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When I run writing workshops I tell the students that all the words they are going to write are already inside them...rather like your teeth.
Finding those precious words is an act of mining; digging deep into the seams that run through our subconscious and bringing the words and thoughts and images to the surface. One of the most effective ways of mining is simply thinking. Meg Rossoff recently wrote in a blog that writing is only 20% of the work of forming a novel. The other 80% is thinking. I absolutely agree with her.
The problem in our high tech, race around world, is allowing ourselves the space to think. When I was young ( i.e. before marriage and kids and sharing all my space with other human beings) I spent an awful lot of time just lying on my bed dreaming into space, thinking and thinking and thinking. Today with all the distractions in our lives this seems to be so much more elusive, that magical thinking time when you let your mind wander and follow the thought all the way to Mars and back...you know what I mean.
But without deep thinking the novel remains on the surface, unlayered, undeveloped, the characters never truly reveal those hidden characteristics which will make them so memorable long after the last page is read. Yes, some of that comes as a gift, leaping onto the page as we write. But a great deal of those deep and important details sift up to the surface through the seams and seams of words and thoughts, during the hours of simply – thinking.
As working writers maybe we find it difficult to give ourselves permission to sit and think, or walk about and think. We might feel that we have to have an excuse, like, ‘Just off to the gym’ or ‘Must take the dog for a walk’ and yes, those might be the best ways for someone to do their thinking.
But thinking is such an important part of the work of writing that we should not feel we need to make any excuse at all – if ‘they’ come upon us, sitting on a chair, staring silently into space. We should be able to say, I’m thinking. And that should be seen as work as much as walking the dog or bashing away on our laptops.
So the next time you see me sitting without speaking, eyes glazed over, you will know exactly what I’m doing..... won’t you?
Doesn’t everyone have a soundtrack and voice-over playing in their heads that says such things as:
“Little did she know, that if she had left the house a mere three minutes earlier a terrible car crash would have occurred at the nearby four corners and her children would have been late for school anyway.”
Are you a pessimist? You might be surprised. Choosing to be an optimist, according to author Randy Ingermanson, can change your writing life. Read his article below, reprinted with permission. It’s long–but worth it!
What’s Holding You Back?
I recently discovered something about myself that surprised me. Something that makes me take a lot longer to get things done than I should. Something that sometimes keeps me from finishing tasks. Something that occasionally even keeps me from trying in the first place.
I’m a pessimist.
This came as quite a surprise. After all, I’m not nearly as pessimistic as “Joe,” a guy I used to work with. Every time I suggested a new idea to “Joe,” the first thing he’d say was, “Now be careful! There’s a lot of things you haven’t thought about yet.” Then he’d shoot the idea down with rocket-powered grenades.
After a while, I learned not to run ideas past “Joe” because apparently, all my ideas were bad.
I haven’t seen “Joe” in years, and I’m pretty sure I’m not as pessimistic as he is. But somewhere along the way, I definitely went over to the Dark Side. I became more like him than I ever imagined possible.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that pessimism is not forever. You can quit being a pessimist and start being an optimist.
But should you? Aren’t those pesky pessimists more in touch with reality than those annoying optimists?
Yes and no.
Yes, pessimists generally do have a better grasp of the hard realities of the situation. “Life sucks” and all that. You can prove in the lab that pessimists are better at recognizing reality.
But no, no, no, because in very real ways, you make your own reality. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. Those work both ways. Optimists are
happier, healthier, and get more done. Because they expect to. Pessimists are less happy, less healthy, and get less done. Because they expect to. Again, you can measure that difference in the lab.
If you’re a pessimist and you want to know what’s holding you back in life, just go look in a mirror.
It’s you. But you already knew that, and you were already down on yourself, and now you’re mad at me for blaming you, but realistically, you secretly believe it’s your own darned fault, so you’re really just mad at me for telling you what you already knew.
Sorry about that. I feel your pain. Remember, I’m a pessimist too, and I’m probably a bigger one than you are.
