Project 2013: How I Plan To Let 171 Books Lead Me On A Journey Into Unknown Worlds

One of my two office closets is crammed with boxes of school supplies, letters from former student, lesson plans, and at least 171 young adult literature books (with a smattering of kid lit in the mix). All reminders of a career put on hiatus, if not permanently cancelled.
It’s the 171 books that I’m going to focus on in 2013. When I was actively teaching, I collected books for my classroom library like some people collect 1980s-era Smurf glasses: Obsessively. It was always my goal to read each book and write a short summary. But, between teaching responsibilities, reading for professional development, and devouring the latest YA lit releases, I never found the time.
This is the year I make the time. My plan is to (at the very least) list and link the books I read on my new YA Lit page on this blog, with a recommendation to read or not to read. My more ambitious plan is to write brief summaries. I reserve the right to ditch the books I can’t get into after 100 pages. It took me many, many years to develop the discipline to discard books I don’t like. I’m not going back now.  
I’m not naïve enough to believe I will stick only to these YA books. I have an extensive list of kid, adult, professional development, and non-fiction tomes I want to read in the new year. Again, my plan is to list and link to those on new blog pages as well.
I hope you’ll follow me - even join me – on my literacy journey.
Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

The Plaza in Kansas City!
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I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for joining me on this new blogging endeavor. I'm excited about what the new year will hold!

Take care, and peace, health and happiness be with you and yours.


Harry Potter: Growing Brains One Kid At A Time

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I have this quirk. (Actually, I'm told I have a lot of quirks, but that's another blog post or two). The quirk I want to share is this: When the entire universe is reading a book, I refuse to read it. I have it set in my mind that if everybody and their brother is reading it, then it must not be too good. I have no idea how I came to this way of thinking, but it almost caused me to miss out on a series that engaged adults and children in reading en masses and altered the global literary culture.

I'm talking about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Yes, I almost poo-pooed Harry Potter. I begrudingly began reading the series several years after everyone else on the planet. Mostly, I cracked the spine of Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone because I was bored. And by the end of the first page, I wasn't bored. I devoured every single volume. Whether you like it or not, the series has solidified a spot on the world's bookshelf. In effect, it is part of our world cultural.

About a month ago, Groupon ran on offer for the full set of Harry Potter DVDs for a ridiculously low price. Although I wasn't a big fan of the movies (I stopped watching them at Order of the Phoenix), I thought my daughters might enjoy them at some point. You see, together with their dad they play this old school fantasy computer game called NetHack. The girls love it because they get to create characters, make decision, and interact with all kinds of fantasy creatures, including Mindflayers and the Floating Eye. Strangely enough, it's enhanced their reading skills and critical thinking skills. It also feeds their amazing imaginative brains.

Enter the Harry Potter movies. The special effects, fantastical beasts, and variety of characters blow their six-year-old brains and propel them to levels of creativity that blow mine. We have great discussions about themes, our favorite parts and what motivates each character. Audrey's running commentary of the convoluted plot lines is astounding, and Ruthie's freehand drawings of Harry and his friends are detailed and fun.

I showed them my set of Harry Potter books. They held each one, thumbed through the pages, and wanted to sleep with them. I know they will love reading these tomes as they grow older and more capable of handling print text.

I do have to say that we have only watched the first four movies in the series. We started the fifth one, but that one hasn't captured the girls' attention like the first quartet. And, I'm well aware at how dark the movies become as the series progresses. So, we will likely take a break for a bit. Maybe hit the books from the beginning.

Perhaps Joe Q. Public knows good lit after all.

Thanks for reading. It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

10 Reasons Why & How We Should Immerse Our Students In Digital Literacy

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Digital literacy has been a hot topic on this blog in recent weeks. (Read related posts here and here.) The opinion piece, Teach U.S. Kids to Write Computer Code by Douglas Rushkoff gets to the heart of why increasing our students' digital literacy skills is vital to propelling our country forward when it comes to technology. I wish him all the best as he brings his case to Congress later this week.

Actually, Rushkoff's 10-minute meeting with Congress is my first point of concern. The fact that he must address Congress and educate its members on the value of digital literacy says quite a bit about our reticence to embrace the Digital Age, even though we live in (and have been living in) this age for quite some time. Why do we have such a sluggish mindset about technological innovation when it is so crystal clear that this the path the world is blazing?

