Category Archives: lessons, writing, practical writing help, note taking, grammar, ownership

All About “Titles”

TITLES: we use them all the time, automatically addressing each other by first name or simply adding the title as a courtesy gesture. With Literature analysis I find so many students ignore the title of the piece of writing they have been asked to read and search, sometimes with a hint of desperation, for “clues” to the understanding of a “theme”. An Author’s choice of a Title is not only to grab readers through “curb appeal” (fancy cover, shocking picture- great title…etc.), it will also give insight into some major purpose behind the writing itself.

Take for example the Charles Dicken’s classic, “A Tale of two CIties”; the underlying comparison between the passionate French at the beginning of the French Revolution and the implied cooler British, the Lawyers and the Bankers, with the two principal characters lawyers, and a secondary character, the Banker, a Mr. Lorry, to change a system from within, without heads rolling – literally on the guillotine-

But heads do roll, as the drama unfolds. The Title takes on more meaning when the parallel legal courts try the same man- first in England then in France- for a form of treason, and the concept of identity and how it is imposed comes to the fore. With the very famous closing lines, Dickens as narrator gives to the concept of “Cities” further meaning- the city before the Revolution and the city that “hero” Carton envisions will rise up once the change is complete. Equally important is the change of name – three times for a main character, and with each name change though same person, a different obligation imposed. Titles – how someone or something is “called” – but I will save the multiple meanings in the use of the word “Calling” for another time.

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Best wishes

January 2013!

 

   Yes, I have heard that there are people who find the number 13 scary- but I love the idea of the century moving into its teens- having worked with students through the middle years and been privy to the wonderful changes that occur as childhood becomes youth and movement towards independence grows – I have seen the maturing that the teen years do bring.  Also the experimenting and the challenging, that we as adults come to recognize as part of this growing.

 

In my cultural background, 13 is a lucky number.  It is a recognized time for children to begin the formal understanding of adult community and when many ceremonies publicly enhance this recognition.  Perhaps on a global level, throughout this year, 2013, we adults can extend our understanding of how little we truly know, and encourage the youths around us to continue to strive for greater knowledge, to remain curious, to not be afraid to challenge “accepted” wisdoms and to respect themselves and their dreams – especially necessary as it is a “tough world out there” and being able to – here I will defer to a well-respected former public figure for a quote: “ Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway” (Eleanor Roosevelt) can often be one of the more difficult things to accomplish.

 

  Simple wishes then for the 2013 Academic Year:  for everyone to keep growing. 

 

As always,

 

   Best regards.

 

          Alison (Ali the English Tutor)

 

 

Repetition and Drill: why they are still necessary tools for learning

Ever heard a young child sing the ABCs or blithely recite a nursery rhyme, or a set of multiplication tables? The child owns that knowledge, often way before knowing much more than the sounds.   And adults encourage this repetition, what ever the language in the home.  Whether at home or in a daycare setting, many pre-school activities involve this working toward mastery, from the initial push-ups a child will do to strengthen his/her arms before one day taking off in a crawl to the running back to climb up the slide – then, yet again, coasting to the bottom.  And young children enjoy hearing a story over and over again until they too have memorized and are able to “read”  it on their own.

Somewhere though, between 1st grade and graduation the possibility of “winging it” takes over and this is when the school assigned writing exercises become an activity that some students dread. True, writing can be a slow process, due to the need for reviewing and revising.  But not everything needs to be redone.  In fact, some of the most difficult writing exercises involve a form of automatic writing; most tests require this quick and clear response to some type of prompt.  

How then, to be quick and clear? No getting around it- repetition and drill of basic skills for which there are so many templates that students need not even be aware they are repeating the same exercise, although in a slightly different form.

http://prek-8.com/english/writing/index.php   a great resource – free and downloadable for classrooms or those being home schooled. 

 

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.