Dyslexia, Education and the English Language with Emily O’Connor
Nicki: Hello, welcome to Nicki’s Wonder List, a podcast about exploring story in a time of collapse. I’m Nicki Youngsma
Today, we are joined by Emily O’Connor. Emily is a dyslexic human. His greatest passion in life is supporting other dyslexic humans, especially children. In 2015, she launched her small business advantage math clinic. Emily spends her day studying math and words with kids and adults and believes passionately that every dyslexic child deserves a guide who views their own study in understanding as ever evolving and expanding in this conversation. We talk about dyslexia education and the study of the English language.
[music fade out]
Emily. It’s so nice to be in conversation with you today. Um, it’s just a real delight to be with you. Thank you. Thanks. It’s great to be here. So I first came to know you late in 2006, when we were part of a cohort of young people who were, um, preparing to study abroad in Spain for the following.
You know, throughout the years, I have learned so much from you about so many things and I’ve gotten the opportunity and the privilege to learn about your work. And I’ve been in the audience of, you know, several of your presentations and interviews, you know, I don’t know what is my favorite interview that you’ve given the one by a podcaster named Sean McCormick.
Or the interview you gave with Larry King
Emily: oh God,
Nicki: it was just someone who’s like on a screen. And then in person I’m just like, God, is he a vampire yep.
Emily: Pretty sure.
Nicki: Right. Oh my goodness.
Emily: Pretty sure.
Nicki: You know, you are dyslexic and you serve primarily students who are also dyslexic a lot of young people.
And I wanna know what stories do you find yourself frequently encountering and dispelling about dyslexia. And then what do you tell people about what it actually is?
Emily: Hmm. Thank you for that. Like, what stories do I find are out there? Like about what dyslexia is? I feel like for me, one that comes up for me is like, oh, dyslexia means you see letters backwards.
Like you transpose letters. Like that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me. It’s oh yeah. So those kind of like anecdotal things are just kind of like in the air. Yeah. I feel like the biggest thing that I see come up when dyslexia has mentioned is that it is a categorization of extreme difficulty with letters.
Honestly, that’s if you look at the Greek right language, like extreme difficulty with language and it, you know, it actually means like not happening at all. . That DYS, like the same thing in dysfunction, having the sense of like it’s not functioning. So, you know, again, we have a, we have a label that we’ve arrived at because people are measured using like what they cannot do as the metric, which is, like a really unfortunate orientation that we’re.
And so the story that I most often get from families that come to me is like, oh my gosh, like this really scary. And, um, intimidating, you know, diagnosis was arrived at. And we also, by the way, like have known for years that. You know, this kid is having major difficulty, but now we have a, like a word to attach to it.
And the one benefit is that it unites people that are doing this work, but the difficulty with that story is that it doesn’t talk at all about the fact that like being dyslexic is just part of many different neuro divergent processing styles. Right? Like it it’s a. It’s a label that tends to attach itself to specifically big picture processors.
But to be honest, there’s a lot of processing styles that I’ve encountered that could be considered dyslexic, which again is just like, you know, not able to access language, but specifically, you know, in the context that it’s used as written language, right? So either reader or spelling and spelling tends to remain and always be the, the toughest thing, which is interesting for lots of reason.
That’s the story that I encounter, the story that I encounter is like, you know, here’s this big, scary, official thing. And like, what does that mean for my kid? And like, how do I deal with that? How do I navigate that? And I get everything from like, you know, parents that. Or straight up, like, you know, give me the like increments I need to do to like, fix the situation to like people that have already arrived at the place of understanding that this is your kid’s brain forever.
Like it, it doesn’t ever go away. It doesn’t change. Like it doesn change. It shouldn’t say it doesn’t change. Cause everything changes. Right. But like, what I mean is that being your processing style, the way that your brain is organized and oriented. You know, that means that it results in the difficulty acquiring literacy at school, and often a lot of other things too.
But what that really actually is, is a, is a unique processing style that has strengths and weaknesses, right? Like, like all of them, all the processing styles do. Mm. You know, I feel like the conversations I find myself in, in which people talk about how people think and about how we learn and the variety of ways in which that manifests the word, neuro divergent comes up a lot.
