Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You Know You're from Pittsburgh When ...

Although I lived several places while growing up, Pittsburgh is, and always will be, dear to my heart and definitely my childhood home.

I found this on Facebook; I guess if you're not from Pittsburgh it won't mean much to you. It's much longer than this; I just trimmed it to the ones that I "got" the most:


You Know You're From Pittsburgh When ....

Words like: hoagie; chipped ham; pop; and gumband actually mean something to you.

You will defend with your life that it's called pop and not soda. [I don't; but I remember how everybody else did.]

You wake up to KDKA.

You go 'food shoppin' at 'Jine Iggle'.

Chipped ham was always in your refrigerator when you were growing up.

You know what is meant by "The Point".

You've ridden the two oldest surviving inclines in the world.

When you refer to "Jimmies", you're not talking about some a group of boys with the same name.

You find it fun to kill your brain cells while holding your breath through the tubes.

You can pronounce the word Duquesne. [It never occurred to me that other people wouldn't!]

You don't understand why people say "to be" before verbs. "My car needs washed" or "my hair needs cut" works just fine. [Like the "pop" thing, I don't really do this myself, but I can spot it a mile away.]

You say "You guys" even if you're referring to a group of all girls. [Oh yeah. Now this one, I do.]

You have a picture of you when you were younger with the pirate parrot.

You know what Eat 'N Park is and the song that goes with it...Eat N Parks the place...for...SMILES.

Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

You remember waiting for KDKA to flash your school name for a 2-hour delay.

You know that Mars and Moon aren't just in outer space.

You remember what Horne's was.

You measure distance in hours.

Your mother or grandmother has been seen
wearing a "babushka" on her head.

You own more than one original Terrible Towel.

You walk carefully when it is "slippy" outside.

You tell your children to "red up" their rooms.

You don't see what all the hype is about Disney World when Kennywood is just around the corner.

You know who Donnie Iris is!! [YES!!!]

Oh, and what was that other local band, the one with initials ...? "I'm sure they sell ... VITAMIN L! It makes all things well ..."

I also remember eating Klondike bars at Isaly's ...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Thoughts about why Johnny Can't Read

Some comments about my post about the book Why Johnny Can't Read got me thinking some more.


I have a relative who taught first grade for well over a decade.

She swears up and down by a curriculum they used called Open Court Phonics. She could not say enough good things about it. Over the many years that she taught first grade using this curriculum, everybody learned how to read -- quite well, in fact. They read with expression, the understood what they were reading, and many of them read on a third grade level. Virtually nobody struggled with reading, either in first grade or subsequent years.

This always puzzled me for many years, because that is not even close to the typical school experience.

So I wondered: Was she exaggerating? Was she mistaken? Were her students unusual, for some reason?

So now, years later ... here I am reading Why Johnny Can't Read and Why Johnny Still Can't Read by Flesch. In both books -- both in the 1950's and early 1980's -- the author visits a few classrooms in different schools which use a progressive phonics program. (Which was something that made these particular schools rare at the time, he claims.)

Which phonics program doesn't matter, he points out. He lists a few on the market at the time. You could even make up your own at home with lists of words and phonics rules that he has in the back of his own book. However, in these particular schools, it just happens to be called ...

Open Court Phonics.

Anyway, he talks about both his observations and his discussions with the teachers and principals in these phonics-based schools.

He gives random first grade children different selections from the newspaper to read, and they read them almost perfectly. (One of the examples he gives is, "Suburban Riverside's policemen were ordered yesterday to capture, dead or alive, a brown squirrel named Marge. The hunt means a great deal to the 10 year old girl who was bitten by the creature on Tuesday.")

The various principals and teachers claim that there are no non-readers -- not this year, not last year, not the year before. It is completely normal for their students to test above the national norms, year after year.

Also, it is noted that these schools are in what is described as "working-class, industrial suburbs" with "a sizable colored population."

Some people will claim that parent involvement is what has made the difference in these cases, and not the method being used.

Perhaps. But then, on the other hand, I've known involved, conscientious parents who are paying money for reading tutors, or are even putting their children in special schools for dyslexic children, because their children are struggling with learning to read. What to make of that? How come my relative never encountered a dyslexic student in her years and years of teaching? How come there were no dyslexic children, year after year, in these "working-class industrial suburbs" that used a phonics program?

