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Friday, September 28, 2012

What if America enlisted as much creativity in rethinking standardized testing as Mitt Romney has placed in paying his taxes? | Joe Bower

Here's a provocative summary of Bower's article, from the article:
There is a big difference between preparing kids for a life of tests and preparing them for the tests of life. Defenders of standardized, fill-in-the-bubble, forced-choice examinations have the audacity to cite a "real world" need for such examinations, and yet standardized testing is what constitutes an amazingly contrived and unrealistic form of assessment.
He writes later:
Too many people assume that standardized tests measure the quality of education. This assumption gets us into a lot of trouble because standardized tests were never intended to serve this purpose. Standardized tests are a tool for ranking individual students not rating whole classrooms, schools or nations. There's also strong evidence to suggest that standardized tests are really measuring out-of-school factors such as affluence and poverty. ...
And later:
Testing is not teaching. Writing a test is not learning. Tests can only measure a sample of what we would ever want our children to learn and become. What is on the test might not be as important as what is not on the test. ... Proponents of teaching to the test are either irresponsibly ignorant or dangerously deceptive -- either way, they have no business being our leaders. 
Bower refers his strong arguments to Romney's questionable positions on testing, teachers, and improving education. You can read his article for more of that analysis.
This article is featured today (Sept. 28) in Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Which Language and Grammar Rules to Flout - Room for Debate -

This New York Times feature presents an an excellent multi-part "debate" on following language and grammar rules--or not--and the reasons for doing so--or not. 

In it, two respected writers describe and respond to their differing points of view. One authority is Bryan A. Garner, founder of LawProse, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, and the editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. The other is Robert Lane Greene, an international correspondent for The Economist and is the author of You Are What You Speak.

I'm not familiar with Greene, but I have heard Garner speak and consider his Modern American Usage to be the best contemporary companion to past, aging references by Fowler and Follett. I have mostly agreed with Garner's advice before reading this discussion--and I still do. He's also an authority on using plain language in legal, business, academic and most other forms of writing.

The introduction to their discussion says:
Here’s a chilling thought: What if our English teachers were wrong? Maybe not about everything, but about a few memorable lessons. So many millions of writers have needlessly contorted their prose to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. So many well-intentioned editors have fought to change “a historic” to “an historic.” If it turns out that the guidelines we cling to (“to which we cling”?) are nonsense, maybe the texters have the right idea when they throw out the old rules and start fresh.
But if you aren’t ready to give up — if the “flaunt” in that headline raised your blood pressure — then how can you tell the difference between a sound rule of English and a made-up shibboleth? Where do good rules come from, and how do bad ones catch on?
Room for Debate invited two authors to answer and argue: the journalist Robert Lane Greene and the usage expert Bryan A. Garner. (Their responses, conforming to The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, may not represent their positions on style issues like hyphenation and serial commas.)
This article is featured today (Aug. 28) in Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Why Do We Feel the Need to Post Everything on Social Media? | The Dsh with Tsh

I appreciated this article, which is also headlined, "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid." As my Facebook friends and acquaintances know, I like posting my photos after I return from vacation trips. I'm doing that now as I cull and edit my recent photos from Peru (Machu Picchu, the Amazon Rain Forest, Lima, the Sacred Valley, Cusco/Cuzco).

I like to share my experiences and the mind-opening value I get from traveling in other places and other cultures. And, to be honest, I'm pleased with a lot of my photos and like to share them too.

But I do that after I return. I don't typically post photos and messages while I'm on a trip. I do that partially for the good reasons described in this article. And especially when I'm out of the country, I do it so I don't have to spend the time and money paying for Internet access (if it's not free where I'm staying) and roaming charges (which can be high!). My wife and I also don't like to announce that we're not at home, not occupying our house.

And reviewing and sharing my photos after I return extends the trip! I get to think about the trip, the places I saw, the people I met, the things I learned ... again and again as I go through the photos, respond to comments about them, and see them again. And I like the kudos (he said, immodestly).

This article, BTW, is featured today (Sept. 28) in Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Footprints: Progressive Steps | Romney on Teachers and Their Unions: Silence Them!

Today's edition (Sept. 27) of my daily online "paper" features an article from The Nation, in which John Nichols writes:
Mitt Romney has absolutely no problem with billionaires buying elections. In fact, had it not been for billionaires’ buying elections, he would not be the Republican nominee for president.
But Romney has a big, big problem with working people’s participating in the political process. Especially teachers.
Nichols continues:
Never in the history of American presidential elections has so weak and dysfunctional a candidate as Romney been able to hold his own as a presidential contender solely because of the money donated by very wealthy individuals and corporations to the agencies that seek to elect him.
Yet he now attacks teachers who are merely seeking to assure that—in the face of frequently ridiculous and consistently ill-informed media coverage, brutal attacks by so-called “think tanks” and neglect even by Democratic politicians—the voices of supporters of public education are heard when voters are considering the future of public education.
Fact: U.S. teachers have done a lot more to benefit everyone in the United States than Mitt Romney--and people of his ilk--have ever done.

Another fact: Without the work of U.S. teachers, NONE of us would be where we are today in our careers, in our lives.

To silence teachers in their efforts to improve education--as well as their own salaries, benefits and working conditions--is anti-American. Romney and people who support his philosophy on teachers should be ashamed of themselves.

