Tag Archives: children’s reading choices

Summer and active Learning

It is summer and as an advocate of library summer reading clubs and healthy relaxation activities – camps, stay at home vacations, family visits, road trips you name it…I am fully encouraging all to let the children self select the books, comics, graphic novels that they wish to read through;  I do however maintain that reading for pleasure is not for everyone- and this is ok.  It doesn’t change the fact that as an educator I will be encouraging students to understand how to read for facts- a skill they will require throughout their lives.  Reading for “fun” is liking doing anything for “fun”; each of us has some things we prefer to do over other things.  I am one who reminds parents that indeed not all will relax with a novel- or a movie, or a pair of skates, or a bike ride etc. As an educator with a focus on reading and writing, my goal is first not to scare anyone away from learning in general, then to encourage my students to grow in whichever aspect suits them best…

Active learning implies engagement on the part of the participant- which is one of the reasons we have a resurgence of formal endorsements to encourage everyone to “play.”  For some, reading is a form of play, when the novel allows the reader to imagine different situations and to become concerned about the characters in the story.  And this magical transference between author and reader is an activity which takes place inside the brain and which later translates into emotions, some more clearly understood than others.  But just as the body requires strength to do certain physical activities the leaps we ask the brain to perform when concentrating on mental or cognitive actions are also exercises, strengthening a particular type of focus.

Currently in Toronto, are the PAN AM games which will be followed by the PARAPAN  AM GAMES – when practiced athletes from the American hemisphere convene and demonstrate their courage and ability to perform live at an exercise they have not only honed through continuous practice but which many have simply felt they “had to do.”  Readers and writers can be like this too- needing to read more, needing to write more- and in time, needing to share more.  Our role as educators is to encourage our learners to take chances, within safe environments to stretch a little further, try something a little more challenging, and to help them, the learners “discover” who they might be and what they want to learn more of.  Having written this I realize that many are still hoping that school will be the place where all skills develop- even in 2015 where we as a society have begun to recognize how very much learning can and does take place in non-school environments.

Consider the multiple ways your child engages with life, and add a little reading to this package, then the reading to learn can become real when the child needs to inquire and recognizes some ( not all ) answers may be available through written ( or diagrammed, or graphed or illustrated…) sources.  Imagine though learning how to skip a rope via diagrams- or to play the drums, or to swim…and allow for the hands-on experiences which provide balance to the cognitive action.

Reading and the concept of literacy has expanded to encompass the multiple ways we do engage with the world around us- Enjoy the summer!

Best practice may entail “best fit”

NEWS FLASH!  This just in:  “one size doesn’t fit all in education!”  and science is here to prove this!  Imagine that!

Yes I am being a little off the cuff and facetious when in fact am grateful that neuroscience has made advances to remind all of us that the brain can be plastic; however, the idea that many would benefit from direct individualized instruction is hardly a novel concept.

So, to extend the metaphor for a moment:

Shoes- those wonderful objects that today come in all shapes and types and sizes to protect our feet, offer comfort, and in general aid us in walking, climbing, marching or dancing through our day- well we have a metaphor for these very objects- a parable in fact- suggesting that one should “walk a mile in another’s shoes” before issuing any type of judgement.  But- how many people attempt this?  In short we rarely expect to be able to interchange shoes as readily as we might other outer garments- t-shirts and sweaters for example.  We know our feet make a particular impression, molding the footwear to our shape/walking in another’s shoes remains an ideal as does finding the “perfect” general curriculum; and, students of all ages from Kindergarten through Post Secondary continue to try on various courses, various possible roles, as they navigate a school system that while declaring a goal of personalized growth and development must, by its very nature as an institution- the system of schooling itself must restrict that very necessary trying on because the system has to offer a general set of practical courses.  If students are to make headway, they are sometimes squeezed into a pair that is a little too tight, or given last year’s style and expected to “make do” or suddenly told that what ever they had been wearing -oops- learning now needed to be unlearned to accommodate new directives; and, thankfully, most students do have the brain power to accept these restrictions and to, even while they continue to expand their personal collection of what might fit, continue to challenge themselves through trying on various shapes and styles.

