Promote Literacy at Home with a Bookish Advent Calendar

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I’ve never been big on advent calendars. Opening little doors to reveal cheap candy or trinkets? Where’s the thrill in that? But, when a Facebook friend shared an idea for a literary advent calendar, I thought I’d give this holiday staple another chance.

The idea seemed easy enough: wrap 24 books, stack ‘em, open one each day until the fat man and his reindeer arrive. This non-traditional advent calendar is a good fit for our bibliophilic (book lovin’) family. We avoid the proliferation of plastic toys and cheap chocolate (both of which would end up in the trash), spend a few quality moments as a family and give the peeps another opportunity to show off their mad reading skills.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, I scoured thrift shops and the peeps’ bedroom bookshelves for 24 gently used (or forgotten) books that I could quickly wrap and stack. Many of them sport a Christmas theme, but some I included because I knew they would interest the girls. The last book they will open is ‘Twasthe Night Before Christmas. (I know, very clever and totally original.) I wrapped all the books and had them ready to go by my planned Dec. 1 unveiling. Imagine my delight when the peeps bought into the idea!

A week into the project, I will admit that the girls’ excitement for our advent calendar has waned a bit. After all, even the most studious of 1st graders would prefer candy or toys over books. However, they do continue to show some enthusiasm for unwrapping and reading a new book each night. I’ll take whatever I can get as long as it’s promoting our family’s belief in strong reading skills.

Be sure to read about The Advent CalendarWars (Animal Jam Vs. Literacy) over at my other blog, My Ideal Reality.

How does your family promote literacy at home during the holidays?

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

Adults Need Reading Strategies, Too

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One of the websites I read fairly frequently is It's always ready with fresh, relevant content, like the article How To Remember More of What You Read. Interestingly, the tips the writer offers to boost adult reading comprehension (skim the text, set a purpose for reading, make a connection) are the exact same strategies we teach our young readers. And while I know them — and have taught them — I don't always use them. Instead, I often choose the "Dive Right On In" strategy. Shame on me. This article is a short, on-the-nose refresher course.

I would add one more tip: take notes. For me, writing down main ideas, or just interesting ideas or questions that pop into my brain, helps me engage with the text and stay focused.

Thanks for reading ... It Keeps Your Mind Full of Literacy!

Building Literacy Skills the Old-Fashioned Way

The number of resources available to help young students build their literacy skills is staggering. As a parent and former classroom teacher, I find that it can also be overwhelming. Evaluating various programs, implementing plans and trying to ensure consistent application while battling other tasks that drop into our days takes time, patience and support from families and colleagues. And it seems as if everything is web-based these days, which makes it so easy to plug in the kiddos and walk away (aka Electronic Babysitter). Yes, guilty as charged.

My daughters are almost 7, and it’s taken me almost as many years to find the literacy resources that work best for us at home and while we’re out and about. Prepare yourself. My methods are so old school that you might need to sit down before continuing on with your blog reading. Are you ready? Here we go:

 Talking and playing with words.

No, I have not gone completely crazy. Think about it. These resources are always available, free of charge, do not require me to hunt down a WiFi hotspot like a mad woman and take only a tad amount of time. No training required.

I have engaged my girls in conversation since the day they were born. Admittedly, in the early months (aka The Baby Blob Stage), my primary motivation for running my mouth was to stave off boredom. I talked to them and explained things just like I would with an adult. Big words and all. Still do.


As the girls grew older and began learning to speak and interact, our talking often involved word play such as rhyming words that made sense and words that made nonsense. Still does. We also love changing the lyrics of songs to be silly. For example, I miss the buzz of the bumblebee and the beautiful butterfly became I miss the butt of the bumblebutt and the beautiful butter butt. Inappropriate? Perhaps. (They started it). But it was also a great on-the-go lesson about alliteration.

Lately, our breakfast conversations have focused on challenge words and backward words. The challenge words come from their weekly high frequency lists or something I pull from my foggy morning brain. We all take turns quizzing each other. The backward word game involves taking a simple word, pronouncing it backwards and challenging someone to figure out the word and spell it. One of today’s words was paos (soap). This simple game takes their language learning to a whole different level.

I know there are tons of other unplugged literacy ideas floating around that families and teachers use to help students and children. Please share!

