Category Archives: games, thinking, writing, students, knowledge,learning

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. 
   

How to do everything

Well I don’t know about you but I can’t do everything, and I have realized this.  I have also learned how to select and share knowledge about other people’s expertise (quoting material in an essay) and, as is the case below, to select wonderful resources.  I have cataloged and organized the following websites by approximate age appeal.  I work with students from a variety of backgrounds – some sites are valid for all ages, others a little more age/grade specific. And indeed I am even featuring Oprah!   In fact I am going to start with her very thoroughly annotated book lists:

http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Books-for-Girls-Kids-Reading-List

http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/Books-for-Boys-Kids-Reading-List

the following is listed as “Book Club” and features modern classics and well as the tried and true-  certainly the list is not limited to the adults as many a teen will be drawn to some of the stories.    Vocabulary building is the added bonus that comes with Reading, and a stronger vocabulary will translate to clearer Writing.

 TEEN AND ADULT:   http://www.oprah.com/packages/oprahs-book-club-selections.html

Now to other websites :

the following are for younger students: 

http://robertmunsch.com/books/

http://www.wordcentral.com/

http://www.wordcentral.com/games.html

http://www.uclick.com/client/mwb/tmjkf/

http://www.dictationsonline.com/

http://www.efl.net/caol.htm

http://www.efl.net/audioproject.htm

For Adult Learners:

http://www.betterenglish.org.ph/Pronunciation/Listening.htm    

 http://www.esl-lounge.com/student/reading-intermediate.php

Oxford University press is geared to teachers but adult learners applying for a job can get practice vocabulary here:

     http://elt-marketing.oup.com/oup_elt/wordlink/pdfs/owl_lesson1_jan10.pd

College age: actually, Readers of all ages  can find something to enjoy here….

http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/title/titles.html     A-Z books on Line – all ages – you won’t need a kindle just the computer

also Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org    thousands of titles downloaded and free to read on line

gutenberg.ca/

Archive of free ebooks of works that are in the public domain in Canada, focusing on Canadian writers and topics

Grammar: http://classroom.jc-schools.net/basic/la-grammar.html

and finally with thanks to University of Toronto, the following, regarding essay writing, below:  I can’t say this often enough:

Some Myths about Thesis Statements

  • Every paper requires one. Assignments that ask you to write personal responses or to explore a subject don’t want you to seem to pre-judge the issues. Essays of literary interpretation often want you to be aware of many effects rather than seeming to box yourself into one view of the text.
  • A thesis statement must come at the end of the first paragraph. This is a natural position for a statement of focus, but it’s not the only one. Some theses can be stated in the opening sentences of an essay; others need a paragraph or two of introduction; others can’t be fully formulated until the end.
  • A thesis statement must be one sentence in length, no matter how many clauses it contains. Clear writing is more important than rules like these. Use two or three sentences if you need them. A complex argument may require a whole tightly-knit paragraph to make its initial statement of position.
  • You can’t start writing an essay until you have a perfect thesis statement. It may be advisable to draft a hypothesis or tentative thesis statement near the start of a big project, but changing and refining a thesis is a main task of thinking your way through your ideas as you write a paper. And some essay projects need to explore the question in depth without being locked in before they can provide even a tentative answer.
  • A thesis statement must give three points of support. It should indicate that the essay will explain and give evidence for its assertion, but points don’t need to come in any specific number.

IMPORTANT – Respect your classroom teacher’s wishes and follow the guidelines offered at your home school.  When you work with me, I offer enrichment, a chance to try new skills and improve.

As always, best regards,

from Alison (Ali the English Tutor)


Connotations and Denotations cont…

Teacher, trainer, tutor, coach, connotations and denotations and why the thesaurus can be both helpful and confusing.  Dictionary definitions help one understand the basic meaning of a read, but reading and gaining insight into how others have chosen to use a word whether in poetry or prose is the key to truly building a vocabulary-What then for the non reader?

I looked up the word “educate” on line, and discovered that in addition to the basic dictionary definition over twenty additional usages popped up.

A few examples:

  • (educate) teach or refine to be discriminative in taste or judgment; “Cultivate your musical taste”; “Train your taste buds”; “She is well schooled in poetry”
  • Education in the largest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. ..
  • To instruct or train
    • Facts, skills and ideas that have been learned, either formally or informally

knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.

then I turned to a Thesaurus and found: teacher, trainer, tutor, coach, professor, instructor, leader, and educator…

I know that each of these terms suggests a particular role in society; I know too, that often the roles overlap and blur.  However when a student encounters a term (not necessarily the sample words above) in a surprising context, it becomes necessary to ask WHY the author may have chosen to use the word.  What is the purpose within the connotation? Strong Readers become aware of the various meanings words may have and can transfer information from one situation to another, picking up on the nuance and subtle meanings.  For the non- reader though, each new position that a word can be found in, may become problematic.  When teaching fluency and reading comprehension the first key is to move beyond the word and attempt to find a “big picture” meaning in a paragraph or passage. The second key is to note how writers generally explain their ideas in more than one fashion within a section.  I also encourage reader response journals.  For in the writing and quoting from a passage, students are also committing to memory a new idea. 