I’m a pessimist, but I’m going to change. Which is actually an optimistic thing to say, and it means the cure is already working.
What is pessimism? And what is optimism? And how do you know which you are?
I’m not the expert on this. Martin Seligman is the expert, and he has been for a long time. Recently, somebody recommended Seligman’s book to me. The title is LEARNED OPTIMISM.
I grabbed a copy off Amazon and began reading. Seligman hooked me right away with his account of how he and a number of other researchers broke the stranglehold on psychology that had been held for decades by the
Behaviorists taught that people were created by their environment. To change a person, you had to condition him to a new behavior. A person couldn’t change himself merely by thinking differently, because thinking didn’t matter. Only conditioning mattered.
What Seligman and others showed was that the behaviorists were wrong. The way you think matters. Thinking optimistically, you could change thing
My friend Jenny is spending an entire year doing things she has never done and blogging about it. This has led to some deep thinking -- on MY part. Today her entry is about a friend of hers who is moving away, and Jenny thinks about what it is like for the person left behind. I am a person who has moved so many times I can't remember how many, and until today I don't remember giving a thought to how the people I left behind were feeling. Maybe I did. But I don't remember it. I do remember wondering why they would be angry at me, why they wouldn't be happy for me. From the time I started reading books at age 4, and knew there were other places to be, I wanted to go to those places. And I didn't just want to see them, I wanted to live there. I wanted to live in faraway places. But in lots of places. Also, I love houses. Apparently, all houses. So, I always wanted to move. I like decorating, I like redecorating. I'm forever seeing another place I want to live in. Once I was away from home (at 15), I started changing houses. Once I was free to move out of town, I did. My second marriage was to a military man. After I divorced him, I was even freer to move around. I started in Missouri, but I've lived in Alaska, Texas, Kansas, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and in Oregon. I've traveled to every state but Delaware and Rhode Island, and to 20 countries on 4 continents. I have friends in many places, friends I see fairly often. Two of my dearest friends live in other countries. I have as many close friends in NYC as I do in Portland. Maybe. Maybe I feel that close to them because traveling is such a part of my nature. Maybe they don't feel that close to me. Maybe they only feel that close to people who ARE that close, literally. If I can't be there to wrap my arms around them, hold them when they need it, bring them something to read, make a pot of soup, am I really the friend I think I am? Or am I all just talk? Nice warm cozy words that no one can cuddle up to when pain is real and what they really want is a warm body, not a virtual hand. These are the thoughts I am having today. I have no plans to move today or any time in the future. I'm happy in my 250 square feet. But if I ever do move again, I will have a different attitude about leaving people behind.
It is that time again. A Big Blue dog mascot and a super hyped assembly has sent home three over-charged under 5-foot sales people aimed at winning more plastic junk that they will completely forget about until I dispose of it when they aren’t looking.
Let me say it very clearly. I hate “selling” for the school fund raiser. I don’t have a cadre of relatives clamoring for over-priced wrapping paper. Nobody on the street needs tiny containers of sweets that cost less when purchased from a premier chocolatier.
I am not saying that the schools don’t need funds. I am not saying that the PTA organization at our school don’t do wonderful things for the school with the funds. I am not even saying that I don’t want to give any more money. I will. Really.
What I can’t stand is that my kids are more excited about this than any other aspect of their first weeks of school. I am also upset that my little babies won’t be getting those coveted prices. Aw…. (And some of them are really good prices). I just question how much money gets raised this way versus other methods. Throw your quarters in a bucket? I don’t know.
Maybe it all just comes down to the plain fact that I don’t want anything to do with it.
