TRAINing to Read: A Cognitive Tutor for Children with Mental Retardation

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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According to Kame’enui and Wallin (2006), defining features of children identified as having special needs include significant deficits in their reading development and performance. Approximately 78% of children with moderate mental retardation (IQs between 50-69) are able to learn to read, according to one study, and all children can learn to read when their IQs are 70 or above following the appropriate intervention (Mervis, 2009).

Unfortunately, due to state and nationwide budget cuts, special education classrooms for children with a wide range of abilities are overflowing, leaving overextended teachers unable to provide the one-on-one attention necessary in literacy development. For this reason, a specialized cognitive tutor, the TRAINing to Read (TTR) program should be developed to supplement traditional reading instruction. This new system follows three important caveats (1) ease of use; (2) scalability; and (3) cost effectiveness, providing applicability for both home and school use. Moreover, it will provide customization based on individual student ability and reduce the required student to teacher ratio in special education classrooms.


Why Develop a Computerized Literacy Program?

Although the adoption of computer technology for individuals with mental retardation has lagged behind its usage in business, government, and typically developing educational applications, computers are increasingly empowering individuals with mental retardation to enjoy more independently lives. The ability to read a list of tasks and self-regulate time management can be essential for individuals with mental retardation to hold meaningful employment. Davies et al. (2002) used a portable schedule prompting system loaded onto a Palm Pilot to determine the efficacy of scheduling software to increase independence. In this study, as well as the next by Davies et al. (2003), computer applications were significantly more effective in obtaining and maintaining independent living skills.

Software in Davies et al. (2003)’s study provided adults with mental retardation a means of tracking their personal checking accounts by storing and retrieving common payees, automatically balancing accounts, and posting checks to the register. Results from Davies et al. (2003)’s within-subjects experimental design indicated that using accounting software significantly reduced the errors by users with mental retardation when compared to traditional checking by hand (p < 001), (Davies et al. 2003). Perhaps the use of literacy software will also reduce error production by children with mental retardation without direct adult supervision.

Not only have computer programs been implicated in adult independent living skills, but they are also being adapted to special educational applications for children with mental retardation. In Ortega-Tudela et al. (2006)’s, two groups of children with Down syndrome were trained to perform mathematical skills; One group used multimedia software and the other performed traditional pencil and paper practice examples. While the authors suggest that simply working with a computer does not produce learning, individuals with Down syndrome in the computer program use group performed significantly better than their pencil and paper peers in the tested mathematical ability. Ortega-Tudela et al. (2006) propose that computer software provides the tools necessary to learn abstract concepts that were once thought impossible for individuals with Down syndrome to develop. Although evidence suggests that computer programs have been applied to teaching basic academic and independent living skills to individuals with mental retardation, the complex task of reading instruction has not been attempted in the available literature.

Computer applications provide unique methods to teach children who learn at individualized rates. Davies and Hastings (2003) argue that virtual environments are appropriate learning tools for individuals with mental retardation because of two of their inherent properties: (1) they provide opportunities for learners with mental retardation to make mistakes without fear of humiliation, and (2) programmers can manipulate virtual learning technologies in ways that they are unable to in the real world. Stories can literally come alive when teaching children to read when imagination is limited by the burdensome act of first sounding out individual words and conceptualizing them into a meaningful sentence.

Computers in the classroom offer a versatile instrument from which to introduce educational skills that are both compelling and entertaining to elementary school aged children of all cognitive abilities by operating colorful displays, interactive features, and immediate feedback. Programs like CompSkills provide self-pace, self-directed computer-generated prompting to guide a series of computer training tasks such as mouse operation and typing on a keyboard (Davies et. al, 2004). According to these findings, computer-based education for children with mental retardation provides a new frontier for intelligent tutors in the context of literacy learning. As such, CompSkills style training tasks will be an important facet to preparing children to learn early reading strategies on the computer. To perform well on the TTR module, children must be proficient in basic computer skills, many of which they have acquired through similar CompSkills programs or leisurely gaming.

Intelligent Tutors: Teaching Literacy Skills to Children with Mental Retardation

Now that we have evaluated the effectiveness of computer applications for teaching individuals with mental retardation, the preliminary overall structure of the proposed computer program should be established. The design must incorporate both model tracing, described by Koedinger et al. (1997) as a process in which student’s actions are continually compared against those that the model might generate, and knowledge tracing, which monitors student learning across all problems (Koedinger et al. 1997). An intelligent tutoring system would meet these criteria, as well as provide an external representation for students with mental retardation to demonstrate their reasoning steps in problem solving (Crowley et al. 2007) so that identification of mistake patterns could be recognized and corrected immediately. A computer program may offer corrections to mistake patterns on screen or alert a classroom teacher to the difficulty experienced by the student so that the teacher may intervene.

Moreover, Antshel et al. (2009), find that for children with hyperlexia, described as characteristically capable of decoding text but unable to comprehend its meaning, executive functioning skills are crucial to eventual success in reading. Cognitive based tutors provide children access to their own thought processes because they are able to trace the reasoning of their previous actions, fulfilling an important need among many children with mental retardation, not just those with a hyperlexia diagnoses. Awareness of metacognition will be beneficial across all fields for children with mental retardation, not just those particularly relevant to education.

A final deciding factor in the use of the computerized intelligent tutor design concerns the ease of use and intrinsically rewarding nature of the steps which serve to motivate previously uninterested learners. As a whole, cognitive tutors reduce frustration and provide children pride in a completed goal (Koedinger et al. 1997). Soares et al. (2009) determined that for children with autism, self-monitoring of their own activity completion reduced rates of maladaptive behaviors including self-injury and tantrums. Self-monitoring through means of a cognitive tutor can train children with mental retardation to recognize and track their own behavior.

Implicit learning through observation of one’s own behaviors is essential to successful learning by cognitive tutors, especially for a complex task such as reading. Much of what children with mental retardation or even children in general know about the world is learned implicitly by inducing ideas from experience rather than being explicitly taught. Learning by means of a cognitive tutor happens in much the same way, as rules for the construct being taught (in this case, reading skills) are often not overtly stated. Instead they are determined by the child through trial and error.

Research suggests that for many children with mental retardation, implicit learning skills are a strength. Don et al. (2003) discovered that when controlling for working memory and nonverbal intelligence, individuals with Williams syndrome performed equally as well on an artificial-grammar learning paradigm requiring implicit learning as their typically developing controls. Results from a study by Atwell et al. (2003) indicate that individuals with mental retardation perform poorly when compared to typically developing individuals on explicit learning activities but did just as well on implicit learning tasks. Atwell et al. (2003) suggest that acquiring knowledge about complex material is equivalent for individuals of varying cognitive abilities when accomplished through implicit learning. While this assumption may be a stretch, it is an important skill to tap in teaching new skills to individuals with mental retardation.

Considering the role of implicit learning in cognitive based tutors, as well as the motivation and metacognition skills taught through them, designing a computerized cognitive based tutor seems to be the best option to teach individuals with mental retardation how to read.

Why is Learning to Read so Important?

For children with mental retardation, reading opens the door to an independent life and the ability to further learn more complex academic skills. When children are able to read, they can to communicate with others through written language, create their own to-do lists, and shop for their own supplies. Writing offers a creative outlet for individuals with mental retardation, while reading provides a quiet recreation activity that can be enjoyed in solitude. For these and many other reasons, learning to read must be a priority in the education of all children, even those with mental retardation.

