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Read Like You Mean It

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Consistently Contradictory

Reblogged from Angelo State University’s Navigating Higher Ed blog:

Back when I was young and still played sports, a baseball coach told us our goal each day was to “practice like we mean it.” The idea, and it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, is that championships might be won on the playing field but winning foundations are built in the weight room and at practice every day.

I’ve often thought we would be well-served to apply some athletic principles to academic activities.

Of course, it’s possible I just want to blow a whistle really loud during class and wear shorts to work.

The reality, though, is that hard work and intentionality transcend the activity in which you are engaged. There aren’t many jobs or hobbies where being lazy and haphazard helps you gain mastery. You might be the best athlete on the field or the smartest student in…

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Maker Movement in Classrooms?

First, I’d like to thank My School of Thought for posting such an excellent article on The Maker Movement. As a tutor and “maker” myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled by the take-off of this movement and am very hopeful for the future of our classrooms knowing that more and more teachers are beginning to incorporate more opportunities for students to build, explore, and engage with the materials they’re learning in new ways.

Just take Allen High School’s Blu Bistro, for example. When I was a student of AHS (I can’t believe how many years ago now that was!), cooking classes were basically nonexistent, but were in the works as a possible future extracurricular option for students. And now? Now AHS’ student chefs are not only serving restaurant-quality food of their own making to Allen community residents, but they’re also competing in kitchens across the state of Texas (in both cooking and restaurant management) including in the 2013 Texas Pro-Start Invitational state finals wherein dishes were judged by “members of the Texas Restaurant Association and chefs from culinary schools such as Le Cordon Bleu and The Culinary Institute of America” (Wendy Gragg, Waco Trib). These students are learning to be Makers of a different kind than the Engineering students we’ve started hearing so much about, but they’re Makers just the same. It’s in the art of being a producer that students can often start finding new interests and motivations for themselves to learn and become more active consumers.

As Dale Dougherty, editor of Make Magazine, explains in My School of Thought’s post, “…I want people to see themselves as producers, not just consumers. I’d like to see it become a capability that we use in home life and at work and that we’re proud of it, where we see ourselves as having these powers to do stuff.” I couldn’t agree more. Being a consumer, while fun, challenging, and interesting in its own right, is often today conflated with being more passive whereas being a producer seems to naturally mean being more active and invested in the product itself. But this does not always have to be the case. Rather, by encouraging children and friends to be more active producers, we can help them and ourselves become more active consumers as well.

We often see this in English courses where some students can have trouble getting interested in assigned readings yet leap at the opportunity presented by a creative writing project. Why is this? It isn’t because students are inherently lazy or come out of the womb not enjoying to read or don’t understand the connection between writing and reading — loving reading, loving science, loving learning (loving being a consumer of knowledge) are all things that must be taught and demonstrated for children from an early age. How can you be a creative writer without also learning to love and actively engage in the process of reading — in the process of consuming written materials? How can you be a builder without also learning to love and actively consume the necessary mathematics and scientific principles?

The answer is simply that you cannot — but you can sometimes begin as a producer and so work your way into becoming a more active consumer.

These two identities, these two ways of learning — producing and consuming — feed into each other in a natural cycle. So who’s to say that you need to have one first before the other can follow? Why not let kids try their hand at building or writing or cooking something before they’ve learned all the elemental pieces? — It might just be the kick-in-the-pants they need to start asking questions, to realize what might be out there for them to learn from the cookbooks, mathematicians, and libraries. And the best part is, if the students are the ones asking and seeking answers to their own questions, then they’re also learning to consume knowledge within a useful context and in a more active manner; they’re learning to consume and apply knowledge for a purpose, rather than simply memorizing facts because a school or standardized test demanded it (which can often lead to those facts seeming disjointed and useless). Learning information for a purpose or as part of a larger narrative of questions and exploration can often be key to that information being retained and applied in new ways. Our children learn from us — their mentors, parents, and teachers — what it means to have fun in one’s leisure time. If we spend all of our leisure time watching TV, then that’s what they, our children, will associate with down-time rather than more active and mind-engaging activities like reading, building, writing, or exploring.