Reporting in: So far, so good. I've kept my commitments. Walked 10 minutes yesterday, the last minutes before dark. And today, in the rain this morning. Ate more veggies yesterday than I did fruit! That's because my friend gave me tomatoes from her garden. Big ones. I'll have to make a bigger effort today. I might have to break down and eat (shudder) chard. Spent some time thinking. Thinking about memory. For years I was the memory keeper in my family and in my circle. I remembered everything, both short and long-term. Phone numbers, names, faces, events, trivia, lines, poems, you name it. Everything I read, sang, every argument, conversation, every movie I saw, every house I ever lived in since I was still in my crib. (This is true, ask my 94 year old mother, who hasn't lost her memory yet.) However, once I started on beta blockers in my early 40s, I started having trouble with my short-term memory. I started having to make notes. Before that, I didn't keep a calendar. Didn't need an organizer at work. I kept everything in my head. So once I started forgetting and keeping notes, there was a transition period. I'd turn over my daily planner calendar and find a note that said "lunch." Great. Lunch with whom, I wonder? What time? Where? I had to learn to fill in details like that. Now things are even worse, but I'm used to it. For example, I'm currently re-reading a book that I read in 1998 because the author has written a sequel. I knew I'd read it before because I've read everything she's written, but I also knew I would have forgotten it. So, I'm reading it, nearly finished with it and I call my friend and tell her that I'm re-reading it in preparation for the sequel. She says she's already started the sequel without realizing it's a sequel. I start trying to tell her about the book I'm reading and realize I've already forgotten what I've read. It's like living in the present, and only in the present! As I read the book I think: Oh yes, I remember this. But I don't know what's going to happen next. Then after I've read it, I forget it again. Oy. So, really. Do I need to read this book? I'm going to have forgotten it by the time I pick up the sequel anyway. I don't have dementia. I don't have Alzheimer's. So, don't worry about me. I don't leave burners on. I remember what refrigerators are for. And I don't get lost. I sometimes get in the car and have to go back into the house to get my glasses though. But I always leave in plenty of time for things that could go wrong, so no worries. Just know this is something you might have to look forward to, if you ever have to take beta blockers, or get forgetful in later years.
How do you start a story? How do you get the story, the one that sort of floats around and coalesces in your head, down on paper? I sort of imagine it’s a bit like the way they used to make candyfloss at fairs. You know what I mean, there’s a big drum of pink sugary stuff - my brain - and you get a long stick and make a gentle stirring motion, collecting the pink sugar into a just about solid, frothy, mass – a story.
Whatever it is I’m not so professional that I can sit myself down and say ‘I’m going to write about x’ and get up from my desk 40 or 50 thousand words later job done.
At the moment I’m at that funny, fuzzy, phase when the characters for something new are just pushing themselves into my head. Which is a big relief, it’s a hundred times better than the stage which says I’ll never have any good ideas again and go around writing ridiculous one liners on the computer or in notebooks about vague things I’d like to write about. These include ‘ Channelling The Shangri-Las,’ which I never have. ‘At the White Raven Inn’ which actually did somehow metamorphose into A Nest of Vipers’. And ‘Jewish Commandos and Jazz’ which has become next years’ (fingers crossed) book The Munro Inheritance.
So after the cryptic one-liners there’s the thinking stage. If I try and do this in a rational way, sit down with notebook, turn on computer, it never works. I have to do something else, pretend I don’t care, and then the characters start doing their things. I try out scenarios and family settings; think about what it is my character does, and how she lives.
Yesterday I managed to actually write something down, even though they’ve been stewing in my head for the past month or so. I’ve been too scared to in case it comes out wrong or bad. Or at least not half as good as the swimmy, slightly ecstatic feeling I get when I think about some scene or other that’s really good – in my head.
I find myself thinking about my protagonist best when I am walking, swimming is rubbish; I spend too long looking at the sky. I go to the Lido in London Fields Hackney it is heated and it’s quite Lancelot du Lac to swim up and down through fogs of steam. Knitting is good because you end up with a jumper and a story. But walking is best.
The only downside is that of course it’s still only all in my head and writing any of it down changes it, makes it into something else and in a way I lose control of it, the story grows into itself.
All those really interesting things you were going to stick in never make it, and that great scene when your heroine quotes Shakespeare on a soapbox in the market wearing a ball gown gets the chop. But hopefully, you come away with a great whoomph of almost solid story that, like candy floss, defies air. Catherine Johnson
What do these three things have in common?
