Building children's vocabularies - doggedly

The Baltimore Sun

A dog named Martha is talking - and talking and talking - on PBS, thanks to some errant alphabet soup and a University of Maryland professor.

Martha Speaks, a children's show that debuted across the country Monday, is based on a series of books by Susan Meddaugh. It's all about a family dog who acquires the power of speech after slurping down a bowl of alphabet soup. ("The letters in the soup went up to Martha's brain instead of down to her stomach," the story goes. "That evening, Martha spoke.")

The show is meant to be more than cute. (This is PBS, after all.) And that's where professor Rebecca Silverman of the University of Maryland comes in.

She is an assistant professor of special education whose primary research interests have been in vocabulary. She is working with WGBH, the Boston station producing the series, to make sure the show helps teach kids 50-cent words like exclaim, mumble, jabber and communicate.

"I helped them identify what kind of words to focus on in the shows, how to present the words," she said. "The writers make sure it's a lot of fun."

No easy task, since some of the words must be explicitly defined, and all have to be repeated several times in each 11-minute segment. (Two segments are packaged together for each show, which airs at 7 a.m. Mondays on MPT.)

"Each 11-minute story has 10 vocabulary words, five defined, five defined in context. Each supposed to be repeated five times. It is an enormous challenge," said senior executive producer Carol Greenwald. "I've had to talk a few writers off the wall."

That ageless quality about Republicans

The Republican National Convention was just kicking off, and John Leopold hit pay dirt, meeting a conservative star on the convention floor.

Mitt Romney? Mike Huckabee?

No, Pat Boone.

"He looks great," Leopold reported from St. Paul, Minn. "He's like Dick Clark. They never get old."

Leopold also had dinner with Pat Buchanan and his sister, Bay, after running into them at the restaurant in their hotel. Leopold had met Bay at a previous convention.

"We talked about Nixon and Agnew," he said.

Ah, the good old days.

You should have seen the convention back in 1948

One member of the Maryland delegation aims to make John McCain look like a spring chicken.

"I am hoping I will have the title of the oldest woman in the Maryland delegation, having just celebrated my 80th birthday," Delphine Peck wrote to Don Murphy, chairman of the Maryland delegation.

"I attended a convention as long ago as 1948 - that is 60 years ago, in Philadelphia. However, I was not a delegate or alternate. I was a journalism major at the University of Pennsylvania and had a summer job with the Philadelphia Bulletin. One of the big stories then was that for the first time the political conventions would be broadcast LIVE on that new technology called television. But the two conventions were still run as if there were no television. What a contrast to this century's extravaganzas!"

Add 'presumptive' to 'commissioner' title

The city named a firehouse the other day for former Chief Thomas Burke. City Councilman Nick D'Adamo was looking forward to the occasion, since as a boy growing up in Belair-Edison, he knew the chief as a neighbor. The chief's wife was young Nick's sixth-grade teacher at Shrine of the Little Flower.

D'Adamo was even more pleased when he arrived at the event and people started congratulating him, calling him "Mr. Commissioner." Then he saw the program, which listed D'Adamo as a fire commissioner.

Way back in January or February, D'Adamo told Mayor Sheila Dixon that he was interested in serving on the commission, a board that meets quarterly to advise the fire chief on a range of issues. D'Adamo felt confident that she'd appoint him. But there'd been no word since.

Was this the big day? Was this whole thing a surprise? For him?

"Sheila's going to make the announcement," he says he thought. "I wish I could have my family here."

Scanning the crowd, he spotted his aunt and uncle.

But it turns out they were there because, like D'Adamo, they knew the late chief. They weren't there to see their nephew named fire commissioner.

Which was a good thing, because the announcement never came.

A bill expanding the number of people on the board from three to five still needs to pass the City Council and get the mayor's signature before D'Adamo and another person listed on the program - Dr. Laura Herrera, the city's chief medical officer - can be appointed commissioners. A final vote is expected this month, The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey reports.

The Fire Department had jumped the gun by calling them commissioners, but only a bit, spokesman Kevin Cartwright said.

"I just thought it would be a kind gesture just to give them some recognition on the program," he said. "As far as I know, it's going to happen."

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