As Rushkoff writes, "Although we live in a highly digital age, digital literacy is not a priority among us. And as a result, computer science is not a priority in our schools."  My husband, who has worked in software development for decades, laments this fact often. While he tries to hire American coders, he finds that too often their skills, their knowledge, their drive for doing the work, lags behind potential candidates from other countries. In fact, Rushkoff sarcastically (?) states, "But I'm hoping we can get motivated enough to catch up with, say, Estonia (where they teach code to kids) ...."
In his article, Rushkoff shares with readers the 10 points he plans to present to Congress. Two really stood out for me. The first is the impact that our lack of digital literacy skills will have on our cybermilitary efforts. Think about it. We don't just need soldiers to use the technology that protects us; we need to soldiers to create the technology that protects us. Second, he spotlights that computer science isn't just about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but liberal arts as well. It requires highly-developed critical thinking skills. (Did someone say Teaching Reading In The Content Areas?)

Be sure to check out this article and chime in with your thoughts.

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

I Cannot Tell a Lie: Are Historical & Cultural Literacy Things of the Past?

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Please welcome guest blogger, Val Thompson!. Val is a witty and brilliant middle school geography teacher at Daniel Boone Middle School in Douglassville, PA. We taught together for three years and spent many lunch periods lamenting our students' lack of background knowledge. In addition to educating students about our world, she also sneaks in reading strategies. And you all know I'm a huge proponent of teaching reading in the content areas. Enjoy!

For added fun, see how many obscure and "lost" cultural references you recognize.  No Googling... that's just not fair!

I cannot tell a lie:  historic and cultural literacy are things of the past.  I am a geography teacher in a middle school, and I understand all about reading and math scores and the pressure to pass tests.  I get that we have students with more needs and problems and less of a budget to work with.  But for the love of Jesus (Jesus who?… for real, I got that last year), we need to make sure our kids know some stuff about history, culture and geography.  I have a dream that in 20 years, when I say “I have a dream,” people will get that cultural reference.  I am not optimistic.

I have a degree in history, so I “get it” that many things I know are off the charts in obscurity.  But even as a child I knew things that kids today do not know, and they are connected to basic cultural literacy.  Bullfights are in Spain, lions come from the African plains.  The guy in the beret  near the café is a FRENCH artist, but if I fall in love with him, he might be my Romeo. It seems I to me that I knew these things as a child; got these cultural references from educational television such as Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry.  Even television and movie references have gone by the wayside, and frankly, I give a damn.  Because we are one generation or so removed from kids not understanding anything we say, and it makes me mad as a hatter.  Ah well, tomorrow is another day.
If cartoon and movie references are lost, history is worse.  No one has heard of Alexander the Great.  I don’t mean they can’t place him in a century or list his accomplishments… they never heard of him.  Or that Cleopatra was an Egyptian.  Or even that pyramids were Egyptian.Joan of Arc was not Noah’s wife (Noah who?). And when it rains cats and dogs, you can’t say, “We’re going to have to build an ark” because they don’t understand. I hate to even publicly admit this, but one of my colleagues asked me if Gandhi was black, because I was teaching about CivilRights. Et tu, Brute?

So, if you love your children, tell them that the Taj Mahal is more than a casino, and that TRex was not a contemporary of Baby Jesus, who apparently chased down a lot of old guys from the Bible (yes, another war story from history class). I’d bet you the Brooklyn Bridge that many don’t know the difference between Washington (the wig guy) and Lincoln (the hat guy).  And speaking of New York (which is where Brooklyn is), make sure they know who The Babe is. And they should know the difference between Yogi Bear and Yogi Berra. It would also help to know that Opera is a kind of singing and Oprah is a talk-show host. Oh, and there are 50 states. Watch movies, talk to your kids, and read, read, read, read, read. We have a chance to preserve our cultural literacy.  It’s not over ‘till it’s over, folks.

How I Learned I Was Not Totally Tech-Stupid, And What I Plan To Do To Raise My Bar

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In keeping with the theme of the importance of being technologically literate, I wanted to share the article, The 50 Free Apps We're Most Thankful For from  When I came across this piece and clicked on the headline, I fully expected to feel like an idiot for not knowing about or having even heard of most the apps.  I can be rather technologically illiterate, especially with new media.

To my surprise, I already use several of these apps on a regular basis, and I've heard of most of them. My husband uses Google Voice (No. 9) and FoxFi (No. 21) with great success.

