Tag Archives: Ted Talk

Mapping the Word

I watched an interesting Ted talk in which cognitive scientist and MIT researcher Deb Roy explains how he wired his house with video cameras to capture the rich details of his son’s language development. A complex motion analysis was applied to the 90,000 hours of video to map out how his son’s social interactions within different domains of the home informed his language development. Roy describes how the analysis revealed the scaffolding of language learning:

“Every time my son would learn a word, we would trace back and look at all of the language he heard that contained that word…And what we found was this curious phenomena, that caregiver speech would systematically dip to a minimum, making language as simple as possible, and then slowly ascend back up in complexity. And the amazing thing was that bounce, that dip, lined up almost precisely with when each word was born — word after word, systematically. So it appears that all three primary caregivers — myself, my wife and our nanny — were systematically and, I would think, subconsciously restructuring our language to meet him at the birth of a word and bring him gently into more complex language. And the implications of this — there are many, but one I just want to point out, is that there must be amazing feedback loops. Of course, my son is learning from his linguistic environment, but the environment is learning from him. That environment, people, are in these tight feedback loops and creating a kind of scaffolding.”

Link to the Ted Talk:


Deb Roy

What counts as a “real” word?

Last week Clare shared a TED talk exploring how texting is affecting language (If you haven’t read that post, here it is: https://literacyteaching.net/2015/01/22/txtng-is-killing-language-jk/ ). In a follow-up to her blog post, I am sharing another fascinating talk on “What Makes a Word Real?”

English Professor, Anne Curzan, poses questions to the audience which intend to challenge what makes a word “real” and who gets to decide. She asks: “Who writes dictionaries?”; “Are you bothered by language change?”; and “Who has the authority to make a world real?”

Curzan believes words are made “real” when a “community of speakers” use a word often and for a long time. She makes the point that these words “fill a gap” in the English language. Funny examples of words she’s seen gain traction recently:

                    Screen shot taken from TED Talk

Curzan argues dictionaries have been viewed as a book of truths not to be critiqued for too long. In fact, she points out that dictionary editors look to us to decide what words are “real.” In conclusion, she states:

 “Dictionaries are a wonderful guide and resource, but there is no objective dictionary authority out there that is the final arbiter about what words mean. If a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it’s real. That word might be slangy, that word might be informal, that word might be a word that you think is illogical or unnecessary, but that word that we’re using, that word is real.”

TED Talk Link:

Language and power: A well “articulated” analysis

It is  a rewarding feeling when a student teacher from years past emails a link to an article, a video, or an image that is reflective of the messages we discussed in our teacher education class. The message it sends me is this, “I remember you. I remember your teachings. I learned and am still thinking about what it means to be a teacher and what it means to teach literacy”.  Today I (Yiola) received a short email from a student of four years ago. She sent the following link:

The link takes us to a spoken word presentation entitled “3 Ways to Speak English” shared on TED during a theme based session called “Examining Prejudice”.  Her talk as part of the series is described as:

Educator Jamila Lyiscott delivered an incredible poem called “Broken English,” in which she showed that she is a “Trilingual orator” able to speak fluently at home, with Caribbean parents, at school in “proper English,” and with her friends in a language that is as formal and rules-based as the other two. The poem raised a big laugh when she pointed out, “You may think it is ignorant to speak Broken English, but even articulate Americans sound foolish to the British.”

My favourite part is when she says:

So I may not always come before you with excellency of speech

But do not judge me by my language and assume

That I’m too ignorant to teach

‘Cause I speak three tongues

One for each:

Home, school and friends

I’m a tri-lingual orator

What stands out for me about the poem and what I will share with my students in class this week:

1) The power of language and how we associate language with power

2) Language and how it informs our identities — how many languages do you speak?

3) Linguistic profiling: the racial identification and discrimination of an individual or group of people based on their speech  and how that plays out in society and in the classroom

4) History — and how it influences our use of language

I was moved by her words as Lsyiscott describes:

These words are spoken

By someone who is simply fed up with the Eurocentric ideals of this season

And the reason I speak a composite version of your language

Is because mines was raped away along with my history

I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us

That our current state is not a mystery

I’m so tired of the negative images that are driving my people mad

So unless you’ve seen it rob a bank stop calling my hair bad

I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity

5) Awareness, ourselves and teaching — what do we as educators do with this knowledge?

Here is a link to a prezi that Lysicott has used at presentations:


6) How to take our linguistic diversity and turn it into power:

This is a linguistic celebration

That’s why I put “tri-lingual” on my last job application

I can help to diversify your consumer market is all I wanted them to know

And when they call me for the interview I’ll be more than happy to show that

I can say:

“What’s good”


And of course …“Hello”

Because I’m “articulate”

I look forward to my class on Friday and to sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas about what all of this means to children, their families and the learning environment in our elementary school classrooms.



Why did you give me a happy face when I only got 2 answers correct?

As many of you are gearing up for the start of school, I (Clare) want to share one of the Happy Facemost inspiring talks on education I have heard. Rita Pierson is a high school teacher whose talk on motivating students was amazing. Her views are so in sync with many of our blogs that I wanted to share it with you. Like me, she believes that teaching is a relational act. In the face of standardized tests and prescriptive curriculum, she keeps her focus on the students. Her story of giving a student who only scored 2/20 a happy face on his test will bring a smile to every teacher. When the high school student wondered why he got a happy face when he only got 2 answers correct, her answer will surprise you. Her talk is only 6 minutes long but it is worth. I think teachers will find it inspiring. And every teacher educator should show this video to his/her student teachers because this is what true teaching is all about. Here is the link to the Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dilnw_dP3xk