And this is why we can’t leave the Maker Movement up solely to our schools and teachers. If we want our children to be more enthusiastic creators and more active consumers, then we must model this behavior for them and become more active and interested ourselves. This can be as simple as swapping out a night of television for a night of reading or puzzle-piecing or fort-building or creative writing or cooking or gardening or scavenger-hunting.

It can be as easy as learning to have fun with each other again.

Summer Reading – Keep Reading Fun!

Unfortunately for many students, summer reading often sounds boring. Similarly, for many parents, it can sound like a distant dream—something they wish they had time for but believe they no longer do. The truth, though, is simply that we’ve stopped trying to teach our kids that reading can, in fact, be fun, and that we’ve simply stopped trying to make time for reading for ourselves. Reading isn’t something that just spontaneously happens; you have to make a choice. Do I watch this TV show or pick up a book/magazine/article/newspaper? And it’s high time we started thinking more about just these kinds of everyday choices and opportunities, because it’s you and your example that your kids will look to in order to learn what relaxation, fun, and learning can look like.

Tips for making Summer Reading happen:

• Set aside blocks of time each day for reading, such as a half hour in the morning with breakfast and a half hour at night before bed, and turn off all electronics during this time to reinforce the effort (yes, that means cellphones too).

• Pick out a variety of reading materials to choose from and have handy for each month—try a new novel, a new book of short stories, of poetry, and try a new magazine (Orion, The New Yorker, Harper’s—all of these and many like them are filled with long-form journalism, short fiction, book reviews, and often poetry as well). Having a variety of materials available in different genres and styles will help you to keep moving in case you find yourself bored or dissatisfied with your initial reading choice.

• Make sure that you set aside some reading times where you can be surrounded by other readers. This can often help motivate everyone involved to keep reading past any initial feelings of itchiness or wanting to give up. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share and discuss what they’re reading with each other. Discussing works as you read them can both help you to better retain the information you read as well as help make reading more fun and meaningful for all.

•If you pick up a novel, establish a set number of pages you must read before deciding to continue or give up on the text. After all, sometimes it takes a chapter or two before the plot and characters have a chance to whisk you away. (I’d recommend making 75-100 pages as your benchmark.)

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• Challenge yourself and your reading friends (whether they be friends or family) to step outside of comfort zones—try reading things that seem “too hard”; try exploring a new genre; try an author you’ve never heard of; try reading from a female author if you typically read books by male authors (and vice versa); and so forth

• Set up a Book Club with your friends and use it as a means of not only upping your game as a reader but also as a friend, educator, and host

• Get out and read somewhere unexpected! Reading doesn’t just have to be a home-bound activity. Go out and read in a coffee shop, library, restaurant, or park area. If you have a front stoop or porch, read out there and wave to your neighbors as they stroll by. If you haven’t been out on a date with your loved one in a while, why not propose a reading date to your favorite local hang-out or bar? Just you, your partner, a couple of books, desserts, coffee, and a lot of fascinating, engaged discussion–sounds like summertime to me!

 

Reading isn’t something to be afraid of, intimidated by, or to feel guilty about. Reading is a way to exercise your mind, give yourself a break, and reconnect with friends, family, self, and the world.

Using Summertime Wisely (Without Spoiling All the Fun)

Around April and May, people often start talking about summer “brain drain” and learning loss, losses that can be as great as—at least the popular measure tends to be—2 to 3 months of school-learning. However, this isn’t something that students are powerless to prevent, change, or reverse. We’ve all experienced it for ourselves before, whether there was that one summer that seemed to simply disappear without ever having existed at all or that summer where mishap after mishap seemed to just keep tugging away at our every best intention to read, learn a new language, and so forth and so forth.

For many, summer “brain drain” can also be exacerbated by tough financial and domestic circumstances. According to some recent research conducted by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander, losses in academic achievement due to a lack of summer learning “often breaks down along social lines.” More specifically, this “summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in likelihood of pursuing a college preparatory path in high school.”

ImageBut summer learning loss doesn’t only impact students—it also carries consequences for their teachers and their peers. Regardless of what many teachers try to do during the April/May school months, they’ll often find themselves wasting time in August/September re-teaching students all of the things they’ve forgotten during the summer months.