1. The 2009 Newbery Award: The Graveyard Bookby Neil Gaiman.
2. Email chatter about the Newbery Award winner.
3. “A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship” by Debra Lau Whelan, School Library Journal, February.
They intersect one another. Gaiman’s book, a Newbery winner, once again could be self-censored from elementary school libraries. Why? Because of the opening scene. A scene in which the reader discovers the main character has escaped being murder while he rest of his family does not. A scene that includes a knife.
Shortly after the ALA announcement that The Graveyard Book won the award, emails started flying. Many of which stated, the book would not be purchased for their school. I had not read the book but immediately got my hands on it and devoured it cover to cover.
It seems that many recent Newbery Awards are for middle or high school. But this year, the committee was brave in selecting a book that not only has kid appeal but is masterfully written. Have you read Gaiman’s book? If not, it must go on your “to-read” list.
The timing of the SLJ article could not have been more perfect. Do we as school librarians self-censor? Do I self-censor? I think it is food for thought. My library does not have And Tango Makes Three or Uncle Bobby’s Wedding. Interestingly, I check our district, seven schools (four elementary) have And Tango Makes Three and there are no copies of Uncle Bobby’s Wedding in our district. This requires further examination on my part. ( I am in the process of putting an order together).
Last year, I had a parent visit me about Harry Potter. I explain she could censor her children’s reading but not others. I gave her all the paper work to file a challenge but it never happened.
What is the criteria for selecting The Graveyard Bookfor my school library? I am good at considering the reviews and the suggested ages for a book. Many reviews say ten years old or fifth grade for this title. I am always on the lookout for those “edgy” fifth grade reads. Having read the book, I think it is an excellent choice for elementary. Gaiman’s book fills a void in the scary/horror genre of the school library. It is a difficult genre at elementary beyond the Goosebumps series. (which the cover is often more scary than the text). And paired with the classic Jungle Book, wow, let the discussions begin.
This past week at the conference, we talked a lot about providing mentor text for students. The Graveyard Book will make such a great mentor text for those students trying to write a scary story. The reader can be scared and yet, most of the scary parts are nuanced. The reader is not reading about gore beyond the words “bloody knife” and that will send the imagination off, won’t it?
I have to agree with Pat Scales, a former librarian and First Amendment advocate, who says, “Children will put down what they can’t handle or what they aren’t ready for.” I know this will be true for Gaiman’s book and I also know it probably will not stay on the shelves much. By the way, yesterdy it was announced that The Graveyard Book also won the CYBILS for best book in the “Middle Grade Sci-fi/Fantasy” division. Congrats on that.
All the participants were given a book to read at the conference last week. We were expected to read their book through the lens of the thinking strategy they were studying. Ten titles, nonfiction and fiction, were booked talked, then participants at each table had to come to consensus about which book they would select. Participants were invited to choose a genre that would challenge their reading and thinking.
Hmmm, what I discovered about my reading was that being in the library media field, I read a lot and am familiar with most styles of writing. I selected Ultimate Challenge by Alan Gottlieb, a dark, grisly book about how one man copes when forced to keep a secret when his best friend dies unexpectedly while both were in the Peace Corps. Okay, so my thinking strategy was “synthesizing”. Throughout the week, the conversation always returned to “is synthesizing really a thinking strategy or is it the umbrella for which all others strategies come under”?
So how did I synthesize my reading of Ultimate Excursion? What did I think about as I read it? Armed with post-its and pens (because even though we could write in the book, I could not bring myself to do so), I began reading. I was brought back to a place twenty years ago when I led adult literature circles for class credit. I was brought back in my mind to my visit to Columbia University, a workshop with Lucy Caulkins and Shelly Harwayne as we explore “what lens do you read through”. I read through the lens of a reader, not a librarian trying to get through books in order to make selection choices. There is a difference. Sometimes I felt annoyed because I impose a “must think about this” on every page and that slows your reading down. Yet, there was joy in slowing down, savoring the words. Eventually, I set aside the post-its and just read. I had to enforce lights out in Denver or I would have stay up all night. It was an “ultimate excursion” to read this book. It might make for a good read at high school level. I am wonmdering if I could talk my book club into reading the book. They typically do not go for dark reads. Do you know how much we synthesize without realizing it.