 

Two weeks into this school year…

But who is counting? Well, I am…

That first week for many is so confusing and I always enjoy recognizing when a return to routine and a little  bit of order appears to have entered; students grow visibly calmer- and their parents- sometimes the relief is tangible.

Both a mom and an educator I am privy to the early morning hustle, the rush out the door with that wonderful mix of hope and determination that students can exude.   And thankfully, I am occasionally at home at just the right time to listen to what did transpire during their day.  Only occasionally though, for as a tutor, my time in the early evenings may be spoken for and occupied with students.  I have learned the real meaning of quality time, and how to stay put as one or the other child opens up and shares knowledge of who he or she is becoming.

Third Year University and Grade Twelve- amazing- and they look at me and ask me if I feel old…Older I say, and realize yet again, that the best part about being an educator is being curious to learn more about almost everything, and to have students who are willing to share ideas that may be very different from mine and therefore definitely worth discussing.

Today was my birthday- how exciting to look forward to the rest of the year.

I do not like my computer right now-

I confess: I find some activities super energizing and others just plain tiresome.  I am constantly trying to “love” learning more about the inner workings of this machine, but know I am not going to become a “techie” any day soon.  In fact, I constantly amaze myself by how much more there is to learn before I will be able to claim to be treating this computer as much more than a glorified typewriter.

What then does keep me slogging away at the keyboard and attempting understanding of computer codes?  An irritating inability to quit and admit defeat.  I want to understand the computer with the same ease and fluency that many of my students exhibit.  Earlier today, my painstaking gathering of email addresses in alphabetical order so that I could issue a (new for me) marketing blurb was something that another, more skilled user, might have accomplished in under 1/2 an hour- and I didn’t feel that marvellous once the deed was done.  Yet creating the brochure had been a lot of fun, and the follow up of sending it forth ought to have elicited, if nothing else, a sense of relief. Done, and done…

The tedium then must be the result of my recognizing that little technique had been exhibited in the actual sending of the mail, just painstaking repetition, and as often happens when I think about learning, I began to wonder how to make the experience not only more enjoyable for myself, but also how to remember that feeling; how to best understand the efforts many students offer- efforts that suggest the students remain confused about where and how to improve their written submissions, just as I remain puzzled over what button I could have pressed to speed up this afternoon’s process.

This machine has “a lot of potential”.  We describe students the same way, and a report might suggest “Bobby is/is not working to ‘potential’”.  But what is potential?  And how annoying to offer that remark on a report without more clearly defining goals and steps that could be taken to achieve them.  As I prepare for the upcoming school year and excitedly look forward to reconnecting with students and their families and hearing from others who are in new situations, I have decided to challenge the whole notion of “potential” and replace the term with others I find more satisfactory: acquiring, achieving, absorbing, demonstrating, focusing on, and uh hmmm, and learning.  And should I see that “Bobby” is finding something tiresome, I will remember what it feels like to struggle with an unknowable task – and change direction.  Learning through doing? Certainly.  But also learning with understanding. Nike may have a point with their “just do it” slogan, but it is also about doing it right.

On the need to clarify –

On the need to clarify-

I keep this page amongst other pages in a simple file folder for students and parents of students to read.

I do not know who to attribute the original work to- any ideas? thank you as always, best regards,

Please right-click on the reading to enlarge – can you relate?

What’s important?

What’s important? Students (regardless of age) ask this question all the time. Along with, “why do we have to read this?” and “what difference does it make?” And I really want to answer – YOU- You are what’s important. And somehow I have to make you see this, and believe that learning involves relating to the material from a personal perspective, not merely what I or others might say about the work.

We spend so much time in formal classroom situations reminding students to take notes, prepare for tests and quizzes, and to accept marks as the basis for evaluating learning. I wonder though if enough time is actually spent on questioning why some students tune out and choose NOT to demonstrate knowledge. Teaching privately has given me the opportunity to listen when a student “simply doesn’t relate” to a reading that is on their school’s curriculum, Often this is because the reading has been offered as a stand- alone, and not integrated into a whole with other parts of the program. Yet many of the texts do require context to be fully understood. I think often of an experience I had when interning at the New -York Historical Society.

