Category Archives: Books

From the “so what” to the “now what!”:Turning points

The word just hung there:”ma’am?”; non confrontational, a simple inquiry yet the word startled.  And as someone who deals in words, teaching, explaining, cajoling, always, always, encouraging (learning entails growing -yes?) was surprised by own reaction: recoil! BAM a word that shouted “older now” so – time for a little perspective:

Kids are now young adults :)

experience is a great teacher : I have a lot of experience

milestones are meant to be celebrated-

and laughing remains the best medicine, so…I laughed and realized the shop-clerk was right- “ma’am” it is, and no offense meant or taken. But how often over the course of a day do the little encounters add up, and help make or break our energy level. Labels do have meaning, and in the education system, labels are what students hear a lot.

“Is this a test?” ( translation: does it count? will we be judged?)

“special” – loaded as a term – helpful for administrators and parents to categorize and access resources/ hurtful is misused

“common core” in the States, “EQAO” in Canada, basic standards for determining levels of “right” reproduction of knowledge; ask a learner to submit a reflection piece = asking a learner to demonstrate his/her ability to problem solve, today’s “authentic knowledge”- to connect his/her own experience with whatever was/is the topic at hand. And this means exposing feelings, something schools do not appear to have been great about encouraging.

When I review the arguments for or against the Humanities, dearth of job prospects (versus what may exist through studying the hard sciences- actually we all know the real need today is for skilled workers-period), countered by (the)need to develop caring, empathetic human beings as fully reflective and creative as can be I am reminded of how filled with connotative dissonance the arguments are. Just like “ma’am” had the power of suggesting an image I wasn’t sure I was ready for, the suggestions that “hard sciences” may be harder does a giant disservice to those practicing within the Humanities. Scientists needn’t be cold and unfeeling, liberal art majors needn’t be social butterflies, and years of teaching and learning has brought home the very real message that hard is linked to difficult for most people- when in fact what we find difficult may be one of two things- something we do not have a natural aptitude for and/or something that has not been clearly explained, step-by-step, to become if not adored, at least doable. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner* wrote a thought-provoking book on the importance of learning a discipline thoroughly and how it comes to follow that through learning one thing well, other things will need to be looked at and studied as well. No vacuums, but interactive communicative skills that allow for interdisciplinary meeting and sharing of both ideas and ideals.

To be of service when parents and older students ask for suggestions regarding post secondary school choices, my responses return to the questions of “so what” and “now what”; really- how would this decision affect you? how could this decision allow for growth/change and dare I use it? authentic learning. Marks versus goals, labels versus dreams. “everyone/no one is going there”- so what? is this a positive for the learner or a negative? Social aspects of a learning environment do affect outcomes – but- as one grows so may ones social needs change. “Now what” may involve the filling out of forms- or simply the making it through a waiting process- one thing I know for sure- the “Then what” is part of the dream making. What ever else we may be doing as educators – and with thanks to a great educator who is celebrated and honoured today, the third Monday in January, let us make sure we leave room for the dreams –

For full speech of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

*http://www.amazon.com/The-Disciplined-Mind-Standardized-Education/dp/0140296247

Reading Help: great selections for all ages/links/sources…

Please don’t be “a snob” about your children’s reading choices- think of Captain Underpants (http://www.amazon.com/New-Captain-Underpants-Collection-Books/dp/0439417848) as a chance to have a child enjoy the humour a well written satire will produce, accept the comic novels and graphic stories such as “Dork Diaries” (http://www.dorkdiaries.com/home/ interactive website accompanies the series) and be pleased when you see a child reading independently and comfortably. Readers read*, almost anything and everything, and develop vocabulary, empathy, and thinking skills, while learning to appreciate different points of view; a classic today, such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (http://www.amazon.com/Wuthering-Heights-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486292568/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385496533&sr=1-1&keywords=wuthering+heights) was apparently a “shocker” when first published (1847) and shipped in brown packaging – :)