According to a survey of 500 teachers conducted by the National Summer Learning Association, “when kids enter the classroom months behind in learning each fall, teachers are forced to waste time backtracking. Sixty-six percent of teachers polled reported that it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous years’ skills at the beginning of a new school year,” and as much as “24 percent said it takes them 5 weeks or more.” (Go here to read the full press release.)

No matter the reasons or a person’s circumstances, however, the infamous summer “brain drain” can often be prevented or reversed with the adoption of a few proactive (and often cost-free) habits and actions.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

For Parents:

  • Meet with your children’s teachers to discuss ideas and options with them regarding how to help prevent summer learning loss
  • Have a formal sit-down with your family to brainstorm ideas on fun ways to keep active and learning throughout the summer

o   Try taking your kids and some friends to your local library; demystify the library’s resources for them and show them just how useful and fun a library can be—providing not only books (which are awesome!) but also events, student extracurricular groups and activities, computer resources, textbook resources, and DVDs

o   Try serving as an example for your kids by reading in front of them and to them regularly (this can be supported by local libraries, but you can also show your kids that it’s not just novels that are important—you can improve your reading comprehension skills by also reading magazines, newspapers, and other publications (whether online or in print))

o   If you have the time and resources, try also planning an educational vacation together, such as to meet and learn about new peoples and cultures (like the Amish in Pennsylvania or the Gullah in the Carolinas)

o   If you have the time and resources, try visiting new museums, zoos, and aquariums, and then see who learned or can remember the most new facts by the end of the visit (maybe the winner gets to decide what the next family outing will be?)

  • What’s more, if you have the time and resources, investigate local options regarding summer learning, tutoring, and camp programs—many often have substantial price tags, but there are also those that run on scholarship programs (especially school-run summer camps; many of these have special options for students who require financial support in order to participate). Bear in mind, however, that while athletic camps are important and valuable, they are not the same as engaging in regular academic/educational activities such as reading

o   Some Texas Options:

For Teachers:

  • Organize a variety of meetings and opportunities for discussion with both students and parents (perhaps together and separately) wherein you brainstorm and provide ideas regarding summer learning and preparation
  • Prepare your students for the year ahead by teaming up with their future teachers to create summer reading lists and assignments aimed at keeping students engaged while giving them a leg up for the year ahead
  • Engage yourself in summer camps and learning programs that you can then advertise and help make more available to your current and future students
  • Advocate at your own school for more summer programming opportunities

For Students:

  • Talk with your parents, friends, and teachers about what groups, activities, camps, and tutoring you might be able to engage in for the upcoming summer
  • Think about what skills you most want to work on and develop for yourself over the summer (Art? Sports? Science? Spanish?)
  • Start your own group activity such as a Writing or Poetry Group, Book Club, Math Club, Art Club, etc.
  • Visit your local library often and set reading goals for yourself—try to find at least two new books (that you love!) per month
  • Try emailing or meeting with your teachers for the upcoming year and discussing with them what you might be able to do to keep on track and prepared for their coursework

 

Further Reading/Tips/Advice/Ideas:

  • Philip Elliott, “Summertime brain drain? Not for these kids, teachers,” The Seattle Times — Learn more about what some schools and teachers are doing during the summer to keep kids on-course for the coming school year while exploring new and innovative lesson plans and teaching tools

Girls and Women in STEM

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

— First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011

While First Lady Obama is perhaps best known for her work to combat childhood obesity, her work to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for children (and especially for girls) has also been—thankfully—substantial and groundbreaking as well. Improved STEM education is one of the clearest paths to a better future for our world and our children as technological and scientific innovations in medicine, climate change, and energy grow more complex by the day.

STEM education is an investment in everyone’s future.

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According to The Department of Commerce’s (2011) Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, “though they represent a mere 24 percent of the STEM workforce, women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in these high-growth fields.” However, even with this boon for entering the STEM fields, and even though “women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, [they] make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty
in those fields.

Despite this inequality and despite the rampant sexism that is often reported by women studying and working in STEM fields, there are many significant positive steps being taken to encourage and promote more girls and young women to pursue the sciences in their education and careers.