But knowing about them isn't enough for me. So to up my technology literacy skills, I set a goal to at least research the following apps in 2013.

Evernote (No. 4)
Pocket (No. 5)
Spotify (No 11) DONE! (Just jammed to Gangnam Style. Not proud, but it is what it is.)
Google Calendar (No. 14)
Mint (No. 24).

I know ... these are not earth-shattering, cutting-edge apps to most of the digital world, but it's a step toward increased technological literacy in my world. I chose these particular ones because I'm looking for ways to 1) have fun and 2) simplify my life.

If you've used any of the apps on this list, I'd love to hear how and why. And share your usage tips! If you try something new from this list, I'd love to hear how it worked out

Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Are You Tech Savvy ... Or Tech Stupid?

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I'm excited to introduce my first-ever guest blogger! I met Jenifer Phillips last year when we both taught at the same charter school. She teaches computer skills to elementary-aged students and is a technology literacy guru! I can always count on her to answer my questions and give me a techie spin on my ideas! Enjoy!

The U.S. Department of Education (1996) defines technology literacy as "computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance."  In today’s society, everything relies on or incorporates technology more and more. Doctor’s offices are starting to use electronic medical records, teachers are using online grade books, and there are even ways to use an app or website to keep track of your grocery list!

Technology is something is always around and is constantly changing. Technology is not only becoming more readily available, but it’s becoming faster, smarter, smaller, and more affordable. It’s definitely something that will not be going away anytime soon.

Thus, the importance of being technologically literate is becoming a necessity. Most employers now assume that potential employees at least have the basic knowledge of how to use a computer and the Internet. Depending on the job, even more technological skills may be required. The dependency on computers is increasing in the workplace, in order for companies or schools to keep up with and compete as part of a global society.

However, it’s not easy to keep up with technology. Some people merely don’t feel as if they are very “tech savvy,” and thus may have a harder time learning the needed skills. It’s also difficult to keep up when the technologies are constantly changing and upgrading. Then, of course there comes the issue of money. Technology is not cheap, especially if you are wanting or needing the newest and latest version each phone, computer, Internet, tablet, etc. that exists.

While having the latest technology is desirable, it is also important that a person understands all that it encompasses. Not only do you have to understand how to operate the technology, but you need to understand how to use it safely and ethically. There are, unfortunately, so many ways that technology can be misused in order to hurt others’ reputations, feelings, or welfare. Education is the key to getting technology, using it correctly, and keeping up with the changes.

When asked how they feel about the importance of being technologically literate, two teachers had their own opinions:
Teacher L: “If you’re not up to date with technology, how are you going to keep up with today’s kids?”
Teacher S: "I don’t spend money on technology like some of my students’ families do. Thus, I feel behind in regards to learning the latest technologies. I wish our school offered us more training.”
Once we can get more businesses and schools to accept this reality, then we might just get more and more people prepared better for the job market that society has to offer.

Feel free to contact Jenifer with any comments, questions, or resources by visiting:
You may also follow Jenifer on Twitter @MrsPEdTechTalk.


Death Match 2014: Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction

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I've been writing a bit about the Common Core Standards (set to take effect in 2014) and the impact they could have on how English/Language Arts is taught, especially at the secondary level. I encourage you to read my thoughts here and here.
A Facebook friend alerted me to this NY Times opinion piece on the topic. It's written by Sara Mosle, a journalist and author who also teaches 6th grade English in Newark, NJ. Her perspective is intelligent and offers ideas on how to incorporate more non-fiction into English courses. Her commentary is certainly thought-provoking. At last check, 463 people had chimed in with their two cents.
One thing I did find interesting is that Mosle seems to see this as the sole responsibility of English teachers versus an opportunity to collaborate with content-area colleagues. Sadly, teaching in isolation is so ingrained in secondary teachers that we don't even think about it.
Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!
P.S. More Mindful Thoughts That Kept Me Awake Last Night: I've been reading Seth Godin lately. He contends that the hiring practices or an increasing number of employers are evolving to toward the hiring of  innovative problem solvers who buck the system (in a professional and respectful manner) and who aren't afraid to be human and exert some emotional labor. If this is indeed the case, then self-expression (a trait that David Colman says English classes focus too much on) remains a skill that needs to be taught and cultivated in our students. Thoughts?

Thanksgiving: The Perfect Time to Gobble Up Some Historical Literacy!