In Typical Jenny Fashion (kinda like this post) I'm not really making a conclusion or even offering an opinion. I'm just throwing out something I find Very Interesting, tossing in the questions it raises, and curious what others have to add.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It costs so much to eat out!

Yes, I'm quite sure that you are laughing out loud at my ridiculously obvious title.

But I think what surprises me is that, even when I knock myself out to try to make it cheap, I'm still amazed at how much it costs.

Case in point:

Last week was Rebecca's sixth birthday (I hope to post pictures in a couple days) and we had gotten her coupon for a free Creation at Cold Stone Creamery. Since Cold Stone is between our house and Robert's office, I had him meet us there on his way home from work.

Rebecca's kiddie cup was free, we got a kiddie cup for Rachael, and Robert, Benjamin, and I all split a "Love it" sized creation.

It was seven dollars!

Not worth it. I won't be doing that again.

Then we realized we should probably get something for dinner (which I know sounds really stupid, but Robert doesn't usually eat dinner, and the rest of us had a big lunch and I thought we wouldn't be too hungry. But we all were). So we thought we'd live it up and stop at IHOP on the way home.

First of all, IHOP is hardly Fine Dining. (Which is just fine with us, but what I mean is, I think of it as a Cheap Eat.) Second, kids eat free there at dinnertime. Third, we all drank water.

And it cost twenty bucks!

To me, that's a lot of money for a single meal, especially when we had just spent seven dollars for "dessert" already, and especially considering we had gotten:

* Two free kids' meals
* One free kids' ice cream
* Split the ice cream we actually paid for; and
* Drank nothing but water

I guess I just need to get a grip and realize how much restaurants cost, and that even "cheap" isn't really and truly cheap.

Tonight I am cooking a chili casserole (Rachael's favorite!) and we just bought a carton of "Edy's Thin Mint" ice cream, which was on sale at Publix today for ... three-fifty, I believe.

Why Johnny Can't Read

A few months ago I read a book that I thought was just fascinating on many levels. It is called Why Johnny Can't Read and what you can do about it by Rudolf Flesch.

It was published in 1955, which I thought was interesting in itself, because it seems like a lot of people think of the fifties as "back when schools were so much better."

What's also particularly interesting is that he wrote a sequel in the early 80's called "Why Johnny Still Can't Read."

In the first few pages of the original 1955 book, he says:

I was born and raised in Austria. Do you know that there are no remedial reading cases in Austrian schools? Do you know that there are no remedial reading cases in Germany, in France, in Italy, in Norway -- practically anywhere in the world except the United States? Do you know that there was no such thing as remedial reading in this country either until about thirty years ago? [This statement was made in the 1950's.]

If this is true, that is staggering in its implications. Especially for someone like me who has worked for years in "good schools" and has seen how students read (and spell -- oy!) and how sometimes as many as 30% of kids in my music class would have an IEP (ie, be considered "Special Ed.")

But what blows my mind even more is his description of visits to several first grade classrooms. (In fact, he also cites many similar examples from third grade classrooms.) He makes it clear that he has visited many many classrooms, in many different schools, and this is completely typical. [Again, this is in the early 50's.]

Of course [the students] make mistakes. That is to be expected, since they are learning. But perhaps you are still not prepared for the kinds of mistakes they make. One girl read "said" instead of "jumped" with full conviction that "said" is the right word. The next child is stumped by the word "truck" and simply stops, completely helpless ...

Obviously, that girl who confused thought the word "jumped" was the word "said" could not read. At all.

But a six year old girl not being able to read is really not so terrible. What is terrible is that she spends time every day "learning to read" by wildly fumbling around and guessing, and that apparently that's the reading strategy she will continue with for years.

But little Peter doesn't start with "One morning Alice" [as the story in the reader begins.] He puts his finger under the first word and begins, "One ... two ... three." The teacher tries to explain to Peter that he has made a mistake. It isn't "One two three." It is "One morning Alice." Peter obediently repeats, "One ... morning ... Alice ..."

What is striking to me here is that what Peter read is wildly incorrect, yet the teacher does nothing, points out nothing, explains nothing, other than tell him what it actually says.

