Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Departing the Text 101: Beginners Manual

While I have received some really nice comments to my blog entries there was one response to my "GoodNight Sweet Gems" entry that I want to respond to formally:  "Hi-- I am very unsure of what the phrase actually means: putting the book away? best j.

While I am not sure if "j" was joking or not, I figured it may be prudent to respond.  So often we make assumptions that just aren't valid and I am always the one saying, "don't assume anything!"


So first, a definition:

departing the text (v): requires an action or actions in which the reader and/or audience take a mind trip, in this case when reading.  These mind trips are best used for savoring language, humor, and for battling angst and idleness. It requires taking a moment and relating what is read (or said or viewed) to past memories and experiences, in an effort to get just a little bit more out of it.

Please note the background to this blog.  It's intention is to simulate the above definition visually!

So, dear readers, with this definition in mind, below is a beginner's manual, if you will, on how to best depart the text when reading aloud.  Note, that you can and should substitute the word "reading" with "viewing" and "listening" when appropriate.  All are most highly recommended.  Also note that these directions have been written for reading aloud with your child, but feel free to improvise at will.

How to Depart the Text:

1.  Select a book.  Selecting books to read to your child can be a tough. My recommendation is select a book with rich illustrations/photographs or with compelling text that your child is already familiar with.  While you can also select a 'new' book, experience has shown me that often kids are anxious to hear what happens next in a story they aren't yet familiar, with and so are not as eager to depart the text.

 [Note:  Don't push departing the text.  If they don't want to, just wait for another opportunity OR depart the text  after reading the story.]

2.  Select a comfy spot to read.  Comfort is essential!  Maybe you want to cuddle, or just find a place that is cozy and induces mind wandering.  Fluffy pillows or a nice warm lap are both recommended.  Opus' bunny jammies were a nice touch in Goodnight Opus, but you may not want to depart the text at bedtime (see note).

[Note:  I would not depart the text at bedtime as it will stimulate attention, memory and problem solving all of which are not necessarily desirable when you want the kids to go to sleep so you can get on with your life.]

3.  Choosing when and how to departMy mind naturally wanders and so departing the text is a knee-jerk reaction for me.  My advice here is to relax and as you come across an illustration with interesting detail, or text that reminds you of something your child can relate to and have fun talking about, depart!  You can depart with word definitions too, but they are not nearly as fun as departing with rich detail or something to think about.  Berkeley Breathed books are rife with detail in the illustrations and these were favorite 'departing' books in my family.

4.Departing doesn't just mean talkingWhile "departing the text" often means talking about something interesting, it doesn't have to be.  It could involve singing, dancing, and banging out a beat.  It always involves brainstorming and creativity.

 Examples of singing and dancing: 

Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger  comes with music for the Abiyoyo song.
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester has great parts to sing and cheer.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has two pages to rumpus.

4.  Frequency of Departures:   This is totally your call.  It will depend on how much time you have for reading and departing.  It also depends on how long your child can sit.  Know, however, that the more you do this and the longer you do it, the longer you are increasing your child's attention span and ability to sit.

5.  Have fun.  The main thing is to have fun enriching the reading experience and your time together.

So, please let me know how this works out for you, and let me know what your favorite read aloud books are for departing the text.  Happy travels to all!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not All Kids Are Created Equal


Thomas Jefferson wrote these words in our Declaration Of Independence, and the sentiments they project have been incorporated into our lives and culture.  So, please don't tar and feather me when I argue that we are not all created equally.  We are each unique and carry within us our own profile of strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  And, while we all are entitled to equal rights (which is what these words are referring to), we are not all equal in intelligence, creativity, or patience, to name a few attributes.

Some of us have a facility learning language and expressing ourselves succinctly, others labor over vocabulary, spelling and communicating effectively.  For some, like my daughter, math concepts are intuitively understood, and others have to resort to memorization because that is the only way they will survive in class.  Music.  I have struggled to learn to read music and my playing is accurate but klunky.  My other daughter plays the piano and the music just flows and moves all around her. 

And the truth is that this diversity is good.  It makes our lives richer.  The challenge for parents, however, is helping our children realize their potentials by recognizing their individual strengths and weaknesses and understanding how to strengthen them.  It is our job to help them be all that they can be (to borrow a phrase).

The best way to strengthen skills is to use them.  It's just that simple.  The challenge is encouraging our kids to use their skills without them feeling pressured or like they're in school.  But that really isn't hard.  Play games, depart the text (see my last blog entry), and talk about all the neat and wonderful things around them.