A teacher brought her inner city class to the museum and upon meeting me (then a docent ready to conduct a program) declared loudly ” I hope you can do something with these dullards!” and promptly disappeared for coffee. Fortunately this teacher was an extreme case- most teachers appreciated the out of classroom experience and the chance to broaden not only the students’ but also their own perspective. That teacher though, had made it clear to all in the vicinity that she placed little value on the field trip and even less value on her students’ feelings. Yet the arts, and the study of the humanities, deal precisely with feelings and the opportunity to encourage empathy. The affective stance is important not only for creative growth, but also to build bridges between communities and encourage understanding of different view points. That particular teacher chose not to be involved- ok- but labelling her students “dullards” had been the real shocker. For the record, they were a pleasure to work with. I was able to have them make connections for me and suggest why the exhibit might be relevant to ANYTHING they had been learning in class to that date. And by getting the students involved they taught me about their school and I came to realize that the teacher hadn’t wanted the field trip- a parent had donated the excursion as a “gift” to the class. It may have been that enforced action that had irritated that teacher so strongly; in similar fashion students can reject being told that a text has value.

A caveat: not everyone will find books relaxing or a way to indulge in a mini-escape. Not everyone will become “a reader”. But everyone can be encouraged to question an author’s purpose, to actively listen to the author’s point of view and to present an opinion in a clear, informed manner. This is what academic writing insists upon.

fingerprints

Almost every article that I have read lately states we are supposed to be “authentic” and these readings have left me confused…are the writers suggesting that “authentic ” is a NEW concept? I tell students that as they find their voice their writing will become like a fingerprint, suggestive of who they are and what they are comfortable speaking up for.  But until they find that voice they must try on many styles, and have fun playing devil’s advocate- debating a concept on the side they might disagree with, challenging themselves to think through the opposite set of arguments and come up with support, practice writing from different perspectives, and try reading aloud, hearing the sounds of the words and listening for patterns as they speak – one of the best forms of proof reading.  Mostly though, I want each and every student to know their opinion is valued- but please, go back to the source and find the support in the reading, the research, the notes, and use the sources to back up the opinion- practice- and the writing is bound to improve.

SHARING OPPORTUNITY!

OPPORTUNITY

by: Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

THIS I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:–

There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;

And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged

A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords

Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince’s banner

Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.

A craven hung along the battle’s edge,

And thought, “Had I a sword of keener steel–

That blue blade that the king’s son bears, — but this

Blunt thing–!” he snapped and flung it from his hand,

And lowering crept away and left the field.

Then came the king’s son, wounded, sore bestead,

And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,

Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,

And ran and snatched it, and with battle shout

Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,

And saved a great cause that heroic day.

“Opportunity” is reprinted from The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1915.

 

 

Musings on Power

Got up and took a hot shower this morning and gave thanks for small blessings-

Did everyone enjoy the recent long weekend?  We, my children and I, spent the time from June 30 through July 4 without electricity due to a fault in the power line.  Amazing what we take for granted like the use of a stove, fridge, tv, internet, washing machine, dryer, phone numbers on phone, light in the evening and early morning, and yes, that wonderful hot water.  My kids being younger and imbued with the spirit of adventure took cold showers for the first two days, then accepted a neighbour’s generous offer and showered next door.  And we camped in the city filling a large picnic hamper with ice to chill small items like milk and cheese, and discovered a new use for tea lights when I placed twenty tea lights in a cake pan and by lighting all made a hot plate that really did slowly warm items. We even experimented with a bar-b-que kit purchased at a Shoppers’ drug mart for just over $6.00!  But I won’t even pretend that it was fun.

Now though, when I think of power and what it means to flick a switch and have something/anything turn on, I know the beauty of peace- it works.  I can imagine how ridiculous I must have sounded to the phone operator when calling our energy company to say that our air conditioning unit was controlling our home! It was! The air conditioning unit had somehow become the home’s main power switch and the only way to keep the power running was to continuously turn down the thermostat- at 14 degrees were freezing; I called the company to send out a technician and he put in writing that he had never experienced anything like this before.  Hmm- but didn’t know what to do.  Enter a real electrician and four and 1/2 hours in the hot sun later and a rewired meter box- but- this being the long weekend no hydro inspectors were available to connect the newly wired box to the main line.  And so we waited, giving me plenty of time to contemplate the word “power” and all that it suggests.

We as teachers do have a form of power- and like any type of power this must be handled carefully.   As I work with summer students and prepare for the new school term I am extremely aware of the expectations students have and the pressures they encounter. Like my current home’s formerly blocked power system, (now in working order) often a student will benefit from having the pressure turned down to low to allow for new ideas to circulate.  Sometimes the student may benefit the most when learning is begun anew, with a focus on the here and now, and fresh connections being formed – so that a student may experience his/her own power surge through mastery and control of the process.  A flick of the switch? No- but well timed intervention to encourage growth and renewal.