For example, the Department of Education has recently created an “Invest in Innovation” fund that

provides competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement. The program’s selection criteria prioritizes schools that support women and girls in STEM, emphasizing the need to increase the number of women and girls teaching and studying STEM subjects, and ensuring that both educators and students receive access to rigorous and engaging coursework, high-quality academic preparation, and opportunities for professional development.”

Moreover, NASA has recently gotten in on the game by teaming up with the Girl Scouts of the U.S. to develop a memorandum of understanding uniting the organizations “to achieve common goals: motivating and encouraging girls to do their best.” NASA was present at the Girl Scout’s annual convention and thus created an “opportunity for 17,000 leaders and girls to experience fun, hands-on NASA STEM activities….

In other words, the government is trying to think outside the box for getting young girls more involved and interested in STEM today. But it’s not only the government that’s interested in mining this “new” vein of gold in the American mountain; clubs and organizations are popping up all over the place aimed at supporting young girls’ interests in STEM fields.

Take Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project, for example. The Kentucky Girls Project, led by the University of Kentucky, is focused on “informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics…to build a strong, diverse workforce in Kentucky.” Many other states have similar collaboratives supported by various high education institutions including Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, New Mexico, and others.

And even our local Texas schools like Lovejoy (Lucas, TX) have started including STEM courses in their elective rotation to support and deepen students’ interest and access to the sciences. Lovejoy now offers several agricultural elective courses to their ninth graders as well as an optional introductory course to design and robotics. Similarly, Ford Middle School (Allen, TX) has begun offering “Career Portals in STEM” as an elective course designed to introduce students to the careers of science and engineering. Of course, given that students begin engaging in the Science Fair as early as 6th grade (in TX) and that children of all ages are often naturally drawn to the splendor and wilds of science, these STEM courses and options ought to be made available to students much earlier.

If you’re a parent, mentor, or student looking to get yourself or someone close to you more involved in STEM fields, here are a few terrific ideas and resources to consider:

 

 

 

The Versatile Blogger Award: Spotlighting Innovative Blogs on Tutoring, High School, College, Studying, and Much More!

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We are very honored to announce that we’ve recently been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Writing Reconsidered!

For those of you who don’t know the details of the VBA, allow me to borrow some information from the VBA’s About page to further explain:

When you consider nominating a fellow blogger for the Versatile Blogger Award, consider the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page. Or, of course, the quality of the photographs and the level of love displayed in the taking of them.

Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life whether every day or only now and then.

The rules of the VBA and how to respond to one’s nomination:

  •  Include a link to the blogger who nominated you.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. (I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  • Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award in your post and let them know of their nomination.
  •  Finally, include in your VBA post 7 interesting things about yourself/your blog work.

We are thrilled to have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award, because it gives us the opportunity to spotlight those blogs and bloggers for you who have thus far impressed us with the quality of their advice and enthusiasm regarding tutoring, school, studying, and so forth. However, we would also like to point out that just because we have decided to nominate these blogs for the VBA does not in any way mean that we endorse or agree with all of their opinions, ideas, advice, and/or articles.

Now, on with the nominees!

Ready for the big reveal? Our nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

1. The Ridgewood Tutor

National Board Certified and state certified by NJ and NY,  I’ve had 10 years teaching experience full-time in the classrooms of middle and high schools.  At the same time, I’ve been tutoring for over 15 years.  I have a Masters in Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University.  I’m currently specializing in mastering the art of SAT Jedi instruction.

I grew up in Ridgewood and graduated from RHS.  My husband and I wanted to raise a family in my hometown, so in 2011, we moved back with our two pre-schoolers.  At that point I took my education career in a new direction with “The Ridgewood Tutor”.

2. Saint Mary’s University: The Writing Centre

The Saint Mary’s University’s writing centre (Halifax) provides free academic support for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

We offer in-person, one-on-one tutoring, as well as workshops, in-class presentations, and online support.

3. Science Questions with Surprising Answers

SQSA is a terrific blog wherein Dr. C.S. Baird, a physics researcher and instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, takes in your science questions (whether in biology, physics, earth science, health, space, society, or chemistry), and provides considered and thoughtful answers that any layman could understand. It’s a truly fascinating and useful resource for students and life-long learners of any age and interest.