What language do you use to do that? To describe that and why. You know, the thing is, is that I don’t always use the same language. Like I change my language. I really do. And I, and I tend to do that because it is such a feelings based tender place, this like labeling that we do as a culture and it’s important, right?
Like naming things has tremendous power. Mm. And so I tend to sort of. Defer to what I feel like is the best fit for whoever I’m talking to. And if it’s a new parent who themselves is, you know, working from, you know, let’s say a, a neuro educational report, and that report has specific diagnoses that have been from the DSM five.
Like that’s what we’re using. That’s what we’re working from. And the parent is using that language. I’m gonna definitely like defer to the. You know, for example, I, I have a constant stream of inquiries into my email about, you know, what is dyscalculia dyscalculia, two different pronunciations, neither which is wrong or right.
they are, they are both valid, right? And, you know, I think it’s really ridiculous personally, to separate diagnosing processing styles or learning differences or dyslexia, or what have you with like, you know, all of these different sub increments. Because I think that while perhaps the people try to tend towards specificity, I think it just further like divides the actual question in hand, which is how are we just gonna support this learner?
Mm. Right. So I think that the language is important to tease out. And if I have the luxury of doing that, I will, for me personally, my preference is to use the word dyslexic interchangeably with big picture processor. So I, in my making math real training and also in my private practice, and this is part of structure inquiry as well in a lot of ways, there’s an interplay between.
Formal language and informal language that is really helpful when you’re trying to bridge for people, because there’s a real expectation, societal that you have your picture for old formal language. And that is just, you know, or, you know, specific nomenclature. And that’s just not a realistic expectation.
It creates a lot of shame for parents and I try really hard to. Make people feel super safe in the sense that if they’re trying to get their picture for what dyslexia actually is, I’m going to use a big picture processor synonymously with that in terms of generally we’re talking about a process and style that is right hemisphere dominated, super creative. Very generative. Oftentimes there’s some sort of, you know, real interest in story narrative that tends to really drive these processing styles in a huge way, because it’s not that like left hemisphere linear track. Right. So I tend to really like. Dyslexic as it’s synonymous with big picture processor, I try to not separate the subsets of difficulty that is associated with the dyslexic processing style, like trouble with math.
Right. I tend not to further divide those things. And I think neuro divergent is a, is a really beautiful term. And I think that term is employed in lots of, um, context in a really compelling way. The one thing that I will sometimes see with that is that it’s non-specific. And so sometimes you need to dig a little deeper, especially if you’re trying to do something as intensive as like, you know, teach someone a concept or a, or, you know, any skill you need to understand, like, what are we talking about?
If a person is neuro divergent, what does that mean for that particular person? Right. So I think neuro. Beautiful general term, but it is a general term. And so often I’m working so specifically that I’m using terms that are directly related to like the kid in front of me or the grownup in front of me, honestly, mm-hmm yeah.
Nicki: The specificity of that, like, okay. Labels are really helpful. Like I have some general like shared understanding or like I can like sort this, you know, but like if you just keep sorting yep. How much of that do I actually need to do to understand what’s going. Exactly. I feel like it’s like filing papers, you know, like, oh yeah.
I need to keep things organized in my filing cabinet. But like, do I need to have all these file folders?
Emily: Yeah, exactly.
Nicki: That’s really interesting. And just how language is so flexible. Yeah. I’m just thinking about how you’re describing kind of assessing what is gonna be helpful in the moment you teach kids.
You are dyslexic, you teach dyslexics and other kiddos who have different processing styles. What you might describe as neuro atypical. Is that, would you say that that’s accurate? Yeah. Being in compulsory education in school setting, you know, I’m not dyslexic, but. What I understand and can imagine is like being in these settings is traumatic and complicated.
Emily: Oh yeah.
Nicki: So considering that, what motivated you and compelled you to continue with your education in a formal setting, going through grad school? Entering the field of education, uh, as a career path, as someone who’s dyslexic.
Emily: Wow. Yeah. So, I mean, you know, for fortunately, or unfortunately the driving motivator for me was shame just an unrelenting, like seemingly bottomless pit of like total and complete shame, which was.
