How do you pronounce “little”?

A reader has asked how to pronounce two-syllable words in the CVCCVC pattern where the middle two consonants are the same letter sound, such as in “little,” “muffin,” and “bigger.”

Child with arms stretched out at his sides, forming the letter T.

In the US, these words are usually pronounced as if the first of the two middle consonants is silent, or if not silent, barely spoken.  In “muffin,” for example, the pronunciation is mu- fin with both vowels sounding short.  The accent is usually on the first syllable, but not always.  “Supplant” is accented on the second syllable.

The British pronunciation, however, places the consonant sound strongly with the first syllable and weakly with the second.

Other examples of words like this include “babble,” “clammy,” “lesson,” “pollen,” “funnel,” “puppet” and “kitten.”  Longer words, such as recommend, follow the same pronunciation patter, but the accented syllable often changes.

Two of my dictionaries* disagree with me while one** agrees.

Pronunciation of words varies across the US, with people in the North and East sounding a bit more British than people in the South, Midwest or West.  For sure, double consonants are slurred when pronounced everywhere in the US, so it can be hard to distinguish which syllable the consonant sound goes with.  Even so, the way I say these words and the way I hear these words pronounced is with the consonant sound beginning the second syllable.

Pronunciation is different from syllabication.  The rule for syllabication is to divide between the twin letters no matter how you pronounce them.

For audio pronunciations of words, go to these links:  the Cambridge Dictionary, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/little;  and the Macmillan Dictionary: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/pronunciation/american/little_1

*The American Heritage Dictionary; World Book Dictionary

** Merriam Webster Dictionary

Kids who retain primitive reflexes can have reading, writing problems

Babies are born with primitive reflexes—automatic physical responses that increase their chances of being born properly and of surviving infancy.  These same primitive reflexes, if they persist beyond the first few months of life, can indicate poor physical functioning in the toddler, and reading and handwriting problems for the young child.

Some common primitive reflexes include:

Moro Reflex (or startle reflex):  This reflex has three parts.  First, the baby rapidly extends his arms.  Then, just as rapidly, he pulls his arms close to his trunk.  Lastly, he cries.  When a baby feels he is falling or losing his balance, he displays this reflex.  It is the baby’s way of showing fear.  The Moro reflex shows for the first four months of life and then subsides.  If it persists beyond four or five months, the child may show sensory processing problems, anxiety, balance and coordination difficulties, poor muscle tone, motion sickness and poor impulse control.

ATNR:  The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex shows when a new baby moves her head from one side to another.  If her head turns to one side, her arm and leg on that side extend into a straight position while her arm and leg on the opposite side bend.  The ATNR reflex is sometimes called the fencing reflex because the baby takes the same pose as a fencer.  This reflex develops before birth and helps the baby navigate through the birth canal.  Usually it disappears by six months, but if it continues, it could show as several problems.

  • Handwriting can be difficult because each time the child turns her head, the hand on that side will want to straighten and the grip on the pencil will loosen. Children compensate by holding their pencils tightly, causing stress in the hand.  They focus on the physical process of holding a pencil rather than on the ideas they are writing.  The handwriting might slope every which way.
  • Reading can be difficult because of eye tracking problems. Instead of moving smoothly across a page of text, the eyes jump.  The child might lose her place and lose comprehension.
  • Mixed laterality can show as a child not developing a dominant hand for writing, holding utensils and catching a ball, and not developing a dominant foot for kicking, walking and running. The brain is more efficient if one side dominates.  Otherwise both sides compete for dominance.  Poor coordination can result.

STNR:  The symmetrical tonic neck reflex shows between six and eight months of age.  When a child is on his tummy, this reflex allows the child to straighten his arms and bend his legs in order to crawl.  This reflex is needed for crawling and for developing hand-eye coordination.  As the child grows, the STNR reflex allows the child to read without losing his place and to follow his hand with his eyes while writing.

TLR:  The tonic labyrinthine reflex causes the baby’s arms and legs to extend when the baby’s head turns up, and causes the arms and legs to fold when the head bends down.  This reflex helps a baby to crawl.  Children with poor posture, or who walk on their toes, or who have trouble playing with a ball may have this reflex persisting long after four months of age.  If it persists it can also interfere with speaking because the tongue wants to extend.

Spinal Galant Reflex:  When an infant’s skin is stroked on the side of her back, she will tend to move toward the stroked side.  This helps during birth but usually disappears by nine months.  If not, problems could include an inability to sit still; a dislike of tight clothing, especially around the waist; bed wetting; and poor short term memory, making reading comprehension difficult.