Direct link to Nichols' excellent article

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Communicating Clearly: Why Your Nonprofit Should Use Plain Language | Ami Neiberger-Miller, The PR Toolkit for Nonprofits

Here's a key statement in this article:
[T]he goal of writing for a nonprofit is to communicate, not to demonstrate how smart its staff members are or how glibly they can make up acronyms.
Neiberger-Miller describes how she worked with the staff at an international nonprofit organization to revise its writing style so it could communicate more effectively with its audiences:
  • grassroots volunteers operating nonprofits locally that were members of our national organization,
  • people who spoke English as a second language,
  • and many ordinary citizens who may or may not be impressed with our weighty vocabularies.
The staff initially resisted, she writes, but eventually began using plain language in its newsletter and website.

She writes:
Plain language empowers people to understand - it does not dumb-down a mission or program. It's not about "talking down" to people or making our writing boring and dull. ... Plain language is about making information accessible to everyone. Using plain language means that people can better understand what your nonprofit is doing.
Neiberger-Miller also lists various websites that provide more information on plain language, including my site: Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

This article is featured today (Sept. 26) in my daily online "paper," Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Following up: Writing advice in honor of National Punctuation Day, Sept. 24

I just realized that Monday, Sept. 24, was National Punctuation Day. So I'm highlighting here the punctuation entry in my online writing resource, Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:

punctuation Use common sense. Punctuation should help reading--to make clear the thought being expressed. If punctuation does not help clarify the message, it should not be there.
When more than one punctuation mark (not including quotation marks, parentheses or brackets) could be used at the same place in a sentence, use only the "stronger"--or more necessary--of the two. Question marks and exclamation points, for example, are stronger than commas and periods: "Have all the ballots finally been counted?" asked the reporter. (The question mark fills the role of the comma.)The topic of his speech is "We demand justice now!" (No period following the exclamation point.)
See entries for specific punctuation marks:
Also see asterisk (*)headlinespound sign (#)sentence length.

In addition, you can find advice on using punctuation consistently in the Writing clear, simple sentences section of Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It begins: 
Punctuation shows how words and strings of words are related, separated and emphasized. Its main purpose is to help the reader understand the structure of the sentences you write. Punctuation also replaces the voice inflection, pauses and hand gestures we use when we talk.
Consistent, accurate use of punctuation marks is important. But excessive use of commas, parentheses, semicolons and dashes may signal long or complicated sentences.
You can find still more advice on punctuation at websites listed in the Punctuation section of Garbl's Online Grammar Guides, part of Garbl's Writing Resources OnlineMy Grammar Guides resource is an annotated directory of websites where you can find answers to your questions about sentence structure and using the parts of speech correctly.

Finally, the Sept. 25 edition of Garbl's Style: Write Choices features articles on the subject of punctuation. My daily online "paper" is also available and the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Plain English Campaign free guides

The Plain English Campaign, a private firm in England, provides a variety of free downloadable writing guides on its website.

But the two "General guides" that caught my attention are all about the major focus of the agency. They are useful, practical documents:
  • How to write in plain English (PDF, 100KB)
  • The A-Z of alternative words (PDF, 177KB)
This article is featured today in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For more information on this topic, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes how to improve your writing skills by using plain-English techniques:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.

As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity | Peter Gray, Psychology Today

New research suggests that American schoolchildren are becoming less creative.

Gray writes:
In the real world few questions have one right answer, few problems have one right solution; that’s why creativity is crucial to success in the real world. But more and more we are subjecting children to an educational system that assumes one right answer to every question and one correct solution to every problem, a system that punishes children (and their teachers too) for daring to try different routes.
This article is featured today (Sept. 24) in Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity link above and by free email subscription.

My Pet Peeves: From the J Entries in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the ninth in my alphabetical series of pet peeves -- from entries in the J section of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. My style manual covers editorial issues like abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling and word usage. It focuses on U.S. standards for spelling, punctuation, definitions, usage, style and grammar.

Earlier blogs:

A peeves B peeves C peeves D peeves E peeves F peeves G peeves H peeves | I peeves

jargon Avoid jargon, the special or technical words, phrases and idioms of a particular class, profession or occupation. Example: The biota exhibited a 100 percent mortality response. Rewrite: All the fish died. When jargon is necessary, explain or define terms that will be difficult for most readers to understand.

join together, link together Both are redundant. Remove together or try unite or connect instead.

just Like only, placement of just can change the meaning of a sentence. To avoid confusion, place just directly before the word or phrase it modifies. 

Also, think about deleting or replacing just. It can be vague, redundant or meaningless: exactly instead of just exactlyabout, almost or nearly instead of just aboutrecently instead of just recentlyonly instead of just.

justification Often misused. It's one way to align text in documents. Justification involves adding spaces between words so the words fill each line of text from the left margin to the right margin. When a body of text--such as a paragraph, newspaper column, or chapter in a book--is justified, both the right and left margins are aligned. A body of text is either justified or aligned in some other way: left aligned (or ragged right or flush left), centered, or right aligned (or flush right). Most word-processing and publication-design software offers those choices.

Opinions vary on which alignment is most readable. Centered text is OK for special effects, headings and headlines. Save right alignment for special effects. Many favor left alignment (ragged right) as less formal, less official and less like a form letter. Others favor justification, with its even margins, as neater and more attractive. 

Be careful when justifying text--to prevent excess white space between words and a ribbon of white running through the lines. Breaking long words at the end of some lines--using hyphens between syllables--can make both justified and right alignment more attractive.

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