Phonics versus Whole-Word Literacy Training

After carefully considering the ease of implementation and value of a computer-based intelligent tutor to teach children with mental retardation, researchers must next identify the best mechanism for reading instruction: phonics or the more traditional sight word recognition method.

In the typically developing population, the process of reading is comprised of two distinct yet interrelated abilities: (1) word recognition and (2) reading comprehension (Macaruso et al. 2006). To identify a new sight word in reading, children must apply known rules to segment sounds into phonemes and then recombine these phonemes fluently. As a child becomes a more proficient and experienced reader, this decoding process becomes increasingly automatic, as he or she is able to consciously manipulate the components of the language in a construct known as metalinguistics (Mervis, 2009). In reading comprehension monitoring, a core component of metalinguistics, each child must think about what he or she has just read and determine if the mental translation from text is understandable. When the reading is not understood, a child must be prepared to employ cognitive tools to clarify the text such as looking for contextual cues (Mervis, 2009).

Children with mild to moderate mental retardation have historically been taught to memorize sight words rather than to “sound them out”, learning to segment words into distinct phonemes in the letter-sound pairing process of phonics (Laurice & Seery, 2004). Many reading experts are now endorsing phonetic instruction for children with developmental delays, but educators are hesitant to embrace this teaching technique. In a metanalysis conducted by Laurice and Seery (2004), comparisons between sight word learning, where children repeated words presented on flashcards, and phonics instruction, including a tactile kinesthetic task of children tracing letters over sandpaper while also saying the word, indicated improved learning through the phonics approach. Unfortunately, in the seven studies included in this metanaylsis, only one (Barbetta et al. 1993) specifically addressed teaching phonics through error correction (Laurice & Seery, 2004). Error correction procedures such as a teacher breaking down words into syllables following a mistake in phonetic “sounding out” should be a fundamental component of any intelligent tutor system as its importance has been empirically supported (Laurice & Seery, 2004).

An essential factor, the characteristic weaknesses in language abilities for specific diagnoses that also result in mental retardation, should not be overlooked in the design of this computer-based tutor for reading instruction. According to Klusek et al. (2009), nearly two thirds of all children with Down syndrome experience some degree of hearing loss, which could potentially compromise their ability to learn phonetically if unable to hear sounds accurately. The visual processing strengths of children with Down syndrome make learning to recognize whole words more natural; however, phonological memory was also able to predict variation in reading ability (Klusek et al. 2009). Moreover, Cupples and Iacono (2002) determined that children with Down syndrome who received phonological training generalized these methods to unknown words, whereas children who had learned solely to use whole words were not able to (Klusek et al. 2009). These findings indicate that phonological awareness must be integrated with whole word learning for any cognitive tutor built specifically for children with mental retardation.

Previous research suggests that performance on phonemic awareness tasks is actually a better predictor of reading achievement than IQ across various syndromes and special needs (Laurice and Seery, 2004). Macaruso et al. (2006) utilized a computer program for at-risk children to conclude that first graders eligible for Title 1 services can outperform their socioeconomically matched peers when they are taught to read using phonics rather than whole word strategies. Murphy (2009) indicated that learning through phonics was an appropriate method for teaching children with Turner’s syndrome, whereas Finestack et al. (2009) suggested that children with Fragile X have more difficulty with higher level phonological processing, but are able to both whole-word and phonetically decode less difficult words. Mervis (2009) determined that children with Williams syndrome benefit from phonetic instruction because of the strong relations between their phonological awareness and reading skills. Finally, Hatcher et al. (2004) as described by Macaruso et al. (2006) found that explicit phoneme training in reading instruction did not improve literacy skills in typically developing children, but was extremely beneficial for children with reading delays (Regtvoort and van der Leij, 2007). Obviously, there has not been sufficient and conclusive research regarding the use of phonics to teach children with mental retardation, but these strategies provided in a computer-based intelligent tutor could serve as platform to launch future research and a new tool in the educational market.

The TRAINing to Read Cognitive Tutor Design

To formulate an effective cognitive tutor that can be easily replicated to teach millions of children with mental retardation, an adaptable, visually stimulating, and interactive program must be designed where children can learn at varying speeds. Self-paced knowledge tracing will be an important facet of our design to prevent children from becoming bored or overly frustrated, in addition to the many characteristics described in the following paragraphs.

Input from an animated character, similar to Lexie the Lion employed by Macaruso and Walker (2008), will provide instructions for each module and scaffold hints to support student progress on the cognitive tutoring system. A Bayesian estimation procedure will be used to identify individual strength and weaknesses based on responses to questions posed in the model and used to select follow up questions that are in the appropriate range of difficulty for each student (Koedinger et al. 1997). Throughout a child’s operation of the computerized intelligent tutor, the program will trace all responses and return to areas frequently missed to provide hints and specific practice as necessary (Macaruso and Walker, 2008), while alerting classroom teachers and parents of these difficulties. In this way, our cognitive based tutor will provide the individualized support that has become increasingly important as children with a wide range of intellectual abilities are placed together in the same public school classrooms with one common instructor.

Koedinger et al. (1997) emphasize the importance of timely feedback in our cognitive tutor to provide adequate motivational benefits. Macaruso et al. (2006) substantiated that corrective feedback was crucial to the process of learning through cognitive tutors, citing programs like Daisy Quest and the Daisy’s Castle, precursors to our phonetic instruction model. Children must be informed of their mistakes so that they can modify their approach before the incorrect strategy becomes habitual or strongly encoded.

It will be important to constrain the problem space of our students’ responses similar to those described by Lesgold et al. (1992) in their SHERLOCK system, by allowing only actions that would be plausible for users with mental retardation to make. For example, mistakes resulting from inattention will be built into the problem space so that when errors predictive of distraction are made, the child’s attention is redirected back to the task quickly. Specific hints should also be given to the student based on his or her past performance on the task to ensure the appropriate level of feedback is given. The complexity of feedback should be personalized to each child’s individual cognitive ability so that lower functioning children are not given more information about their performance than they can adequately process and retain.

In a new computerized cognitive tutor design, TRAINing to Read (TTR), children with mental retardation will learn to segment, pronounce and blend phonics in an introduction to basic literacy skills. Downloadable from the internet, TTR can be mass distributed to children’s homes, schools, and libraries, where daily reports of activities and errors will be generated and emailed to educators and parents. Each child will be assigned a unique login name and password so that multiple students can share a single computer. Children can also access their TTR module from various computers, allowing for them to practice at home under parental supervision as well as at school, in the library, or in after-school care settings.

Upon loading the software, children will be administered a CompSkills style training (Meyers, 1988) to become comfortable with pointing and clicking their desired response with a computer mouse. I had originally considered developing a membrane keyboard overlay to label objects on the screen as was described by Meyers (1988) but decided that learning to move a mouse would be an easier skill for children to acquire. On the other hand, for children with visual-spatial processing difficulties, a keyboard substitution will also be made available.

