“No, I’ll Figure It Out”

BrianBy the time a student enrolls in English 101, the student is supposed to need minimal punctuation review. However, that is often not the case, especially with comma splices. Media publications often use coma splices because journalism is less formal, and frankly, joining sentences with a comma can be stylistic and keep a sentence fluid and less formal. Academic English, on the other hand, is generally intolerant of comma splices. This is the convention of our age, and there is no reason for a grammarian to flout it.commabutton

On occasion a student will use a comma splice, perhaps without knowing it. Many times, I’ve noted a deduction and then erased it because the sentence reads so easily and naturally with the comma splice. No corrective measure would improve the sentence and would only render a more wooden reading. I’ve written sentences with comma splices myself when composing and then gone to correct the splice while editing, only to cringe and decide whether to keep the splice or fix it.

If you pen a sentence like Julius Caesar’s “I came, I saw, I conquered” do you really want it to read, “I came; I saw; I conquered.” Come on, who wants a sentence like that? Consider also the sentence, “It’s not a comet, it’s a meteor.” This leaves an element of subjectivity in deciding when a comma splice reads better than any of the correct options. The sentences I used here as examples come from an online tutorial (link below).

grammar-cartoonHowever, most comma splices are errors in academic English and a favorite student from English 101 signed up for 102 and brought her draft up to the desk for me to look at. I wanted to say, “You sure are in love with comma splices,” but I refrained and said, “You sure have a lot of comma splices.” She was like “wah wah what?” so I asked her, “What is a comma splice?” She said, “A comma in the wrong place?”

It was time for a little review. I opened a document on the desktop with my usual sentence with which to illustrate: “I went to the store, I bought milk.” We went through the definition of a comma splice and all the options. As she picked up her paper with all my tick marks to the side of lines with comma splices, I asked, “Would you like me to email you the document?” She said with an edge in her voice, “No, I’ll figure it out.”


She sure did. I always love the moments when a student determines to clear away blurry resistance and bear down on a point. It means that fatigue with the error has become worse than the fatigue of figuring out how to do the task properly.




Ending on an Up Note: What You’re Suited For

Gretchen Rubin, blogging maven at The Happiness Project, has a wonderful series of short video stories. Here’s one that any teacher can enjoy.  Keep it handy for those moments when you’re asked why you do what you do.

Enjoy your weekend.

Creating a Healthy Reading Environment at Home

ReadingthuRsday-R2Growing up I was a big fan of Sweet Valley High reading collection. These books were hand-me-downs from my cousin. Oh! How she loved reading! Of course as the younger cousin, I wanted to do what she was doing, I wanted to read what she was reading. Although, she had to read the book first before sharing with me, it was almost torture because I treasured reading. It took a couple before she could finish them, and I waited eagerly and – in some aspect, I learned to be patient. However, when it was my turn I read till my heart’s content into the wee hours of the night, sitting near the oil lamps, because we had no electricity at the time…10_sweetvalleyhigh_lg

Growing up on the reservation had its perks, however having access to a library was not one of them, and getting our hands on a book was intermittent. I grew up with limited resources, and I didn’t want that for my children. I wanted to make sure that my children grew up in a literature-rich environment. I believe that children who are exposed to books from a very young age grow up loving books. Some suggestions to creating a healthy reading environment at home:

  • reading3Creating a reading environment starts by having a good supply of reading materials such as magazines, comic books, chapter books, newspapers, and catalogs. Often, I swing by the library and help myself to the free books; I also go to yard sells to buy books. It is essential that reading becomes a natural part of everyday life. Creating a place in the home for a family library is a great way to encourage reading. Providing adequate lighting and comfortable furniture, this space could also be used for homework time. I found that choosing a variety of books is also a fun creative way to encourage reading at home.
  • Children mimic their parents; their lifelong habits are usually formed from watching others. Therefore why not have them see their parents reading? Taking time to read together as a family is important. For the parent it may seem as though the book is being read for the umpteenth time – to the child that moment is important. The time together forms a bond and shared experience. I, personally, view reading children’s book as a great way to escape from the daily commands of reading text books and academic related material. It reminds me that there is still joy in reading.caught_in_bed_reading
  • Other techniques I suggest in making a healthy reading environment home include creating personal libraries for each individual. As parents we want to understand our children’s interests and validate them. Create a place on the bookshelf that belongs to them. Lastly, limit other mediums, such as televisions, computers, video games, and cellphones! There is something about holding a book in your hand, flipping through pages, and smelling paper. For, one of these days, books may become obsolete. Till then happy reading!


Aha! Is This the Link Between Humor and Learning?

karenListening to NPR during the twenty-three-minute commute from home to our campus is a treat, particularly when Fresh Air features one of Terry Gross’s insightful interviews.  Her ability to ask the perfect question, drawing the most revealing and interesting information from a parade of fascinating guests, is an art form in itself. Earlier this week, Gross spent time with Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker. Mankoff, a celebrated cartoonist in his own right, has penned a memoir full of reflections about what makes funny, well, funny. The book takes its title from Mankoff’s famous 1993 cartoon: How About Never—Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons.

Mankoff is the kind of guy you’d pay extra to be seated next to on a cross-country flight. He has studied the history of cartoon humor and has original theories about why genres of humor have been popular at different points in recent history. He has also dabbled in the neuroscience underlying our experience of humor. My ears perked up at this point:9780805095906_custom-9aee933ebaa626ebadb68979d596615e822422d8-s2-c85

I did this interesting study in which we did eye-tracking as people looked at … different types of cartoons. Sometimes the cartoons were just verbal cartoons and sometimes they had a visual element and we watched their eyes and the moment that they get the cartoon their pupil expands almost like it would for a flashbulb. So we can track the actual “get it moment.”