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

Engage Kids in Reading Through Song

I read a professional article a few days ago about using song lyrics to teach reading. It brought to mind my successes with using music as a reading tool. While the article focused on new readers and suggested using simple lyrics with sing-songy melodies and rhyming words, my experience has been that incorporating popular music from a variety of genres into the curriculum is just as effective, if not more engaging.

Finding song lyrics is as simple as typing the song title (or part of the words if you can't remember the title) into a search engine. Tons of sites offer free printable song lyrics. To find matching music, YouTube is always a great place to start. And the KidzBop series will offer clean versions of the most popular tunes. If you think Kindergarten is too young to start with popular music, think again. Imagine my surprise when my own kindergarten-age daughters came home from school boppin' around to pop songs. Granted, they didn't always have the words quite right, but they knew the melodies and busted their best dance moves.

Once you track down the lyrics, copy and paste them into a Word document. This serves two purposes: 1) you can clean up any naughty language and 2) you can increase the point size and/or spacing to improve readability or make room for class notes. When you're ready, print a copy for each student. The rest is easy. Just play the song and have the kids track the words, just like you would with any other text. There are so many kinesthetic activities you can build around music and reading, too. A true curriculum-expanding strategy!

I've used lyrics as reading material with students of all reading abilities. The strategy is a huge hit. And I've used it with my own peeps (now 1st graders). Not only is it a fun way to engage students in reading, but lyrics lend themselves well to discussions about figurative language, literary elements, author's purpose and meaning. Again ... expand that curriculum!

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

True Literacy Confession: I Skip Text and Never Look Back

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Currently, I'm reading All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam. This the second book I've read by Vanderkam. Earlier this year, I read her book about time management, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. You can read that post here, on my other blog My Ideal Reality.

I enjoy Vanderkam's books because they challenge me in a couple of ways. First, she introduces fresh perspectives on common topics, and that puts my brain into overdrive. Second, while her books are pretty much "just right" for my reading level, on occasion my literacy comprehension skills are put to the test, especially when percentages, statistics and other numerical data fill the pages. My brain stops working. I envision it grinding to a halt.

Here comes the true confession part of this blog ...

Instead of staying the course and figuring out those numbers and what they mean to me, I skipped those parts. No big deal, right? Maybe. But here's the shocking part: I never looked back. We tell our students and our children that it's ok to skip confusing words or information and continue reading as long as they go back and fix their thinking. Yeah, well, I didn't fix my thinking. I just plowed on through. (hangs head in shame)

Granted, I'm a proficient reader and I know that if I really need to understand that information I can - and will - go back and work through it. I have that self-discipline.

But here's the thing: young readers and striving readers don't have that self-discipline. They skip and never look back. My question to you is, "How do we instill literacy discipline in them?"

I'd love to hear your thoughts as well as any true confessions about literacy-related sins you may have committed.

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


Let's Get This Party Started! International Literacy Day is Just Around the Corner

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International Literacy Day is observed every September 8, with the purpose of raising awareness about global literacy issues This year, the day is dedicated to 21st century literacies.

The International Reading Association will kick off its month-long celebration on September 9. The organization's theme for this year's celebration is "Invent Your Future," and events and activities will focus on the literacy skills students need to be successful in school, work and life.

If you're looking for some resources to raise your students' awareness of the importance of developing strong literacy skills, check out some of these ...

Celebrate International Literacy Day! ReadWriteThink lesson plans for Grades K-12

The Book Chook - Ideas from an Australian writers who loves children's literacy and literature

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

Problem: Mandatory Retention; Solution: Mandatory Involvement

August. The countdown to fall begins along side the start of a new school year. This time each year, the debate over student retention flares up. Reading Rockets recently featured the article, "The Effects of Mandatory Retention" on its web site. It's a comprehensive look at the issue and the pros and cons of retaining underachieving students.

I straddle the fence on the issue. I'm fully aware of the social and emotional ramifications of holding students back in school. Yet, I'm also fully aware how challenging it is to teach students who aren't in the same place as their peers academically, and the humiliation that accompanies striving students when they must sit in a classroom with peers who are at or above grade level. Either way, these students stand out and not in a good way.

