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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Phantom Selves and Haunted Places in Chemical Hearts (Dir. Richard Tanne, 2020)

Chemical Hearts (Dir. Richard Tanne, 2020) is a teenage angst-riddled love story that has a The Catcher in the Rye premise.  The new girl in a suburban New Jersey high school walks with a limp and a cane. We find out that she is tortured by guilt and blames herself for the fatal car accident in which her football star boyfriend (she is a track star) dies at age 17.  He was driving, but she thinks she distracted him by trying to be funny. It happened a week after she moved into her boyfriend’s family home due to clashes with her alcoholic mother.  The new girl meets a shy, aspiring school newspaper / yearbook editor who has never had a girlfriend.  

The shy, writerly guy is obsessed with his favorite hobby, Japanese kintsugi, the art of breaking then repairing pottery by gluing back the pieces with lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver, or other metals.  This highly symbolic hobby makes one immediately think that he is driven by wanting to fix broken things and make them even more beautiful than before ; a metaphor that is not lost on the new girl, who, at one point declares to him, “I’m not your latest kintsugi project!” 

But she is, because she is extremely broken. The scar on her leg seems to get larger, and her limp seems to worsen. Psychologically, she reshatters herself daily by living in her boyfriend’s unchanged room, and even by wearing his clothes (it is unclear how / why the dead boy’s parents do not say something about that). 

Grace Town (played by Lily Reinhart) is the new girl. The shy, writerly guy is Henry Page (played by Austin Abrams). The film was directed by Richard Tanne for Amazon films, where it was released for immediate streaming. The dead boyfriend’s name was Dominic Sawyer. 

Grace catches Henry’s attention as they are seated next to each other, waiting to see the journalism teacher. She is reading Sonnet XVII from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Sonnets of Love.  He reads the following, some of which as been highlighted: 

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz

or an arrow of carnations that propagate fire

I love you as one loves certain obscure things – 

secretly, between the shadow and the soul – 

Sonnet XVII

He is also fascinated by something he sees inscribe on a ring she wears hanging from a chain:  “Serva me, servabo te”  / Save me, and I will save you. 

Henry’s curiosity is piqued, and even more so when he and the new girl (Grace Town) are called into the journalism teacher’s office.  The teacher offers Henry and Grace the position of co-editor. Grace immediately declines and offers to be an assistant. Henry is confused. 

Since Chemical Hearts is about damaged or painfully shy teenagers in love, we know there will be pain and heartache. But, what will be the extent of that pain, and what will we learn about ourselves along the way?  Well, it really depends on how you catch the metaphors in the scenes.  Here are a few: 

After suggesting developing a feature story on teens and suicide over the ages, Grace pulls a stack of works of literature featuring teen suicide: Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, Girl Interrupted, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and more. Will Grace follow in those footsteps? 

Henry follows Grace to the places she visits after school. One is in an abandoned building that mysteriously has an intact koi pond on the bottom level. She likes to wade in, hip-deep, in the cold waters.  At one point, Grace is wearing the dress she was to be married in, and one can’t help but think of the pre-Raphaelite (John Everett Millais) painting of Ophelia (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) face-up, dead after drowning herself in a shallow pond. 

Grace does not literally attempt suicide but in many ways she has expunged her own existence to become the animating spirit of her boyfriend, Dominic Sawyer, as she dons his clothing and becomes a kind of phantom self – a living ghost that desperately seeks redemption through physical contact, which creates a pathway back to a differentiated, re-established self. 

What makes the movie interesting? There are quite a few elements that give the film an edge. First, there are the punctuated “reveals” – the information that is revealed like puzzle pieces or clues that help you solve what is clearly developing as a mystery, or at least a mystery girl. 

Further, there is a sweeping sense of “place,” especially of a haunted place. The leafy, lush New York / New Jersey woodlands, streams and rivers, together with ornate gingerbread-carved Victorian homes, crumbling factories, and a soulful, stained, shadowy home where Grace lives in the dead young man’s bedroom and wears his fading clothes, converge to reflect states of mind. 

