, and enrichment activities.  New companies are springing up and tutoring services are modifying their offerings in order to meet these new needs.

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/nyregion/pod-schools-hastings-on-hudson.html

 

Tutoring for at-risk students paid for by the school districts or grants

Some school districts have a budget for tutors to help at-risk students.  The students could be in hybrid learning settings, or in a situation where they could come to an outdoor area in the school for a few hours to supplement their distance education.

 

Content Aligned to Standards

It is critical to make sure that the instructional materials and the instructional strategy will make sure the students advance and meet learning goals and competencies.

 

Each state has standards and learning objectives, along with a test that students must pass.

 

Here’s an example of Oklahoma’s Academic Standards:

https://sde.ok.gov/oklahoma-academic-standards

 

The instructional content that the learning pod uses should align with the standards. The sources of the instructional material could be the school district itself, a homeschooling program, or content developed specifically for the purpose.  It is always a good idea to supplement the content with real-world applications and practice in order to help the students engage in active learning.


There are several ways to obtain access to high-quality content that align to grade levels and State academic standards.  During times of COVID-19, the schools that ordinarily offer special instruction and materials for students with special needs, are often not able to offer them.  Here is another place where Learning Pods can come to the rescue by using materials that have been prepared to accommodate students with cognitive difficulties, attention deficit issues, mobility issues, sight and hearing challenges, autism, and more. 

One of the best locations to find a wide away of standards-aligned materials and resources for students with special needs is Twinkl

Twinkl's materials include a wide array of instructional materials, assessments, activities, and even books that can be either downloaded or even delivered as a printed book. In addition to resources for young learners that align with standard curricula, there are also interesting and engaging materials for arts and crafts, religious studies, and learning English. 


Preparing to Teach in a Learning Pod

Parents and enthusiastic subject matter experts may find themselves ill-equipped to provide positive learning experiences for their students. They have the best intentions, but find themselves feeling frustrated when the students do not make the kind of progress they expect.  There is also the looming specter of high-stakes testing at the end of the term. If the learning pod leader has not taken into account the need for a good instructional strategy which includes effective scaffolding, the consequences for the student could be nothing short of catastrophic.

 


1.  Identify the subject matter you will teach. For example, it might be Science.

2.  Download the State Standards and study them.

3.  Assemble your course materials and make sure they align with the State Standards

4.  Start a spreadsheet that aligns each State Standard with the instructional material that you have.

5.   Identify gaps, and create course content.

6.  Make sure that the sequence is in ascending order.

7.  Review the assessments and make sure that there are the following:

    a. practice exercises that provide the right answer
    b.  good alignment with the State Standards
    c.  “chunked” in knowledge blocks that are sufficiently granular to be easily mastered
    d.  appropriate sequence so that the lessons build on each other and tie to the end
    e.  a Final Exam that aligns with the course objectives and the instructional content (including the practice reviews, quizzes, and activities)

 

Common errors of the well-meaning Learning Pod teacher

There are a number of errors that occur in instruction. In some cases, it does not matter because the real-world consequences of not learning how to knit well, teach a dog to sit, or paint a sunset are not too serious.  However, the failure to read, write, do math, and think critically and creatively, will seriously harm a child’s future.

 

1.  Failure to cover the material in a way that is comprehended by the students.

2.  Lack of student engagement

3.  Lack of collaborative learning

4.  Focus on the “fun” content to the exclusion of the fundamentals

5.  Lack of application for the real world – putting the knowledge to work

6.  Lack of practice with the quizzes and exams

7.  Failure to understand how children and adults learn

 

Learning Pods as a Massive Pandemic Experiment

It is possible that learning pods will emerge as a highly effective method for engaging students and revitalizing education by having more parents, learning pod instructors, and stakeholders who feel a renewed passion for education.  In theory, learning pods are adaptive and adaptable for specific needs, and in that way, could be effective in the way that other forms are not. 

 

Learning pods could supplement our existing teaching strategies in bold, new ways, and create a generation of learners who directly connect learning to exciting futures. The key to success is to make sure that the poor and at-risk are included in learning pods, and that they are anchored to high achievement goals. Learning pods, if done well, could even help bring about education equity and avoid what Jonathan Kozol described in the now classic Savage Inequalities. Published in 1991, Kozol’s analysis of an educational system with structural inequality rings truer than ever, 30 years later. Learning pods could be part of a solution.