It doesn't matter how you turn the issue, the blame for a student's lack of academic progress always seems to fall in this order: 1) the student and 2) the school and its teachers. But I'd like to suggest a new order to the blame chain: 1) the parents, 2) the student and 3) the school and its teachers.

I will always stand firm in my belief in research that shows that parental involvement from Day 1 is THE primary indicator of a student's academic success. For the life of me, I can't figure out why parents are rarely - if ever - held accountable for their children's academic shortcomings. When a student struggles, the school is obligated to make accommodations and provide additional services. Don't get me wrong, I've taught many students who benefited from those accommodations and services. They are essential. But it just seems like the parental piece is shoved under the rug more often than not.

Admittedly, I don't know what a parental accountability system would look like. Just like any tough issue, there are so many factors that make creating such a system an enormous (but not impossible) task. Single-parent families, language barriers, third-shift working parents, absentee parents, basic logistics.

The author of the article, Saga Briggs, considers underachievement as the root of the problem. But what's the root of that problem? It just might be, in part, lack of parental involvement.

Maybe someday we'll start researching plans for Mandatory Involvement as a way to dissolve Mandatory Retention.

What's your take? 

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

Project 2013 Update. Score: 171 to 24

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Way back when, at the end of 2012, I told you about a little reading project I had designed for 2013. You can read that post here. August is just around the corner, and I thought an update was in order.

To date, I have or listened to ... drum roll, please ... a whopping 24 Young Adult/Kid Lit books. Check out the link here. Obviously, I was overly optimistic. What was thinking, announcing I would read 171 YA books this year? I have a life, family, part-time job. Even if I didn't have those luxuries, no one spends every waking minute of every day reading. Do they?

In addition to these 24 books, I've also tackled eight grown up books. Visit my More Books! page for that list.

But, discouraged I am not. After all, I'm reading again! And reading a lot! Which is something I love to do and something that makes me happy. At any given time, I'm reading or listening to 3 or 4 books and having a blast!

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

Lovely Little Lightbulbs of Literacy

Lovely Little Lightbulbs of Literacy. That's how I see my peeps. Right now, at this time in their lives, they are reading and writing machines.

Here's what I know ...

1) I will never deny them books. I can't. I just can't. Scholastic reps, if you read this, just think, "CASH COW."

2) One of my favorite experiences in our house right now is finding both girls passed out in their beds at night surrounded by books, evidence that they didn't go right to sleep but made good use of their last few minutes of awake time.

Short, sweet and simple thoughts on this Saturday night.

Thanks for reading ... It Keeps Your Mind Full of Literacy! If you're looking for a bit of a different writing style from what you get here, check out my other blog, Ideal Reality.

Conquering My Own Literacy Learning Curve

Lately, I've been engaging in a literacy learning curve of my own. I mentioned here that I was going to take on a part-time editor's position. That job is now in full-swing, and while I'm enjoying it immensely, I have to admit there has been a bit of a learning curve.

The publishing company operates in a niche industry. Once upon a time (about 10 years ago), I was well-versed in all things related to that industry. Now that I'm back in the ring, I'm having to relearn the language of this world. Some things have bubbled to the surface quickly, but others I've had to pull biting and scratching from the dark recesses of my brain.

It is amazing how quickly technology has changed the publishing industry. Ten years ago, we had e-mail, and that's about it. Today, there are digital editions of the magazines, e-newsletters, and e- who knows what else I have yet to encounter. Regardless, I get the opportunity to improve upon my digital literacy skills. If I could only figure out the new phone system  ...

How about you? What personal literacy learning curve are you conquering this summer? I'd love to hear about it. (Hint: Leave a comment!)

For more on digital literacy, click here, here and here.

Don't forget to check out my Project 2013  progress and my More Books! page.

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

My Kindergartner Read WHAT?

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As a former reading teacher, my area of expertise is with striving middle school readers. My perennial challenge was to dig up reading materials that were high interest/low ability and looks middle school-ish. Nothing kills a middle school student's confidence faster than walking around with a elementary-level reading book.

As a mother of twin kindergartners, I'm facing a different challenge. Both peeps read well above grade level. Not only that, but they have mind blowing comprehension skills. So, in a strange - and thrilling! - turn of events, I'm faced with finding high ability/appropriate content reading material for them. Junie B. Jones is a favorite, but I can tell those books aren't presenting much of a challenge anymore. Tonight, I passed along  A Wedding For Wiglaf?  by Kate McMullan . It's around a  3rdgrade level, and I think they might enjoy it. I finished it today as part of my Project 2013 (which isn't going so well, but that's fodder for another blog).