4. Tenure, She Wrote

Tenure, She Wrote is a collaborative blog devoted to chronicling the (mis)adventures of women in academia, from undergraduate to Full Professor. We’re a diverse group representing  many walks of life, career stages, institutional affiliations, disciplines, and opinions.

5. Tracking Change

Tracking Change is an advocacy platform to turn data into action.

Through collaboration and crowd-sourcing, we can more effectively influence public policy and ensure issues of importance to African Americans are addressed. The issues include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), job creation, entrepreneurship, access to capital, education and voting rights.

By harnessing the power of technology and social media, activists can more effectively influence public policy, solve problems and bring about social change.

Tracking Change promotes data-driven models of civic engagement, transparency and accountability.

6. Tales of the 4th Grade Wonders

We will provide a moral and rigorous education to a diverse student body, accomplished in a hands-on, technology infused educational environment that embraces differentiated instruction and individual attention that will allow our students to attend college, while developing a commitment to global citizenship, environmental sustainability, and personal virtue.

MS. KESSLER’S MISSION

Fourth Grade is such an important and special year for everyone involved. Students will be given the gift of knowledge, organization, and confidence. Teachers will be given the gift of patience, laughter, and determination. And parents will be given the gift of growth, communication, and pride. My mission is to work together to ensure these gifts are felt and appreciated.

7. Life and Write

Life and Write is a fabulous blog that gives you everything you could ever want to improve your writing skills creative and otherwise (except for providing an actual tutor, of course :)). Whether you’re interested in learning more about pre-writing, journaling, or avoiding distractions, Life and Write has answers and ideas for you.

8. The Electron Online

The Electron is a student generated publication created at Franklin Community High School, through the efforts of The Electron newspaper class. …

The purpose of the publication is to inform students, faculty, subscribers and community members of news, information and issues that influence or affect them. The Electron accepts news releases, guest columns and sports information releases.

The news organization, which provides an open forum for students, faculty, subscribers and community members, encourages letters to the editor, as well as comments that adhere to the comment policy. Letters can be sent to the publication at the previously mentioned address or dropped off in room C100. Below each article, a comment section can be found.

9. Teaching: Leading Learning

I am a Deputy Headteacher at Chew Valley School near Bristol, responsible for curriculum, assessment, reporting, monitoring, engagement with parents, and a whole raft of other things. I am a teacher of English and Media Studies. I am passionately committed to state education, as blogged about here. I love teaching.

This blog is a place for me to reflect on aspects of my job, on education in general, and to collect my thoughts.

10. High School to Harvard

Hi! I’m Ruby Mirza. Welcome to High School to Harvard. Let me get you up to speed…

For my first four years of high school (I live in New Zealand; we have five years) I chased engineering…and then, through studying for a quiz competition, I rediscovered biology, specifically the brain. Now, I want to go to Harvard Medical School and specialize with neurosurgery residency.

This is my journey, from high school to Harvard.

11. Inspiring Women

… We are running a women’s campaign to help young women from all backgrounds broaden their horizons and raise aspiration. …

Through our Inspiring Women campaign, we aim to link up women in a range of professions at a range of levels with girls throughout England. By giving women the opportunity to sign up, for free, to a simple online portal, where teachers can invite them to come in and talk to young women about their careers, we hope to be part of a culture change where young women and girls, regardless of socioeconomic background, can have access to the career insights they need.

12. The Savvy Student @ SBU

The Savvy Student @ SBU is the official blog of Money Smart Seawolves.  While Money Smart Seawolves is committed to assisting students in developing superior financial skills, helping you establish behaviors and habits that will make you a better saver and investor, and equipping you with the necessary knowledge to make sound financial decisions, the Savvy Student @ SBU is going to help you apply all that jargon to your life.

Our articles will help you keep up to date with current events and happenings in the financial aid community, provide tips and tricks for saving money and cutting college costs, and will share some great DIY’s that will (hopefully) make life easier.

13. Woman of Science

This blog is meant to help people, especially women, navigate the system of academic science. I am helping by setting an example. I am hoping that others will join in and offer their examples. These are strictly my opinions and others are welcome to add theirs.