More information and Resources? Contact E-Learning Corgi!

E-Learning Corgi has a repository of materials that you can use in your Learning Pod. Do you need a bit of help getting started, or do you need a STEM subject matter expert as a tutor, either via distance or face to face? 

Contact E-Learning Corgi via email - susan at beyondutopia dot com. 

 

 

 

 

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Monday, July 06, 2020

Easy and Free Screen Recording Programs

Do you need to record a video presentation to upload for a course, training purposes, or participation in a virtual conference? Here are three screen recording programs that have a free version, and are very low-cost. 

Screencast-o-matic (https://screencast-o-matic.com/). Screencast-o-matic is a personal favorite. I like it because it is easy to use, and it has a built-in video editor so I’m not having to edit the video in YouTube Studio after I’ve uploaded, or having to use the video-editing software I have on my laptop. Screencast-o-matic enables you to record your presentation in just a part of the screen, and it lets you choose your display size. It also give you the option to save to Screencast-o-matic or to save the video file to then upload to YouTube, or further edit. 

Screencast-o-matic has a free version, but it’s pretty limited.  You are limited to 15 minutes (actually probably a good idea to keep you from rambling too much), and it has a watermark. Unfortunately, with the free version, you do not get any editing tools.  I have signed for the top-of-the line version (the “Premier”) which costs me $4 per month. It comes with a stock photo and video library, which is really useful.  Also, I get their new video editing tools. I’ve never tried them out, and am eager to try!  Having the ability to import videos and mix them in the recording is extremely useful, and you can animate overlays and use a Green Screen filter.  Nice! Hours of fun! 

EZVID (http://www.ezvid.com)  How easy is EZVID?  If you’re looking for a cloud-based solution, EZVID is not as easy to use as a program like Screencast-o-matic or Zoom.  However, there are some advantages to having your software on premise, rather than in the cloud. 
It’s very easy to use.  Just click “screen capture” and you will instantly record your computer screen. You can also create synthesized speech from a text slide.  You, too, can make a voice synthesized video just like the ones you hate watching on YouTube. Download here: https://www.ezvid.com/ezvid_for_windows

TechSmith Capture (the tool, formerly known as Jing). https://www.techsmith.com/jing-tool.html You can create create webcam-based and system audio-based recordings for your video. You can output in .mp4. You can upload and share through a Screencast or a TechSmith Knowmia account. You can capture full screen and regional images, and then share them or save them to your local drive. 


There are also simple annotation tools, including an arrow, rectangle, highlighter and a callout with font face and size control. This may sound minor, but it’s actually a very important feature. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Interview with Lynn Levin: Poet, Writer, Translator, Professor

Lynn Levin is well known for inspiring creativity in students and writers at all levels. Together with Valerie Fox, she has edited the widely adopted Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets.  In addition, she is known for her quirky, engaging writing that encourages new ways of perceiving and thinking.  Now Lynn has a new collection of poems, The Minor Virtues (2020), published by Ragged Sky Press.

Welcome to an informal chat with Lynn.

1. What is your name and your background?
My name is Lynn Levin, and I am a poet, writer, translator, and an adjunct associate professor of English at Drexel University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature classes. Before I started teaching, I had a career in advertising.

Lynn Levin

2. How would you describe your writing practice?
I love to describe things in my poems. I think that refreshes and enhances life. I write to think through experience and capture quirky insights, many of them comic. I want to surprise and entertain my readers and myself. My view of the world is like a picture hung on a wall, then set awry by the settling of the house or a mild earthquake. I guess that’s the quirky part. And I want to be understood. Too much obscurity masks feeling and makes the reader’s job a chore.

3. Please share the name of your latest publication.
I am fortunate to have two recent publications. I just published my fifth poetry collection, The Minor Virtues (Ragged Sky Press, 2020), and I recently published, with my co-author Valerie Fox, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, Second Edition (Texture Press, 2019).