Fifth grade boys are crazy about the Guardians of Ga’hoole series by Kathryn Lasky. I blogged about this two weeks ago. I discovered Kathryn Lasky’s website and how to contact her and passed it onto the boys. Today, Ben came down to tell me he had emailed her and she responded. To see the joy on that boy’s face. Thank you to all the authors out there who take the time to respond to students.
Oh, yay, for summer days. I went on a thirty mile bike ride today, and I am full of amazing snapshots: the little tiny white dog that was sure it could take on a bike, the woman riding her bike with her parrot, and the man who said he knew the secret formula for time travel. I'm always collecting images -- the time travel thing, that's a whole novel.
My friend Katherine Bond has been chatting with me about her need to feed her muse. This is the kind of muse that is the source of an artist's inspiration. I'm going toss out some quotes here because back in the day everyone was into their muse.
Dante Alighieri, in Canto II of The Inferno: O Muses, O high genius, aid me now! O memory that engraved the things I saw, Here shall your worth be manifest to all! (Anthony Esolen translation, 2002) John Milton, opening of Book 1 of Paradise Lost: Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste Brought death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, Sing, Heavenly Muse, [...]
William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue of Henry V: Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Yep, having a muse is something to think about.
My inspiration comes from several things. I like to do something sort of crazy beyond my skill set and experience. My 30+ miles bike ride was just that sort of thing. I've walked on erupting volcanos, jumped out of third story windows (there was a net!), and learned how to throw a set of dishes on a pottery wheel. This sort of buzzing activity jazzes my creative self.
Another big infuser of muse power into my universe is to chat. Oh, how I love a good conversation. I live to hear others tell me their story. I also love a good book or a fine movie -- not as good as a conversation, but pretty good. Yes, surprising really, I'm a writer, but I love a good conversation more.
Yet another muse connection is to play certain kinds of thinking games. I do not know how to explain this but it is true. I especially like Scrabble, Boggle, Settlers of Catan, Backgammon, and Risk. A good game will make me want to stay up all night writing. I'm not sure what games are firing up in my brain, but they are.
I have other muses, but hey, folks, I've got to sleep sometimes.
I talked about a tangential subject to MUSES in a blog entry back in March, Pure Genius. Please check it out if you need more inspiration.
I hope that you take some time this week and follow your muses. See where they take you.
My doodle for the week is "Up in the Sky".
Today's playlist hit is musical madness: "Lonesome Polecat" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Singing and dancing!
Health is the first muse, and sleep is the condition to produce it. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Engaged Interactive Read Aloud is the best way to connect with Facebook savvy, blogging, and texting students because it mirrors that same quick, back and forth interaction, while embedding strong examples of what our brains do when we as mature readers read. I've been developing the technique for years, based on research from great thinkers like John H. Guthrie, Catherine Snow, Marilyn Adams, and S.J. Barrentine.
It takes enthusiasm, familiarity with the text, and a willingness to expose your thinking process to your students but the great news is it works with K-12th graders. And it doesn't take much time but a daily dose of even 5 minutes can make a tremendous difference in the comprehension skills of your students. That will bring a return in higher test scores, stronger reading skills and thinking students.
There's not space here to explain the entire process but here's a taste.
Step 1: Share a purpose for reading this text aloud with students. It doesn't have to be your entire purpose because your focus for them is engagement, hooking them in. However, you do want to set the stage.
Step 2: Have students predict, talk about what they know about the subject matter, prime the pump for the new information they will gain. Make sure that you do this, not in a strictly instructional way, but conversationally. Remember that you want them hungry for read aloud so you have to be a great commercial for it.
