Tag Archives: Reading comprehension

Using Visuals to Enhance Writing Skills

 

Eggroll

Sometimes it is the simplicity and the symmetry that draws the eye. When students are asked to create a story, offering a picture prompt plus open brainstorming together will allow students to recognize what is meant when asking for a written “thick” description and students may create a background or plot for?

Who might be coming to dinner? Is it an ordinary occasion? Where is the setting? At home or elsewhere? Could they add a mystery/suspense to their short vignette?

Image, plot, character study, setting, use of adjectives, vocabulary enhancer- all ages/levels, writing skills

Image from La vie et Belle hollymdunning.blogspot.ca spring eggrolls, Vietnam

Not Censored

An adult student shared with me the other day the existence of a website that features racist jokes! Now I am a believer in Freedom of Speech, and the need to not censor material- to put one’s effort instead towards educating people about the difference between funny and mean.  Yet I wished I could shut down such a website – initially I had thought how to interpret the joke- then realized it ought not to be explained.  We live in a world that is increasingly censored- and this too is bad for too much “protection” from the way some people may be raised, the ones who were taught intolerance instead of understanding and who become frightened of the “other” members of society and therefore resort to mean- in the form of jokes, in the form of actual violent actions, in the form of joining groups that encourage violence towards others- in short, bullying on a grand scale- may result in a generation that is unprepared to fight the “bully” either in a formal fashion (voting down any bigot who chose to run for power) or in an informal fashion by declaring such “jokes” not funny.

Yes I too had moments when my children were little when I wished I could simply wrap them up in bubble paper and coat them with some type of protective shield.  And teaching is a strong reminder that thinking and doing are symbiotic, and that we must expose our children to the underside of society as well as to “all things positive” if we are to be raising thinking, feeling, adults who will participate fully in society.  So in spite of truly wishing that such websites as the one mentioned didn’t exist,  I recognize that not only does the promise of “Freedom of Speech” allow for anyone to say anything, I am going to also be aware that when selecting and suggesting books for the YA set, that we look at what the act of censorship has over time restricted- for example why or how a book might have “enraged” a community or an individual enough to request that schools pull it off their shelves, or that libraries not feature a copy.  What was in the story, the writing, the setting? what actions did the characters ask us as readers to consider?

A simple example are the writings of Samuel Clemens- aka Mark Twain.  When one recognizes that Twain was asking readers to see the wrong in racism, and doing so by giving a reader a child’s insight into the adult society of his time*; or that a reading of Wuthering Heights** suggests that education and upbringing might not only challenge the status quo, but also challenges us as readers to consider in what ways social status continues to affect individual actions, then we are giving students a chance to consider for themselves what makes a book a “classic”; what messages resound across both time and space and continue to be questions that people have yet to answer fully.  We may strive for a  Utopian society, and may enjoy along with students the action adventure that went into a series such as  The Hunger Games, while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that today’s world is not the one depicted in the dystopian*** novel.  But how to continue to improve; to encourage the best in others? Reading continues to be a strong means of encouraging dialogue- and through dialogue- real freedom of speech- as in genuine communication, perhaps we are taking one step forward- I continue to hope so.   

*Huckleberry Finn

**Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte- the blurb for the novel states “Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Brontë, was asked to pay some of the publication costs”

For a list of Dystopian literature see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_literature

zombie walks, vampires and voting

Vampires can’t, we can- please do VOTE!

There- that’s my lecture of the moment!

And here are some great links- and one can’t go wrong with adding a little Edgar Allen Poe to the mix.

http://www.poemuseum.org/  The Poe Museum website in Richmond, Virginia has posted some of Poe’s best known tales- great for in class or at home reading and to set the stage for any haunted venture.

Pinterest offers numerous images to get one thinking about scary and fashionable, plus pages dedicated to carving and carved pumpkins; it even has a Pet Halloween page!

Before the cast of True Blood, who knew how to make every Sunday a spectacularly campy vampire and other “not of this world” T.V.  hour – earlier campy shows include The Munsters and the Addams Family; imagine Morticia reciting Poe’s Tell- Tale Heart – even without costumes and decorations- a spooky story ideal for young adolescents –

Halloween may not be for everyone, and certainly many wonder at the morbid front lawn decorations and the emphasis on “trick or treat”, but ghost tales remain a great way to engage students and Spooky science ‘tricks’ are perfect for this time of year.

Here are some links:

http://www.poemuseum.org/works-telltale.php

http://leftbraincraftbrain.com/2014/09/19/25-spooky-science-activities-halloween/     this site has solid explanations for how to craft-

http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=halloween  there were simply too many to pick a favoritethough I do think this cookie monster deserves special mention: courtesy of princesspinkygirl.com

https://i0.wp.com/princesspinkygirl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Cookie-Monster.jpg

YUMM -Good!

Higher level thinking test questions: understanding and teaching

Books, Books, Books.  They were, and still are to be found in my home: magazines, journals, posters too.  Like the internet, books are connected, with ideas referencing backward through time.  For a reader, these connections can be a reason for recognizing the “new” ideas, or the new challenges, and even if one doesn’t enter into the conversation directly, the connections provide understanding and put into context what the author may have had in mind. – Fancy Literary Term: allusions- dictionary definition, simplified, to refer (back) to something else- a pre-internet form of links or “buttons” .  However there is a second implication in the term “allude” and it can be suggesting “implying”.  Students do need to understand both the actual reference in a piece of writing and the implications that a reader may infer, if learners are going to be able to “make sense” of formal Reading Comprehension tests- regardless of if the test is called “Common Core” in the States or E.Q.A.O. in Canada or given any other title in any other country.  Reading Comprehension testing and students scores improve when Poetry is both offered and shared in the learning process.

Why Poetry, and not merely any other form of writing, when poetry or analyzing a poem may only be a small portion of the exam/test itself? It is impossible to teach poetry without getting into or allowing for personal responses, opinions based on the combination of emotional response and the actual words on the page. Poems that “work” do so on many levels, allowing a variety of ages, and readers, to “enter into the imagery”, and be absorbed by the rhythm, before the analysis.  Poems that “work” may also be read from both the literal and the figurative (stance) – demanding a lesson into second readings, a scavenger hunt of sorts for clues within the writing which begins the practical aspect of what many readers do on automatic pilot: read it again. 

Descriptions on tests qualify questions, only a few instruct young learners to offer “proof” from the test reading or their own personal experiences.  The majority of questions aim to demonstrate that students were in fact tested, that the learner knew how to respond to a similar type of question.  And it is a “taken for granted” that as an educator one might be annoyed at the style or implication teaching to the test demands.  Yet I am not, for test taking needn’t be an overwhelming threat to one’s ability to demonstrate knowledge, nor ought it to be a frightening experience.  First the test itself needs to be placed in context,  that learners might see it as a positive challenge- give students a brand new piece of technology and ask them to “figure it out”, or a new game, or a new way of walking to school- each is a challenge- that requires putting together the old way – what one knows, with the new object- what one is trying to make sense of.  If the testing challenges do annoy me at all, it is in their very lack of “higher level” thinking questions;  learners of all ages do want a challenge to be challenge worthy- the prize is so much more satisfying then.