One of the peeps' teachers recommended that we let them read what they want to read, and I must admit I'm leaning in that direction. My father never censored my reading when I was growing up (he probably should have), so limiting my kids' access to reading makes me uncomfortable.  I don't want them to become bored with books to the point that they stop reading, but I'm a little nervous that they will uncover too much too soon and I'll have a lot of  explaining to do. Parental discretion is advised, right?

Are there any teachers or parents out there with the same challenge? I'd love to hear your solutions, and if you have any reading recommendation, PLEASE pass those along!

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

By the way, I hope you'll take a few minutes to check out my other blog, My Ideal Reality.

Digital Literacy or Electronic Babysitter?

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We live the Digital Age, where people are expected to demonstrate, at the very least, basic digital literacy skills. Despite the fact that technology in schools often lags behind technology at home, academic environments are doing all they can to build their students' digital knowledge. (Be sure to check out these previous posts: Flipping Out in the Elementary Classroom and Teens Aren't as Digitally Literate As We Thought.)

In her article, What Do Good Readers Do  - On the Computer? (The Reading Teacher, April 2013), Lindsay Buck Saldana's does an excellent job explaining why "interactive" computer games are merely electronic babysitters unless the classroom teacher actively participates with his/her students while they play these games.

She conducted a mini-action research study of sorts after watching her students mindlessly click through activities on a well-known reading web site. Were they engaged? Sure! But were they thinking? Not so much. She worked toward solving the problem by showing students how to apply the traditional reading strategies we all know and love to their online reading games. Through modeling, read alouds and explicit instruction of strategies, she demonstrated that while the text format may be different, the concept is the same. Using one of their web-based programs, Saldana walked her students through the steps of how a good reader interacts with a website, which include taking advantage of all the resources available such as clickable images and words.

It's all about getting students to transfer their knowledge from one content area to another. And sometimes the best way to bridge the gap between traditional and cutting edge is to realize there is room for both. 

What are some ways you boost your students' digital literacy skills?

Do You Hear What I Hear? Listening as Literacy

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I've long held the belief that listening to other people read can have a significant impact both on early childhood learners and striving readers. This article from Reading Rockets lists multitude of benefits that audiobooks can offer readers.

In addition to reading books, I have been on a audiobook binge lately. My local library system makes it super easy to download books using the Overdrive program. I've introduced my girls to audiobooks. We've listened to quite a few in the car. They love them - and it saves my ears from Radio Disney! Here's what we've been reading lately.

I've enjoyed these books while walking, driving, vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher ... you get the idea. Basically, any time I can steal a few minutes.

Is there anything more delightful than getting lost in the prosodic, fluent, expressive voice of another person?

How about you? Do you enjoy listening to books? Do you use audiobooks in your classroom? Do audiobooks make your skin crawl? Do tell!

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

Stop the Plastic Easter Egg Insanity With This Literacy-Based Idea

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I pulled out my plastic tub of Easter decorations over the weekend, and I've been staring at a plastic shopping bag overflowing with ... you guessed it ... plastic Easter eggs. I swear those things have quadrupled in number since this time last year. How does that happen?

But FamilyFun magazine came to my rescue (again!). In the Create section of the March 2013 issue, a fellow reader shared her idea for turning those pesky plastic eggs into a reading game! On one half of each egg, write various common word endings (think: -at, -it, -ed, -op). On the other half of each egg, write different consonants and/or consonant blends. Have your children or students connect the different halves to create new words. I could see this working as a centers activity, or if you have enough eggs (and who doesn't?) a team-based relay race. The game could be modified for any grade level or reading level.

Speaking of reading, are you following my Project 2013 progress? If you are looking for some YA reading recs, be sure to check out my Project 2013 page!

Teens Aren't as Digitally Literate As We Thought

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Despite their ninja-like nimbleness with texting, downloading music and posting on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it turns out that teens aren't all that when it comes to digital literacy.