I am a professor of hard science in a research intensive university. I have a husband who is an academic. We solved the two-body problem. We also have two children (elementary school age and infant).

14. ESL Tests for Primary Kids

Here you’ll find ESL online tests for primary children (grades 1-6).

There are 3 types of tests:

Test your skills – Grammar&Vocabulary

Test your listening – Listening practice

Test your reading – Reading comprehension

You can do the tests right away by pressing the round button and get your result at the end of the test.

Let your kids be the best at English!

15. Pleasure in Learning

pleasureinlearning.com is the work of several Hopkinsville Community College instructors who hope to enhance their students’ learning experiences by using the brain’s pleasure circuit.

… We are amazed by what neuroscientists can tell us about how and why we experience pleasure. However, we are surprised and disappointed by how little of this great information has been considered in deciding how we might teach more effectively.

Seven Cool/Interesting Things About Tutoring 101:

1. Tutoring 101 is a small (staffers and tutors total), family-owned and operated business based in Allen, Texas.

2. We were founded in 1997 — that’s right! We’re a ’90s child.

3.Our founder, Tanya Donaghey, has three children and is a certified teacher as well as a small business owner.

4.We offer a truly unique curriculum and variety of workshops during the summer months all designed to get students ready for the coming academic year.

5.Our one-on-one tutoring sessions are tailored specifically to focus on topics requested by the student.

6.Tutoring 101 provides services not only for high and middle school students, but for those still in early childhood working their way through the wild worlds of Kindergarten and other elementary grades.

7.“A small investment in test prep can save you an average of $30,000 at many of the most popular colleges that students from Allen, Lovejoy, and McKinney choose.”

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Read, Read, Read! All the Time and All You Can

So, you’re looking at yourself and your kids/siblings/friends and you begin to wonder: Why don’t I/we/they read more? Why don’t I enjoy it? Why do I get tired when I start reading/try to get them to read?

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The truth is, reading is changing but not many people are talking about it. With the advents of the Internet, speed reading, and standardized exams, classical methods and forms of reading changed dramatically without ever transforming the way we talk about reading (which is, if you weren’t aware, almost entirely novel-based).

This cultural focus on the Novel as the be-all and end-all of reading can be one of the first and largest obstacles to actually getting yourself and other kids/students/friends interested in reading and writing. This isn’t to say that novel reading is without merit or importance – reading novels is terrific and vital to cultural literacy! And there are many novels that are taught in schools precisely because of what an immense cultural impact they’ve had and continue to have upon us today. But this doesn’t mean that the novel should ever be thought of as The Best form of reading and writing – it’s just one form among many, and it’s not the best for everyone.

The truth is, reading a novel isn’t somehow magically better or more challenging than reading a short story, flash fiction, news story, novelette, novella, or long-form magazine article (such as those found in Orion Magazine, The New Yorker, and/or Harper’s Magazine). In fact, novels can often be fluffier and more poorly written than many of these other, shorter forms since longer forms of writing allow for greater authorial indulgence and digression. Moreover, novels are the form that most major publishers are most interested in, and so many writers often feel pressured to write in the novel format regardless of whether or not it’s their preference or forte.

So, when you’re trying to get yourself or others more interested in reading, here are a few introductory Don’ts:

  • Don’t punish yourself. Reading is a skill, that’s why it’s taught in schools. So, if you aren’t used to reading regularly, it’s normal for the skill of reading to be rustier and to feel more like work. Just make sure you don’t let that fact become an excuse to not read at all.
  • Don’t box yourself in prematurely. Don’t assume that you love reading novels or that novels are somehow inherently better than other forms of writing just because they aren’t classically taught in schools. What’s important for school and college is reading comprehension and critical analysis – skills you can certainly develop by reading shorter form works just as surely as you can by reading novels.
  • Don’t label other pastimes as somehow bad or useless in comparison to reading. It’s moderation that’s important. Not all videogame playing is bad, not all movie-going or television-watching is bad, so don’t think or talk about these activities as if they somehow translated into anti-reading. In fact, the only thing that’s anti-reading is using these and every other component of life as an excuse to avoid reading.