Following computer skill training, children will be introduced to a realistic yet animated character, Bob the Train Conductor, who will lead them through the exercises and provide hints when they are requested. Trains will be a structural theme throughout the TTR program, as many children with mental retardation show interest in modes of transportation, particularly trains. Other theme structures could be built for additional levels in the program or for specific interests for various children with mental retardation and downloadable from the same internet website.

Bob, our train conductor, will walk across the screen, pause to introduce himself, and explain his mission while requesting help from the learner to achieve his assigned task. Bob has been asked to transport cars full of toys from the toy store to homes throughout the community where hundreds of little children are waiting to play with their gifts. Cars contain toys and their corresponding activities and are propelled along the track with the completion of each activity. After the learner has completed the activity in each car, another train car “pulls” into the screen view and its corresponding activity is launched.

The first car in Bob’s train asks participants to repeat a particular sound (written on the side of the train) and click on an item that begins with this same sound. For example a colorful “P” would be placed on the side of the train car and highlighted when the sound was produced by the conductor. The learner will next be expected to click on the puppy and drag its icon over to the top of the train car, where the mouse button would then be released and the puppy toy would fall inside the train car to await delivery. Once the toy was successfully dropped into the train car, the “P” on its exterior would be highlighted and the child would be asked to repeat the sound into a microphone headset where observed auditory waves are compared against the expected response to determine accuracy of pronunciation. If an error occurs, the child is prompted to try again. If not, the train’s whistle blows and the next car pulls forward to reveal the next letter-toy pair.

Another activity built into the design of the train program will be a fading task to enhance recall skills for children with mental retardation in literacy learning. Using Bob’s voice, a phoneme drawn on the side of a train car will be pronounced slowly, and the child will be encouraged to repeat this sound. The word will be broken down into phonemes and paired with a simple line drawing of a child’s toy. For example, the word “cat” will be written on the outside of the train car and individual sounds will light up as the conductor pronounces them. In the same fading strategy discussed by Hetzroni and Shalem (2005), a toy cat will be shown clearly on the top of the train car, pairing the toy with the letters and spoken sounds. As the train conductor repeats the word, the lines of the cat drawing will gradually fade, leaving only the words to represent the cat toy. The child will repeat the word “cat” into the microphone headset and the train car will roll off of screen and the next activity car will be presented. Each of the child’s verbalizations will be recorded in the computer and forwarded to the supervising teacher or parent who can also gauge the child’s progress throughout the exercise auditorily.

After the child has successfully completed three very difficult train car tasks in a row (or is displaying signs of fatigue), he or she will be presented words segmented into phonemes. A headshot of the train conductor will read the posted word complete with facial expression and moving lips, while sounding out each syllable and encouraging the child to repeat the word as loudly or softly as desired. This fast paced exercise should reinvigorate the student for learning new material while also making him or her feel accomplished when quickly completing an easier task. The integration of the conductor’s face in this screenshot is important to note, as it mirrors the findings by Massaro and Bosseler (2005), who discovered that children with autism learn significantly faster in the presence of a computer generated face. According to this same source, the human face provides visual information during speech production which may be helpful for individuals with mental retardation.

Throughout the TTR program, children will be reminded to click on any of the help modules to request assistance as needed. Information provided in the help bars will be based on the child’s current abilities and success in responding to previous train car activities, through a knowledge tracing process. Each child can request a spoken cue, one where the conductor enters the center of the screen and speaks directly to the learner, providing the first few sounds of a letter or other hints as appropriate according to the exercise. Other cues can be given through animated prompts or separation of syllables in a more difficult word. When a child has asked repeatedly for help through the help menu, an instant message will be immediately sent to the supervising teacher or parent via cellular phone or computer. This notification system will allow instructors to intervene before a child becomes too frustrated or to step in to correct a behavioral problem. An email log of each help request and incorrect response will be maintained and emailed to all applicable users (teachers, parents, clinicians, and others).

After all of the train tasks have been completed, the train will travel across the screen in a circular pattern on the tracks quickly as the conductor (and the student) repeat words from earlier within the lesson across the train cars.

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Communicative Learning by Hand: How Gesture Promotes Skill Acquisition Throughout Childhood (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Categories: child psychology, education, psychology Tags:

Communicative Learning by Hand: How Gesture Promotes Skill Acquisition Throughout Childhood

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Communication through discrete gesturing has been observed and discussed for more than 2,000 years, but its purpose, development, and mechanisms remain cloaked in mystery, particularly in atypically developing populations. Ancient Roman orators, including Quintillian who famously analyzed gesture in his eleven volume periodicals, to modern politicians have deliberately manipulated their hands in ways to appear honest, intelligent, and electable during speech (Lozarno & Tversky, 2006). Given the pervasiveness and importance of gestures for communicative function (Krauss et al. 1995), we will explore the empirical evidence provided by various authors in relation to its development in childhood.


Perhaps innate or learned by imitation, gesturing is a universal behavior that is performed by individuals in every culture across the globe. Both adults and children gesture simultaneously when they explain solutions to problems verbally (Garber & Goldin-Meadow, 2002). Gesturing is such a persistent communicative tool that speakers often gesture while engaged in telephone conversation with a listener that is not even within view (Bavelas et al. 2008).

We can define “gesture” as a sequence of hand motions that are performed along with speech and are not consciously produced by the speaker. According to Jacobs and Garnham (2007), the gesturing construct also excludes sign language and mannerisms such as touching one’s face or hair. In this way, gesturing provides a physical representation of information that is distinct from the information being conveyed by speech.

Jacobs and Garnham (2007) employ two major theories to explain the functionality of conversational hand gestures. On one hand, gesturing may serve to conjure up spoken words (speech production hypothesis). Alternately, gesturing may provide a framework to package the information conveyed through communication to aid comprehension by the listener. Carter et al. (2006) goes on to propose that gestures: 1) draw attention to important parts of speech, 2) provide information not available in speech, 3) replace words that are not immediately accessible, and 4) offer a shared means for silent group communication.

When children use gesturing as a means of communication, they often reveal acquired knowledge that they cannot yet express verbally. With this in mind, gesturing is likely to reveal those unspoken thoughts and skills that children are on the verge of learning (Goldin-Meadow, 2004). Conversely, gesturing may also play an active role in influencing children’s knowledge, both indirectly as it transforms a child’s communicative environment and directly, through effecting children’s cognitive state.

Gesturing Across Childhood

In human development gesture production predates linguistic milestones (Goldin-Meadow et al. 2007). An infant’s first meaningful gestures emerge at approximately ten months, when babies begin to reach towards objects to indicate interest and direct adult attention (Goodwyn et al. 2000). Albeit primitive in nature, these basic motions lay the groundwork for more sophisticated communicative gesturing. As pre-linguistic infants, parents may choose to teach “baby sign” to purposefully encourage their infants to use gestures as symbols for requests and objects. Goldin-Meadow (2006) suggests that although teaching baby sign may not have a long-term effect on vocabulary acquisition, short-term effects, such as opening a communicative pathway can be extremely beneficial to the parent-child relationship.

Just as the onset of pointing predicts the timeframe for a child’s first words, the production of gesture and word combination immediately precedes two-word combined speech (Iverson et al. 2003). Even after children have begun to talk in complete sentences, they continue to produce gestures in combinations with words (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005). Additionally, during the toddler years, conceptualization and sophistication of representative gestures improve. At three years old, a child will depend on his body to represent a tool in pantomime (e. g. using a finger to represent a paintbrush), but by five, this same child will no longer need a concrete representation of the object (e. g. holding a hand across paper as if holding a paintbrush) (Goodwyn et al. 2000).