According to several studies, most young adults don't possess the ability to evaluate the level of quality or the credibility of online information. To draw attention to the lack of digital literacy skills among teens, libraries across the country will celebrate Teen Tech Week (March 10-16) through the theme Check in @ your library. According to the American Library Association, during this week "teens will work with librarians to create their own unique Web and technological content as well as to learn how to become competent and ethical users of technology." The goal is to not only help students strengthen their digital literacy skills, but to help them understand the importance of developing these skills so they can be successful in the 21st century work environment.

Check out the full article here.

What about you? How do you help your students or children enhance their digital literacy skills?

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

It's Not About the Money, Money, Money ... But It Kind Of Is

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This post is less about literacy and more about teaching in general. Teacher salaries, actually. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), that teachers don't do what they do for the money. But money does help. Especially if you like to feed your family, wear clothes to work, and have indoor electricity. Which I do.

Backstory: At the end of the last school year, I stepped out of the classroom. I had the opportunity not to return, and I took it. Teaching was a second career for me, so I had a full set of professional writing, editing and publishing skills to fall back on. For the past several months, I've been freelance writing for a local Internet marketing firm. This past week, I was offered a part-time/temporary job as a special projects editor with my previous publishing company.

And this is where I'm headed with the whole teacher-salary thing. My part-time work will total 151 hours over the course of about 6 1/2 months. And I will make just $1,000 less than than what I was making working 50+ hours/week as a teacher from August-May. With my part-time gig, I will have no work to take home. I still get to take my girls to school every morning and pick them up every afternoon. I get to work with people who value my opinions and my ideas. And, I get a week in Las Vegas come October.

This speaks volumes about teacher pay, doesn't it?

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

Flipping Out in the Elementary Classroom

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I've been hearing and reading quite a bit about flipped classrooms lately. It's the latest trend in education. Traditionally, the movement has been reserved for lecture-heavy high school and college courses. But it is starting to trickle down to the elementary level where it would serve more to build background knowledge ahead of classroom instruction. 

Here's how it works: Flipped classrooms put the lecture part of instruction at home and the homework part of instruction at school. In other words, instead of the teacher introducing a topic and assigning homework, instruction is provided via technology (videos, DVDs, thumb drives). Students watch the content at home in preparation for class the next day. Class time is used to discuss the information, participate in a project or complete assignments that would have been given as homework under the traditional teaching method. The goal of flipped classrooms is to make learning more engaging and interactive for students as well as to give teachers more opportunities to provide individual or small group instruction.

Obviously, there are pros and cons. The biggest obstacle is access to technology. You can call this the Digital Age as much as you want, but there are still many, many families in this country who do not have computers at home. Additionally, there will always be a population of students who do not complete their homework for reasons that stretch way beyond laziness. We have kiddos amongst us who face unfathomable obstacles every day that prevent them from doing school work.

On the Pro side, a flipped classroom could be just what students who struggle with processing issues need to be successful. Watching content in the comfort of their own home, where they can pause, rewind, and review the information as many times an necessary can help them keep pace with their peers. They could jot down questions and topics for discussion ahead of time, which would allow them to collect their thoughts and participate in class in a way they might not have been able to before.

I'm taking more of an interest in this new trend because the school district in which I live is currently rolling out its Future Learner Project (FLiP). It's a multi-year implementation that started with a small pilot group of its 5th grade classes this year. To solve the technology problem, the district plans to put a take-home laptop into the hands of every student. But beyond just handing kids the devices, teachers will engage in extensive professional development to ensure they are comfortable using the technology within a curriculum that correlates with a flipped classroom as well as the Common Core Standards.

I'm hoping this flip won't be a flop because I really can see how this could help students at all learning levels. It won't be easy, but it's achievable. How about you? Is your district looking into flipped classrooms? Thoughts?

Thanks for reading ... It Keeps Your Mind Full of Literacy!

Travels With Myself & Two Others: Taking Literacy Learning on the Road

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(First, a quick shout out to Martha Gellhorn, whose memoir Travels With Myself and Another ranks as one of my all-time favorite reads. Obviously, my blog post title is a play on Martha's book title.)