And here are a few important Dos:

  • Do make specific times and schedules for reading if you don’t already read regularly (and, hint-hint, don’t make this time/schedule a right-before-bed activity).
  • Do make time to read for at least an hour a day. This will not only help you develop a healthy habit but will also force you to look for new things to read more regularly, helping you discover more quickly just how vast the Wild World of Reading truly is.
  • Do read as many different things as possible and always try new types of reading and writers, even if they seem like things that wouldn’t interest you at first. After all, you never know when one talented writer out there is going to be able to line up all the right stars for you to make Economics an interesting read, or Astronomy or Mathematics or Romance or Westerns or World History.
  • Do give every novel-length book (fiction or nonfiction) at least 100 pages before you decide to finish it or set it down. For some books, this’ll get you most of the way through to the end. For most others, this will give you at least enough information to know the main characters, ideas, plot, and style — it’ll let you know, in other words, whether or not the book has earned more of your time as well as give you the satisfaction of being able to really choose when a book is right for you. You’re not only a reader then, but a connoisseur! And one who can speak intelligently with others on books, articles, and novels that you like and dislike! After all, being able to say specifically why it is you don’t like a certain book or author can be just as important and useful as being able to say why and what you do like about others. (What’s more, for you high school and college students out there with monster-long reading assignments, reading at least 100 pages of any text will also give you a good sense of the author’s thesis and argument. Of course, for college-level nonfiction, it’s often most useful to read the introduction and conclusion chapters first.)

Another nice perk to exploring new types and styles of reading? There’s a great wide world of literary magazines on the Internet today that provide terrific writing from new and established authors that is 100% free of charge! Try finding a novel for that price 🙂 (of course, if you visit your local library, you’ll find shelf upon shelf of 100% free of charge novels — what a wonderful world we’re living in!)

Just to get you started, here are a few sources you might not have heard of or might not have considered before as sources of interesting, fun, enlightening, and (quite often) FREE reads:

Alice Munro

You may have heard of Alice Munro as she just earned the Nobel Prize in Literature for her amazing work with the difficult art of the Short Story. A Canadian author, she’s got a mad talent for creating thoughtful, challenging worlds, characters, and stories in a brief matter of 30-50 pages. Her stories will have you laughing, weeping, and on the edge of your seat all before you ever realize that she’s shown you something truly wild and beautiful about the human experience.

The Gettysburg Review

The Gettysburg Review, published by Gettysburg College, is recognized as one of the country’s premier literary journals. Since its debut in 1988, work by such luminaries as E. L. Doctorow, Rita Dove, James Tate, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Wilbur, and Donald Hall has appeared alongside that of emerging artists such as Christopher Coake, Holly Goddard Jones, Kyle Minor, Ginger Strand, and Charles Yu, whose short-story collection, Third-Class Superhero, was selected recently by Richard Powers as one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘Five Under 35.’”

Cemetery Dance Magazine

“Founded by Richard Chizmar in 1988, Cemetery Dance Publications is widely-considered the world’s leading specialty press publisher of horror and dark suspense. … Our flagship magazine, Cemetery Dance, has won every major genre award and is healthier than ever — with a higher newsstand and subscriber circulation than ever before, ever-increasing advertiser support, and a continuing reputation for superb content and design. We’re well-known for publishing the biggest and the brightest stars in the genre, often before they’re discovered by the big New York publishers.”

Orion Magazine

“Mission: The first issue of the Orion Nature Quarterly was published in June 1982, and in its editorial George Russell, the publication’s first Editor-in-Chief, boldly stated Orion’s values:

‘It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.’

In the intervening thirty years, Orion has become a focal point in an extraordinarily rich period of nature writing, and it has remained true to that core conviction, though the magazine has evolved into a bimonthly and the range of its interests has broadened to include not only environmental but cultural concerns.

[Today,] Orion’s mission is to inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force for healing nature and community.”

