Friday, November 25, 2016

Sheridan Baker's Keyhole Diagram for Essays

Sheridan Baker's book, The Practical Stylist, has a keyhole diagram describing a design pattern for essays. I saw this diagram when I was a young man in college and the diagram stayed with me forever.

I made this sketch from memory (click on the  image for a larger version).  You can see the original in The Practical Stylist.  Dr. Baker credited Mrs. Fran Measley of Santa Barbara for creating the diagram.  Here is another blog post about the diagram:
The diagram as made an impression on many people.

I read a very long essay, an entire newspaper page, that impressed me as well written. I went back through the essay, comparing it to the diagram, and I found the article did indeed follow the pattern.  Your children might benefit from this diagram.  As a visual aid it does make an impression.

Your friend and neighbor,

I last mentioned The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker in a post-script to my article, Grammar for Your Child  April 3, 2015.  I just realized I have not written a full article about this book.  I'll do that some time.
If you are curious about Dr. Baker, here is his obituary:
I recommend his book The Practical Stylist, but if you become curious about another of his books called The Complete Stylist, I recommend you avoid this second book. It is a theoretical book, not a practical book.  Here is a review of The Complete Stylist

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Helping Your Child with Writing and Grammar

I think it is harder to teach your child to be a good writer than to teach your child to be good in math.  Mathematics is more orderly, more logical, more objective and systematic.  It might seem as though writing would be easier because you can just write down what you say.  But our conversational speech is short and interactive.  It is fleeting so your grammatical or logical mistakes are easily overlooked and forgotten.  We give little thought to what we say in conversation because these words are transient.

However, when you commit extended thoughts down onto writing you might then find yourself in the unfamiliar position of searching for the right words to turn your feelings into coherent, logical thoughts.  You might find yourself wondering about punctuation:  does a comma go here?

Your child will experience this puzzlement and you cannot count on the public schools teach your child to be a competent writer.  Even if your child has a competent English teacher (a big if), and even if the English program at your child's school is a good program that is consistently followed (another big if), then you must understand that a teacher has too many students to provide personal attention to each student's writing.  In high school, e.g., your child will most likely see a letter grade on his paper, but no corrections.  Then the paper will be collected back by the teacher so your child cannot take it to you to ask for help in improving his writing.  If you rely entirely on the public school to teach your child to write, then you are rolling the dice with your child's future.

You can help your child with writing.  First, I suggest strongly that you use the SAT and ACT Grammar Workbook by George Ehrenhaft.  I used this book, the 2nd edition, with my son and I can say it did raise scores on the grammar part of my son's SAT and ACT tests.  However, you do not want to use this book too early.  Your child should complete this workbook a week or two before the test.  With too many weeks between the completion of the work book and taking the test, the knowledge will slip away. That is my experience.  This is a study aid for the test. It cannot actually replace the years of second rate grammar instruction in the schools.  It is an aid to get past the test and is most effective when completed near the test date.  I gave a link to the 2nd edition, because we used that edition so I know it. This old edition can be purchased cheaply because there is a new edition.  At this time the latest edition is the 4th edition.  Your child might not get into the school of his choice if the English portion of the SAT/ACT tests has inadequate scores.

For many reasons, middle school is when you need to focus on your child's writing instruction.  Writing sentences and paragraphs is for elementary school.  Writing paragraphs and essays is for middle school.  There are some free, online aids you can use to help your child.  One is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).   I think the best part of this resource is its OWL YouTube channel, organized into playlists.  The videos are short and useful. Kahn Academy also has video material on grammar.  You have to make sure in high school that your child is ready for college and the SAT/ACT exams, but your over-all efforts will be more fruitful in elementary and middle school.

For your convenience, here are earlier blog  posts related to writing.
Vocabulary in the Plano ISD  July 26, 2014
Grammar for Your Child  April 3, 2015
Coaching Writing with Strunk and White  May 21, 2016

I wish you well in your efforts to provide your children with a good education.  Plano schools are good, but not perfect.  By helping each other we make Plano a great place to live and rear our children.

Your friend and neighbor,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Smoking Pot Can Make Kids Lazy

Does smoking marijuana make kids lazy?  Scientific evidence says, "yes."  Marijuana Makes for Slackers? Now There’s Evidence by Susan Pinker says,

"... marijuana’s two psychoactive ingredients, tetrohydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), have contrasting effects on the brain. “THC makes you feel high,” said Catharine Winstanley, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who does research on marijuana, while CBD “is responsible for its analgesic, antiseizure and purported anticancer effects.” 

The results? “Whether they were workers or slackers to begin with,” Dr. Winstanley reported, “even small amounts of THC made them all slackers.”

“Thinking that it’s harmless, that you can smoke cannabis and you’ll be fine, is a false assumption,” said Michael Bloomfield, a University College London professor in psychiatry and one of the UCL study’s authors. “THC alters how willing you are to try things that are more difficult.”

Our children need to know that while 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for various purposes, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers marijuana as illegal as heroin.  Companies with good jobs and high pay sometimes do drug testing, both in the hiring process and in the work place, doing random drug tests.  I have been drug tested, so this is personal testimony.  Smoking pot can cost your child a good job. On more that one occasion I have had to submit to lie detector tests and I was asked about drug use in these tests.  Even if your children wait to get the drugs out of their system, they might still be tripped up by a lie detector test.  There is an economic incentive in addition to a health incentive to avoid marijuana.

This article appeared in the printed edition on Saturday Sept. 17, 2016, page C2.  This should be available in your public library if you have trouble reading the article online.  Susan Pinker has a column called Mind & Matter in the Wall Street Journal.

We cannot assume our children will absorb our values because they are in our home.  We ought to explicitly state and promote our values to our children, in my opinion.  We need to speak against drug use to protect our children from harm.

Wishing the best for you and your family,