Primarily feelings of being like just a complete fraud. Like I gamed my way through school, straight up gamed my way through school, like graduated high school with like no multiplication facts, really beyond like the twos and the fives and like the tens. Right. Mm, couldn’t really divide. Like I remember being an adult, like being in college and having to like, you know, do things like rent.
And I sort of like understood the concepts kind, but like genuinely, like really didn’t have my picture for like the most basic mathematical processes. And like, sort of always felt like I was beyond just flying by the seat of my pants. Like I just like never. Could finish all the reading or like do all the stuff.
And so I really kind of like went into college, looking to prove myself, like looking for a fresh start. And I, I read about this in my bio. I just recently like edited my bio cause I wanted to update my making math real hours, which is now well over 800 for anyone out there that wants to know what the nerd alert level is at.
Very high hosting moderating has not brought that down. And I write about how, you know, I went, like I had this incredible privilege to have a parent who was working full time at Lu and Clark at that time. So I was like getting in was a real challenge, but through some miracle that happened and then. It wasn’t something that I had to pay tuition for.
I was able to go with this thing called tuition remission. So it was like this incredible opportunity to try again. Right. And like I found out it was incorrect that they would give you credit for talking. You could talk in class, like classes were small enough. And like there was, you know, reading or ideas or things that you were, you had to do.
And then you got to like, talk about. And it was so much easier to like, feel like I was actually learning something. Like I felt like for the first time I was like actually engaging with ideas and I actually was motivated to try to like do my best and figure it out and just feel like I was like floating through space, like from the whim of one teacher to the next cuz really.
In the K12 experience for me, like I just straight up tried to figure out what the teacher wanted and did that as much as I could. And, and I’m not saying that I didn’t have any great teachers. Like I had some teachers that were really great and there’s some classes where I like remember learning some specific things, but overall like, I, I walked away from that experience, not feeling very smart and definitely feeling like it was me and like, not.
Realizing that I just didn’t have the opportunity to get my picture for a lot of things that I actually could get my picture for. Right. That it wasn’t me, that it was the way the information was specifically presented to me. So yeah. I mean, that’s what really drove me into getting a degree, was trying to prove it to myself.
Like trying to prove me to me, like, you know, if I have a BA. Maybe I’m not dumb, like maybe I actually could do it. And honestly, the motivation for being an elementary school teacher was two specific pieces. The first was, I love kids. I’ve always loved kids. And the second was well, elementary school material doesn’t seem that hard.
like I can spell basic words and I can like add and sub. I remember actually like straight up, that was my thought process. I was like, well, you know, I mean, what are the things that are out like medical school is out completely out. You can’t do math. Like you can’t go to medical school, you can’t do anything in the sciences.
Like, I mean, I remember thinking about the closed doors. Like I’ve talked about this before on other podcasts where like you look ahead and like, There are some doors that are like kind of cracked open and there’s, most of the doors are closed. And like, for me, it was like teaching has historically been a job that like isn’t, it’s totally fine.
If you’re, you’re not the best in the brightest. You wanna go into education, you know, that’s something that like comes. That’s a story. Oh, for sure. Yeah. It’s very, it is very real because you know, who historically teaches right. Women. And how do we feel about women who work in this country? Right? Like how much do we value that?
Nicki: So, yeah, that took me all the, all the way through getting a master’s degree was just that desire to try to like, prove that maybe I wasn’t just like gaming, everyth. When you talk about closed doors, what do you feel like has opened up for you now that you have learned you found a space and way in which you can learn that you can learn math?
Emily: Yeah, I mean, you know, for me, it’s been really interesting because what I didn’t expect to happen was I didn’t ever expect to learn math. And ultimately what I really didn’t expect was that learning math was gonna be completely secondary to an incredible growth in my executive. Like scary and simple imaging, which are two specific neurocognitive skills that are essential for math processing and also really foundational pieces of making math Real. This is all from David Burke, my teacher, he talks all about all of this. And so that, those were the things that I found, like truly changed my life because it gave me the ability to organize. And execute and sustain in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. And the act of going to San Francisco by myself to take classes that were hours and hours and hours and days and days and dates. That act of like total, honestly, radical courage transformed the way that I have since decided to live my life, which I just also didn’t really expect. And so that’s what led to me starting my business and then, you know, sense starting my business. Like basically just, you know, it turns out that I like doing hard things.