Types of Gestures

In their first few years of life, children have the daunting task of acquiring many types of gestures with varied meanings, three of which we will examine in the context of development. Representational gestures, the most extensively used type, include those that accompany an obvious connection between the form of the gesture and that which it represents. Iconic gestures, on the other hand, are often used to describe shape, movement or denote specific physical feature of an object. Finally, metaphoric gestures communicate information about the nature of an action through an easily interpretable movement (Jacobs & Garnham, 2007).

Brain Activation During Gesturing

Gesturing plays a vital role in memory, as people are more likely to remember an action that they have used their bodies to perform. When children comprehend an action word that is indicative of a body part, the area of the brain associated with that body part is activated (Goldin-Meadow, 2009). For this reason, children who gesture while learning are activating an additional neural pathway for memory.

During a functional MRI study, Straube et al. (2006) concluded that the inferior frontal gyrus, premotor cortex, and middle temporal gyrus were activated when individuals performed metaphoric gestures, in addition to a correlation apparent between hippocampal activation and memory performance. In contrast, mismatched or unrelated speech and gesture combinations were instead processed in areas of the occipito-temporal and cerebellar region, mirroring the processing of a no-gesture condition (Straube et al. 2006). Evidence of specialized brain activation for gesture implies that gesturing holds some sort of important function in communicative processing and learning.

Parent-Child Interactive Gestures

Parents play a vital role in the language development of their children as most often either the mother or father is the first reciprocal communicative partner of an infant. By twelve months of age, babies can understand the meaning behind the gestures produced by others. Iverson et al. (1999) analyzed the maternal use of gesture during mother-toddler interactions to determine if maternal gestures were modified as their daughter’s speech becomes more complex. This study concluded that mothers do in fact modify their gestures in consistent ways as their children’s skills expand and use significantly more pointing and representational gestures when interacting with their infants compared to adults (Iverson et al. ,1999)

Maternal gesturing has been linked to children’s eventual vocabulary development. When parents point to an object while verbally providing a label, the learning experience becomes more salient through both auditory and visual input. Moreover, children from low socioeconomic status families typically have much smaller vocabularies at kindergarten than their higher SES peers. Rowe & Goldin-Meadow (2009) explained this disparity in noting that the mothers of children from high SES families used significantly more communicative gestures at their child’s age of 14 months than low SES families, which persists until at least the child enters his or her fifty-four month.

Gesturing Conveys Important Information to the Listener

As evident by parent-child interactions, young listeners are able to glean a great deal of information from viewing gestures by others. Gesturing during instruction tends to encourage children to produce their own gestures, which often translates into learning. Goldin-Meadow et al. (1999) specifically identified problem-solving strategies that children were able to acquire as a result of viewing their teachers’ gestures and recasting them into their own speech. Furthermore, when children imitate these goal directed behaviors, they are able to understand the goals that motivate them (e. g. when a child witnesses his mother touch a light switch, he recognizes his mother’s goal of turning on the light (Cook & Goldin-Meadow, 2006). Gesturing during speech allows listeners to gather perceptual-motor information about a particular task or object described by the speaker. In a study conducted by Cook and Tanenhaus (2009), children were asked to explain how to solve the Tower of Hanoi to listeners with either real objects or on a computer model. Surprisingly, the speaker’s hand gestures and not their speech, indicated to the listener whether the task had been completed on a computer or with real objects. Listeners thus treated computer simulations more like real objects when they had received an explanation from a speaker who had used the real objects in completion of the task. In a similar task, children were given instructions with and without gestures and also with and without concrete objects to solve the classic Piaget conservation task. Ping and Goldin-Meadow (2008) found that when children were given instructions with combined speech and gesture learned more about conservation, regardless of the presence or absence of water-filled glasses.

Finally, Lozarno and Tversky (2006) have demonstrated that listeners are capable of describing the identity of an unknown object when a speaker has performed an illustrative gesture of the item. For listeners to interpret gestures outside of speech, however, the listener must focus added attention to the individual gesturing (Lozarno & Tversky, 2006).

Gesturing Benefits the Speaker

Gestures clearly benefit recipients, but what about the child who is performing these gestures? Research indicates that gesturing also serves the child speaker by (1) stimulating thought, (2) connecting the concrete outside world with the child’s inner abstract thoughts, (3) reducing the cognitive load (i. e. the more a child gestures, the less he or she will have to say), and (4) facilitating an opportunity to communicate with less perceived social risk.

According to Alibali, Kita and Young’s (2000) Information-packing hypothesis as described by Jacobs and Garnham (2007), the production of gestures prepares the speaker for fluent speech. In this model the production of a representational gesture “helps speakers organize rich spatio-motoric information into packages suitable for speaking. ” Evidence of this theory comes from the results of a 2007 study conducted by Jacobs and Garnham where participants were prevented from gesturing and experienced reduced fluency in their own speech (Jacobs & Garnham, 2007).

The synergy provided by gesturing and speaking at the same time has the potential of speeding up learning, improving performance, and even facilitating the generalization or transfer of skills learned. Gesturing may also directly facilitate the encoding of long-term memory as the motor action required form more robust neural pathways. Additionally, the very act of gesturing may direct a child’s focus on the information he or she is displaying through these movements.

Gesturing can prompt children to notice hidden meanings in their own hand motions. Children who have been required to produce only partially correct gestures, according to Goldin-Meadow et al. (2009), are able to learn more than their counterparts who have been instructed to avoid gesturing. In this way, body motions may not just be involved in retrieving old knowledge, but creating new ideas as well. To distinguish causation from correlation, Cook et al. (2008) required children to gesture while learning a new concept and determined that they retained knowledge gained during instruction in comparison to children who were required to not gesture (Cook et al. 2008). Moreover, Broaders et al. (2007) determined that children shown how to move their hands in the correct rendition of a problem-solving strategy solved more math problems successfully than children instructed to move their hands in only a partially correct rendition. As a result, children told to gesture were able to convey previously unexpressed, implicit ideas, opening them up to future learning.

Of course, gesturing also serves to reduce a child’s cognitive load, preserving vital resources that he or she can direct towards other uses (Cook & Goldin-Meadow, 2006). According to Goldin-Meadow et al. (1999), gesturing during speech requires motor planning and coordination of two separate cognitive and motor systems, which some predict would increase cognitive load. On the other hand, gesturing and speech may be combined in a single integrated system that works together for effective communication and problem-solving.

Spontaneous gesture indicates a child’s readiness to learn a new task or skill. In most research mothers are the first to notice these signals because as primary caregivers, they are finely tuned into their child’s abilities (Goldin-Meadow et al. 2007). In this way, gesturing can function as a mechanism by which children reveal their thoughts to a listener, who can then adjust the interaction to focus on these thoughts to facilitate learning (Goldin-Meadow, 2009). Consequentially, children shape their own learning environments by nonverbally indicating to an adult that appropriate input in their zones of proximal development is needed. Abilities available in a child’s zone of proximal development as defined by Vygotsky include those that the child has not yet mastered, but is actively working on and are thus “ripe” for change (Goldin-Meadow & Singer, 2003).