At school, visual allusions to Ken Kesey-esque Merry Pranksters can be found in the camaraderie and creative self-fashioning and subversion of the tradition. The Pranksters are those who work with Henry and Grace on the paper. They pursue self-expression where the chemical state of being “in love” is everything, and when the most raucous, they also invoke an echo of Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). 

The film itself subverts and challenges the hyperbolic bathos of teenage love and at the same time acknowledges the true, physiological impact of grief by literally depicting walking in another person’s shoes. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Meeting Corporate Collaboration, Training and Talent Management Needs with Workplace Moodle

Reading Corporate Learning with Moodle Workplace (Packt, 2020), by Alex Buchner, filled me with relief.  

Corporate Training with Workplace Moodle

There has never been any doubt that Moodle’s capabilities are ideal for any number of organizational needs, ranging from onboarding and compliance training, to collaborative projects across departments or locations. The problem for most people who want to use Moodle for their organizations is that most web-based Moodle templates are created for schools (primary and secondary) as well as colleges and universities. For someone who wants to have an on-premise solution, there will be a lot of customization to be done, and it’s easy to make a mis-step in the first few phases that lock you into something you don’t want, but it’s too expensive and time-consuming to change. To further complicate things, Moodle has frequent updates and upgrades, and if you’ve put a lot of effort into a custom solution for one version, you may not be too excited about experimenting with it to see if it will migrate to a later version. 

Thankfully, the enterprising Moodle community has developed Moodle Workplace, which is a Moodle build that has the structure and built-in activities for a wide array of workplace needs, which include on-boarding, training, certificates, bite-size training for badges, collaborations, compliance assessment, talent management records-keeping and more.  To give eager users the skills they need to use it, Alex Buchner has written a well-organized, clear, useable, and nicely documented book, Corporate Learning with Workplace Moodle . It is now available through Packt Publishing, an acknowledged world leader in technical training publications.

If you’re familiar with Moodle as it is used for an educational institution, you’ll immediately notice that some of the terms have been used to give the platform a business feel.  Individual users are “tenants” which evokes the feeling of a building with physical office space where you can arrange the workers. The decision by the makers for Workplace Moodle to trigger a visual image of a single building may be a bit ill-advised, given the distributed workplace and the very real possibility that post-COVID, many companies will choose not to pay high rents but will encourage working from home as much as feasible and practical. For Minecraft devotees, the open-world sandbox aspect is an exciting one, and the prospect of building a training and collaboration world with Moodle Workplace is exciting. 

Moodle Workplace does not replace Moodle. Instead it consists of a series of plug-ins that sit on top of the Moodle platform. In this sense, it’s a customization and the downside is that any inherent limitations in Moodle will be present in Moodle Workplace as well. Some of the plug-ins are Totara Learn-developed plug-ins, so if there are aspects of Totara that you do not like, you’ll need to learn to live with them, at least until Moodle 4.0, and then all bets are off. Another limitation is the fact that it’s not available for your own on-premise download. Instead, you must work through an authorized Moodle Partner. They can be expensive. 

That said, the biggest advantage of using Moodle Workplace vs another solution is a quick learning curve for Moodle users, customizable appearance, and rapid deployment. Further, Workplace Moodle has made an effort to integrate with other databases or systems. For example, many companies currently use AEP for their payroll functions as well as compliance, workforce development record-keeping. 

For a developer or instructional designer who is used to using Moodle with educational institutions, it will be intuitive to use Workplace Moodle to set up training modules that include the content as well as assessment. 

The self-enrollment function for both synchronous and asynchronous training events eliminates the need for associations and professional societies with external members to use something like EventBrite.  Being able to integrate the webconferencing function (Big Blue Button, for example), makes it possible to do everything from within Moodle and not have to exit in order to set up a separate meeting with Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans, RingCentral, etc. 