As promised, today’s feature will be links to other sites where annotated bibliographies allow for less random choosing of books as presents ( it IS Holiday season).  In addition to Amazon, which often offers readers a chance to peep inside with their on line http://www.amazon.ca/Anne-Green-Gables-L-Montgomery/dp/0486283666 click to look inside button – a very good activity to practice as an inside look will quickly show the reader the grammar and vocabulary of the book, and Oprah‘s website where detailed reviews are posted, the following also have proven helpful.   http://www.oprah.com/taglib/index.html?type=bookmark&tag_name=kidsreadinglist&display_name=Kids%20Reading%20List

Oprah’s list is extensive and clear/ separated by age groups: Please remember to try to find out what interests the young person you are selecting for.  For example, someone might be very into a series and even if having read a library copy may wish to have one for personal use. 

 

For younger readers, Indigo provides: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/search/?keywords=younger%20readers , while also offering the following with adult readers in mind:
http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/heathers-picks/ Heather’s picks is an easy go-to source before heading to the store, although I do enjoy browsing a book store and holding a copy while weighing its merit as a gift; reading is a particular habit and not everyone enjoys the same material. In fact, books, like other art forms, vary in appeal…

Ok that’s the basics, then too there are local library lists, such as this one posted on the Toronto Public Library website: http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/books-video-music/books/booklists/teen-reads.jsp with their selection for teens-

I used to ask students to browse the sites and read the descriptions, then compile a list of twenty books they would choose. This allowed me to put together a package based on my budget and the choices on the list. For younger students, the reading of excerpts on line, together with an adult, can be a pleasant reading activity.

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/yrp Lots of good, helpful information here, advice to parents, and a statement I agree with: “The importance of book choice is highlighted, which increases motivation to read”

The following is a book list geared to educators and organized by grade level (American). The list is extensive and comes with a disclaimer in the beginning pages, a reminder that such lists are a “work in progress” – a comment that always reminds me that so are we- as educators, constantly striving to improve…

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/guides/ela/part1b.pdf

*If you have a young student struggling with reading, do not hesitate to select text with visual appeal, and even move into readers geared to the English as a second language learner; the repetition of words and specific vocabulary choices in such readers will help increase fluency as well as offer an opportunity to read a complete passage. Please remember that there is a huge difference between someone “not liking to read” and someone having trouble reading. “Not liking to read” can be a personal choice made by many a bright, capable individual who simply prefers other activities as a means of relaxing, but who has the skills to read as needed- for academics and for other areas of life. “Not being able to read” could indicate other problems; http://www.interdys.org/ International Dyslexia Association which is American based; the Canadian Pediatric Society has devoted a full page to links with articles and advice for new parents and parents in general:

http://www.cps.ca/issues-questions/literacy

Reading for some will rank right up there with any activity – some love music, others dance, still others hockey, football, soccer etc. Don’t forget the motivation that reading about a “hero” could provide.

Thanks for reading …

What might really help?

I remember when the concept of distance education was being discussed in graduate school only from the potential to aid students in rural areas or students who might not otherwise have had access to teachers.  Many an hour was spent debating the merits of this “future form of teaching and learning” and this was only a little over a decade ago.  Today we take for granted the relative simplicity and beauty of communicating over distances thanks to personal technology. But with this growth in on-line learning has developed a new breed of student- the student who will buy a credit without doing the work. Of course, not all students who sign up for distance education plan on cheating, in fact, I think many do not even realize that this is what they are doing in asking a tutor to “just sit beside me and answer the questions when I take the test”.  Or am I still being willfully naive?

     A recent rash of requests to do just that – to either write the paper for a student, or to take the test for a student has made me wonder.  Though not yet an epidemic, is this the future of education?  And I know that there are “tutors” willing to do the full work for the student which says something else about the education system- too many underemployed.   