In a few weeks, I will travel with my twin daughters to Florida for vacation. It will be a learning experience for all three of us. For me, I will learn whether I have the patience and courage to travel with two six-year-olds without losing either my mind or one (or both) of them. I will also discover just how strong my map-reading skills are as I navigate a rental car around central Florida. Time to beef up my document literacy skills ... or just use GPS. The girls will expand their boundaries significantly. Our trip involves new forms of transportation (airplane, monster-truck eco bus), new sights, new sounds, new tastes, and new people. Authentic learning at its finest. Travel and reading. Two of the best forms of education.

In a fun coincidence, the February 2013 issue of The Reading Teacher (International Reading Association) includes the article, Literacy on the Move: A Journal for the Journey by Dr. Laurie Curtis, an assistant professor at Kansas State University. In the article, Ms. Curtis lays the groundwork for an interesting project that involves incorporating literacy learning with travel. Designed for students who must miss school because of family travel plans, the project provides a way for students to connect their school studies with the real-life experiences they will have while on their journey. Essentially, instead of assigning "make up" work, the teachers involved in this project created a traveling journal assignment of sorts. Before they leave, a student (and possibly her parents) conference with the teacher about the assignment. The student receives a folder that contains a U.S. or world map, colored pencils and paper. As they travel, the student colors in the areas of the map that pertain to the journey. Along the way, she collects print resources and journals each day about her experiences. The type of journaling completed depends on the student's age and level of literacy skills.When the student arrives back in class, she conferences again with the teacher and then creates a presentation to share with her classmates.  The activity supports both the Common Core State Standards and the four literacy strands. 

Although my daughters and I will travel during a scheduled school break, I am thinking about putting a journaling packet together for each girl. Not only could it help them make stronger connections with their experiences, I think they would find it fun with the end result being a unique souvenir of their first big traveling adventure.

I'd love to hear what ideas you have to help students  - or children in general - connect literacy and learning while traveling.

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

Apps-olutely Underwhelmed: My Adventures In App Testing

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A few posts ago, I wrote about my battle with becoming more digitally literate and what I planned to do to become more so. I've actually delved into a few of the apps I vowed I would investigate. Here's an update.

Spotify - Interesting concept. I downloaded it onto my laptop and enjoyed scrolling through what my friends were listening to in real time. I even introduced my ears to some new sounds. But, ultimately, I decided that Spotify isn't for me. First, every time I booted up my computer Spotify kicked in automatically. It took forever to load, but not so long to annoy me. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the app out of my start up. Second, why I thought I would like Spotify is beyond me because I can't listen to music and do serious work at the same time. My brain isn't wired for that. Third, truth be told, I don't have the opportunity to listen to music all that much except when I'm in  my car, and my car isn't new-fangled enough to allow me easily listen to Spotify. So, I uninstalled it from my computer and went on my merry way.

Livebinder - I tested this out instead of Evernote (which I still plan to give a spin). Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance, but I found it kind of a pain to use. Laborious and clunky. Too many steps. It's way easier for me to bookmark a site on my Favorites. Instant access to the full page. Granted, if my computer crashes then I've lost my research but I'll deal with that. So, I stopped using it and went on my merry way. - I've been looking for a new way to compile my budget instead of manually plugging data into a spreadsheet. looked promising. But I hesitated when it asked me to turn over my financial account numbers. I know, I know. has the same security as my bank. But I just couldn't punch in the numbers and hand over the data. So, I shut my browser and went on my merry way.

For now, I'm 0 for 3 on app-alicious-ness. I still have a few I want to test out, and new apps are popping up every day.

How about you? What new apps are you excited about? Please share!

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

Is MLK Still Relevant? I Hope So!

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Today marks the US celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. His actual birthday was January 15, but we love to nationalize (standardize?) things here in the States. It's easier and more convenient for the masses, I guess. Had he been allowed to live, King would have celebrated his 84th birthday.

I can't help but wonder how he would view today's civil rights movement, which focuses largely on same-sex marriages. After all, in addition to being a civil rights activist, King was also a Baptist minister. It represents an interesting conflict of interest. Would he support one group but shun another? Just one of those deep and random thoughts that infiltrate my mind from time to time. 

Regardless, there is no denying King's impact on our nation. I often worry that his legacy -  and the legacies of so many other courageous leaders and innovators that have shaped our culture - is being forgotten. So many students are lacking the basic background knowledge they need to actively participate in our society. It makes me sad.

