Saturday, June 30, 2007

Musings from Mid-South

Last weekend I was privileged to be a presenter at the 18th Annual Mid-South Reading and Writing Institute. Over 1400 educators from Alabama, Tennessee, and other southern states came together for two days to improve their classroom reading and writing practices. Here were some of my highlights:

Peter Johnston, Professor, and International Literacy Consultant from Albany, NY opened the conference on Friday morning with a talk related to his book, "Choice Words." He spoke about how important it is to have reciprocal learning in the classroom. Students who contribute are then seen by their peers as "a teacher too." A thread woven through the classroom should be that change is possible and "errors" take on a new meaning. Similarly, teachers become learners and communicate that they're on the same page as their students, learning together. (For those of you who have taken writing workshops with me, this fits into my view of interactive writing activities in which students and the teacher come up with the best way to "jazz-up" a sentence.) Johnston encouraged teachers to make the classroom a fun place where students take responsibility for gaining knowledge.

I had so many conversations with Dr. Robert Wortman, Adjunct Associate Professor of Language Reading and Culture, College of Education, University of Arizona that I began to feel as if I was taking one of his courses. One of the themes which he kept returning to was: "Read like a writer; write like a reader." This is worth repeating to all of your students!

I attended one of the sessions given by Alan Farstrup, Executive Director of the International Reading Association. He commented that the term "reading wars" is very unfortunate. "We all have the same goal," he said, "to educate children." Teachers shouldn't be asking about phonics vs. whole language; the question should be, "What are all of the components we need to teach reading?" It is his experience that parents are concerned that too much classroom time is spent on testing.

Saturday's keynote speaker was the entertaining, passionate author and educator, Lester Laminick. Speaking on the topic of "Reading and Writing and Teaching and Learning: What Happened to Common Sense?" he challenged teachers who like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, should face their fears. For teachers, that means they must teach what they can teach and what they know students need. "We fear what we cannot see," Lester said, "which is causing us to lose our common sense." He further encouraged, "As teachers you are searching for something that is already in you. To be readers and writers - it's not in a kit or a script- it comes from the knowledge base of [being a] teacher." Lester encouraged all teachers not to "lose your common sense about education." I had the opportunity to chat with Lester while we were waiting for our flight back to Charlotte. When I admitted to being nervous before participating in my first Mid-South conference he said, "If it's not fun, then just stay home and write!" And since it is a lot of fun…I'll look forward to going back next year!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Midwest Book Review

Here's my latest review!

Teaching The Story: Fiction Writing In Middle School" was developed from materials that freelance writer Carol Baldwin developed when she taught creative writing in several different middle-school classrooms over the years. "Teaching The Story" is a thoroughly 'student friendly' curriculum supplement that will enable classroom teachers to prepare their students for standardizing testing, as well as for their academic writing assignments. Baldwin's flexible approach to teaching creative writing skills to children are especially appropriate for students seeking to write coherent and readable sports, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical stories. Enhanced with more than seventy customizable transparencies and reproducibles included on an accompanying CD, "Teaching The Story" is strongly recommended for use with grades 5 through 8.

-The Midwest Book Review, "Library Bookwatch" and "Internet Bookwatch," June 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Attention Virginia Homeschool Parents!

Barby Mouring, a friend of mine, will be selling autographed copies of Teaching the Story at the Northern Viriginia Homeschool Conference July 13-14 at the Dulles Expo Center. You'll find her in the Used Curricula Sale Room. Please stop by and take a look at my book!

Some Recent Reads

I recently finished listening to Rash by Peter Hautman. Although the language might offend some readers, the plot, story, and writing are excellent. Fast forward the calendar about 70 years and you'll see Hautman's view of the future. In this way, Rash provides a clever commentary on our present society which is preoccupied with health and safety. In addition, the manner in which Bo Marsten, the main character, handles conflicts with his family, peers, school, and government are true to life and lead to a satisfying resolution. I believe this book will appeal to boys and girls from ages to 11-15.

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper was the winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Award in 2007. It is told from the perspectives of an African slave girl and an indentured girl whose lives intersect in a South Carolina rice plantation in the early 1700's. Although I found some of the story predictable, the vivid horrors of slavery and the cruelty of slave owners definitely made this book a worthwhile read. In addition, the girls' journey south to Florida and to Fort Mose was a departure from the stories of slaves escaping to the north. The girls' emotions, interactions, and the development of their friendship are portrayed well. There are several references to sexuality as the main character is bought as a 16th birthday present for the masters' son, so parents should use discernment in recommending this book for younger readers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ebby and Grandma Carol

For those of you who have known me for awhile, you know that last October, Creighton and I became the proud grandparents to Stephanie Evans Clark. "Ebby" as her parents decided to call her, was born to Leslie and Neill and weighed in at just under 2 lbs. We are thankful that she is doing so well and is a growing, happy baby. This picture was taken last week on a family vacation in Arkansas.

Literacy Makes Corporate Cents

On a recent vacation in Arkansas, I spent a day in Little Rock, with my sister-in-law, Barbara Baldwin. As an area manager for AT&T, Inc. she told me about AT&T's interest in promoting literacy. "If we don't take an interest in children learning to read," she commented, "we won't have skilled employees in the future." This promotion of literacy through corporate America was further reinforced during a visit to Heifer International, a non-profit organization committed to ending hunger and poverty and promoting ecological stewardship of natural resources. In addition to their extensive programs which promote self-reliance through gifts of livestock, their "Feed to Read" program has games for kids, extensive book list, an incentive reading program related back to Heifer, as well as grant information for educators.

As an educational consultant committed to helping young adults become more proficient writers, I found this support of literacy through multi-million dollar organizations encouraging. I would be interested in hearing about other companies with programs to support literacy. If you know of any, e-mail them to me and I'll list them on this blog.


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