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My twins daughters started kindergarten this year, and I am enjoying watching them discover the world! They both have fabulous teachers who really challenge them to grow their brains. Over the past couple of weeks, the little ladies have been immersed in the history of Thanksgiving. I have heard over and over (and over and over) the tale of the Pilgrims sailing to the new land from England on the Mayflower so they could attend the church of their choice. My girls have regaled me with the heroics of Squanto and the Native Americans. Yesterday, I attended a celebration that had the kiddos  making dream catchers, canoes, male and female Pilgrim costumes, butter, and bread.

There's no holiday like Thanksgiving to remind us of our humble beginnings. I hope you'll take a couple of minutes to chow down on some historical literacy (along with pie, and turkey, and mashed potatoes ... oh, and don't forget the gravy. I love gravy!).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading! It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Can the Common Core Standards Cultivate a Renewed Sense of Kumbaya in Education?

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Right now, Education Week is offering free access to the digital edition of  Rethinking Literacy: Reading in the Common-Core Era for a limited time. The edition consists of several articles related to how the Common Core State Standards will alter how the educational system as awhole views reading and writing.

One particular article, Literacy Instruction Expected to Cross Disciplines addresses in more detail what I wrote about here. It's so exciting!

Thanks for reading ... It keeps your Mindfull of Literacy!

70/30: Is Teaching Fiction Losing the Common Core Battle?

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In an earlier post, I wrote about a study that found that only 43% of 2012 graduates who took the SAT had the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college. That’s disturbing, considering that organizations today are looking for people who are creative and innovative thinkers and initiators. Apparently, the creators of the Common Core Standards find these and similar statistics concerning because they took action. To date, 45 states have adopted these new standards, which were designed reflect the knowledge students need to have a productive college life and/or career path.

The Kansas City Star ran an article recently about the possible effects that implementation of the Common Core Standards could have on the teaching of literature. The new standards recommend that non-fiction/informational text should make up 70% of what high school students read and write about. The school of thought is that beefing up non-fiction reading and writing will better prepare students for college.
High school literature teachers are reeling from the new standards, and rightly so. The change will require them to approach their content area in a whole new way. While some teachers view the standards as a mandate to reduce the amount of fiction students read, others view it as an opportunity to supplement the fiction with informational text. As usual, the new standards encourage educators and administrators to see the change as a school-wide responsibility.  

I have mixed feelings about this topic. I loved my English and Literature classes in high school, and I was inspired by the passion that ignited my teachers to share everything they could about authors and their stories. That inspiration and their passion led me to earn a B.A. in English. As an educator, I know how exciting it is when a struggling reader falls in love with a book. More often than not, the books they love are works of fiction. And I know that the skills needed to access informational text – analyzing, evaluating, knowledge of theme and genre to name just a few – are taught when we dig beneath the surface of works of literature.
But at the same time, I know that the transfer of knowledge isn’t there. I know that most jobs require a person to read and comprehend informational texts. In fact, my English degree led me straight into a job proofreading technical documents at an engineering firm. As an educator, I fully support teaching across the curriculum.  Encouraging English teachers to focus more on informational texts doesn’t have to mean shelving their beloved classics. In fact, it should mean just the opposite. This is the perfect opportunity for teachers to reach across the hallway and collaborate with their colleagues. If a class is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, why not work with the history and/or economics teachers to find appropriate non-fiction texts about The Roaring 20s? Or, if a class is studying Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, team up with the Social Studies teacher to read true accounts of the Holocaust. Take this opportunity to boost students’ literacy skills culturally, historically, financially and politically. Help students make these critical connections and analyze and evaluate their importance to their world.

Transitioning from the current state standards to the Common Core won’t be easy. Secondary-level teachers typically teach in isolation. Intense collaboration is scary, and, it’s been my experience that most content-area teachers don’t see it as their job to help students improve their reading and writing skills. It won’t be easy because some people just don’t like change. But my gut tells me that the Common Core standards aren’t going to fade away, at least not anytime soon. My hope is that teachers, administrators, and schools can all find a way to introduce students to the adventures and ideas that both fiction and non-fiction texts have to offer.

Can Being Mindful of Emotions During Reading Improve Comprehension?