Buchner’s text goes into detail about how to set up the following: 

  • training with assessment
  • training with automatic generation of badges and/or certificates
  • designing badges and certificates
  • collaborative projects with team members from different groups / locations
  • brand-building exercises

Buchner does not go into as much detail as he could about one of Moodle’s big advantages. Although the file sizes are limited, Moodle does and can function as a content management system as well as a learning management system. The choice whether to archive and create repositories in the cloud-based Moodle site, or to create a portal to one’s own storage / repositories is one that the user will make. But, the bottom line is the same:  Workplace Moodle (as well as regular Moodle) can help you map your training path and the objects used in conjunction with it, and to do so with maximum flexibility and re-useability.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

E-Learning Corgi Recognized as a "Lockdown Learning Hero!"

 We are thrilled to announce E-Learning Corgi and Susan Nash have been recognized as a "Lockdown Learning Hero" by Twinkl

From the website: This year has presented us with a range of challenges, not least to the disruptions to children's educations. We have been inspired by UNESCO’s International Day of Education, so we’ve been searching for organizations, schools, charities, and individuals who went above and beyond to: ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.’ We’ve been asking for nominations for learning heroes, and we’ve collected some of our favorite responses in this post, so we can share some fantastic examples of perseverance in continuing the education of children. So, without further ado, here are some of the many Learning Heroes for 2021. 

Twinkl has developed an enormous number of standards-aligned online learning resources for all grade levels and in many different languages. They are impressive -- and free! 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The “Animus” Required of a Poetics: On a Recent Poem Series by Rochelle Owens

Rochelle Owens consistently challenges the reader's perspective with her plays, poetry, and videos that relate to her work: Futz!Black Chalk, How Much Paint Does the Painting Need?, Oklahoma Too

Literary critic and scholar Brian McHale argues that the primary difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that Modernism is concerned with constructing vast, new epistemological frameworks, while with Postmodernism, there is no longer any belief in the efficacy of knowledge systems to represent the world.  Instead, Postmodernism’s primary conceit is that of a challenge to beingness and the unavoidable processes of disintegration to be followed by re-integration. 

Award-winning and trail-blazing poet and playwright Rochelle Owens (latest book, The Aardvark Venus)  captures the two often oppositional processes in her work.  On the one hand, her weaving, incantatory rhythms and the reflexive nature of her subject matter, clearly take on the constructive act of developing the poem’s own epistemology.  On the other, however, she often dismantles the very episteme she has built, and as it is torn down, she replaces it with the process of becoming.  In some cases, the “becoming” process starts as an “undoing” or dismantling.  

There may be images and processes that allude to dissection, dismembering, putrefaction (as in Black Chalk (1994)), or they can allude to a destructive, nutrient-robbing parasite (the tapeworm in “Chomsky Grilling Linguica (Part 2)) . But, by the end, the ontological destabilization turns into a regenerating process that explores how language and poetics model the creative act; more specifically, the freedom enjoyed in the re-assembling of language and signification.    

Owens’s latest work, “Patterns of Animus,” ( specifically addresses the issues surrounding how the poet represents knowledge and knowing.  The poem begins with the image an etched piece of metal.  The engraver creates an etching that has “geometric form” and is “fatal the design. However, the action of writing and inscribing, or etching, is a work of construction of meaning. The construction occurs when the letters are formed, and that gives rise to the possibility of signification. 

The artist continues to engage in the act of etching, which reinforces idea of signification-in-the-making and meaning that can arise from the actions.  The “animus” brings together a great desire to create, but also suggests a base-level hostility that may be necessary for true art to be created.  

The engraver is inscribing something that stays just outside the reader’s view, which gives it the ability to take on many forms at the same time and to create in the reader’s own mind, the notion of the reader’s own epistemological framework that rises up like a Fata Morgana, the startling weather phenomena that results in mirages resembling complex castles and structures.

In the engraving process one cannot help but think of other acts of generative classifiable ways of seeing and cataloging. The Marquis De Sade comes to mind because his subversive world which is in essence a destructive mirror: an anti-world.