How to make reading anything easier

boy reading on the floorBefore you read:

  • Read the title and look at the photos, drawings, charts, and maps. Try to figure out what they mean without reading  the text.
  • Read the subheadings. Ask yourself, “What is this about?”  Try to predict the topic you will be reading about.
  • Read vocabulary words out loud, find out how to pronounce them (ask an adult) and ask or look up what they mean.  If there are vocabulary words in the margins, or if words are highlighted in the text, they are there because they are important and because you might not know them.

girl with ipad in bed

While you read:

  • Figure out the main idea. Usually in nonfiction it is named at the end of the first paragraph.  If you own the book, underline the main idea.  If not, start a mind web with the main idea in the middle.
  • Figure out what details are important. Add those to your mind web.  It’s easier to study a mind web than it is to study a whole lot of paragraphs.
  • Highlight or write down every word you don’t understand.
    • Look for clues in the nearby words.
    • Ask an adult to help you.
    • Or look up the words in a dictionaryWrite down what they mean, and read over the words and meanings until you know them.
  • If something is difficult or confusing, ask an adult to explain it.
  • Define important words on your mind web.
  • Summarize each paragraph into one or two sentences to be sure you understand it.  If you can write down what it means, you understand.

How to make vocabulary stick

academicvocabIf you teach students vocabulary, check out 101 Strategies to Make Academic Vocabulary Stick by Marilee Sprenger.

Let me identify a few of the strategies:

  • Create a chart marked noun, verb, adjective and adverb. Make sure students know what those parts of speech are.  When you teach a new word, ask the students to write the word in the appropriate column.  Then talk about different forms of the word.  “Predict,” for example is a verb.  But “prediction?”  A noun.  “Predictable?”  An adjective.  “Predictably?” An adverb.
  • You, the teacher, “wear” the new word on your person. Write the word on masking tape and tape it to yourself.  Let students observe you walking around wearing the new word.  Let them think about that word.  Later, let students offer their thoughts about the word before you define it for them.
  • Teach students how to annotate their books or articles in order to learn new vocabulary words. For example, teach students to circle words they don’t know.  Write the meaning in the margin.  Now draw a line connecting the new word with the margin meaning.  Or draw connecting lines between a new word and its synonym or antonym.
  • Act out a word, and let students guess what the word might be. This is a good way to reinforce synonyms too.
  • To teach prefixes and suffixes, create a graphic organizer with the affix in the center. Around it write four words using this affix.  From each word, like spokes of a wheel, write the definition of the word.  Still farther out on the spokes, write a sentence using the words properly.
  • To categorize shades of meaning, draw five squares next to each other, forming a “train.” Study five words (on the board or on sticky notes for each student or group).  Using the squares, line up the five words in some kind of order (strongest to weakest, most informal to most formal, or most general to most specific, for example).
  • Use online dictionaries, but not just any online dictionaries. Lingro.com can offer students a definition every time they click on an online word they don’t know.  Blachan.com/shali defines a word, tells its part of speech, and shows images from Flickr, Google and Yahoo.  Wordhippo.com tells a word’s meaning, a synonym, an antonym, its pronunciation, and words which rhyme with it.  Wordhippo translates words into other languages too.  These dictionaries are great for English language learners.

These are just seven of the suggestions in 101 Strategies to Make Academic Vocabulary Stick.  Further information about each strategy is available in the References section of the book, including the names of educators who “invented” the strategies and the research to back them up.

And you thought you were creative!

Talk to babies, even before they are born

Recently I visited my two-month-old grandson for a week.  As much as possible, I held him.  And when he was awake, I talked to him.

EPSON MFP image

I would look into his alert grey eyes and jabber on and on—about the inch of snow expected, about a book I had read, about what a terrible burper he was.  I used the same adult vocabulary I would use to talk to you but perhaps with more inflection and facial animation.

His eyes would follow me but mostly he would listen—listen to me describing the soft, touchable fabric of his onesie, or listen to my theories about why he slept so little.  I would ask him questions. “What do you want for lunch?  Milk or milk?  Do you want to look over my shoulder or look straight ahead?  How’s your diaper?”  He stared back attentively at first, but by the end of the week when I would talk to him, he would smile, quiver and say, “oo, oo,” the only sound he could make.

Now there is research which confirms that babies not only hear before birth but once they are born, they prefer to hear the language they have heard in utero.  Above all newborns prefer to hear the voice of their mothers, but next in priority they prefer to hear the voices of people who speak the same language as the mother, voices with the same rhythms.

We know that phonemes—the basic sound units of language—can be recognized by new babies in the weeks following birth.  Previously it was thought that babies couldn’t recognize slight differences in language sounds until the babies were several months old.  But now we know that babies’ sound perception and preference begins in the womb.

How can we help new babies to develop language skills?

EPSON MFP image

  • Pregnant women should talk to their babies before birth. They should provide opportunities for unborn children to hear language spoken.  This can mean babies’ overhearing conversations between mother and father; it can mean babies’ overhearing phone conversations or radio news; it can mean babies’ hearing the mother talk to herself.  Little ears are listening, so we should give them language to hear.
  • Newborn babies are far from “empty-headed.” Already they have heard hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of spoken language, and have developed a preference for the language of their mothers.  Once born, babies are refining their understanding of that language’s sounds as they listen to their caregivers’ speech.  We should provide opportunities for babies to hear speech—while mothers are feeding babies, while caregivers are changing babies’ diapers, while grandparents are holding babies.
  • Babies’ brains are functioning at an abstract level from their earliest days. They hear phonemes like the sound of “m” in “milk,” and then hear that same “m” sound in “mom,” and learn that the same sounds are used over and over with different results.  Years later, they will take this knowledge and apply it when they learn to read.

