Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mnemonic Rocks

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk]

Even before my eldest could write proper words, I made him keep a journal. I was inspired by a friend of ours whose daughter (same age as my eldest) kept a sketchbook diary – images of events she felt were important to record. Every week I would ask him to “write” – usually a picture or invented words (spelling) - about something good that happened and something bad. Or he would be asked to draw something after a “special outing” – a trip to his grandmother’s, a trip to the zoo, a friend’s birthday party, etc.

My eldest knows words now but despite my starting early still has trouble putting them together and figuring out where to start. I wonder if it is really from a lack of something to say or not wanting to contend with the challenge of where to start? OR just a general lack of interest? (I am careful not to push him into my mold – just because I enjoy writing, doesn’t mean he does.)

He likes to read but writing is troubling for him – despite my “spelling doesn’t matter right now” approach. He’ll draw pictures – comic strips chronicling his days and thoughts but he’ll struggle for something to write when asked to write without the benefit of pictures.

Digging around the Internet for resources I came across this 2008 Rocky Mountain News article putting forth this scenario:

Put a blank sheet of paper in front of a girl and ask her to write about three things she did over the summer. She might think it's a dumb assignment, but she'll do it.

A boy, on the other hand, might go blank as he struggles to assign words to complex scenes and emotions. But let the boy draw a picture of his memories first, then hand him a pen. The words just might flow.

That’s my son! – struggling “to assign words to complex scenes and emotions!”

While I do not agree entirely with all of the teachers’ opinions on the issue, I do believe in gross generalization girls are better at communicating complex emotions than boys. I would add that this phenomena has its roots far deeper than the 21st Century classroom – it’s cultural and it’s social.

However, I don’t buy into the argument that girls are better decoders and more patient than boys. Again, it is a result of socialization and upbringing. I do agree that girls and boys learn differently – In fact, I believe how children learn is partially genetic and partially a result of environment.

Do you remember your first words? The first words you strung into a phrase, a question, or statement? The first sentence you wrote?

I can barely remember the first book I read on my own. I have no recollection of my first sentence. I only remember that it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began keeping a journal. It was mostly poetry that rhymed. My sister had been writing her journal since middle school. There was a poem or two but it was mostly very overt thoughts and emotions.

I think there is a reason my sister was comfortable with straightforwardly stating the facts, whereas I used rhyme. I am very susceptible to ear worms - Not the kind your dog might get but the kind that you might get when you find yourself humming a song you wouldn’t readily admit to liking.

This can be a curse socially – I drove my wife to the brink of insanity once when Brtiney Spears’ “Oops I Did It Again” got stuck in my head for two weeks. But in retrospect it also works as a blessing because it helps me remember things – phone numbers, screen names, passwords, and school facts like the multiplication table and the Preamble to the Constitution

There is a lot of writing available about using songs as a mnemonic technique. But just putting facts to music isn’t enough. The song has to be “good” - Good meaning it has to be catchy and include enough important facts on the subject to be useful. That’s what Schoolhouse Rock did well – And what it’s still doing every time I count change or put together a budget.

It is still too early to tell whether the Schoolhouse Rock songs about grammar and punctuation have made my eldest a better writer. However, he enjoyed the songs so much I recently ordered the 30th Anniversary DVD. I also bought a CD of Schoolhouse Rock covers.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of ending this post with two of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs:


Anonymous said...

The Complete Writer: Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer.

Anonymous said...

We loved Schoolhouse Rock, too. My favorite was "magic number" Conjunction Junction. Actually, they were all cool, but I loved the feeling of singing those two...

My Typepad or Google did not work...
Nee from NC

thisislarry said...

Vincent, I have to post a counterargument:

why is it necessary to put thoughts into words? why not celebrate that fact that your son thinks visually thru drawings and comics?

You're implying that writing is the only way to communicate complex emotions, but I would think that musicians and visual artists are equally able to communicate complex emotions, through their different media.

Vincent said...

@thisislarry. You bring up a good point. In this age of test driven assessments there should be a lot of concern about a loss of visual literacy. In lieu of an article Jason circulated about picture books I have a longer post in the works about this. Thanks for pointing this out.