4. What is The Minor Virtues about? What are some of the main focal points?
The title section of poems, The Minor Virtues section, begins with celebrations of small everyday practices—among them, fixing broken things and buying produce from the marked-down cart—which, when fancifully contemplated, branch into deeper appreciations of life. The other poems in the book look at life from both serious and comic angles. I include a range of poems in both free and formal verse. Thematically, I like to say that my writing is dark with a funny edge or funny with a dark edge.

5. What inspired you to write The Minor Virtues
I wanted to aim for happier and calmer poems, poems that conveyed a love of life even as some of the poems speak of missteps or losses. Overall, I set out with good cheer in mind.

6. Any closing thoughts?
While it is vital that writers speak out against injustice and wrongdoing, I made the conscious decision in this book to tread lightly around those topics and to focus on appreciations, affection, nostalgia, bemusement, and other milder sensibilities


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Interview with Spencer Striker, History Adventures. Innovators in Education Series

 History can come alive online, especially in a gaming platform that allows the learners to immerse themselves not only in the time, but in the struggle to stay alive. Welcome to an interview with Spencer Striker, who has developed History Adventures, a unique educational that takes learners to the most intense times and places of history.



1. What is your name and your background? 
My name’s Spencer Striker. I’m a Digital Media Design professor at Northwestern University in Qatar. My background is a mixture of digital media production, digital learning design, and entrepreneurship—with an armchair passion for history. I grew up moving around a lot—mostly in New England, but also Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago. I was fortunate that I got to travel a lot as a kid because my mom loved to travel. She took us to Australia, Hawaii, and all over Western Europe—and this evoked a wanderlust in me as well as a fascination for different cultures and lived human experience. I finished high school in Chicago, then did my undergrad in History and Radio-TV-Film Production at the University of Texas. After that I tried my hand at writing novels for a while, while living abroad in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Brazil. That was an amazing adventure—but ultimately, I wound up broke in New York City, with some unpublished novels under my arm, and realized, as many people do in their mid-twenties, it was time to play the Get Out of Jail Free card and head to grad school!

After having tried old-school novel writing for a few years, I really missed collaborative media production. Writing novels is a lonely gig! I missed working with cross-disciplinary teams and all the technical/creative challenges of production/design. It was 2005, and I decided that interactive media was the future. I was fortunate to get into the New Media Design and Production Master’s Program at Indiana University. That’s where I really discovered my passion for building digital media projects and working with talented collaborators. At IU, I started a video game media studio called GameZombie TV, and scaled it up. That’s when I first saw how digital production technologies were colliding with entrepreneurial opportunities in totally unforeseen ways—and as we’ve seen over the past 15 years or so, digital media has disrupted how we do just about everything.

2.  How and when did you become interested in online learning?
Eventually, GameZombie TV came to a crossroads. Here was this online media production studio covering the video game industry that we’d built from scratch using the tools and resources available to grad students at Indiana University. We’d won Webbys, covered all the major game conferences, and achieved official partnerships with YouTube and Dailymotion. So at that point, I could try to make the project a professional organization—and achieve “escape velocity” from the university… or I could double-down on the education component of GameZombie TV—whereby this online production studio run by students at Indiana University had become a powerful way for students to learn all the different aspects of modern, team-based digital media production. Since digital learning design was my true passion, I decided to take this other route.


I got the opportunity to co-found the Media Arts and Game Development Program at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and meanwhile expand the GameZombie project to the new university, introducing it to a whole new cohort of undergrads interested in the intersection of the video game industry and online media production. Driven by my enthusiasm for the project, as well as its momentum, I got into the PhD Program in Digital Media (in the School of Education) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, whereby I began to formally study the field of digital media and learning with some of the top experts in the world, including Kurt Squire, Constance Steinhuehler, Dawnene Hassett, and others. And at the same time that I was studying this cutting-edge field of digital media and learning, I was able to apply theory to practice in my day job as Lecturer/Co-Founder of the MAGD Program at UW-W.