[Charlie reads], "Jerry ... took ... him ... to ... the ... to .... the ..."
[The teacher says], "What's the next word, Charlie? You know the word, don't you? We've had it several times."
Charlie can't remember. Peggy raises her hand and says, "pet." Charlie continues: "To ... the ... pet ..." He doesn't know the next word either. The teacher asks him to look at it. The word is show. Charlie looks at it, then searches his memory. "Fish?" he says.

Charlie looked at the word "show" and said, "Fish?"

He looked at the word "show" and said "fish"!

This is so sad to me. Notice that Charlie doesn't/can't even make the beginning sound when he gets stuck on the word "pet."Can you imagine what it must be like for him (and I assume many many others like him), to have to struggle and stumble through this kind of activity day after day? In front of peers, no less?

And again, what an unbelievably strange response from the teacher. She doesn't make a single reference to either letters or sounds but simply says they've "had" that word before.

If you're floored (as I was) by these teachers' responses, this might help you understand them. Flesch cites several "experts" and professors in the teaching of reading at the time, who say things like this:

"Current practice in the teaching of reading does not require a knowledge of the letters."

"The skillful teacher will be reluctant to use phonetic method with all children."

"Little is gained by teaching the child his sounds and letters as a first step to reading. More rapid results are generaly obtained by the direct method of simly showing the word to the child and telling him what it is."

I am really really curious what other people think of all this.

If you're an elementary school teacher, is that how you were taught to teach reading?

If you have a child in school, is that how they're being taught?

This is harder to answer, but is that how you were taught when you were a kid?

Why in the world would so many educated "professionals" adamently believe and preach this kind of thinking when it seems so ridiculous?

Is there anyone out there who believes it's not so ridiculous, and can explain and defend it to me and other readers?

Thanks for cashing in with any thoughts!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The TV show I dreamed about last night

This is really weird ...

This morning I woke up suddenly and instantly remembered that I'd just had a dream where I was sitting in a restuarant writing a blog entry about a TV I used to watch about ten or fifteen years ago.

I have no idea why I was dreaming about said show; I certainly didn't even remember it until I had the dream, and barely do even now.

So ...

I'm not sure how much of an audience I even have left these days, after the last few rather pitiful blog offerings I've made recently. But, I thought it would be fun to post what little I remember about this TV show, and see if anyone knows what I'm talking about, and if they could jog my memory a little bit.

And if you have any Deep Psychological Theories about why I was dreaming about this show, I suppose you could throw those in, too.

Okay, the instant I woke up, I thought, "Bowling Alley."

And then I started thinking "odd assortment of characters," although I can't remember who any of them were. In the dream, I was including characters from the show Northern Exposure, so I don't know if these two shows have anything in common or not.

Oh, after I woke up and started thinking about it some more, I realized that a character worked in a bowling alley, but did something different ... like, he was a lawyer who operated out of a bowling alley ....? And I'm thinking it had a romantic element to it.

Any takers?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Okay now back to Useless YouTube ...

Okay, now I am back to watching YouTube as nature originally intended it ...

I'm watching clips and interviews from The Big Bang Theory. And old clips from Roseanne with Johnny Galecki in it. And even a clip from 8 Simple Rules with Kaley Cuoco.

Yes, BBT is definitely my latest obsession. Actually -- I just suddenly had this thought -- it's kinda like my current-day Monkees.

Ooh. Of course! Didn't think of it like that until just now.

Friday, March 6, 2009

YouTube can actually be useful!

I just discovered that YouTube can be useful for something other than watching Schoolhouse Rock spoofs, 70's commercials, and Interviews With Famous People who are Hot (not that I'm naming names.)

I just got some music for choral festival this month, and one piece in particular is, um ... weird. Pages of quintuplets. Changing from 5/8 to 6/8 to 5/8 to 4/4 all in a single page. Markings like "accel. into blur."

I thought it would be really helpful to actually hear the darn thing.

And I can. (And so can you, right here.) In fact, every piece I'm preparing is right there.

This is very very cool. It helps greatly to hear what the emsemble sounds like before I show up.

Here's a couple others I'm playing this month, for your listening pleasure:
Exaudi! Laudate
Diriait-on (this one is quite lovely)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Seventy kids in the classroom?

This will sound ridiculous if you've read this, but last week I was watching some John Rosemond videos I had purchased years ago.

Why, you ask? Well, I wanted something to cross-stitch to ... plus, it's making another good blog post, isn't it?

I think this story he told is very very interesting, and I'm curious what other people have to say about this, especially former teachers. (Or people who were students in the fifties.)