I’m so grateful that like math was like the catalyst for like, understanding that that’s what I like to do. I get kind of frustrated about it sometimes, like, huh. You know, could be cool to really enjoy TV or like something way less hard than this. But this is what I really like. And it’s given me so much.
It’s just so generative, which is the most interesting part of it is that I, math is. And so the more math that I feel like I get my picture for the more I hunger for it, like, you know, I was just reflecting with a friend who’s always been there to help me Kara scan when she’s amazing. She sat next to me in my four operations class and comforted me on the last day when I broke down and complete hysterics during long division.
And now to like leave the class because I was a distraction. Um, Where it’s like, I am factoring out trinomial right. Factoring. Trinomial looking for the greatest common factor and rewriting that expression. Right. And so it’s just so interesting to be able to do stuff like that now. And then I can like figure out lag rhythms, you know?
The next, like scary, crazy thing, you know, it’s like, ah, David taught me that in algebra two, but like, I was so lost, like no idea. Like I can’t wait to figure out how to do that. Like I think I can do it, like having the skills to learn is just the greatest gift. When you have, you know, well developed executive function, you have the skills to learn.
You can learn whatever you want. And that is just so cool. yeah, it is. How is learning how to do math impacted spelling your ability to, to spell. Yeah. It again, like it’s that executive, right. So what was so interesting was that after I’d had a few years in math neurology in my belt, like I’m, I’m thinking like four or five, maybe four solid years, I found structured word inquiry and.
That was something that is taught in such a way and presented in such a way where there’s not, there’s a much more open flowing conceptual framework rather than working through specific topics. Like, you know, the way that math builds incrementally right on itself, structural inquiry is like open to you can investigate any spelling or any word, like anything you’re interested in.
And. It was so powerful to be able to bring my understanding of processing to the way that spelling can be analyzed morphologically. So looking at the meaningful aspects of words made so much more sense when I had that foundation of math under my belt, because I was at a place where I could really understand like, oh, like, Learning is a skill and all skills need support.
You can’t do it in a vacuum. Right? You have to have someone who’s helping you develop the skill. And if you are the person helping you , then you need to like, understand your own processing and scaffold it for yourself. Right. And that’s what I finally was able to do a spelling because someone was like, okay, here’s the premise.
Like, here’s how the system works. Like, I get really excited when I’m able to have a big picture framework, because I’m a big picture processor. That’s it’s like when someone is like, this is how it all works. There’s never an exception go. And I’m like, oh, okay, cool. yeah. So like, That versus the alternative or alternatives.
Nicki: I think about how I was taught how to read and spell, you know, like phonics and like sound it out, you know? And like that just kind of being this thing that’s perpetuated and it, it kind of comes up cuz I have young kids who are learning to read. So can you speak to a little bit about before you found structured word inquiry, what were you experienced with?
Like what’s not the big picture. Yeah. I mean, you know, I mean, it’s as common as looking at what goes home as a weekly spelling list. Right? So if we look at like compulsory education, if we look at elementary specifically, how do teachers address spelling, um, with direct instruction in their classrooms?
Emily: Honestly, generally speaking, and I haven’t seen a deviation from this the entire time I’ve been been in the field. There is a weekly spelling list. That is the strategy like that is honestly the whole strategy. The whole strategy is all right, children. Here’s a list of words that you must remember, and then we’re gonna test you on Friday.
And like, you know, they do like games with them and they like write them three times. And like, I think you and I have, I’m sure we have memories of like, Writing your words out and you do maybe a pre-test and you get some of them wrong. And those, those moments you study and, you know, and I’m not saying that, like, I’m not here to pass judgment on like what people do, but like one of the things that’s always interesting to me and I still sometimes have kids that like, will.
Tell me about their spelling list or like bring me their spelling list. And I, I gotta tell you the, the randomness of the words is astounding. I mean, it’s like, okay, like just grabbing like absolutely randomized, you know, perhaps it’s like about a season or it’s about like a holiday, but like in terms of structure, There’s no common thread.
So when I’m talking about structure, I’m talking about the fact that in English, every word either is a base or has a base, and we can organize structural families around shared elements. And so if you were to actually provide direct instruction for spelling, you would see a unification in terms of the, the way that a list like that is thought of, you know, it’s not unlike.