Gesture-Speech Mismatch

Much of the communicative learning facilitated by parents is done when their children produce gesture-speech mismatches. Gesture-speech mismatches are often performed when a child is on the verge of making progress in learning a new task and offers a window into his or her thinking during this critical transitional state (Goldin-Meadow & Wagner, 2005).

A classic example of gesture-speech mismatch can be observed when children first attempt to solve the Piaget conservation task. As indicated by Goldin-Meadow and Wagner (2005), a child will initially determine the amount of water in each glass to be the same, but after pouring the contents of one into a shorter, wider cup, he or she then reasons that the volumes are now unequal. When asked to explain their answers, children will indicate their reasoning by gesturing to the differences between the heights of the liquid in each glass. By the middle childhood years, children are able to adjust their thinking to explain that while the levels of water portrayed through gesturing are not equal, the glasses in fact do contain the same amount of water.

An additional example of gesture-speech mismatch occurs when young children are asked whether the number of checkers in two identical rows are equal. Once the experimenter has spread out the checkers in one of the rows, children will then say that the number of checkers in each row are different, focusing on the examiner’s movements and gestures. The young participants may also count the checkers, physically touching each checker on both of the rows, but continue to insist that there are more differences in their numbers. Children who produce these mismatches in their explanations clearly have information relevant to solving the task and are thus at the verge of learning the task (Goldin-Meadow, 2004).

For typically developing children, speech-gesture mismatches become a powerful tool for learning. Children will first produce a single, incorrect explanation for a task. As they become more knowledge about the world around them, children will enter a conflicting stage where they produce two different procedures, one in speech and the other in gesture, and finally they will produce a single procedure that is correct (Alibali & Goldin-Meadow, 1993).

Because this path of speech-gesture mismatch is so predictable, it may serve as an early diagnostic indicator that a child’s development is deviating from the typical course. Gesture is an early marker of change and can be tracked and recorded by parents, teachers, psychologists, and physicians alike (Goldin-Meadow et al. 1999).

Gesturing in Special Populations

Despite the unprecedented insight that observers are able to glean about a child’s cognitive development, very little gesturing research has been conducted in atypically developing populations. Children with Down syndrome have been repeatedly characterized as adequate gesturers in spite of their vast deficits in expressive vocabulary. Perhaps gesturing empowers children with Down syndrome to communicate that which they are physically unable to verbalize because of mouth shape, tongue size, and other biological constraints. Iverson et al. (2003) administered the MacArthur CDI to the parents of thirty-nine children with Down syndrome, matched on the basis of comprehension and production vocabulary size. While the authors determined that their participants with Down syndrome had significantly larger gestural repertoires than their typically developing counterparts, the same procedure repeated on an Italian population of forty children with Down syndrome found this effect only in a high comprehension sample. Unlike their typically developing peers, children with Down syndrome in both studies only combined words and gestures redundantly. In other words, new information was not conveyed by gesturing; spoken language was simply repeated by gesturing.

Past research suggests that overall children with Williams syndrome have larger expressive vocabularies than those with Down syndrome, so one would expect differences in gesturing between the two groups. Bello et al. (2004) examined the accuracy of naming and the accompanying use of gestures in a picture-naming task by children with Williams syndrome. In comparison to typically developing controls, children with Williams syndrome produced more iconic gestures, showing physical, concrete items. The authors interpreted this to mean that children with Williams syndrome have specific word-finding difficulties. Moreover, children with Williams syndrome showed a higher rate of gesturing than typically developing children, including the overproduction of conventional-interactive gestures, such as “yes” and “no” (Bello et al. 2004), indicating that their social competencies were more similar to their chronologically age matched peers than other children with mental retardation (Bello et al. 2004). As this finding would suggest, those that interact with children with Williams syndrome, the “listeners”, benefit from their gesture production, but do children with Williams syndrome also learn from their own gestures?

Future Directions

With so little research being conducted on the gesturing of children with mental retardation, an entire set of experiments must be designed to gain a better insight into their communicative development and thought processes. Children with Williams syndrome are clearly able to fill the gaps in their expressive language by gesturing, but are they also able to learn about their environments through self-produced gestures? To determine the importance of gesturing as a benefit to speakers with mental retardation, researchers should first design a very basic experiment where children with Williams syndrome are asked to solve a difficult algebraic equation. Only those with Williams syndrome who fail to solve the problem will be included in the experimental design, where participants will be chronological and mental age matched and separated into two groups (control and experimental). Children with Williams syndrome in the control group will be filmed attempting to solve the algebraic equation based on verbalized instructions by the experimenter, guiding the child on the correct pathway to finding the solution. At the same time, children with Williams syndrome in the experimental group will be taught to solve the equation with the very same verbalized instructions but researchers will also encourage them to gesture towards each component of the problem as they solve them. Two weeks after their initial training session, children with Williams syndrome in both groups will be invited back to the laboratory to attempt to solve a similar algebraic equation. Researchers will film both groups and determine whether there are significant differences between the problem-solving tactics and success in the competition of each mathematics problem based on the gesturing condition.

Gesturing appears to play an important role in the education and communicative development of children of all abilities and further research must be conducted to uncover additional aspects of its use.


Bavelas, J. Gerwing, J. Sutton, C. & Prevost, D. (2008). Gesturing on the telephone:

Independent effects of dialogue and visibility. Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 495-520.

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The Role of Hubris in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Ashamed and unable to live with such guilt pressing upon her soul, Oedipus’s wife and mother, Iocaste hangs herself. Oedipus, feeling this same variety of shame and disgrace, instead blinds himself so that he may not have to see those who he has harmed as a consequence of impending fate and so that he may also face a proper punishment for his deeds in incest. In responding to the news born by the prophets, Oedipus feels that he has now become a man of misfortune instead of luck in stating, “My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made! ” (238). He prays to the gods, demonstrating his own acceptance of his fate to those immortal and omnipotent, humbly asking for mercy upon his tortured soul. This is a radical change from his previous overly self-confident attitude in that he use to believed that he could overcome any obstacle alone but now admits that fate rests in the hands of the gods. Abolishing the formerly overbearing hubris that he once possessed, Oedipus exits humbly out of Thebes a pitiful demoralized creature upon having been stripped of his political power and blinding himself.

After spending much time out of the grasp of society grieving the outcome of his own fate, Oedipus finally owns up to the actual role he has played in his fate by formerly pompous attitude, and makes a decisive effort to bring some good about his newly found self-realization in the play Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus is to be commended for pursing the truth to the end with respect to the fate of himself and his city, choosing to endure in the face of certain defeat and revealing the true nature of suffering. Upon stumbling into a field outside of Colonus with his daughter, Antigone, by his side, he asks for sanctuary for he is tired and desires a place to die peacefully. Theseus, the king of this unknown land, grants the poor wretched soul this luxury, revealing his knowledge of Oedipus’s past. Soon a new prophecy of the gods is being foretold which excites Theseus and deems Oedipus more desirable to have residing in his kingdom. This prediction discloses that whatever city has the grave of Oedipus will be assured of eternal prosperity forever. It is here that one can fully appreciate the humbled level that Oedipus has lowered himself down to, having relinquished all of his selfish pride for further self-glorification. Instead of killing himself as his wife had done in the previous play, Oedipus blinded himself so that he would be punished but will not be given the luxury of killing himself to end the pain. He knows that he must not die before he atones for some of his sins by saving a deserved city, Colonus, stating, “I will reach my goal, my haven where I will find the grounds of the Awesome Goddess and make their home my home. There I will round the last turn in the torment of my life” (289).