Did you know that according to a 1995 study*, the most important thing we can do while caring for a child is to talk to the child?  Or that the three-year-old children of well educated, professional parents hear three times as many words as the three-year-old children of poorly educated parents?

In fact if you listen to the vocabulary of a child, you can predict his success in life.  That’s how strong the correlation is between vocabulary and career success.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk to your children, including your babies.  If you have never chatted with an infant, swallow your pride and allow yourself to seem foolish.  It’s one of the best things you can do to ensure your child’s future success.

*Hart, B and Risley, T.  (1995).  Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children.  Baltimore:  Paul Brookes.

What does the US Secretary of Education do?

Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the new Secretary of Education on February 7, 2017, a controversial and contested appointment by new US President Donald Trump.

us-budget-pie-chart

OMB: National Priorities Project

What does the Secretary of the Education Department (ED) do?

  • She oversees federal assistance to education. According to the ED, “the Department’s elementary and secondary programs annually serve nearly 16,900 school districts and approximately 50 million students attending more than 98,000 public schools and 28,000 private schools.”  The ED also “provides grant, loan, and work-study assistance to more than 13 million postsecondary students.”
  • She oversees a budget expected to be almost $70 billion in 2017.
  • She enforces the civil rights and privacy of all students.
  • She collects data on US schools.
  • She oversees the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act which replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. This act requires that students be “taught to high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.”
  • She advises the President on matters related to education.

Education is not mentioned in the US Constitution.  It has traditionally been the responsibility of states and localities.  Even so, the federal government has become increasingly involved in US education.  About 8% of total spending on education in the US comes from the federal government, but not all of that comes from the ED.  For example, Head Start and subsidized lunch programs are funded by other departments of the federal government.

The ED defines its primary goal as “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

DeVos, 59, is a multi-millionaire through inheritances from her father.  She married another multi-millionaire, the son of one of the founders of Amway.  DeVos attended private schools, including a conservative Christian high school and college. She has supported vouchers for children in public schools to allow them to attend the schools of their choice, including religious schools.  She also backs charter schools.

Why has Betsy DeVos’ appointment been contentious?  Many of those who opposed her choice say she is against public education and would use her office to undermine it.  They point out she did not study education in college nor has she worked in the field of education.  Most of her educational experience comes as an outspoken advocate for school choice and a a financial contributor to education efforts she likes.

Those supporting her choice point out her vocal support of school choice, her funding of private education, and her ongoing and generous support of Republican candidates.

In the past, Secretaries of Education have had little impact on curriculum.  Yet federal law, such as the No Child Left Behind law, has impacted curriculum, spurring a more rigorous curriculum developed by the states called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The CCSS is controversial with some states adapting their curricula to its standards and others abandoning or ignoring it.  President Trump has said that he opposes the Common Core.  DeVos has served in organizations which support it.

Are audio books right for your young child?

Audio books, also called books on tape, are a great way for busy adults to “read.”  Pop one in your car CD player for a long commute.  Listen while you make dinner or wait through a long soccer practice.

But are they good for your young children?  Yes and No.

  • Yes, if you speak English with an accent and want your child read to by native English speakers.
  • Yes, if you want to encourage reading but you are too busy making dinner or bathing the baby to read to your preschooler.
  • Yes, if you are looking for an educational alternative to video games, electronic games or TV.
  • Yes, if your child is a beginning reader or a poor reader who could benefit from hearing the same book read multiple times while reading along.
  • Yes, if you need a bedtime ritual for your child which doesn’t involve you or which takes the place of you when you work late or travel.

But sometimes video books are not a good choice.

  • No, if you think video books can take the place of your reading to your child on a regular basis.
  • No, if your child has questions, or wants to pause to look longer at the pictures.
  • No, if the pacing of the book is too fast for the child, or the language too advanced, or the themes too mature.
  • No, if you hope your struggling reader will read along rather than merely listen to the voice on the machine.
  • No, if the background music, sound effects or dramatic flair of the reader grate on your child’s nerves.

I have been in classrooms where some children listen intently to audio books while others tune out.  If your child is struggling to read or is generally restless, you might need to join him while he listens to audio books to keep him focused.

Audio books isolate a child.  Children learn better when they have a strong positive emotional connection to the learning process.  When a parent reads to a child, cuddling, answering her questions, pausing until she is ready to move on, explaining new words, roaring with wild thing noises or laughing at a cat in a hat, the child engages and learns to a greater degree than is possible with audio books.

Audio books can work well to supplement, but they cannot replace your reading to your child.