Digression #1 of the day: The three greatest teachers I ever had were all in high school -- 2 English teachers and 1 Latin teacher. One of the English teachers had a habit, which I have tried to copy in my own teaching, of digressing often and numbering his digressions, which were, of course, the best parts of his lessons. The trick he had, which I have only occasionally managed, was that, by the end of the lesson, all of the digressions turned out to be, in fact, part of the lesson. Like some cleverly constructed plot, they all came winging together in a way that made the whole lesson deeper and more meaningful.

I mention this because of something that happened in one of my 5th grade classes yesterday. I was introducing IPA to all 3 sections, and all loved it as a sort of secret code that only the 5th graders would know. I had handed out out to them a copy of the IPA chart from the Toolbox, which turned out to be missing some symbols they needed to translate the examples from the Toolbox. The only other chart I had found for them had all the IPA symbols, which was too much, and rather than giving the phones, it gave the names of the phones (the bilabial fricative, or whatever), not very helpful. One of the boys in the first section had gone online and in 2 minutes found a more useful chart that I hadn't been able to find, so we printed it out for everyone on the back of Melvyn's chart and, between the two of them, they were able to make good progress. I've put a link to the site in the links section.

But the last section of the day was particularly excited, and about 5 minutes before the end of the class, one of the students mentioned that she could figure it out by saying the sound that each symbol represented over and over and sort of slurring them together until she could figure out what the word was. This was made more challenging, of course, by the fact that the examples had come from Melvyn's Toolbox, and Melvyn is British, so some of the pronunciations were a little unexpected. I had warned them of this at the start, and it just added spice to the puzzle.

This repeated slurring together to figure it out reminded me of something that some of you may know, so I detoured into, I think, the 7th digression of the day. I quickly pulled up on the computer and projected the cover of a favorite old book of mine called: Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames: The D'Antin Manuscript. In case you don't know it, I won't spoil it by telling you what that title means. I'll just say that it is a book of heavily footnoted, ostensibly French, poems that is much beloved by English speakers who know no, or little, French.

I suggested that they try slurring that part before the colon together repeatedly, and it wasn't long before one or two of them shouted it out, and the others all groaned and said, "Oh, right, now I see it."

"So what's inside?" they demanded. It was 1 minute before the end of class and I was trying to get them to pack up, but no dice -- they wanted to see it now. So I showed them the first poem. Here it is, with footnotes:

Un petit d'un petit [1]
S'étonne aux Halles [2]
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent [3]
Indolent qui ne sort cesse [4]
Indolent qui ne se mène [5]
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes. [6]

[1] The inevitable result of a child marriage.

[2] The subject of this epigrammatic poem is obviously from the provinces, since a native Parisian would take this famous old market for granted.

[3] Since this personage bears no titles, we are led to believe that the poet writes of one of those unfortunate idiot-children than in olden days existed as a living skeleton in their family's closet. I am inclined to believe, however, that this is a fine piece of misdirection and that the poet is actualy writing of some famous political prisoner, or the illegitimate offspring of some noble house. The Man in the Iron Mask, perhaps?

[4,5] Another misdirection. Obviously it was not laziness that prevented this person's going out and taking himself places.

[6] He was obviously prevented from fulfilling his destiny, since his is compared to Gai de Reguennes. This was a young squire (to one of his uncles, a Gaillard of Normandy) who died at the tender age of twelve of a surfeit of Saracen arrows before the walls of Acre in 1191.

I had to read the first two words out loud, and then they had it. Now we were late, but they still refused to leave. "C'mon, just one more!"

"Ok, but I'm not saying anything this time." So I showed them one more. I'll tease you just with the beginning: "Eau la quille ne colle / Oise a mer est haulte de soles ... "

By now they were over the moon -- I don't envy whatever poor teacher they had next. I finally got them out, but now the other two sections have heard rumors that they don't really understand and are demanding to know what they missed, while mildly annoyed parents are emailing me, wanting to know what this book is that their children are demanding they buy but can't remember what the title was.

Anyway, this is all just to say that, even when teaching something as exciting and fun as RS, digressions still rule the day.