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Books That Make Us Cry (Part One) Collected by Donalyn Miller

Nerdy Book Club

Last spring, one of my fifth-graders, Heavenly, spent all of recess sitting under a tree finishing the final chapters of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Strolling around the playground, I gave Heavenly a wide berth when I walked near her reading spot. I knew where Heavenly was in the story and I didn’t want to intrude.

When Heavenly finished the book, she found me on the playground. I could see as she walked toward me that her eyes brimmed with tears. Remembering the ending and my own emotional response—and seeing Heavenly’s forlorn face—I began to sniffle a bit, too.

Heavenly wrapped me in a limp hug and cried. While I patted her shoulder, Heavenly and I whispered back and forth about the book’s conclusion and our hopes for the main character, Carley Conners’ future.

“Mrs. Miller, why do you always recommend sad books to me?” Heavenly asked.

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Rule-breaking Female Characters

4 Mothers

Admittedly, I was a little unsure of what I would write about when Nathalie suggested this for our theme this week.  I sat at the desk in our basement office, hoping for inspiration but instead re-arranged the pens in their various glass holders and stared at the blank wall in front of me trying to decide which would be a better fit: a mirror or an oversized framed print.

When I am stressed or anxious I like to lose myself among my shelves of books.  In comparison to most serious book lovers, say for instance Nathalie, my collection is modest but I find something soothing about running my fingers along the spines of books, some of which have been with me for nearly two decades.

In an effort to procrastinate, I pulled my favourite chapter books from my girlhood and arranged them on the floor at the foot of my…

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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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Reading Free

Book bannings are as old as books themselves, but the fact that they persist into today’s America—an America packed with screens of every kind, screens allowing for easy internet access and thus access to any number of challenging, unusual, and even obscene materials—is simply mystifying to me. Yet still books are banned from schools and formally challenged by parents on a shockingly regular basis. Only this past September, Highland Park ISD (Dallas, TX) Superintendent Dawson Orr approved the suspension of seven books: The Art of Racing in the RainThe Glass Castle; The Working Poor: Invisible in AmericaSiddharthaThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAn Abundance of Katherines; and Song of Solomon.

To Orr’s credit, however (and after some impressive backlash from alumni, students, national media, and other parents), he canceled the suspension.

“I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect,” he said in an email to parents. “I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused.

“All the titles that were temporarily suspended will be restored to the approved reading list,” he said.

(qtd. from Melissa Repko’s “Highland Park ISD reverses book suspensions at high school“)

And while it’s upsetting, baffling, and ludicrous to ban books from students (at least in my humble opinion) in any circumstance (after all, if a book is really that troubling to a student, then let the student decide for themselves and ask for a substitute—not the parents), it is still impressive to see a leader not only take responsibility for a poor decision, but also take swift action to correct the mistake. According to Orr, he originally agreed to suspend the books after receiving feedback from hundreds of parents. But why did these parents feel a need to object so powerfully to these texts? Considering that kids can now get their fill of violence, abuse, sexual content, and hard language from not only the internet but basic cable as well, why would parents take such issue with their children encountering these kinds of materials in the thoughtful, more personal world of a book—especially when it’s to be an experience shepherded by a teacher, an experience intended to provoke deeper thought and consideration of such issues rather than simple titillation?

By now, most of us have read and come to love certain books that were once banned or challenged in the States for their content, books like Mark Twain’s (1884) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (first banned in Concord, MA in 1885 for being “trash and suitable only for the slums”); Toni Morrison’s (1987) Beloved; Ray Bradbury’s (1954) Fahrenheit 451; Ernest Hemingway’s (1940) For Whom the Bell Tolls; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (1925) The Great Gatsby; Maurice Sendak’s (1963) Where the Wild Things Are; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; and even Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series.(qtd. from Banned Books Week)

Dee Brown’s (1970) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was also “banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. ‘If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’ the official stated.” (qtd. from Banned Books Week)  This reasoning is, to me, one of the most disturbing of all. Not only is this thought process counter to all things educational, but it’s also one of the most despicable examples of “the easy way out” that I can think of, one of the most un-American, thoughtless, and cowardly.

And perhaps that’s the heart of the problem: cowardice. For what other reason could there be to attempt to ban information from kids? If material is truly that worrisome or potentially disturbing for particular children—perhaps kids who themselves have suffered abuses or traumas that would be too painful to relive through a book—then certainly there is cause to provide them with substitute options. But why should this mean banning certain books from all students of a certain school district? It’s fear—it’s the attempt to forcibly impose one’s beliefs and feelings upon others.

So, thank you to Superintendent Orr for taking responsibility and action to reverse a poor decision—thank you for agreeing to not impose the beliefs of some parents upon the children of all in your community. And thank you to all those school officials and parents who stand up regularly for their children and their children’s friends’ right to learn and explore without prejudice or fear. When we begin to fear information, education, and exploration, we become obstacles to progress—both our own and our society’s. We don’t have to like or approve of every book or be glad every book was written. But none of these feelings should give anyone the right to make such determinations for others.

Further Reading Suggestions:

How to Support Your Kindergartener’s Education

Kindergarten is an exciting time for everyone – little kids are getting their first taste of Big Kid School and parents are getting their first taste of full days to themselves and their own work again. But even kindergarteners need support for them to keep up and keep interested in their budding educational lives.

kiddo in school

So, how do you support kids this young without overwhelming both them and yourself?

  • A great starting place is to get to know their teacher(s) as best you can. Understanding where their teacher(s) is coming from and what they’ll be assigning can give you a real leg-up when it comes to time management and helping your kids triumph over homework.
  • Be certain to know how your child is performing in comparison to the rest of his or her class. If your child is falling behind, don’t delay in getting them involved in some extra tutoring. There’s a lot for a kindergartener to handle at this age, learning not only new social skills and rules, but new academic knowledge and skills as well. It’s thus important for a child’s self-esteem and skills development that they generally keep pace with their classmates.
  • Another great starting place is to establish habits and patterns of homework/reading time with your kids (at the kindergarten level, of course, “homework” should really only take about ten solid minutes of concentration). Make it clear when it’s study time and when it’s not. When you’ve got that free half hour or hour to sit down with kids and talk with them about what they’re learning, make sure they know precisely what that time is for every single day. This way, homework/reading/discussion time isn’t something “extra” that they have to sit through each day; instead, it’s another scheduled, expected part of their day just like lunch, school, and recess.
  • Know when your child is struggling with something and keep in a friendly, open dialogue with their teachers regarding this and all related developments (though also be careful not to helicopter or overwhelm teachers as this can often shut down relationships before they’ve been built).
  • Nurture your child’s enthusiasm for learning outside of class. There are many terrific ways to do this. Kindergarten is only the very beginning of your child’s life of learning and discovery, so make sure they understand that education is more than just “work,” but that it can be fun, rewarding, exciting, and invigorating as well. So, start teaching by example!
    • Try reading with your kids regularly; playing educational games with them; taking them for walks where you introduce them to different road signs, colors, and conversations; playing board games; introducing them to new people; introducing them to scouts and other team activities; and/or taking them to museums, zoos, and aquariums.

And don’t forget to encourage your kids to take responsibility for themselves and to explore things for themselves, to ask questions, and to talk about new ideas. These kinds of conversations not only expose your children to more vocabulary words and ideas, but also help them develop important character traits such as curiosity, determination, and courage.

 

 

 

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