An audience member who I'll call Mary came up to John Rosemond and told him this story about herself:


In 1952, Mary had been teaching first grade for a few years in a parochial school.

The day before school was about to start, the other first grade teacher in Mary's school had to leave town suddenly and wouldn't be back. Mary was informed that they would have to combine the classes until they found a new first grade teacher.

So ... they combined Mary's 35 students with the absent teacher's 35 students, and Mary had a first grade classroom with exactly 70 first graders and no teacher's aide.

After six weeks, the school observed that Mary (and her students) were having "absolutely no trouble," so they decided to save money and let her keep the 70 students for the entire year.

"And," Mary told John Rosemond years later, "not only did I have no problems, but all 70 students were reading and writing well enough by the end of the year to be successfully promoted to the second grade."

Rosemond then pointed out that, even though this was an unusual story, it was not that unusual. He claims that in his own first grade class picture, there were 54 students, and one teacher with no aide. That was the norm in the fifties, he claimed.

He used this story to springboard into the idea that today's children are not disciplined enough at home, or respectful enough of teachers, for that to be possible.


Here are my thoughts and questions:

1) Does that sound even remotely possible? Let's assume all 70 children are complete angels. Could you imagine 70 kids having a bathroom break? What if even half the kids had a single question about their math assignment on a single day? How could a single teacher possibly know -- really know -- how well 70 different kids are reading.

2) Was it, in fact, true that classrooms were huge back then, that there were no aides, that there were almost no discipline or academic problems

3) If so (or if not), what do you think is going on here?
Do you think the woman is lying?
Do you think she thought the kids were all doing well, but was mistaken because she couldn't keep track of them?
Were kids smarter then? Better behaved? Was there a different attitude toward school?
Are we deluding outselves today (as Rosemond seems to insinuate) by claiming some kids aren't developmentally ready to read at age six? Or that some kids have ADD or Learning Disabilities?

Looking forward to any comments on this one ...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Babes

My friend Kim (who falls into that Special Category of "People who Knew How Annoying I Was When I Was Nine") put this on Facebook. I didn't realize until just now that I had cut off the last few questions and therefore never got answers.

I thought number 12 was the funniest.


Cut and paste these questions and ask your kids their answers....it is a RIOT!

Answers are from Becca, age 5, and Rachael, age 7:

1. What is something mom always says to you?
B: Do your morning routine
R: I like being right!

2. What makes mom happy?
B: When I hug her.
R: When I do my morning routine quickly.
[Goodness, I'm starting to sound like a drill sergeant here, aren't I?]

3. What makes mom sad?
B: I don't know.
R: When Daddy yells at her.

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
B: When you say funny things
R: If copies Benjamin in a funny way

5. What was your mom like as a child?
B: Fun
R: I don't know, but she does!

6. How old is your mom?
B: I don't know ... fifty ...?
R: 39

7. How tall is your mom?
B: Lots of inches
R: Shorter than Wilson, but taller than me

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
B: Be with me
R: Cross-stitch

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?
B: Goes out
R: Watch The Big Bang Theory and cross-stitch

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
B: Playing the piano
R: Being a good mother

11. What is your mom really good at?
B: Playing the piano
R: Being a good mother

12. What is your mom NOT very good at?
B: Oh, there's lots of things she's not good at! Doing things that are other people's, like setting up another TV, or WII, or Nintendo
R: Getting me started at schoolwork

13. What does your mom do for a job?
B: Taking care of us
R: Playing the piano for concerts

14.What is your mom's favorite food?
B: I don't know
R: I don't know, but I do know her favorite drink is water

15.What makes you proud of your mom?
B: Taking care of us
R: I don't know
[Well, that one was disappointing]

16. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
B: Caillou's mom
R: A Charlie Brown character person!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Big boy in a big boy bed

This is kind of old news, but in January we took down Benjamin's crib (after he had been regularly escaping it for a few weeks) and set up a "big boy bed" for him.

Rebecca picked out the comforter set for him. Isn't that sweet?

It was weird to pack away the crib when it has been in that room for almost eight years (with the exception of about a half-year period when Rebecca was two).

We like to lay next to Benjamin and read with him at bedtime. Right now his Daddy tends to read Rosemary Wells' Mother Goose books with him, while I read Goodnight Moon.
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