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 How mindful are you of your emotions when you read? According to new research, tracking and analyzing Moment-To-Moment (M2M) emotions could give insight into when reading comprehension breaks down, resumes, or flows continuously. The research, conducted by Arthur C. Graesser and Sidney D'Mello, was published in the November 2012 issue of The Reading Teacher, a publication of the International Reading Association. The name of the article is Moment-To-Moment Emotions During Reading.

According to the research, M2M emotions focus on either the "persistence or changes in emotions every few seconds" versus the long-term status of everyday emotions. M2M emotions are not static, rather they are extremely dynamic as a reader interacts with a reading task or text. In fact, for their studies, Graesser and D'Mello poll emotions every 20 seconds using a variety of people and tools to classify the emotions. Think about that. They track every 20 seconds. Incredible!

The study highlights four emotions: boredom, frustration, confusion and flow (engagement). In tracking these fluctuating emotions, the researchers attempt to pinpoint the exact moment when each one kicks in. They also track how a reader transitions from one emotion to emotion. Apparently, there are two transition cycles: Beneficial (flow > confusion > delight in having cleared the confusion) and Harmful (boredom > frustration > disengagement). The article offers well-known interventions to help readers who consistently remain in the Harmful cycle.

The ultimate goal with reading and reading instruction is to develop readers who read metacognitively and who become mindful of their changing emotions while they read. I found this article so interesting because it looks at common problem through a new lens: Why do some readers struggle while others don't? While the emotions Graesser and D'Mello set forth aren't new - teachers know that boredom, frustration, and confusion during reading are common, interconnected feelings for struggling readers - the pinpoint approach is refreshing. I can't wait to see more research from this area of study. And I imagine now that this topic is "top of mind" that I'll be more mindful of what I'm feeling as I read.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Got My Mind On My Money ... Part DUH

I just got back from meeting with a financial advisor. (See back story here.). You will never know how many times I tried to back out. I was the Queen of Excuses. But I did it, and I survived.

It went well. My retirement plan is a little more streamlined, and my funds are allocated more appropriately. Apparently, my age has bumped my risk-tolerance level from Aggressive Investor to Moderate Investor. That feels a little strange to me.

The rep I met with was very nice. And very young. I think he might have been about 15 years old. His business card shouts "Senior Investment Specialist." I couldn't help but think, "Senior in what? High school?" Ugly, I know. I was his age when I started investing with his firm. You know, the age where 40 seems old? Now, I'm 41. So, to him, I'm sure I looked like a muddled old lady trying to figure out her finances. I could tell he was uncomfortable asking age-related questions. He got especially flustered when he had to ask how long I expected to live after I retired. (Forever, baby!)  It was somewhat humorous watching him squirm and stutter. Did I mentioned he looked like a Ken doll? But, that's beside the point.

So awkward moments aside, today was a learning day for me. I discovered that my husband and I need to sit down and talk more about our retirement plans. I also learned that I am not as financially literate about the investment world as I would like to be. Lastly, I learned that a lot of our fear and lack of literacy in certain areas is due to a communication barrier. My financial advisor spoke quickly and tossed around industry jargon that reverberated in my ears like a foreign language. I felt uncomfortable and at a disadvantage. I let it keep  me from asking all of my questions and understanding all of the answers to questions I did ask. It got me thinking about how I communicate with people, especially young people. Perhaps their lack of understanding and learning has to do with how I presented information.

The bottom line is that I'm glad I went. I consider it time well spent because I stepped out of my comfort zone and grabbed an opportunity to educate myself about something important to me.

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Got My Mind On My Money and My Money On My Mind

Talking about money is scary, isn't it? It makes me truly squirmy and sweaty. But understanding what you have, what you want, and how to get there has to trump your fear.

Among all of the life skills people need to have, I rank financial literacy near the top of the list. Understanding money is just so essential to a secure future. Recognizing Uncle Sam's pseudonym is FICA when you get a paycheck, balancing a checkbook, and stashing dollars into a savings account just cover the basics of financial literacy. The real fun lies in understanding the impact of pre-tax contributions, deciphering the foreign language of retirement fund prospectuses (prospecti?), and comprehending the terms of a mortgage loan. And I hope you picked up the dripping sarcasm when I wrote, The real fun ...

The good news is that there are a crazy number of resources available to help us strengthen our financial literacy. The other day I decided to take advantage of one of those resources. With trembling fingers, I dialed the number for my financial advisor and scheduled an appointment to talk face-to-face with someone about my (gulp) money. Specifically, my retirement money. I've avoided this move for almost a decade (truly), and it's time I figure out what I have and what I want in terms of my financial future. I'm kind of excited and very proud of myself for taking this step toward beefing up my financial literacy skills.