3.  what have been some of your experiences in online learning? 
So I had this wonderfully intense experience in Wisconsin studying Digital Media & Learning at the doctorate level at Madison—while simultaneously working full time as Co-Founder of the MAGD program at Whitewater. Doing all this in combination with continuing to run GameZombie TV: the theory/practice of digital learning really got seared into me. Once I completed my PhD in the Fall of 2012, I wanted to try my hand at industry. I went out to Silicon Valley in January of 2013, and soon after that became Founding Creative Director for a games and learning startup called Galxyz, whereby we used a sci-fi narrative game design system to teach kids the Next Generation Science Standards. We managed to raise about $4 million dollars and build a fantastic little studio in Mountain View, CA. The cross-disciplinary team we assembled of educators, creative writers, animators, and game engineers was truly top-notch. After heading up creative and product for the company for two years, I was enthusiastic to return to academia, as I thought that would be the ideal environment in which to build my idea for a new digital product initiative, History Adventures.

4.  What is History Adventures?  
History Adventures is a tablet-based digital learning product that seeks to inspire curiosity for history by using various creative techniques, including character narratives, animation, 3D, interactive infographics, choose your own adventure, sound design, and original music. The idea is to bring history to life by exploring lived human experience through the lens of five amazing men and women who lived through extraordinary, gripping, and dramatic flashpoints in time.



5.  Why did you develop History Adventures, and what is the overall goal?
I developed History Adventures as a way to defeat this unfortunate notion some students hold that “history is boring.” I think the only reason students think that is because typical formal history education emphasizes all the most boring bits—and all the inherent action, drama, and emotional stakes get buried beneath long lists of kings, queens, facts, and dates. History Adventures foregrounds the power of story through the development of character narratives, intended to pull the reader/user into the emotional stakes of these people’s drama-filled experiences. At the same time, I’m using all the tools and tricks I have from digital entertainment product design, to make the product experience come to life and feel magical and fun.

6.  Please describe two or three History Adventures.
In this newest version of the product, History Adventures, World of Characters, Revolutions & Industrialization, 1750-1900, students will encounter five amazing men and women who have to work out where they stand in this age of dramatic, sweeping change.  In late 18th Century America, one unnamed slave turned spy, Agent 355, decides to risk everything for the cause of revolution and the principle of freedom. On the other side of the world in Australia, Jiemba of the Eora Nation, decides to fight for his traditions against British invaders intent on colonizing his ancestral homeland and trampling on his beliefs.

Half a century later, a Chinese trader, Fei Hong fights a different battle. Hong decides to smuggle British opium from India to China and loses everything as he goes from smuggler, to trafficker and finally addict before being caught. In 1890s Africa, Khari decides to oppose European trade and fight back against the Belgian exploitation of his ancient tribal lands along the Congo River. The Belgian’s murderous regime mercilessly extracts rubber using local labour and Khari refuses to let his tribe suffer any more. Resistance is the only choice. 150 years after Agent 355, a social reformer called Thomas Brown decides to disguise himself as a janitor and expose the truth about the infamous Chicago meat packing district. He uncovers a world of filth, corruption and reckless disdain for human life that leads him to question what the future will bring.



7.  What are your plans for the future?
Having just published the definitive version of History Adventures, World of Characters, Revolutions & Industrialization, 1750-1900, we’ve already begun development on the next product in the digital book series, Empires & Interconnections, 1450-1750. This new product will include enhanced interactive features, 3D designs, motion fx, and animation—as well as six fascinating new characters. A conquistador trekking through the treacherous jungles and mountains of 16th Century Peru, doomed to a dismal end in his quest for glory and riches. A woman in the Medieval court of Tokugawa Japan, trading in secrets and intrigue when the politics couldn’t be more high-stakes or ruthless. A man from Angola sold by Portuguese slave traders to the Jamestown colonists in 1619. A zamindar (tax collector) in Mughal India during the British conquest of the South Asian continent. A young woman of Turkish and Byzantine ancestry living through the traumatic 1453 Siege of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. And finally, a Spanish alchemist living at the nexus of superstition, science, literacy, and the powerful Catholic Church, experiencing the Inquisition even as the Scientific Revolution is just gaining hold. The big picture goal of History Adventures, World of Characters is to spark enthusiasm for learning about the past… and bring the pages of history to life!

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