You know, giving a kid who’s trying to learn or get their picture for, you know, let’s say double digit edition and they’re, they’re just getting their picture for double digit edition. They’re just ready to like, do some applied practice and you go, okay. You know, this has all been great, but for your applied practice today, your worksheet is going to consist of one double digit edition problem.
And then there’s gonna be a subtraction problem, a long division problem. There’s gonna be a system of linear equations. You’re gonna need to find the solution to, and then there’s a tra. Find the area and the perimeter go. And you’re just like, why , it’s almost as if we , you know, just are not really sure how to do it.
And so we’re just sort of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks and generally what you find is that. There’s gonna be a lot of people left out and cold with that particular strategy.
Nicki: So from like how I’m understanding it is like structure, word inquiry is like, what is the big picture?
How does the language work? Like written language? Whereas kind of what I’m thinking about, you know, what’s part of my experience of learning how to read is like, here’s a flashcard, here’s like a rule. And like to know, for instance, K N O w like the K silent. We have to remember the K silent. So we learn rhyme instead of learning actually why we write a K in front of the N in that word?
Cause there’s a historical reason for that. Am I on track here?
Emily: Yeah. That, that meaningful consonant cluster though, right? Like. Constance cluster evolves, glide and can is really fun because, um, you have, that can show up and, and no, but then it also shows up in a, in a even more meaningful sense and like not a knob and knee where it has that extra force.
I’m not gonna, it’s not denotation cuz it’s not a base. Right. But like it has a force or sense of stick. Knife knife also sticks out, right. Knob sticks out and he sticks out Nole. Like a grassy Nole sticks out from the ground. I tell my kids, listen, we haven’t, we’re not saying that the can and no is that same force because honestly, historically it’s probably not.
But I do sometimes be like, what if you know, you know, something, your thoughts stick out in your mind and the kids are often like, oh, that’s great. So, I mean, again, I’m not saying that that is that. When there’s a common thread and it’s meaning oriented it’s story based. And it makes more sense because everything in life is meaningful, right.
Through certain orientations. . Yeah. So with that, I would love to talk about true words. Mm-hmm so you’re the creator of a series of publications called true words, and I love them. Would you mind just kind of giving a recap, describing what they are. And like what they look like. Yeah, totally. So true words is just like a passion project for me.
And it really came about because as I was diving into getting my picture for spelling and morphology through the lens of structured inquiry, I struggled tremendously with needing some anger points where I could look at collections of related words and not worry about spelling. Each of them. I could focus just on understanding the structure.
And so for me on the spot, working with a kid, because especially if I’m tired, sick, or stressed, or like there’s something going on, or I have an err thought, like I will lose my picture for a specific spelling. And so it was really necessary for me to go into session prepared with all of those spellings at the ready, however.
Like it wouldn’t really work for it to be in a lesson plan. Like it wasn’t like, I couldn’t just write them all down. I needed a more concrete way to organize my own big picture. And one day as I was. Drawing it out. I realized that what I was drawing was like trees, which is a very common diagramming tool in linguistics, actually.
Right. And in lots of fields, right. This idea of there’s a tree diagram and the base, the root of the tree is like the source. And then everything that comes from it is related somehow. And I was like, This is also what we see in people. We see family trees, right? We see like, here’s the origin. And then like later there’s the, like the little, like new words.
And I was really inspired by, you know, the di chronic journey, which is the journey through time Diya being through. And then the, the second element having the sense of time S right from the Greek and. We can really see that structure in the same organization of a plant. And so I just like had a complete nerd moment of realizing that I could like take word families that I wanted to study with kids or the kids were asking about and I could have cards. I could make cards where like, I just put a plant on the front and I would make a word family where the present day word that I was talking about or wanted to investigate with the kid was kind of towards the top of the plant, like where the blossoms or flowers or fruit would be. And then the like ancient historical root would be on the actual roots of that plant.
And then I could also. On the stems have like the Latin stem, right. Which is like a literal linguistic term. Like when we are talking about a word in present day English like election, for example, we’re talking about a word that comes to us from Latin, and we’re often talking about a stem that ends up being the present day.