Analog Science Fiction & Fact

Astounding/Analog (often all-encompassingly just called ASF) is often considered the magazine where science fiction grew up. When editor John W. Campbell took over in 1938, he brought to Astounding an unprecedented insistence on placing equal emphasis on both words of ‘science fiction.’ No longer satisfied with gadgetry and action per se, Campbell demanded that his writers try to think out how science and technology might really develop in the future-and, most importantly, how those changes would affect the lives of human beings. The new sophistication soon made Astounding the undisputed leader in the field, and Campbell began to think the old title was too ‘sensational’ to reflect what the magazine was actually doing. He chose ‘Analog’ in part because he thought of each story as an ‘analog simulation’ of a possible future, and in part because of the close analogy he saw between the imagined science in the stories he was publishing and the real science being done in laboratories around the world.

Real science and technology have always been important in ASF, not only as the foundation of its fiction, but as the subject of articles about real research with big implications for the future. One story published during World War II described an atomic bomb so accurately-before Hiroshima-that FBI agents visited John Campbell to find out where the leak was. (There was no leak-just attentive, forward-thinking writers!) More recently, many readers first encountered the startling potentials of nanotechnology in these pages, in both fact articles (including one by nanotech pioneer K. Eric Drexler) and fiction.”

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

The Ellery Queen tradition of literary excellence and top-notch crime and detective writing continues today. The Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature calls Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine ‘the finest periodical of its kind.’ Thanks to its many gifted contributors, EQMM remains where it has always been, on the cutting edge of crime and mystery fiction, offering readers the very best stories being written in the genre anywhere in the world.”

Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre, an Online Literary Magazine, is committed to expanding the creative landscape of the literary web. Our central editorial criterion is the overall imaginative effort you deploy to transcend prevailing (suburban, academic) orthodoxies. The narrative contours of magical realism, [and] world poetry…are especially appreciated.”

ellipsis…literature & art

ellipsis… literature and art is a journal published each April by the students of Westminster College in Salt Lake City (since 1965). Contributors are paid for their work and eligible for a prize judged this year by Andrea Hollander. We publish well known writers, up-and-coming writers, and never-before-published writers.”

Nightmare Magazine

Nightmare is an online horror and dark fantasy magazine. In Nightmare’s pages, you will find all kinds of horror fiction, from zombie stories and haunted house tales, to visceral psychological horror.

Edited by bestselling anthologist John Joseph Adams, every month Nightmare brings you a mix of originals and reprints, and featuring a variety of authors—from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven’t heard of yet. When you read Nightmare, it is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going.”

Flash Fiction Online

“Every month, Flash Fiction Online is proud to publish what we think is some of the best darn flash fiction (500 to 1000 words) there is. Each issue includes three original stories by both new and seasoned authors. Although many on our staff have a fondness for the speculative, we enjoy and select fiction in any genre. Founded by Jake Freivald in 2007, Flash Fiction Online has been published by Anna Yeats since September 2013.”

The New York Times (About page)

“Because we’re journalists, we’re impatient. We want to gather the news as quickly as possible, using any technological resource available. And when we’re as sure of the story as we can be, we want to share it immediately, in whatever way reaches the most people. The Internet didn’t plant these ideas in our heads. We’ve always been this way.”

Harper’s Magazine

Harper’s Magazine, the oldest general-interest monthly in America, explores the issues that drive our national conversation, through long-form narrative journalism and essays, and such celebrated features as the iconic Harper’s Index. With its emphasis on fine writing and original thought Harper’s provides readers with a unique perspective on politics, society, the environment, and culture. The essays, fiction, and reporting in the magazine’s pages come from promising new voices, as well as some of the most distinguished names in American letters, among them Annie Dillard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Mary Gaitskill, David Foster Wallace, and Tom Wolfe.”

Sherman Alexie

“Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, a PEN/Hemingway Citation for Best First Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and performer. He has published 24 books including What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, poetry, from Hanging Loose Press; Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, from Grove Press; and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel from Little Brown Books for Children.

A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Alexie has been an urban Indian since 1994 and lives in Seattle with his family.”

The American Poetry Review

“Mission: The American Poetry Review is dedicated to reaching a worldwide audience with a diverse array of the best contemporary poetry and literary prose. APR also aims to expand the audience interested in poetry and literature, and to provide authors, especially poets, with a far-reaching forum in which to present their work.”

Still hungry for more? Check out this gigantic (though hardly comprehensive list) of literary and poetry magazines:

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