The artist cuts or burns his way through to a new world order and a new system of organizing perception and in doing so creates a sense of permanence by cutting into the metal in a way that the message or the series of signs are permanent and not easily erasable. But instead of metal, he could, like Kafka’s Commandant, invent “The Harrow” to dig into The Condemned Man’s head. The artist, so enchanted by the ability to write, inscribe, or etch, may be oblivious to the fact that the function is violent and will ultimately kill The Condemned Man.  In “Patterns of Animus,” art is likewise consigned to the service of signification, but it is not, as in Kafka, done to remind the condemned of their transgressions.  Instead, Owens reminds the reader of the potential to create.

In contrast to the act of inscribing and etching and of creating a system of knowledge, in Part II of “Patterns of Animus,” the body of a woman (the “dead paysanne”) floats in a swamp, and as it does so, decomposes. Is the “dead paysanne” like the drowned prostitute used by Caravaggio as a model for the Virgin Mary for his painting, “Death of the Virgin” (1606)?   

The paysanne is heavily imbued with signification because she embodies a taboo or a limit to the structure in which people find their roles. That body is potentially a victim, or simply a receptacle of transition as it lies in a swamp and decomposes. The body transmits a message metaphorically because of social constructs (in the case of Caravaggio, the drowned prostitute was used to represent the Virgin Mary).  The body has meaning simply because of the action of the observers and their socially constructed reality. 

However, the body of the dead paysanne is lying in the swamp and it is decomposing, a condition of being (or “unbecoming”) that triggers a process by which all the signification starts to change. One becomes very aware that the meaning system and the concerns of the text have to do with ontological anxieties and ontological instability: the center does not hold. The central concern of the poem transitions to questions of being, beingness, becoming, and their inversions, “unbecoming.” The “dead paysanne” floats in a swamp and the physical changes brought on by “microscopic algae” suggest an unraveling of being and by extension, a poetics of “un-becoming.”  The rather horrifying mental image of a body being broken down by natural processes gives rise to an extended metonymy, and a mechanism by which one can address how the poet subverts traditional values. The restrictive belief systems become turgid, followed by the burbling degassing of values (and of meaning).  

On a larger scale, one can’t help but think of videos of a dead whales that wash up onto beaches, their putrefaction gases building up in their bellies, causing consternation to the communities. Eventually, they explode, resulting in a rain of rotting whale carcass parts. (There was a case in Oregon: and in Newfoundland:  The granddaddy of them all took place in Florence, Oregon, in 1970, where Oregon Highway Division decided to have a “controlled demolition” with twenty cases of dynamite . It did not go as hoped.).  On a smaller scale, the explosion only bursts the belly of the dead whale, allowing the entrails to slide out as though alive: 

If the “dead paysanne” has a parallel with Caravaggio’s dead prostitute who was used as a model for “The Death of the Virgin,” there is another level of ontological insecurity, which has to do with being judged for one’s status in society.  She drowned. Was she murdered? If so, the notion of murder reminds one that certain people within a social construct are those relegated to be the trigger of change.

If the moving eye that moves along the “jagged black line” represents the epistemological framework in a world, the rotting corpse of the murdered prostitute lying in a swamp is representative of the ontological insecurity of the world and an essential fragility that points to the provisional nature of being and beingness. And, in this fragile world, “animus” – with all its contradictory suggestions – is a requisite condition for the creation of a poetics. 

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. “In the Penal Colony.” Franz Kafka Online. 2007. 

Owens, Rochelle.  “Chomsky Grilling Linguica” TheNewVerseNews. 15 March 2006. 

_____  “Patterns of Animus” Jacket2: 24 September 2020 

Questions? please contact Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Interview with Bill Kara, CEO and Founder of TeachMe and Addicting Games

Typing is so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget that it is a skill that must be learned. How can learning to type be engaging, effective, and even fun? TeachMe has developed typeracer, a game-based typing instruction program that helps students learn to type and also how to create documents and to interact. Welcome to an interview with Bill Kara, CEO and founder of TeachMe and Addicting Games.