And then there are those who might require a special shoe maker.  Shoes tailored for a particular need, a specific learning requirement.  Just as a custom order takes both time and proper skills to design, develop and produce; individualized instruction requires more than simply stating it will be one-one.  Smaller class sizes do not automatically entail better instruction- the instructor entails better instruction.

This blog entry was sparked by reading a “new” article on better ways to develop “successful, confident readers” and I was startled to discover that once again “Science” was being called upon to support the obvious and that these – as stated above- genuinely remarkable insights into how the brain works were now being touted as buzz words.

Communication is multi- faceted: personal, impersonal, direct, oblique, concrete, abstract, oral, written, spoken and read.  When teaching reading and writing skills it is necessary not merely expected that all these variants on how we share feelings and ideas, recognizing as well that tone and attitude, rhythm and rhyme, picture and graph, movement and stasis be highlighted.  Then the skills, slowly or quickly as the learner requires, need to be established through practice.  All of the above require time.  Education: personalized.

this blog post appears first here on Together Academics where private specialized instruction is created and tailored to the needs of the learner -it may be referenced by special request

Brainstorming 101 :)

“whoosh” I hear a sound- a lovely children’s book first reader*, not the sound of your brain exploding at the thought of writing an essay- though we do say “brainstorm” for a reason.

The more ideas you put down on the paper (or type into the computer) the better chance you have to clearly focus an essay.  And focus is key to composing a clear thesis.

Whether you prefer a Tbar or a mind map or a series of doodles, please remember we can’t comment on a blank page, and as students, one learns from the teacher’s comments.  So please do get something onto the paper– and then begin: 1) do I need to research this? 2) is it in keeping with the class assignment? 3) can I find enough information from in-class readings to support my points? 4) why am I interested in this topic? and 5) write as much as possible for a few minutes without researching to determine if you do have points to make- these free style paragraphs later offer insight into where you thought you were headed with the essay and help you when you need to respond to exam questions or formal tests- writing is an action and in the doing, fear about “making a mistake” can be alleviated – simply seeing the words on the page may help one to begin the process of eliminating extraneous material and zeroing in on that important focus which will establish the essay topic.

So… please let the sounds appear in print; clear the brain by depositing the words onto a page, and recognize that revisions, organizational structure (read- outline) and basic housekeeping (grammar, punctuation, citing sources etc.) are Step 3- they come later- more about Step 2 in tomorrow’s entry.  

*http://www.annickpress.com/Woosh-I-Hear-a-Sound-Annikin-Edition

an all time favorite if you have a little one

Yesterday, at the library…

or why I still love Ghostbusters the original movie.   There are simply some spots which on the surface suggest stuffy or sterile yet enter and-

do the 4:00 p.m. hustle.  Hardly a seat vacant on a Tuesday evening- my local library was booming, and representative of the multinational cultures in this city could be seen people of various backgrounds congregating in a single spot; children/seniors/nannies/parents/elementary through post secondary students/tutors/ readers/writers/ moving, shuffling, whispering and laughing- and at the odd table a little bit of pontificating too! Plus now that the regulations have changed, chomping and slurping and being careful to avoid spilling; the books, newspapers, and magazines placed just out of harm from the liquids-patrons being careful to value the space and its contents.

I sat and listened enjoying the hum; Libraries to me epitomizing the concept of “Democracy” – a public reminder that a community cares about learning, growing and changing,  this location reflecting both ties to its past and the upgrades any institution requires to continue to be relevant.  I remembered a post graduate course in which we as students were encouraged to “eavesdrop” and then to write a mini story  -the difference becoming real between actual participant observation and creative fiction  (what we produced was “fiction” not ethnography).  Actual participant observation involves the “other” ; rather than suggesting meaning, it questions meaning, and encourages communication; a give and take to produce a shared respectful evaluation of a process.  And I realized it was just this shared evaluation which I had been listening for, but unfortunately still discovered to be lacking.