English base is, is the stem. And so I was able to like, just pair this, um, like really. Very real connective, big picture creative, um, support with actual linguistic terms. And so I just kind of thought it was a, was a win-win and I, what I really was excited for was how much it was gonna help me in session.
I really, what I made them for was myself so that I could like have something at the ready and then, you know, other people were like, wow, this is really cool. Like, I would really like these. And I was like, well, let. Like make them look nice, right? Like I was tired of making them on like blank paper or whatever line paper, and, you know, really cleaned it up with the help of Holland Royal, the amazing illustrator and graphic designer who, who worked with me on the pro on all, all four of the, the decks.
Um, so yeah, it’s. It’s just like a labor of love. And then the backside of each card talks about a specific word in isolation through the four questions of structure, word inquiry, which is a framework that is, uh, offered to us by Dr. Pete Bowers out of, uh, Canada. Um, he’s done some amazing research. But he’s the one who first used the term structure word in create in the research that he did and published.
And so those questions are, what does the word mean in present day English? Um, how is that word built? So what’s the morphological structure of the word. What are the morphological relatives of that word? Um, and then, and also etymological, but that’s the front of the card. And then the fourth is what are the graphing.
In that card. So the, the fourth question is considering phenology, which the proper place for that is, is as the last consideration. Right? So that’s the, that’s the big picture framework. Yeah. Gosh, they’re so rich with election. The base element of that is select, which is to gather, choose. Pluck read mm-hmm and on the backside of that card, you know, you have election and you have a lot of other words and dyslexia mm-hmm is on there too.
Nicki: So, you know, I’m just taking that in mm-hmm . Yeah. So like, what does that mean for you? Like how do you see that then? Um, how do I see the connection between those words?
Emily: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing that’s so cool is like the way that, that historical sense that historical denotation shows up in other families.
So if you consider like dyslexia and election on the card, they’re grouped in different subs. Right. And so. Interesting is that their common thread between all of those goes to like that proto into European, which is at the very bottom, right. Which is like this idea of collecting and gathering. And, but also picking out words.
So there’s this, there’s this very core, very ancient historical sense of there’s like words that are connected to this too. Like it’s not just about collecting. Things it it’s also can be about words. It can have a specific literary force, you know, and you see that in the Greek logos that’s offered as a historical form on the card, right?
Like logo is a, is a word that we have today from that. Right. Has the sense of name. Word statement, speech discourse, account reason. So the, the dyslexia that you see is, is connected to that Greek family. That’s a Greek dude, the election that you see that’s directly from your, that Latin verb that is on the stem, that Latin Legett, which is, uh, a really cool verb to study Latin verb to study but that choosing that sifting through words is the universal sense. And so I think that there’s some really interesting big picture connections there. The way that I see it is just like, as I started to be able to get my picture for the connections between words that were in the same family eat. And then, you know, the interplay between the words in that family that are really closely related like brothers and sisters. And then the words in that family that are like, way more distantly related, like I would say, you know, election and dyslexia are like seven cousins twice removed. Like they are like, you know, they’re in the same family, like they’re in the same family, but they’re not like, like right up snuggled up together.
But there’s that universal thought of like, oh, like, like sifting choosing words is a core sense here. We can see that in the oldest historical. Yeah, that’s fascinating. I’ve had these decks for a few years, you know, I look at them and then I browse them from time to time. And then like the noticing new connections is always like really fun.
Nicki: And one that came up for me recently, the human card, the base element of human is human, which is earth mm-hmm . And like taking in the gravity of that connection is that’s the base element of that. and then cat was a word I, I learned recently, you know, mm-hmm and then even more recently I’m just like really appreciating is like the plant on this card is Camile mm-hmm and Camile has become a very important plant in my life recently because I’ve been.
Managing some anxiety symptoms and Camile is like something, my medical provider is like, take this and it’s been helping like a lot. And then I’m like, oh, Camile is on this card. like, what does this say? Yeah. So now I’m just kind of sitting with this new found connection and appreciating it like, okay, well, This word and this plant.
So what can I learn from this new connection? And so I’m just kind of sitting with the richness of that also.
Emily: Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you for sharing that. That’s really a beautiful connection. I mean, that’s just like in my wildest dreams, what I would hope for these right. Is like that they enrich the lives of the people who have them, because what’s interesting about choosing a plant for the cars is that sometimes.
