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Sometimes words with a “ch” sound are spelled with a “tch” in which the “t” is silent. Other times, the “ch” sound is spelled without a “t”. What’s the pattern? When do you spell words with “ch” vs “tch”?

Since my arrival in San Francisco last summer, I’ve become aware of the new “hacker schools” popping up around the city. Their stated purpose is to take smart, motivated people who may or may not have a strong technical background and turn them into world-class junior developers in a short time.

The Starter League

The first school of this type that I ever heard of was Code Academy in Chicago (renamed as The Starter League due to name confusion after the online school Codecademy launched). Their system was pretty unique– students spend 8 to 10 hours per day for 2 months, working in pairs as they learn a stunning amount of ruby, HTML/CSS/JS and Ruby on Rails. At the end of this time, they have an interview day in which they demo their projects to various tech companies, including some of the hottest local startups. The school has only been running since 2011, but results have been excellent and even DHH, the creator of Ruby on Rails, is a fan of the program.

SF Hacker Schools

With that kind of success, it wasn’t long before similar schools started popping up in the Bay Area. The demand for top notch developers is extreme here, but very few companies are willing to train and they take only a tiny fraction of their applicants. A program to quickly bring students up to speed in the technologies that local start-ups are using is the perfect solution. It’s an incredible learning experience for the students that opens doors, the companies can hire solid programmers to join their teams and schools can earn money from either or both of the former two groups. From what I understand, Dev Bootcamp‘s first class was hugely successful–Over 90 percent of the students landed jobs shortly after graduation (at nearly double the average US salary) and of those who didn’t one opened a similar school called App Academy that focused on iOS development and the other opened Hack Reactor, an even more intense school with a stronger focus on JavaScript and front-end technologies. There is also another school, which I know less about since it doesn’t accept men.

In contrast with computer science degrees at universities, these schools have less of a focus on CS theory and more of a focus on building things. Students write a lot of code, and they use newer languages and frameworks. Another feature is heavy use of cutting edge tools and various automated testing frameworks that are commonly used in bay area start-ups, but not so common yet at larger, more traditional companies. Most striking to me is the intense nature of the study. No college I’ve ever seen puts students through 8 class hours of computing classes per day.

The bay area hacker schools remind me more of high-end intense language schools! There are a number of 6 hour per day intense language learning programs in which students work in pairs or small groups, work hard, and acquire a great deal of vocabulary, speaking skills and reading skills in a short time. In my experience learning mathematics as a teenager and then later learning Japanese and Chinese in my 20s, working at something 4 hours a day isn’t just 4 times as good as 1 hour a day. It’s closer to 10 times as good.

All in all, I see a lot of positives of this type of education. So much so, that I’m considering the possibility of running a school of this type someday… possibly even in Taiwan again! Entrance is very competitive to the existing schools, so it took a lot of hustling, but I’ve gotten into Hack Reactor class. I’ll be in class from 9am to 8pm six days a week, starting tomorrow. If you’re interested in the full story, I’ve put it up on my programming blog.

I may or may not be able to continue posting phonics lessons in my Phonics Friday Youtube channel, but I’ll try!

Why is it that the to make the plural form of “hobby”, you change the “y” to “ies”? But to make the plural form of other words ending in “y”, like “toy”, you just add an “s”? Why do you add “es” to make “potato” plural? How about “loaf” and “loaves”? Is that just an exception?

If you don’t know, then this is phonics video for you!

How do you pronounce an S at the end of the word? Well, sometimes it sounds like an S and other times it sounds like a Z. This video covers the phonics rule for that and also a fun way of helping your students remember when to add “es” to a plural noun or 3rd person singular verb.

Have a great 2013, everybody!

Have you ever thought about how the “or” in “word” doesn’t sound like an “or”?

In this video, I talk about one of my favorite spelling patterns. The reason I like it so much is that it covers a set of words that many people feel are spelling exceptions… but they aren’t! They’re just following a pattern at a slightly higher order.

In Phonics Friday #12, I talked about silent letters. One thing I didn’t go over was the ubiquitous “gh” pattern, so here it is today, along with a few other silent G words. Since the spelling/phonics rule is so simple, the bigger focus is getting your students to internalize it and start using it actively. If you can do that, it will stick for a very long time without review due to the many high frequency words that will remind them – night, right, eight, weigh, etc…

In this video I go over common pairs of letters in which one is silent– how to pronounce “wr”, “wh”, “rh” and “kn”. I also talk about why the tea in American convenience stores is so bad.

Notes:
Words with “gh” will come in a future Phonics Friday.
Long vowel spellings such as “when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking” were covered in Phonics Friday #1 – Long vowels.

There are two common ways “ow” is pronounced in words? Sometimes it’s like an “ou” sound as in “town” and other times it’s a long O sound as in “low”. Can you think of any pattern that could help students guess at the pronunciation in words they haven’t learned yet? There is no rule that works 100% of the time, but there is a pattern that holds for over 90% of the time!

Have a look at these words:

cow know shower throw pillow
tow town escrow elbow bestow

I intentionally put an exception to the pattern in there to throw you off! Can you still spot the pattern?

What is a spaced repetition system? What is it useful for? What are its limitations for use in language learning? See this two minute video.

Y is an inscrutable letter. It can be a vowel or a consonant. Its pronunciation changes radically based on where it is in a word. Last time, I covered the pronunciation of a vowel plus Y at the end of a word. I didn’t tell you how to pronounce a Y in the middle of a word, though. And what about just a Y at the end of a word, with no vowel in front of it? How do you know when a Y has a long E sound as in “lofty” and when a Y has a long I sound as in “sky”?

And no, I was not under the influence of any controlled substances. Sometimes sleep deprivation makes life fun!