Step 3: Read from the text, explaining out loud (and using whiteboards and other tools ready at hand to illustrate) what your brain is doing as you read the first line or two. It might be an explanation of how you decoded a difficult word (make that a joint exercise - "how did I figure that out?"), it might be an illustration of how you took what you already knew to make sense of the author's statement. It might be raising a question that you want to remember as you continue to read. It might be just a wondering, pondering moment in which you think about the meaning behind the text, in many layers.
Get the idea? Remember you have to be as much a teacher as an entertainer as an enthusiastic and passionate deliverer. Try this new version of read aloud in your classroom tomorrow and let me know how it goes!
My in-service trainings this year will be concentrating on this technique which can be taught to not only professional educators but also librarians, paraprofessionals and parents. We all need to be on the literacy team.
According to the National Science Foundation, the average person has about 12,000 thoughts per day, or 4.4 million thoughts per year.
I wager that writers are well above the average because we read more and writing causes us to think more than the average.
Who’s In Charge?
I had known for a long time that our thoughts affect our emotions, and that toxic “stinking thinking” could derail our writing dreams and health faster than almost anything. You are the only one who can decide whether to reject or accept a thought, which thoughts to dwell on, and which thoughts will become actions.
But sometimes–a lot of the time–I felt powerless to actually do anything about it on a consistent basis. Sometimes I simply felt unfocused and overwhelmed.
Need a Brain Detox?
I’ve been reading a “scientific brain studies” book for non-science types like me called Who Switched Off My Brain?by Dr. Caroline Leaf Ph.D. which has fascinated me. With scientific studies to back it up, it shows that thoughts are measurable and actually occupy mental “real estate.” Thoughts are active; they grow and change, influencing every decision we make and physical reaction we have.
“Every time you have a thought, it is actively changing your brain and your body–for better or for worse.” The author talks about the “Dirty Dozen”–which can be as harmful as poison in our minds and our bodies.
Killing Our Creativity
Among this dozen deadly areas of toxic thinking are toxic emotions, toxic words, toxic seriousness, toxic health, and toxic schedules.
If you want to delve into the 350+ scientific references and pages of end notes in the back of the book, you can look up the studies. But basically it targets the twelve toxic areas of our lives that produce 80% of the physical, emotional and mental health issues today. And trust me. Those issues have a great deal to do with you achieving your goals and dreams.
There Is Hope!
According to Dr. Leaf, scientists no longer believe that the brain is hardwired from birth with a fixed destiny to wear out with age, a fate predetermined by our genes. Instead there is scientific proof now for what the Bible has always taught: you can renew your minds and heal. Your brain really can change!
Old brain patterns can be altered, and new patterns can be implemented. In the coming days, I’ll share some more about the author’s ”Brain Sweep” five-step strategy for detoxing your thoughts associated with the “dirty dozen.”
But right now I’m going to read about the symptoms of a toxic schedule. I have a suspicion…
Rejection is part of the writing life. Writers have always struggled not to take rejection personally. Unless you’re super human, it deals a blow to one’s self-esteem.
“To be a writer is to be rejected. I’m not kidding,”says Rachel Ballon, Ph.D., author of The Writer’s Portable Therapist. “Those writers who stop writing the first time they’re rejected can’t call themselves writers because rejection is part and parcel of the writing game. It isn’t what happens to you IF you’re rejected, it’s what you do or don’t do WHEN you’re rejected.”
You Can Recover
I get concerned when my writer friends and students get so beaten down by a rejection. (And with our struggling economy lately, rejections are happening more frequently.) Rejections do hurt, and the disappointment can be huge. All the “don’t take it personally” lectures don’t help much then. You need more, especially in the initial stages when the rejection is new and raw.
“Expect rejection and disappointments with the knowledge that you’ll recover from them,” says Ballon. “Be just as prepared for rejection as you’re prepared for an earthquake in California or a hurricane in Florida.”
I never thought of that before: prepare for rejection. It makes sense though!