So imagine my surprise and delight when my two kindergartners started talking about MLK last week. They both knew basic details, including why he was assassinated. I visited the classroom of one of them last Friday, and was moved to find her teacher playing a video of King's I Have a Dream speech on the SMARTBoard. The teacher didn't just play the video, but she paused at various moments, checked for comprehension, and highlighted important information. After the video, she asked her students engaging questions and introduced activities that encouraged the kiddos to explore their own dreams.

King's legacy inspires our society to this day, and his fight is more relevant than ever. It's just that his fight has shifted from racial to cultural. We need to find ways to help students make the bigger connection.

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

Super-Size Your Cultural Literacy Skills By Going Local

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For folks living in the Midwest  - like me - getting to exotic and faraway places isn't easy or cheap. My knowledge of other cultures and the world usually comes from books and movies. Kansas City is smack dab in the middle of the United States, and I often lament the limited choices we have for close adventure: Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa.

"Going Local" is one of the trendiest trends these days, driven by both the need to curb spending and the desire to support the local community. So, I'm going to hop onto the bandwagon by exploring the places and spaces in my own backyard. I read somewhere that if travel  money is tight, whip out a map and make a 200 mile radius around the area where you live, then go explore on a day trip or overnighter. Sounded like a good plan to me, and a great way to increase my local literacy.

My subscription to Missouri Life magazine got me thinking about local cultural literacy. The December issue included an article on the origin of Christmas traditions in Missouri. I was astounded by all of the rich culture we have here right in our state. It's easy to forget the impact that German, French, and Italian cultures have had - and continue to have - on our state.

A fun way that I've increased my knowledge of Kansas City was by taking the Kansas City Gangster Tour. KC has had its share of mob hits, political bosses, and houses of ill repute.

On the adventure agenda this year is a trip to St. Joseph, MO, which boasts the start of the Pony Express in 1860, the final home of Jesse James, and a pivotal role in the Civil War. It is also home to the makers of the Cherry Mash. I also hope to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, as well as the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO.

An added benefit to expanding your cultural literacy skills is that it builds background knowledge, and background knowledge is an essential ingredient in helping students of all reading levels improve their reading comprehension. So bring the kids! And if you're a teacher, explore some local options for field trips.

What about you? How do you plan to expand your cultural horizons this year?

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

Financial Literacy Means Living Within Your Means

Love me some financial advice from The Simple Dollar! If you  need a quick and easy way to shore up your financial literacy skills, Trent is the way to go.

Should "Smart" Students Get a Free Pass on Serious Behavior Issues If They Can Help Meet AYP?

During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked in a local charter school. I served on the discipline committee, but it always seemed to me that the consequences doled out for poor behavior and/or actions were rather arbitrary, despite the 100+ consequences (No joke!) outlined in the student handbook. Perhaps arbitrary isn't the right word. Bendy. Yes, the discipline policy was bendy.

From where I sat, if a student was considered "smart"  - as in he/she could score Proficient or Advanced on the MAP test - consquences for crimes committeed didn't seem as harsh as say, for a student who committed the same offense but typically scored Below Basic on the state test.

Case in point: There was 5th grade student who verbally threatened his teacher with violence on more than one occasion. He drew graphic pictures of bad things happening to her. All of his words and actions were well-documented in his file. His parents dismissed the behaior, didn't seem at all concerned at the level of violence, and blamed the teacher. I, along with other members of the disciplinary committee, recommended expulsion.

However, because the student was academically bright, the Dean of Academics was hesitant to remove him. You read that right. The Dean of Acadmeics put test scores and the survival of the charter school above a teacher's safety, not to mention the safety of the other students. Instead, the student was promoted to 6th grade at sememster break. This put him in the middle school building and moved him away from the teacher with whom he was obsessed. In the eyes of administration, the problem was solved.

Here's my question: Do smart students with behavior problems perform well on state tests? Or do their behaviors hinder their success? In other words, is it really worth it for a school to overlook serious behavior issues in its chase to meet AYP? I tried to find research on this topic, but came up empty-handed. Most of the the studies I found focused on gifted children and behavior issues. The students I'm talking about aren't gifted, but possess above-average intelligence.

And taking this a step farther, should students be held to different disciplinary standards based on their academic ability, especially in circumstances that warrant long-term suspensions or expulsions?

What do you think?

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