The role of hubris dictates the path which the story follows as its tragic hero manipulates his own fate through his arrogance and evolves as he works through his fated anguish in both Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipus, after careful analysis, can be deemed a tragic hero in the end because he overcomes his error in judgment, his own personal exaggerated pride, through suffering the consequences of his deeds. Sparked by the actualization of his true identity and ignited by the damnation of Thebean society which sends him into exile, the original self-righteous and smug attitude of Oedipus is burnt away, setting him apart from those ultimately hubristic in spirit.

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The Role of Hubris in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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The role of hubris, a theme commonly present throughout the works of Sophocles and particularly evident in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus, not only exalts the Greek nationalism present at the date of composition but dictates the course of the story, evolving as its tragic hero works through his fated anguish. Hubris, defined as exaggerated pride or self-confidence, is the earmark character trait of Oedipus and perhaps Creon. However, it is the abandonment of his sanctimonious nature that distinguishes Oedipus as a true hero. The theme of the evolution and role in the downfall of men by this overly zealous pride may be traced throughout Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus, as it is only by his radical reversal of mind-set that one may deem Oedipus a hero.


In the opening scene of the first play in the trilogy, Oedipus the King, Sophocles depicts Oedipus as a man of great stature, ruling his lands justly but hints at his own catastrophic fate condemned by his overly arrogant conduct. Initially, Oedipus exhibits intelligence, love and concern for his subjects, and deep-rooted wisdom, upholding a reputation of high moral standards. His wisdom, however, becomes self-righteous, his arrogance becoming very clear on the eighth line of his opening monologue, “Here I am – myself – you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus. ” (159). The irony of this statement rests behind the notion that Oedipus’s fame will be known and surpass the ages, but it is his complacent nature that will not allow him to realize this fate already set for him. Viewed as a pillar of strength, Oedipus has a penetrating way of looking at people, judging them so as to keep them below him in his mind. Upon sending Creon, his third in command, to hear the prophecy of Apollo’s oracle, Oedipus remains so confident in his distance from the cause of the terrible hardships of Thebes that he commands Creon to speak of the oracle to the crowd gathered. King Oedipus accuses this man, Creon, of conspiring with Tiresias, the blind prophet, to seize power soon after this messenger returns, becoming jealous and fearful that anyone might begin to take hold of his glory. He then vows to find Laius’s killer to purify the city of its evil presence, but only with intentions of making himself look better. Oedipus places the burden of truth in locating this murderer in saying, “I’ll start again – I’ll bring it all to light myself! ” (167), imposing the idea that only he possesses the wit to find the real killer. In the opening of Oedipus the King, Oedipus appears very cocky and self-righteous, but it is not known until later how this build up of pride was generated.

In the next few scenes it is manifested that Oedipus has a right to claim a certain degree of pride for his accomplishments, but has taken this beyond a reasonable level, even placing himself at a level only succeeded by the gods, showing defiance towards them. He kills a man in the street on his flight out of Corinth, citing his rationale as being one of self-defense. Although this may seem to be an appropriate explanation, it is learned that the entourage accompanying this traveler was in no way harmful. One could conclude that Oedipus slaughtered the traveler he encountered, later identified as King Laius, his own father, for the power that it provided him internally. After killing this man, Oedipus enters into the city of Thebes, solving the riddle of the Sphinx, a monster who guards the gates of the city, and by doing so, ensures the fate of the city. The citizens of Thebes reward their hero with the title of king and give him the hand of the recently widowed queen Iocaste in marriage. Correctly solving the riddle of the Sphinx brings about an important self-confidence in Oedipus, later moving him to the notion that he can solve the mystery of who killed the king. This immense pride in his own intellectual capacity, however, leads to certain doom as he discovers that although he has been too stubborn up until this point to believe anyone who dare hold a conflicting viewpoint, he has fallen into the trap of the gods by attempting to outwit them. It had been prophesied that Laius and Iocaste would give birth to a child who would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother. Fearing the possibility of this prophecy coming true, Laius and Iocaste chained their son to the mountainside, leaving him alone to die. He, of course, was saved by a nearby shepherd and brought to the household of Polybos and Merope, the sovereigns of Corinth, where he was raised as if he were their own son. Once Oedipus had learned of this prophecy, he foolishly assumed that the parents he was fated to kill were Polybos and Merope, and thus fled Corinth to avoid this ill-willed destiny. Vainly Oedipus had supposed that he had outwitted the gods altogether because he had left what he had thought to be his homeland and was not in contact with his mother and father any longer. He is so full of personal hubris that he actually believes as cited that he has succeeded in escaping his fate. It is by defying the gods and trying to escape his fate that he walks directly into it. By enveloping pride fueled with actual, admirable accomplishments, Oedipus condemns himself to suffering a most unpleasant fortune.

Oedipus the King closes leaving a pitiful man helpless and broken down by his suffering, completely void of his former hubris once his disasterouw destiny has been revealed.

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Summary of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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As a whole, Sharon’s pregnancy has vastly improved her relationship with her entire family, particularly with Jimmy, Sr. establishing for the first time a close parental bond between the two as her father assumes his role as caretaker of his family.

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Summary of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Roddy Doyle’s depiction of a working class Irish family focuses on the evolution of the parental relationship between a father, Jimmy, Sr. and his eldest daughter, Sharon, as they struggle to accept the responsibilities of an unexpected pregnancy and the social implications that result. Detailing the trial and tribulations encountered by a poor working family of six children, the Barrytown Trilogy embarks on a passage into overall maturity by an entire family as Sharon must come to terms with her pregnancy by one of her girlfriends’ fathers, George Burgess. The attitudes expressed by Jimmy, Sr. particularly in response to his daughter’s pregnancy, continue to evolve as he learns more about his role as a parent and provider through Sharon’s example, manipulation, and his own guided self-discovery. In the opening pages of this novel, one will note that Jimmy seems to be unable to grasp and get a handle on his own opinions and feelings, though as the narrative progresses through confrontation and patience, Sharon will educate her father on what it means to be a parent, as she steps up to the position herself.


