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Volume 1 • #11 • August 2002


One of the serendipitous effects of using RfS/EL has always been that even within just a week or two, students seem to cheer up and come to their lessons looking less mournful. I was wont to ascribe this to my delightful personality and wonderful teaching until I found that other people using RfS/EL were getting the same effect. On the other hand, just a good phonics presentation didn’t seem to do it, however pleasant or skillful the teacher might be.
It would appear that isolating the phonics lesson to one side might be part of the answer, but I’d never had a clue as to why, or even whether I was imagining it.

Until now!

A doctor working in a mental hospital was testing his theory that the two sides of the brain process depression differently, and to prove his point, he used magnetic pulses to numb one hemisphere so he could stimulate the other one by itself. When he did this periodically for a couple of weeks he got dramatic effects. If he zapped the right side and stimulated the left, the depression lifted, sometimes so much that the patient was nearly in remission! On the other hand, when he reversed the procedure, it didn’t work.

Our public school version of magnetic pulses is some nice Mozart, but the principle is the same: isolate one hemisphere and stimulate the other. We know from experience now that the left language areas can be poked into activity. Who would have thought you would be reducing depression at the same time?

Another doctor, this one interested in strokes, also undertook to numb one hemisphere, although with a slightly different kind of magnetic pulses. He would numb one side and then see how well the other worked by itself. No matter which side he numbed, the other one worked better by itself than when both were going at the same time! That dovetails nicely with the results from an fMRI test recently in which a person was put into earphones (sound familiar?) with a musical task sent to the right hemisphere and a verbal task sent to the left side. Guess what? The left side showed increased activity. Apparently isolation of the input enables you both to stimulate the left hemisphere and have a beneficial effect on depression at the same time.

Alas, it wasn’t just me. Never mind. I AM a nice teacher, and that certainly can’t hurt.

Teaching Tip:

An interesting question turned up in my e-mail the other day about why the “le” on the end of a word like puzzle or little was pronounced with just the L sound, and why you couldn’t just as well spell the ending, “le,” as “el”. The short answer is that a final letter E on an English word is always silent, where the E inside the word is part of a syllable, often accented, and must be pronounced like the short E that it is. Witness compel, expel, motel, hotel, etc. “Littel” and “puzzel” do look rather queer.

The long, perhaps more accurate answer is buried in its LLL (long, lurid, linguistic) history, involving the mixture of germanic and other languages and the fact that English spelling wasn’t even partly standardized until a few centuries ago, and even after that, pronunciations changed over time. By the time you explained all that, your student would be asleep. When he comes across some weirdo like silent “gh” or the T in hustle or bustle, just tell him it has an LLL history , and that’s life.



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