  Yes competition can be fierce. Today’s student is growing up tech savvy and a student’s discovering ways around a system is not something new.  What to me is new is that adults are often behind the student and encouraging the practice.  When we as tutors share knowledge in such a way that students, regardless of age or background, can feel empowered and able to use the skills and move beyond the basics to create their own set of “personal, practical knowledge”  then as tutors we will have achieved a basic goal of education: to encourage curiosity in others, to facilitate growth.  “Character education”, “problem solving skills” “lessons in empathy”, are the new buzz words and hardly a curriculum can be found that isn’t touting these phrases.  What might really help? Reading skills everyone, comprehension practice, readings from the literature of other countries/ other cultures/ other time periods.  Learning by doing happens when the words on the page have an effect on the reader and affect change.  Change is good – it is a part of growing.  I challenge you to find a classic, modern or traditional, or one of today’s “best sellers”, that doesn’t, in one way or another, through the story, further the development of all three.  Active reading is a wonderful key.

All about Libraries

  Did you know that one of the best places to find material for research projects is in a library?  Yes, because I am writing at my computer and you aren’t sitting right beside me, this becomes a rhetorical question, however, I mean it, literally.  So many students have shared with me the simple fact that “they hardly ever go” to a library anymore, and I know this affects their ability to discern useful material, select valid websites, and focus their writing within a category.  You see, with major search engines doing some of this work for the students,  many rely heavily on quick clicks and popular categories to link to fast homework help;  physically navigating a library takes time.  Getting children comfortable with the space can begin a lifelong appreciation for public spaces; particularly public spaces wherein the individual can find respite, camaraderie, knowledge, and history.

I know with March break looming many families who are not planning on leaving this city will be looking for activities that can be educational and cost efficient.  Do consider a trip to the library, and if you have not yet visited Toronto’s Research Library, located just north of Bloor on Yonge street, what a great time to go.  It is true, you will not be able to borrow books from this particular location, however the grandeur of the space makes the trip a positive experience.  http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?R=LIB018   And if you are not regularly visiting the downtown core, you now have a destination spot from where to continue, while playing tourist.

Another tip I share with students and their families is the Museum and Arts Pass available through various library branches.  This is an amazing deal http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/new_to_canada/2010/02/take-a-break-and-visit-torontos-best-museums-for-free.html   At my local branch the evening these passes are distributed the lineup for the lottery is three persons thick! Check your local branch for dates and times.  http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/museum-arts-passes/conditions.jsp

I love hearing feedback from families who report not only did their younger children enjoy the trip to a library or attend a free feature, but that they as parents, had rekindled their interest in returning.   For junior and senior high school students libraries are great places to do volunteer work.   

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/programs-and-classes/featured/march-break.jsp

One final tip, The Reference Library also has a mini-bookstore, staffed by volunteers.  This message today is a Thank You to the thoughtful volunteers who allowed me to quickly enter the store (they weren’t officially open for the day at that moment) and snag some great finds earlier this week.   I am always on the lookout for material I can share.  And should you have any books (in good condition) that you believe others could use, consider donating them by using the drop box near the store.  A great way to recycle while helping the Library raise funds.

A reminder- it is OK to be on the quieter side

I recently stated that I was “enough of an extrovert to find the energy to share regardless of how tired I was, when students call with questions beyond class time”.  Only recently have I realized what a clue to my own personality I was offering with the use of the word “enough” – it meant I had realized that I wasn’t a bona fide extrovert needing the limelight, however I’m not a shy recluse either.  A new book describes the differences between the shy personality and the introvert, and calls for a reminder to teachers/schools to make space for the introvert when it comes to learning situations.  I was surprised to think that we had in fact begun to ignore this need for private contemplation within a group/classroom setting. 

 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain  suggests that the emphasis on group projects may be currently undervaluing the contributions of the less gregarious in the groups.  Placed beside research done on group dynamics  –  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=all   is the need to demonstrate how to collaborate on a project. 