At the onset of this novel, a notable and quite evident strain in the relationship between Jimmy, Sr. and his daughter, Sharon, exists, as each attempt to adjust and come to terms with their own emotions regarding the upcoming arrival of her illegitimate child. Upon finding out that Sharon may be pregnant, Sharon’s father acted much more ambivalently than the average loving father, hinting at an unforeseen distance in familial connection between his daughter and himself; Sharon appears to be anything but “daddy’s little girl” as is made obvious by his reaction. Speaking to her mother about her pregnancy first, an authentic reaction is observed through the frustrated and anxious tears of Veronica, as “She thought that Sharon’s news deserved more attention, and some sort of punishment. As far as Veronica was concerned this was the worst thing that had ever happened to the family. ” (150). Jimmy, however, is unable to embrace his feelings relating to Sharon’s pregnancy; for some unknown reason he seeks to banish his emotions and remain strong for the family. Despite any noble intentions of pushing his feelings aside, Jimmy incites more mental suffering upon himself and his daughter, as she is unable to understand why he does not feel more strongly about her pregnancy. Jimmy, Sr. cannot be true to his own feelings and cannot rationalize how his role as the father figure of the family must evolve. Perhaps it is a positive attribute that he can remain so indifferent to the opinions and rumors, which will inevitably circulate throughout his hometown, Barrytown. Nevertheless, he cannot avoid the turmoil within himself that these criticisms will later rouse. Instead of telling Sharon exactly how he feels about this situation, he swallows his disappointment and heartache to be strong for her, but instead brings about confusion, as he appears to not be a very strong patriarchal figure. Jimmy Sr. goes on so far as to say that he believes Sharon to be a modern girl, a free-thinking woman who should not have to get married because of unwanted pregnancy, an obvious dodging of how he really feels. As Sharon grows up and matures in order to raise her baby properly, so must Jimmy, Sr. as he strives to develop into a more acceptable head of the household through many trails with his daughter and his own self.

Unable to deal with his anger over harsh words spoken about his daughter in a rational way, Jimmy, Sr. becomes violent in one instance and cries childishly in another, offering tainted justification which Sharon uses to prove him a hypocrite, and all of which establish a role reversal between Jimmy and his daughter. Seeking out to defend Sharon’s honor, Jimmy gains a bloody nose in a fight with some of the fellows down at the bar, and comes back home proud of his injury. His actions infuriate Sharon as she is unable to grasp why he would feel the need to take such childish measures; violence certainly would not hinder the mocking of her reputation. Most parents will recommend to children who are being bullied that, “You’re a fucking eejit, Daddy. Why couldn’t yeh just ignore them? ” (277); Sharon proves beyond her years by explaining this to her father, who apparently does not think rationally in regard to dealing with these jeering, drunken men he associates with. It does not even appear that Jimmy, Sr. understands her reasoning for not wanting him to lowering himself to their methods, especially in saying, “All Jimmy Sr had wanted was value for his nosebleed. But something had gone wrong. A bit of gratitude was all he expected. ” (278). It is painfully obvious from this statement that Jimmy, Sr. has learned nothing from the lesson Sharon has tried to impart to him, but she hopes that he will act differently the next time this situation arises, as it inevitably will. Also, when told that Sharon was a good ride by some of his bar pals, Jimmy, Sr. begins to cry and commences telling his daughter about it as a warning for her to know what is being said about herself. Sharon points out, however, that her father has considered other young ladies “rides” themselves, and wants him to realize this is no different, because they are all someone’s daughter. This is a hard lesson for Jimmy, Sr. to take in, but through his daughter’s actions and criticisms, he is able to being to understand what actions he must take, and what actions he definitely must steer clear of in his role as an active father for this pregnant young woman.

The earlier avoidance of conflict and confrontation of true emotions during the opening scene manifests itself into a childish evasion of Sharon altogether following her reprimands, as Jimmy attempts to make her feel guilty for the sin she has committed. By only speaking to her in casual passing and “enjoy[ing] his depression when Sharon was around or when he thought she was around and he could enjoy a few pints with the lads as well. ” (283), Jimmy sought to gain leverage against her claims, to make her remorseful for having sexual intercourse outside of wedlock. However, this plan backfires through the careful manipulation of her father with the threat of moving out, and Sharon is able to bring out his embarrassment due to presence of her unborn child. In this elaborate role reversal, Sharon is the one to confront her father about his less than friendly behavior in an attempt to correct the situation. She twists the situation back on him by demanding “Did I do somethin’ to yeh? I’m pregnant. I saw yeh lookin’ at me. —I’ve disgraced the family. ”(286), but this forces him to admit that he in fact is ashamed of her deeds. When Sharon apologizes to Jimmy, all he really wanted to hear from her to reconcile his differences with her, he insists that she not leave the family. This incidence represents a prime turning point in the evolution of their relationship as the father is, for the first time, truly able to open up to his daughter and make peace with her pregnancy, despite that she must take on the parental role for these results to come about. Examples of such a role reversal abound in this novel as one finds Jimmy, Sr. volleying back and forth between acting as an adult and acting as a child, although, after this scene, he no longer finds it imperative to hide his emotions.

As the novel’s storyline progresses, Jimmy, Sr. makes many very serious, whole-hearted attempts to create a stronger and more intimate bond between his daughter and himself, first by educating himself about her pregnancy. While Veronica seems to desire no part in her pregnancy despite the fact that she herself has been through this occurrence as she is a mother of six children, Jimmy, Sr. takes great interest in Sharon’s health and well-being, perhaps an attempt in making amends for his lack of sentiment upon her initial announcement of pregnancy. Jimmy, Sr. purchases books about pregnancy and becomes relatively educated, even explaining that “Hormonal changes are perfectly normal…But sometimes, like, there are side effects. Snottiness or depression or actin’ a bit queer. ” (306). By suggesting these consequences of pregnancy Jimmy, Sr. makes allowance for any strange behavior coming from Sharon, and therefore, expresses to her that he understands that she may be moody at times but won’t take it personally, although sometimes he should. This is a small step of him coming forward and opening himself up to her in his path to maturing as a father figure. He now also has a new concrete conversation topic to share with his daughter, without having to get too deep into emotional issues, and she feels he is the only one who really cares about this pregnancy. In addition, her father checks up on her when she is vomiting from morning sickness and drives her to work so that she will not have to walk. He even escorts her to Hikers one night so that they may talk, but sends her off to her friends so that he may join his bar mates, much as a teenager would send his parents off when he tired of them. Overall, Jimmy, Sr. affirms his position as father and head of the household in his assistance and concern for Sharon

In the final scene, Sharon’s father drives her to the hospital when her labor begins, instructing her on her breathing and solidifying a more parental relationship with her, trying to prove that he has stepped up to the plate and is prepared to take care of her and her child. This act completes the evolution of the relationship between father and daughter in this novel, although it will later continue to develop in The Van, however, much less drastically.

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Feminist Themes in the Works of Anne Bradstreet (Part 3)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Feminist Themes in the Works of Anne Bradstreet (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Likewise, the last word of the second line of every stanza rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. The fifth and sixth lines form a slant rhyme, in that their endings look similar but they do not actually rhyme when pronounced out loud. Anne Bradstreet used iambic pentameter, an ancient rhythm meter used during the age of the Greeks. The syllables "Sure, an, Greeks, far, mild" are emphasized while the syllables "But, tique, were, more" remain unstressed. This poetic device followed suit on the first line of each stanza. Bradstreet used a somewhat cynical tone, in which she hoped to force her readers to consider her own value as an author. On lines twenty-five and twenty-six Bradstreet affirms her tone, "I am obnoxious to each carping tongue Who says my hand a needle better fits. " Bradstreet seemed to resent her own unimportance. She became upset not because she was a woman, but because women were treated improperly in her mind. Using tone, rhyme-pattern, and rhythm, Anne Bradstreet displayed her own intelligence and ability in her work, "The Prologue", showing to her male counter-parts that she felt no inferiority.