(Bonus anatomy lesson: Dilation of the pupils is a response to seeing something pleasurable, almost as though our eyes are trying to “drink in” the object of desire. Unconvinced? Check out the photo-shopped pupils of the models in any perfume or cosmetic ad. Those saucer-like pupils mean the model likes us, and the advertisers hope that we like her enough to buy her brand of scent or lipstick.)

robert_mankoffHumor is, after all, one of the original pleasures in learning that we identified as we started this blog. Pat Riley, one of the founders, and Dr. Kevin Felton have written here about the use of humor to enhance student pleasure in learning. We also appreciate meeting the “achievable challenge” as a source of student motivation and persistence. Perhaps Mankoff has identified the connection between the two. It seems that pleasure lives in both the moment  that we get the joke and the instant that we understand a concept…that magical moment when our brain snaps the pieces of a puzzle into place. A skillful humorist or cartoonist deliberately creates a moment of confusion so that we have the pleasure of resolving the discord—and we laugh. A skillful teacher leads us through a swamp of complex concepts…and we slap our foreheads and exclaim “Aha!”

We celebrate the “Eureka” moments in my class by borrowing a line from Gru, as voiced by Steve Carrell in Despicable Me:

Great for students and teachers alike. You can see excerpts from Terry Gross’s interview with Mankoff here. Better yet, listen to the entire show.

Tech Tuesday: Formatting Fairy Series, Part 5

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


This article is part of a multi-part visit from the Formatting Fairy.  Read on to see how to exorcise those Formatting Demons.  Comment and tell us about your Formatting Demons.

Margin and Indent Marker I bet this little demon puts fear in your bones!  Nothing like 30 pixels by 32 pixels to make your day BAD.  This little devil lives on the ruler in Word.  If you haven’t encountered it before, count yourself lucky.

It does three things, all of which you can do in less painful ways.

  • First Line Indent (top triangle) specifies how much the first line of your current paragraph is indented.
  • Hanging Line Indent (bottom triangle) marks how much all subsequent lines in your paragraph are indented.
  • Left Margin (rectangle) shows where the margin is, as it applies to your current paragraph.

Save yourself some trouble and update these options a different way.  The indent options can be found in the paragraph formatting dialog box in the special indent dropdown.  Margins can be adjusted from the Page Layout tab.

Remember that changing this settings will only work for whatever paragraph your cursor is in.  If you want to change the formatting of more paragraphs, simply select them before making your formatting changes.  Better yet, set these options before you begin your first paragraph.  Every subsequent paragraph inherits the formatting of the previous paragraph.


Say Cheese Say Swiss Cheese

BrianThe oddest things stick in one’s mind—for decades. As a young navy ensign whose uniforms had hardly been through the washer enough times to knock the new off, I was assigned to take classes on time management. The instructor, a nerdy LT, began to present. All I could think of was how his hair looked too perfect because every hair was locked in place with cream or gel, and how he epitomized the total antithesis of being spontaneous.

This portended to be a dull class, and I would soon lose interest in observing his demeanor and grooming. This is all tacky, but my wife tells me all the time that bored students find the oddest things to look at, so she gives me a grooming check, even after 42 years of marriage. I’m a slow learner because I assume students will be listening to my point, when she assures me that they will notice wiry hairs coming out of my ears or that my belt buckle is off-center from my zipper.swiss cheese

Anyway—to my point. The LT introduced a segment called “The Swiss Cheese Method.” I thought scornfully, “Right, this oughta be good,” and my mind zoomed to images of Swiss cheese I remembered eating and playing with, for you see, the pleasure of Swiss growing up included pulling it apart and trying to get unusual shapes made possible by the random holes.

procrastination_7The instructor pointed out how large and burdensome tasks are easily relegated to the procrastination bin because their tedious and lengthy aspects tire us out before we start. Therefore, we don’t start. Then the task’s weight hangs over the consciousness with ever increasing dread, followed by scenarios of making resolutions, followed by guilt, followed by paralysis, followed by more and greater loathing of the task and self.

The instructor explained how the Swiss cheese method means getting a start, even if just a few minutes to punch that first hole in the task. Next time, another hole can be punched, and eventually the task is a Swiss cheese—and then finally no cheese because it’s all holes, which is a good thing: you’re done.

bf5430df62ba3bc2c5171220f90f1b54-d491vr9Countless times, I’ve mustered up the will to the Swiss cheese method, thanks to the LT even though he struck me at first as someone who would cross my horizon one time, briefly, and then disappear forever out of mind. Yet he was the one to catch a mouse with a piece of Swiss cheese and make a memory going back to 1971.

Curious, I Googled “Swiss Cheese Method.” Yes—it’s there. You can pick your link on it, tracing it back to Alan Lakein’s book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. I’ve never remembered all these years his name or even that there was such a book, no insult intended. It’s the LT I remember, with his Swiss cheese.

Ending on Another (More Important) Up Note

I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize that today, March 21, is World Down Syndrome Day.  Down Syndrome is known to clinicians as “Trisomy 21,” because people with the syndrome have an extra twenty-first chromosome. Today, the 21st day of the month, reminds us of that fact.
Diversity is a hot topic in colleges and other institutions at the moment—and yes it IS about time that acknowledging and celebrating our differences moved to the head of the line. Even so, we tend to automatically head off to issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference as soon as someone drops the “D” word. Today offers us a chance to recognize and celebrate that diversity has many forms, and that not every difference is a disability.  I hope you enjoy this short clip as much as I did.


Now, go enjoy your weekend as much as these beautiful people are clearly enjoying their lives.