If you are looking for info on financial literacy, these resources  might be helpful.

The Simple Dollar (one of my favorite blogs)

Financial Literacy Now

Jump$tart - Financial Smarts for Students

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Literacy Fun from Family Fun!

One of my favorite magazines is Family Fun.  While super cute craft projects and creative food projects typically dominate the pages, I'm drawn toward the underlying theme of literacy this publication incorporates into each issue. Here are two examples from the October issue. Give them a try in your classroom or in your own home ... or both.

Math Evolve: This app, which is available for pretty much any device, lets kids of all ages tune up their math literacy skills through exploration of three creative environments: microscopic, ocean, and outerspace. In each environment, players grow stronger by solving math problems, which allows them to defeat the enemy (super cute aliens and such). The app can be customized to meet the needs of each player. Cost: $1.99!

Street Smarts: This is a great game to play in the car, especially on a long road trip. Players take turns trying to make a sentence out of the letters of the license plate from the car in front of you. the first player to make a complete sentence wins the round. Here's the example from Family Fun:

"LH5-2VF = Let's have vacation fun!"
Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Promote Literacy By Creating Young Authors

We are having fabulous fall weather in the Midwest (still no rain), so I took full advantage of it and sat outside to write this post. In other words, I went old school with pen and paper. Despite all the technology available, I love putting pen to paper. I always will.

Anyway, I often get so wrapped up in life's "stuff" that I forget to step outside and let the sights, sounds, smells, and scenes of the world rejuvenate and inspire me. That's one of the things I love about reading, it rejuvenates me. When I read, I create my own sights, sounds, smells, scenes, and images. I create. I own.

Sadly, an increasing number of kids don't create or can't create using their own brains. I've taught 7th graders who, when I ask, "What do you seen in your mind after reading that paragraph?" look at me and respond, "I don't see anything. Just the words."

One of the best ways to introduce young people to reading and writing is through storytelling. I'm not talking about where an adult reads a story and the child listens. I'm talking about when kids have the opportunity to create their own stories complete with illustrations. I'm talking about letting them unleash their imaginations. I'm talking about letting them be in charge. Not only do they become active participants in their learning, they can also gain an appreciation for the process involved at all levels of literacy.

One of my daughters is super creative, both with the stories she creates and the drawings she produces. She loves to make books. The first time we made a book we used a small spiral notebook that I received for free at a local kid event. Ruthie didn't care that the pages were lined. She went right to work filling the pages with the characters and settings floating in her mind. When she was finished, she dictated the storyline to me. We have read this book a countless number of times. It always makes us laugh. Lately, her books have been made out of construction paper and white paper assembled into book format. She illustrates the book, then dictates the action. Now that she is becoming a true reader and writer, I imagine my role as scribe will soon become obsolete. That makes me a little sad.

Along these lines, I read an article in the October 2012 edition of Family Fun magazine about Scribble Press, a publishing house of sorts for kids. With studios in New York and Los Angeles, young authors can experience the publishing process, from concept to creation, during their visit. They leave their session with a hard cover copy of the story they created. Fun! If you can't make it to the coasts, there is a Scribble Press iPad app available that steers users through the process. They can receive their finished creation in the mail.

So, regardless if you are old school or high tech, the possibilities to help children explore their imaginations through storytelling are out there. Giving them the opportunity to create and express opens up the world of reading and writing and just might create a lifelong lover of all things literacy.
If you are wondering if this creative idea transers to middle and high school students, you'd better believe it! (Actually, I've come to discover that people of all ages enjoy putting crayon to paper every now and then.) In the upper grades, think along the lines of group book projects, persuasive essays, comic strips that showcase key events in a story, personal narratives, original poetry, even book trailers, which require a script. The possibilities are only limited by creativity!

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Sagging SAT Scores: More Rigor? More Tools? Both?

According to a recent report, average SAT reading scores for students who graduated in 2012 are at their lowest since 1972. This means that only 43% of those test takers demonstrated the knowledge and needed to successfully tackle college-level work. (Condensed press release)

In response, College Board President Gaston Caperton called for more rigor in high school courses. Sounds good. But I can't help but wonder: if fewer than 50% of students taking the SAT aren't making the cut now, how is more rigorous courses going to help them?