Many other elements of literary style could be found in Anne Bradstreet’s "The Prologue", including metaphors, similes, and personification. Anne Bradstreet displays her own talent in saying, "And O ye high-flown quills that soar the skies, And ever with your prey still catch your praise," (8, 43-44), a very strong and apparent metaphor. The male poet as a bird of prey, used his quills to catch his "praise", his metaphorical prey, something that Anne Bradstreet felt that she could not hope for. By contrast she claimed that her poetry is low, deserving of only crowns of kitchen herbs and metaphorically compared to ore, minerals hidden deep in the ground. "If e’er you design these lowly lines your eyes, Give thyme or parsley wreath; I ask no bays. This mean and unrefined ore of mine. " (8, 45-48), further reaffirmed the current view of women in the

Puritanical society. One simile, a type of metaphor using the words "like" or "as" to link two dissimilar objects, could be found in Anne Bradstreet’s introductory work. This example may be found on the nineteenth line, " Nor can I, like that fluent, sweet-tongued Greek," where Bradstreet compared herself to Demosthenes. Personification, the treating of an abstract quality or thing as if it were human which is also a literary term very similar to the metaphor, can be found on more than one occasion in Anne Bradstreet’s poem. "Their dates have run;" (1, 4) gave time the ability to move forward in a human style of progression and "High-flown quills that soar the skies," (8, 43) tells of a quill pen, an item used to write with, flying in the air, something that it could not possibly do. The tools of metaphors, similes, and personification were used heavily in "The Prologue" to prove to the readers that she, in fact although a woman, possessed enormous talent as a writer and should be taken seriously.

A myriad of other literary elements was used in Bradstreet’s "The Prologue", many of which were abstract and less common in her time. Allusion, symbolism, allegory, connotation, denotation, and paradox could all be found in her lyric poetry, a type of poetry that expressed the thoughts and feelings of the author. Allusion was used when discussing Demosthenes in "Nor can I like that fluent, sweet-tongued Greek. " (4, 19-22). Also "Of wars, of captains, and of kings, Of Cities founded, commonwealths begun," (1, 1-2) appeared to be a reference to The Aeneid by Virgil, an ancient epic describing the founding of Rome. Anne Bradstreet’s poetic art also discussed Calliope, a muse often called upon during invocation for inspiration during epic poems, including Homer’s The Odyssey. Connotation and denotation are demonstrated in the word "quills" (8, 43), the literal meaning of the word being a quill pen, an instrument used in writing, and the figurative meaning being a big bird of prey with quills as feathers. Symbolism was often used in poetry of the Puritan time very heavily. Calliope symbolized the women who had the ability to write, but were not allowed to because of social restrictions set on them. The treatment of women as described in this poem was an allegory of how slaves and people who were not "visible saints" in the Puritan community were looked upon. Anne Bradstreet used great poetic license and by doing so, showed the world that women, including herself, were just as capable writers as men.

Through style and content Anne Bradstreet attempted to break down pre-set barriers of Puritan society, which prohibited the literary expressions of women from being taken seriously. She presented areas of tension with an untimely perspective, and literally slapped the faces of male poets who believed that they were superior. "The Prologue" defended Bradstreet’s sex against the disdain men had shown toward female writers in general and herself in particular by using lavish styles and intense content.

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Feminist Themes in the Works of Anne Bradstreet

June 24th, 2010 Comments off


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Anne Bradstreet’s "The Prologue" was intended to introduce her lengthy epic poem entitled Quaternions and by doing so, persuade male readers that she, although a woman, possessed enough talent to be worthy of their attention and contemplation. In this poem Bradstreet defended her sex against the disdain that men had shown toward female writers as a whole. The basic theme of her well-known text was the ability of female poets and their lack of acknowledgement by men. Much of the poem was self-deprecating, echoing the kind of criticism aimed at female poet like herself. She seemed to accept reluctantly the general attitude toward female authors, although demonstrating that she could use poetic devices with skill and had a firm grasp of a broad range of literature, including classical Greek and that of Guillaume de Salluste du Bartas, a writer of religious epics from France.


Much tension between different systems of values was expressed in Bradstreet’s poem, "The Prologue," reflecting the nature of her Puritanical background. Personally Bradstreet views herself as an equal to any male writer of the day, but is forced by society to remain submissive and humble, systems of values clashing at this epicenter. In one instance on the third line, Anne begins, "For my mean pen. " (stanza 1, line 3), emphasizing that she viewed her ability to write about war and other manly ideas as "lowly or humble. " She was claiming that since she was a woman, she would be unable to write about great events that concern male poets "of wars, of captains, and of kings, Of cities founded, commonwealths begun," (1,1-2).

Anne Bradstreet refused to pretend to be a man but rather profess herself as an educated woman of the world, not feeling the need to hide her identity. On the fourth line Bradstreet continues, "Nor can I, like that fluent, sweet-tongued Greek Who lisped at first, in future times speak plain. By art he gladly found what he did seek;" (4, 19-21), referred to Demosthenes, an ancient Athenian who overcame a speech impediment by practicing with a rock in his mouth. Practice or as stated "art" could not make up for the lack of talent or for the fact that nature had made her a woman. Each critic said that Bradstreet should tend to her knitting and be content doing the typical work of a Puritan woman as stated on lines twenty five through twenty six, "I am obnoxious to each carping tongue Who says my hand a needle better fits;". Many other instances of tension are well noted including the idea that all nine of the Greek Muses were female deities.

Calliope was the muse of heroic or epic poetry, a form of expression that Anne Bradstreet was attempting in he Quaternions. By stating, "But she the antique Greeks were far more mild; Else of our sex why feigned they those nine, And Poesy made Calliope’s own child? " (6, 31-33) Bradstreet further affirmed her belief that women should be treated as equals for if the muses were female, then women should possess this ability. In lines thirty-seven to forty two she says, "Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are; Men have precedency and still excel. It is but vain unjustly to wage war; Women can do best, and women know well. " Here she deferred to male superiority but insists that she has her place also. Men need not be threatened by her works and poetic abilities, although her strong tone and apparent attitude towards Puritan traditions may bring about another conclusion.

The tension displayed in Anne Bradstreet’s poem was a direct consequence of her Puritan up-bringing; therefore many Puritanical elements can be found in her poetry with metaphysical qualities. Members of the Puritan society understood that all men and women were not equal. Men were given dominion over their families, ministers and church leaders exercised authority over communities, and women ruled over children and servants. A woman’s power came from her position in the community due to her husband’s social status, her personal character, and her roles as a wife, mother, and church member. Bradstreet’s social authority comes from her role as a daughter and wife of two Massachusetts leaders and wealthiest men, not her own talents for writing. Anne Bradstreet’s poem contained many metaphysical qualities, including her reacting against the traditions of Puritanical society and writing with witty, ironic and passionately intense verses. "The Prologue" shed light on the injustices happening to female poets in the 17th century as we view them today.

Anne Bradstreet used "The Prologue" to defend herself against the views of influential Puritan leaders and to show that through her literary style, she was worthy of respect. Bradstreet used her understanding of modern and ancient poetic devices to display that she was an educated, well-read woman of her time. Among these devices were rhyme-pattern, rhythm, and tone. The last word of the first line of every stanza rhymes with the last word of the third line.

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