1. What is your name and your background?

My name is Bill Kara and I’m the CEO/founder of TeachMe and Addicting Games.  I oversee the company’s operations, growth strategies and product development. A lifelong gamer and entrepreneur, I’ve been in the gaming industry for over 20 years and have a passion for blending gaming and learning. I previously co-founded gaming company Hallpass Media, which was acquired in a roll up to create Jam City in 2011. Prior to Hallpass Media I founded Addicting Games which was acquired by Atom Entertainment before being purchased by Viacom shortly afterwards in 2006.


2. How did you get interested in e-learning? 

With two young daughters at home, I wanted to create games aimed at making learning skills fun and rewarding with TeachMe; experiences that offer more than just superficial fun on the surface. I’d always been interested in making learning more accessible through games and when I saw existing content out there was full of messages you wouldn’t want your kids to see (not to mention the titles were just really low quality), created by people that weren’t really passionate about either education or gaming as a hobby, I decided to create TeachMe as a way to fill that void. I wanted to combine these worlds of learning and play in a powerful new way with a vision that could change the lives of millions of children around the world.


 3.  Why are typing skills important now? 

Typing remains a fundamental skill, and it is one of the most foundational, yet important life skills you can learn. Learning to type fast and accurately has so many real world applications in this day-and-age - it’s an essential skill for anyone working with a computer (which is just about any profession) in any capacity. Typing effectively helps you to work comfortably and more efficiently, it aids in timely communication with colleagues and customers, creating documents, and finding new information and much more.




4.  What is your philosophy about skill-building in an e-learning environment?

Teachers want a powerful tool to complement their expertise, their passion, their skill. Parents want the best education possible for their children. Children want to play online, to master a skill, to feel like they’re growing and learning. With that in mind, we realized that education was moving in one direction and entertainment was moving in another. As parents, we have very little insight into how our kids are learning, what areas they found challenging and the speed they were progressing. And after further research we found a lack of e-learning resources customized to empower the strongest students to continue to excel while addressing the learning gaps faced by those that may be struggling a bit. We hope that games like TypeRacer, alongside the other offerings on our TeachMe properties help fulfill both objectives that also prioritizes fun.


5.  What is your program and how does it work?

TeachMe’s games and apps bring new meaning to the phrase “customized learning”. We teach students to master a skill instead of simply answering a question. And the games change based on who’s playing: their mastery of that skill, as well as their experience levels. As the learner gets better, the game — the curriculum — changes to match the optimal level of difficulty. Players pay attention longer and they learn more, which helps ensure their time online is never wasted.


As part of the TeachMe family of products, TypeRacer, allows people to race each other by typing quotes from books, movies, and songs. It is the first multiplayer typing game on the web. Millions of people from all over the globe have completed hundreds of millions of races on TypeRacer, improving their typing speed by as much as 50 words-per-minute.


6.  Please provide an example of a success :) 

As parents and kids grapple with back to school season in this uncertain time, we want to ease their transition back into the learning environment in a way that’s fun and engaging. We’ve made sure that the TeachMe experience can be accessed in any setting, with any device, anytime. I believe our achievements this year are a testament to how much students, teachers, and parents value learning tools that authentically combine practice and play. This year we’ve seen over 31MM users on Math Games, also part of our TeachMe product offering. With the re-launch of TypeRacer we’re also expecting to see the number of users grow 


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.  


Cahill, J. (Aug 11, 2018). “The ultimate guide to Bronte country: Haworth, Yorkshire.” Beyond the Lamp Post. 11 Aug 2018.  Accessed Sept 16, 2020.

Dickinson, E. (n.d.) “All overgrown by cunning moss, J148, Fr146.” Emily Dickinson Archive. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Accessed 11 August 2020.

Dickinson, E. (1999). “All overgrown by cunning moss, (146).” Poetry Foundation. 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.). 


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, 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,"


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,

Hurston, Zora Neale.  “Sweat” Biblioklept. 2013.

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.


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: 
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!)

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