The report noted that the 2012 group represented the most diverse population of test takers in history. Almost half were minority students, and approximately 25 percent could be categorized as ESL (English as a Second Language) students or ELL (English Language Learners) students, meaning they grew up in homes in which English was not the primary language. Is it possible some of these students run up against a language barrier or concept barrier on the test? Do these students have the opportunity to take the test in their primary language is they so desire? I know the SAT is well-known for its reliability and validity, but does it truly take into consideration the melting pot status that the Unites States now owns? I don't know the review process; just thinking out loud.

Most of my teaching experience is at the middle school level. I can't tell you how many 6-8 grade students struggle with reading, for whatever reason. Those struggles don't automatically go away when they hit high school. For students who are learning English as a second language, all the confusion doesn't magically disappear in 9th grade.

That is why I am such an advocate of incorporating reading instruction in every course and at every grade level. Around the 6th grade, if not sooner, reading instruction switches from learning to read to reading to learn. And that transition needs to take place. But reading instruuction still needs to play a big role in the classroom. Secondary-level teachers typically receive one college course on teaching reading in the content areas. Most of those teachers earn course credit and never give it a second thought because they teach "math" or "social studies" or "history." Reading instruction has a place in all of those content areas. (See my previous post). What would happen to those SAT scores if teachers - regardless of their content area - were required to incorporate reading instruction into their lessons. What if doing so were part of their evaluation? (GASP!!) So many resources are out there to help teachers do this (including the school reading specialists). Let's take advantage of them!

More rigorous courses is certainly a step in the right direction, but let's also give our students the tools they need to tackle those courses.

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

The Numbers Game

True confession time: I don't do math.

I'm a whiz at reading and writing. But arithmetic? I just don't "get it." When letters start flirting with numbers and variables start dancing with equations, I get panicky. I start breathing heavily, my brain jumbles for a few quick seconds, and then it screeches to a halt. It's almost as if the two sides of my brain twisted in opposite directions. Kind of like when you pry open a plastic Easter egg.

Having said that, I view mathematical literacy and financial literacy as two separate skill sets. My financial literacy skills are proficient. I balance my checkbook, create budgets of all shapes and sizes, and understand the basics of investing and borrowing. Some of these tasks involve a higher-order understanding of numbers, but the concepts are concrete. It's the abstract concepts that throw me for a loop and keep my mathematical literacy skills at the basic comprehension level.

But mastery of those abstract mathematical concepts is essential, especially in today's blazing technology world. Yet, it seems as if today's students struggle with mathematical literacy more than ever before. It's important to recognize that different literacy skills and strategies are required to successfully access a math book (or any text book for that matter). As an educator, I truly believe in teaching across the content areas. This means incorporating literacy skills in every class and tailoring that literacy instruction to the content at hand. Unfortunately, in my classroom experiences at the secondary (6 grade and up) level, cross-curricular collaboration is rare. The prevailing school of thought is that literacy encompasses only reading and writing. As such, English/Language Arts teachers bear the main responsibility for teaching it. That doesn't work. Math teachers must teach mathematical literacy, social studies teachers must teach historical literacy, and so on.

I came across two articles focusing on efforts to improve the mathematical literacy skills of young students. One effort uses the latest technology to get - and keep - kids interested in math. The other incorporates written reflection into the high school math classroom as a way to encourage students to think about what they are thinking about (metacognition) as they work math problems. Check out both!


Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!

More on Cultural Literacy: September 11

Any person able to fully remember the events of September 11, 2001, knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Every year on this date, we share those stories. We grieve, and we remember.

But remembering isn't always enough. It's important to understand, as much as we can, the why behind those horrifying, life-altering events. That's where cultural literacy comes into play, if for any reason than it helps us bring some sort of logic to that day. Understanding the why is hard, it's complicated, and it may be nearly impossible.

When we take responsibility for our own cultural literacy, we can help younger people understand why September 11 is both an honored day and a dark day in our country's history. Perhaps the best way to start the conversation is just to ask what they know. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!


Cultural Literacy and The Uncommon Reader

If you love all things English (as in, England) and anything that involves reading and writing, you must read  The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. At a mere 120 pages, it's actually a novella, and it is perhaps one of the most charming little books I have ever read. I borrowed a copy from the public library, but I simply must have a copy of my own. On the Christmas list it goes!