Most of my family members live in Florida now, and when a tropical storm is building to hurricane status, they go into motion like a well oiled machine. Buy batteries and food staples. Nail plywood over windows. Make sure generator works. Stock up on drinkable water. They don’t just sit back and hope the hurricane veers off and misses them. They know that the likelihood of being hit by a hurricane is low, but definitely possible. Being prepared has saved their lives and property more than once. And their plans for recovery and clean-up go into effect as soon as the storm passes.
The likelihood of writers being rejected is about 100%–much worse odds than destruction from an earthquake or hurricane. But how many of us have a plan for recovering from that particular professional “disaster”? Not many, I’m guessing. But we should have. We know it’s coming from time to time. And I wonder if we wouldn’t respond better if we planned for it.
How do you plan for the day-perhaps after months of hopeful waiting or interested nibbles-when your story or novel or proposal is rejected? How can you prepare for it? Well, what makes you feel better when you’ve been rejected by someone in your personal life?
A hot bath and a good novel?
A phone call to your best friend?
A candy bar or Starbucks coffee?
Hanging out with people who do love you?
Going for a hard sweaty run or bike ride?
Curling up with a “feel good” movie or chick flick?
Chances are, those same things will help you through a manuscript rejection. They can be the solace for your bruised soul.
Plan Ahead-Work Your Plan
I think I’m going to make a list on a card called “Rejection Recovery Strategies” and tack it to my bulletin board. And the next time a book or prop
Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who related a simple story to me which bears repeating.
As a storyteller, my friend often visits schools with no more than her voice and her body, charged with the task of entertaining and engaging students with stories for 30 minutes. She is superb at what she does and, after her presentation, she overheard this conversation.
"I just don't get it," said one teacher to another.
"We have all kinds of bells and whistles, quick response exercises, hand and sound signals, technology and yet our kids are always all over the place. This lady comes in with her voice and a story and suddenly then are mesmerized. What's with that?"
What is Engagement?
Now certainly familiarity may be a part of this equation but I believe the question is worth pondering. I also see it, not so much as a judgement of tools, but as a question - how do I engage my students? Certainly with our tech savvy children of today, our various technology tools are important. But there is something deeper behind whether those tools work in classrooms or not. The real questions are
"What authentic teaching can I do that will capture their interest?":
"Am I so much on the "delivery" channel that I've forgotten the power of teaching?"
The topic is certainly a bit broader than literacy but I see literacy as the doorway to engaging students. What about you?
Michigan State University's National Center for Research on Teacher Learning attacks the issue with some important information: "Faced with the concerns for classroom time and "effective" use of it, can put difficult demands on teachers. What it often comes down to is how good are we at helping students construct meaning, including having time to discuss and explore?
Take that back to literacy.
Are we so into "drill and skill" - repeat the rule back fast - that we forget that education includes thinking? I've met children who are compliant word callers and decoders but they don't have a clue of how to use reading as a tool to get information they need, to analyze and synthesize what is presented in the text. Here are a few literacy-related questions to think about in your own teaching:
1. Do you use read-alouds daily to engage and foster thinking about text? Engaged Interactive Read Aloud techniques, covered in my new book Before They Read, are a most efficient means of exposing to student what great readers do when they read).
2. Do you let the size of the class keep you on the "controlling" channel instead of the learning, exploring channel with students? Professo
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I haven't blogged in a really long time. Part of why I stopped blogging was because everyone else started... and call me attention-crazy, but there was so much good information out there that I didn't feel like I *needed* to blog. I was busy working and it didn't seem like the best use of my time.
So, why now?
Well, I'm preparing for some MAJOR transitions in the new year ('08) and I think that blogging will not only allow people (you readerly types) to follow along with what is happening, but also diminish the impact of all the changes that are going to occur. Or, rather, that I hope are going to occur.
Plus, I've always been really excited about the work that we do and I want to share it with you. Not only our excitement and passion for what we do, but some of the process that goes along with it.
Not to mention that it's a really great marketing tool. Right?
Ok, it's the weekend and I shouldn't be thinking so much about work when I've got little kids that need to be entertained. I'll check in later.