There is a plant in the family. And I mean, like that word is in the family. So camel is a hundred percent in this family. It’s not a plant that I had to arrive at at like, oh, like I think it’s associated sometimes it’s I choose one cuz it’s associated, but I always. If there’s any possibility that I can choose a plant, that’s actually the name of that plant is 100% etymologically in the family.
I do that because that’s what truly honors the, the source that honors the etymology. Why not beautify the family of a word on a plant. That’s actually part of that family. And so when you look at Camile, it’s a Greek origin. It’s a great story. And it has this sense of earth, apple mm-hmm. That first part it’s solidified.
Now you can’t really analyze it super well. I’m pretty sure it rolled through French. We’d have to go to, um, Douglas and double check, but Camile has that, like the first part is earth and the second part is apple, I think. And it’s like, that was, you know, like in, if you think about the way Camile comes up from the ground, like much the state, like what do you call the center part of the flower?
Ooh. Yeah, no, I feel like this is like really. It’s not statement. It’s like, what is it?
Nicki: My like flower morphology, like terms are like somewhere else right now. But I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m like, oh, I know, I know words, right?
Emily: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, but it’s, it’s big, right? It’s it protrudes and it’s kind of round and so it looks like a little apple. Oh, like it’s a little tiny apple on the ground. Yeah. And that’s the, that’s the, the sense of the, especially the Greek was like low to the ground right on the ground. Like human is you’re of literally of the ground, but also you should be hopefully on the ground for a while.
Anyway. Yeah, exactly. So that’s really beautiful because that connection that you made that noticing that you made has like the deepest meaningfulness possible, you know, every so often there’s a plant that is like in that family. And that happens to be one of the word families. That’s got a planning name in it.
Nicki: Yeah. Wow. It’s so rich. Another card is the literate card. Mm-hmm yep. I would love to hear about your decisions, um, and how you worked out the literate card.
Emily: Thank you for that. I will say that the plant decision for the literate card is very tongue in cheek. I chose Wolf Spain, which is extremely poisonous.
And what’s nice about the literate card is that I am working from a Latin form. So when I do that, I just do a cut stem. I don’t offer a root. And the reason why is because the roots that I tend to offer the most historical forms are proto into European and thus they’re reconstructed. So there’s a little asterisks next to them.
That’s like, you know, these were never spelled, these were never written down. These are just what scholars have arrived at as they anticipate what most likely is the source. Hmm. And so when I do a cut stem I’m, I’m working from a, from a Latin form. And so of course, if you, if you look at the word literate, which is the word of that particular card that is connected to.
The Latin form that had the sense of alphabetic letter writing documents, great books, science learning, and you of course can generate words like, um, unilateral or, or literally, or literature or transliterate. Right. All of these words are generated from that historical form and have the same base element.
And there’s a real difficulty in our school system with becoming literate, especially for all of us folks who are, as you offered earlier, right? Neuro divergent, right? The whole encompassing us people who learn differently, right. Becoming literate is. A real challenge and there’s a lot of poison out there.
There’s a lot to watch out for out there. There’s the business of understanding that if you don’t acquire literacy, it is not your fault. What we have been able to prove using brain science without a shadow of a doubt is that every single person is capable of. Every single one. And so when that process does not go smoothly, it’s essential that you don’t blame the processing itself, that you don’t blame the kid that you don’t blame.
The trying that’s happening. That instead you look deeper and. that’s really what I’m trying to offer by choosing that particular plant is kind of like a, it’s like a warning, right? I mean it’s like, and, and Wolf Spain is compelling because it is very beautiful. Um, there are lots of stories about Wolf Spain being accidentally included in floral arrangements.
It happens still today. It gets included and it’s not good. You know, generally, like you’re gonna be fine, but you wanna be careful. I mean, even if you touch it, you need to, to wash your hands, you have to be, you can have sensation just from touching it alone. Is that right? Yeah. So, and of course, animals in the home and all that, it’s that thing that’s, that’s, uh, you know, really beautiful, really compelling, but if you look underneath there’s some, there’s some real danger there and that’s what I was trying to say, yeah.