I put the word “together’ in my company’s mandate before the word itself had become the latest buzzword; years of training, rigor and thought provoking examples of good teaching coming together to be expressed in the concise, yet boundless way a lesson will both contain a single purpose while opening the mind to entertain further ideas.  Good books do this- taking us out of ourselves for an instant, allowing us to enter into another’s space; strong readers know this and read for the combination of entertainment and lessons being shared which the novelist has offered.  When we “teach” reading skills we must ( me- offering a prescriptive!) – yes must remember how we as readers automatically make comparisons; almost instinctively comparing a new text to one read before, a character or plot problem to another story, a joke to a similar situation; it is the combination of novel and expected that we are searching for- the familiarity of a parallel universe- the one inside the story; the one inside our heads.  And we must (that word again!) recognize that the students we are working with may not have either the same experiences or any referents at all-

I began this blog entry with a mention of a movie- part of popular culture? perhaps…but I could wager and probably win a bet that not everyone has seen Ghostbusters the original, or would automatically recall the inside the library scene of books floating … do watch the whole movie – it may be hard for you afterwards to consider a library as a “static” space!

Experiential knowledge and Story time

Thinking of Reading Strategies and what might work best for each age group when found myself circling back to the simple concept of “story”.  We tell a story; we share a story; we read a story; and we critique a movie if the story within it lacked “substance” or simply asked us as viewers to work “too hard” to follow a plot and grow with the characters.  And readers of all ages too want to identify somehow with the characters- to be taken on a Roller Coaster Ride, perhaps, to be given a slow and steady walk from beginning to end- maybe; Readers “know” if a book appeals, even before we teach students how to formally analyze plot and character development and where to look for symbols and themes.

Had the pleasure yesterday evening of being reminded of this when a student became enthusiastic about the social issues within To Kill a Mockingbird– a modern “classic”, filled with so many nuances and options for discussion that I had to marvel anew how the book had actually been taken off of some reading lists.   The characters in this story have become near stereotypes, representing segments of society to be either admired or feared.  Racism, social conscience, economic differences within society, justice- a justice system for all?, children versus adults and understanding of “big” issues, social norms and social responsibility, individual versus society- the list of discussion topics goes on.  And though Harper Lee’s book is not the only one to call attention to the discrepancy between the way the world ought to be and the way the world often- in fact-is, this text may either make a reader grateful that it is now 2014- and issues depicted belong to the last century, or sad, that it is now 2014, and issues depicted may still be prevalent, in spite of many reasons to believe that by now, “everyone”  should know better.

Story then is what keeps a reader’s attention; the young child laughing as Mortimer climbs up the stairs “thump, thump, thump, thump”, the older child learning Greek Myths along with following Percy on his adventures, the high school student reacting to a character in The Help, or marveling at the formality within Pride and Prejudice, is absorbing how others- writers- have seen their society, and chosen to encapsulate in written form aspects of social interaction, some comedic, some tragic, some simply “as is”, that we, readers, might gain a little bit of insight and also question what we take for granted- how we interact with others; how others interact with us.

Story, oral and written, keeps us engaged. Young students require help in building vocabulary that will later be used to decipher the stories they are expected to read and make sense of through their academic years. One of our bigger tasks then is how to encourage vocabulary building, vocabulary usage, vocabulary extensions. And this task begins in preschool, where we sing songs, use movement and gesture to get at emotion, encourage play acting of various characters, and in general start the foundation for literacy acquisition. In doing so we are also encouraging the beginning of empathic relating, the ability to care about another and to feel that the other’s experience matters. Stories help us to move across artificial and real boundaries, boundaries of time and space, boundaries of religion and race, boundaries of culture and country. And while I am one who finds reading can actually transport a reader from the here and now into the story itself, I work with struggling readers daily. So I look for as many variations of story as possible, to cultivate an ability to encourage the reader to move beyond his or her own stereotype- a label possibly imposed by an academic institution- and to read first for pleasure in the story, then to evaluate the story; to read at a level that allows for absorbing the big picture within the tale, and to connect that image with what the student already has experienced. And regardless of age, to allow for the recap- the retelling of the story, the part when the student is able to say “I did this” (meaning I did the reading) for while retelling may not be the same action as summarizing or analyzing, retelling offers a strong practical reward- the student hearing his or her own voice while sharing ideas.  Isn’t this a central goal of a writing conference?

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…

Click to access 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 …