What I do hear constantly from students  (private tutoring allows for private venting) is how rarely do all contribute equally to what is meant to be a group project; someone inevitably becomes the main researcher/coordinator/ final producer and suggesting that this person has then acquired the most skills is far from satisfactory to an already overworked student.  Why then do teachers continue to promote group project work? There are benefits to learning how to contribute to a project, to valuing being a part of a whole, and to practicing negotiation skills in what ought to be a relatively safe environment, a school setting.  What seems to be needed though is greater involvement on the part of a teacher to help delegate and establish commitment from group project participants.  It is not enough to assign groups and topics and walk away.  Students through grade 12 need the encouragement of the teacher, and educators need to recognize the difference between a student’s organized (grassroots) participatory involvement in extra curricular activities at a school and a teacher organized group project/presentation.   Joining an extra-curricular school based activity means finding a place to share one’s passion; participating in a teacher directed class small-group project means earning marks for work done.   While the “gregarious students” might come through at final presentation time, I have seen the quieter students often doing the majority of the research; an ok balance if both sets of students have been taught to appreciate each other’s contributions, however from what I have heard, this has rarely been the case.

Why do we have special days? today is http://abclifeliteracy.ca/family-literacy-day

http://abclifeliteracy.ca/family-literacy-day

   Moved over winter break and put blogging on hold for a period.  Now settling into a lovely, light filled space and thinking about the objects that make my live/work environment “home”.   The majority of the objects are books- no surprise then that promoting literacy in all its aspects has been dear to my heart. 

  When my children were still toddlers I recall blithely reciting nursery rhymes as we climbed a series of stairs “one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door..”  as automatically as pointing out neighbourhood symbols  (sense of place) and encouraging everyday math in the kitchen “Let’s halve this recipe”.  When one day a stranger interrupted with ” Don’t you ever stop teaching?!”  I laughed it off, and recalling this today know that if teaching truly involves the constant recognition of encouraging thinking, appreciating effort, and recognizing ways to connect real world experiences to in – school learning then, no, I never stop teaching.  In similar fashion I love the spontaneous communications of thoughtfulness my two children offer, and have been known to say, “everyday is Mother’s day”. 

I realise though that there is a feeling of belonging that is generated when Days become official.  Kudos to abc life literacy .ca, and the establishment of a family literacy day.    At their website, posted above, you will find many free downloadable activities to make today, and I hope many future days, one in which “Literacy”  and activities that encourage the higher level thinking skills, enter into regular communication.  And do remember, to all who are fortunate in having a second and third language, keep practicing.  All studies continue to show the benefits of being multilingual. 

 

Why do we care? Literary criticism as required.

      “Books, movies, songs—stories told in any artistic medium can give you an empathy workout. To grow stronger, find stories that are unfamiliar. If you read, watch, or hear only things you know well, you’re looking for validation, not an expansion of empathy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but to achieve high levels of fitness, focus once a week on the story of someone who seems utterly different from you.”
Read more: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Martha-Beck-Have-a-Heart#ixzz1f0bGq49h
 
  We each have our own ways of relaxing.  Now that I spend more time on the computer I take my coffee with a little bit of information- chat on LinkedIn in, browse Oprah on-line, read a blog like Yummy Mummy http://www.yummymummyclub.ca/  or Savvy Mom  http://www.savvymom.ca/( the latter two local, here in Toronto ) before returning to the lessons and focus of My Tutoring Space.  I nearly always find an unexpected gem worth sharing like the quote above.
 
      Empathy. So many times I have heard ‘why do we have to read this’ from students who have found a particular study less than enthralling.  Aside from noting that their regular school teacher assigned the work , I ask students to do the following:
   think why the author may have chosen to write from that particular point of view
    what are we as readers being asked to care about- being made aware of?
   what is it about the writing  style, writer’s diction , setting , characters, plot*   that has made the student dislike the read?     Students are often surprised to realize that the same tools used for a positive critique can be used to discuss why the text was not enjoyed.  And some are even more surprised to uncover something worth liking in the story after all.
 
Criticism becomes a way for students to more fully think about the bigger issues while engaging with details.  As students become more confident recognizing patterns in writing, archetypes in literature, and moving beyond the knee jerk reaction of like/didn’t like, so too their writing in general improves.