Can you spell sesquipedalian? Well, the children featured in anthropologist Shalini Shankar’s Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success can. The elite competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are largely of South Asian descent and, though born after 1996, exhibit intensity, skill, and poise rare in people twice their age. On stage, they spell obscure words with ease, backed by supportive parents and thousands of hours of practice. And these feats . . .
I would like to designate December National Quitting Awareness Month. After reading Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), I’m fired up to pare down before the New Year. The slim volume argues that quitting (despite its poor reputation) is a key to success. Quit fast. Quit often. Quit without guilt, Godin urges. Because quitting worthless pursuits gives you the time, energy, and focus to obsess about something that matters. “Just about . . .
Every week, my daughter brings home a list of spelling words, along with a note on the spelling pattern the words exemplify. For example, a recent word list focused on examples of the short o sound spelled with an a following w or qu, e.g. squad, wash, and want. I appreciate that the words are organized around a single, specific spelling concept, so that any time spent on them reinforces a lesson she’s received. (Unlike thematic lists organized by holidays, seasons, or other topics that give . . .
In Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal About Generation Z’s New Path to Success, anthropologist Shalini Shankar offers readers a nuanced and scholarly account of a subset of immigrant parents today. Like Amy Chua’s tiger moms, the South Asian Americans Shankar examines—parents of kids who participate in the National Spelling Bee—value education above all. These so-called “bee parents” are just more likely to spend time supporting and advocating for their kids than doling out harsh criticism. . . .
Demon words. Oddballs. Rule breakers. The terms used to describe words—like indict and villain—whose spellings don’t match their pronunciations tend to veer negative. It’s as if the words broke with some established order and wreaked havoc on the language, fueled by their own rudeness or irreverence. In fact, words are just words. Language itself is messy, though, full of complexity wrought by natural evolution and intentional intervention over time, place, and population. No authority makes . . .
Syringe. Fluorescent. Privilege. Spellings for words like these don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Their silent, ambiguous, and unusual letters create mismatches between print and pronunciation that often lead to misspellings. So what’s a speller to do? I say, focus on every letter, identify the unexpected bits, and create a special pronunciation of your own that makes the letters easier to remember. Don’t use the alternative pronunciation in conversation, but lean on it all you want when . . .
Memorization gets a bad rap, but it works very well for some words and children. Time and again researchers find that focused attention, transcription, and recollection of select words helps kids master challenging spellings. The key is to treat memorization as a supplement, not as the sole or even primary method of spelling instruction. First and foremost, parents teaching spelling at home should strive to create a culture of interest and engagement with words. We should focus on weaving a . . .
Six years ago, I wrote a blog post titled How to Vanquish Email Overload Once and For All. “Go Serena Williams on your email messages,” I advised. The key, as I saw it then, was to whack emails out of your inbox with the “aggression and precision of a champion.” If you had a clear vision of where your emails’ content should land—the trash, Dropbox, your to-do list—then there was nothing to it but to do it. In 2019, I still agree with the basic premise, but a busier and more complex life has . . .
November is National Family Literacy Month, organized by the National Center for Families Learning. Originally, the group worked with Congress to designated November 1 National Family Literacy Day in 1994. Now the organization celebrates the cause all November long and distributes a guide of 30 days of family activities to try. I say, let’s prioritize literacy all year long and use the awareness month as an opportunity to reflect and recommit. Going hard for a short period of time, the 30 . . .
It’s report card time again, and U.S. reading achievement shows no improvement. National reading scores dipped for fourth and eighth graders this year, according to the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. Only one third of U.S. 4th and 8th graders are proficient readers. Not excellent or strong, mind you. Just competent, able to get by. Mississippi was the only state in the union to post reading gains. We should applaud its improved literacy . . .