Despite its compact nature, I found the text to be a bit challenging because of Bennett's broad vocabulary and because of the setting and characters, namely England and the Queen of England. Bennett, being British, easily writes with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of England's monarchy. I found myself jotting down questions, looking up definitions (see the end of the post for two of my favorites), and Googling madly for information to clarify my confusion. For example, at one point, Bennett slipped in a reference to Nahlin and Mrs. Simpson.  I was already familiar with Wallis Simpson, having watched The King's Speech,  but I had no idea what Nahlin was or how Wallis Simpson was connected. Now I do. Essentially, I took the opportunity to broaden my cultural literacy.

Cultural literacy requires one to possess knowledge, both historical and contemporary, of different cultural groups as well as their own. People who purposefully cultivate their cultural literacy not only expand their minds, but they gain the ability to see issues from different points of view. They learn to understand, respect, and appreciate how the ideologies and customs of other cultures impact their own world. And, I find that they are just so darn interesting to talk to!

I have spent time in classrooms where students' academic curiosity, let alone their cultural curiosity, is severely lacking. This causes concern because in order for today's young students to morph into successful adults, they need cultural awareness. One of the best - and easiest - ways for them to gain this knowledge is by reading. We have to get engaging books, magazines, Internet articles, Tweets, cereal boxes, chip packaing (Takis, yum!) in front of these kiddos!

[Stepping off soap box]

As promised, here are two of my new favorite vocabulary words:

amanuensis - a literary assistant; secretary
opsimath - one who continues, or begins, to learn late in life
Aren't they beautiful? And fun to say, too!

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ...  Mind Full of Literacy

What's In a Name?

I often wonder how people, places and objects get the names they have. Some names are very straightforward, and the reasoning behind how the names came to be are obvious (history, topography, family tradition, function). But other names, like nicknames, music album titles, and some baby names (be honest, you've wondered at times) are an enigma. And there is usually a great story behind them.

For example, my nickname in certain circles in MOOSE. If you saw me in person and heard someone call me MOOSE, your brain would jolt and pause and ponder because I am very much on the petite side. I have zero moose-like qualities. However, in other circles I'm called Mari With An Eye. That one is obvious because my name is Mari, spelled with an "i" instead of a "y."

Another example: A few weeks back I had the opportunity to listen to the jazz band, The Project H, live at The Brick. I am not a jazz expert by any means, but I do listen to it from time to time. As the band jammed out, and as I've listened to the copy of the CD I bought after their set since that night, I found myself wondering about the inspiration behind the titles of jazz songs. The Project H titles include Becoming Light, Fixing Broken, and Water Torture. I would love to sit down with a band member and find out the why. 

Here is where all of this is leading ...

With my first post on this blog, I just jumped right in. For my second post, I wanted to share the inspiration behind the blog's title, Mind Full of Literacy. On the surface, you can take the name literally. I have a passion for literacy. I love learning new ideas, reading the research, discussing the various aspects, and helping people - especially young students - realize and accept the essential role literacy plays, and will always play, in their lives. My mind is literally full of literacy. But the title is also a play on words, as in mindful of literacy. I want to continue to be - and encourage you to be -aware of the types of literacies you engage in each and every day. It also invites us to be mindful of both our literacy strengths and the literacy areas we would like to strengthen. For me, that's a never- ending journey.

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ... Mind Full of Literacy!

Inaugural Post

Since this is a big election year, I thought my inaugural (get it? Election ... Inaugural) post could be about political literacy.

I am not a political guru. Sure, I have my opinions but they are not often based on a wealth of information. Essentially, I am politically illiterate. I'm not proud of it. I know I should be more aware of the issues. But it just gets so darn confusing, and it's tough for me to decipher who is telling the truth. And frankly, despite my good intentions to educate myself, when election time rolls around the bickering and sidestepping just wear me out.

Yet, the responsibility to educate ourselves, our students, and our children about America's political process remains. And I truly believe it is an important responsibility.

As a teacher, I enjoy Scholastic's materials. (This is not an endorsement, just a statement of fact.) The company currently has a set of 2012 Election Skills Books available for grades K-10. According to the e-mail I received, the books have critical thinking exercises, graphs, charts, and maps (visual literacy!) for classrooms to read, think about, and discuss. What a great way to sharpen the political literacy skills of our future leaders!

Thanks for reading! It keeps your ...  Mind Full of Literacy!