Nicki: Considering kind of like your experience and people that you know, who are working to learn, who wanna learn something, you know, the state of like how that happens right now. I’m kind of thinking big picture, kind of the shape of what that looks like right now. So if you were to imagine what you would want it to be, the thing that you want it to look like, how to support learners, can you describe any part of. any pieces of that, you know, that’s kind of a big question with a lot of different directions, but what comes to mind for you with that? When you imagine what, what that would be like?
Emily: Yeah. Wow. I mean, that’s just like such an incredible thing to even picture because it just feels like such a powerful time to do that.
Such a powerful time to sort of seed into creation, you know, what would be the ideal environment. And honestly, it would be completely reorganizing the way that we view educating children in this country. It would be. Prioritizing a minimum of a 10 year apprenticeship for teachers. So this idea that teachers are prepared to meet the needs of learners in their classrooms, right after an 18 month program with.
No real support from their district. Usually not very much support, um, in their building is just really untenable. And I see it happen over and over again. I’m seeing it happen a lot more. Now I think that the current climate in schools is really dire and that is the messaging that I’m getting from my students that are in.
Especially public school environments, but really like most school environments. And I think that that boils down to, there’s just not enough support. There’s not enough support. There’s not enough investment in making sure that the folks that are doing the incredibly hard and valuable work of educating our kids, like are getting the support that they need.
And I think that that starts with, like I said, a minimum 10 year. A model that looks a lot more like medical school. Not that like I’m holding at medical school is like the present example of how to do everything. And just, you know, like again, there has to be real, tangible knowledge that is imparted during that graduate level program.
You know, that’s one of the really difficult things that I’ve had to sit with as I’ve reflected on my graduate school experience was. Regardless of the positive parts of it. We weren’t actually taught like how spelling works. We weren’t actually taught, like, how do you teach law division? You know, what we were taught was you don’t need to worry about those things because wherever you end up.
You’ll follow the curriculum and it’ll be fine. And it’s like, the curriculum doesn’t teach children, other humans do. Right. So if we really want children to be supported and families to be supported, we need to start with supporting the people that are doing that work. So that’s, that’s where I would start.
That’s where I would start. yeah.
Nicki: So I’ve got one more question. When is a time that comes to mind for you about when you’ve have felt the feeling of surprise. And this can be anything like, you know, earth shifting or it can be like really benign, like just the feeling of surprise. I, I wanna know that. Oh, feeling of surprise, man.
Emily: You know what? I am constantly surprised by my kids. And what I’m surprised by is how just incredibly resilient they are. They are like, you can mess up the most foundational stuff with them and. They come back and you’re like, listen, I thought I had my picture for this, but in fact I did not. And they’re like, yeah, you know what?
Like actually, I, it makes so much more sense now and I, I completely get it. And it’s just so humbling and beautiful to be in community with kids because kids are so resilient and I am so grateful for that. And I’m truly, am constantly surprised by it. I am surprised by how. Adaptable, our young people are, and I am encouraged by that.
It fuels me. It gives me hope, because I think in the world that comes, that is gonna be the most important skill. Ultimately is how able are you to adapt, right? Like, can you roll with it? And it surprises me. It surprises me all the time, but I am always just so grateful for it. Mm. Thank you for that. So we’re about out of time now.
Nicki: Where can people go to find you and learn more about your work or your offerings, where to find you?
Emily: Yeah. Thank you for that. Um, my website, www dot advantage. Math clinic.com. That’s my website. I’m a one woman small business. I have. Uh, true words on my website. I have a blog on my website. I also have a contact me form on my website.
[music fade in]
If you like have a question or you need anything, I’m always happy to hear from people I hear from people all the time and enjoy connecting dots of people. So, um, that’s the, that’s the easiest place to find me.
Nicki: Well, Emily, thank you so much again, it’s just such a delight to be with you today and thank you for being in this really rich, super wonderful conversation.
Nicki: That concludes this episode of Nicki’s Wonder List I hope you enjoyed the conversation. I’m really glad I got to share it here. Stay in the loop with us exploring story and a time of collapse by going to Nikki’s wonderlist.com and signing up for updates. You can also click on the link in the show notes to get there.
Thank you for listening to Nicki’s wonder list until next time.