Let's take the game, G-H-O-S-T for example.  When you play this game, you are strengthening language, attention, memory, sequencing ability, problem solving and creativity, to name a few.

I assume we all know the game.  Someone says a letter, and everyone takes turns adding a letter.  The first person to spell a word gets a G then an H, O, S, and T.  The first person to get GHOST loses.

Language: You are strengthening language skills because you have to be aware of words and how they are spelled.

Attention:  You are strengthening attention because you have to focus on what everyone else has said and not lose track of letters given.

Memory:  Memory is constantly being used too.  Not only do you have to remember what letters were given, you have to remember how to spell a number of words, and you have to keep track of the score.

Sequencing Ability:  When playing GHOST you have to remember the sequence of G-H-O-S-T letters that you have accumulated, and you should probably keep track of the other players too (just to keep them honest).  Then, each round, you have to keep track of the letters given and make sure you can add a letter that will not spell a word.  A good strategy would also be to plan ahead, thinking if you give a specific letter, who will be forced to end a word.  It requires counting ahead and sequencing as well as problem solving.

Problem Solving:  Thinking and executing strategies is all about problem solving, and we all have our favorite strategies that work best for us (and I will talk about this much more in future blog entries).  The example in "Sequencing Ability" was only one possible strategy.  There are more.  And, the more you play the game, the more adept you will become at thinking and implementing strategies.

So with just one game you can strengthen a variety of skills.  And, because we are all different, the games we like and are successful playing will differ too.  Stay tuned, please come back as I discuss school demands and games you can play to strengthen skills and meet school's demands.  I will also talk about how you can use different strategies in and out of school to take advantage of strengths and navigate around weaknesses.

In the meantime, I would love to hear what skills you might want me to focus on in future blog entries, or if you have any specific issues or questions you'd like to read more about.

Thanks for visiting, please leave a comment.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Goodnight, Sweet Gems!

I would love to hear what you think about when you read the words, "departing the text," because I am not sure we think of the same things.  That's the beauty and challenge of language.  Sometimes words and phrases can be so pregnant with imagery and meaning. In raising effective communicators and lifelong readers, our kids need to be exposed to the nuances of language and the absolute joy and fun playing with language can bring.

I first heard  "departing the text" years ago when reading Goodnight Opus to my kids.  Breathed's book opens with Opus, a quirky penguin in bed wearing his 'pink bunny jammies' while his Granny is reading his favorite book,  Goodnight Moon, for the two hundred tenth time. (Sound familiar?)  And as Granny pauses ("for a snooze and a snore") Opus departs from the text and says "goodnight" to, among others, the peculiar purple monster under his bed.  Together, the monster and Opus say "goodnight" to mythical and historical figures around the world (and beyond).  They visit Abe Lincoln and take a dip in the pool (the one in front of the monument) and later meet the cows in the Milky Way (to name only two visits).  And, what's really cool is that all these departures are connected  to 'collectibles' Opus has in his bedroom but never really noticed before (including the monster).


The beauty here is that are so many levels of meaning and departure.

First, there's the allegory:

How many times do we go through life - on one path or another, and fail to notice the gems all around us?  How often do we read and not fully appreciate the music and rhythm of the words?

Then there's the literal enrichment:

Reading aloud is enriching and important.  It's not just for the soothing voice or the cuddling.  It's about hearing  the rhythm of the language and the exposure to different words, worlds and ideas, all of which are integral for building essential skills such as attention, language, and problem solving (to name a few).  Plus there's the social dimension where relating to stories and characters in a book makes it easier for kids to address and build possible solutions for their own issues.

Now think about the added value of departing the text when reading:

For one, it's not the same boring book for the two hundred tenth time.  The characters and objects in the pictures can take on a whole new life and meaning.  When you depart the text when reading aloud, you are stretching the sitting time and concurrently holding and stretching your child's attention.  You are problem solving and brainstorming, and playing with words and imagery.  And, you are building relationships, sequences, patterns.  All of these skills are so important for school and for life, and we'll be revisiting them frequently in the blogs.

So as you depart this text, look at those gems all around you and let them take you to magical, mysitcal places far and near. But, before you go, I'd love for you to share a comment.  What do you think about when you read "departing the text?" 

Thanks.  Happy journeys, and hope to see you soon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Letting Go of the Ledge and Freeing the Wall

Well friends, I am finally blogging and so far, it's actually fun - picking out the templates, the colors and fonts.  It's just like going shopping, but at least for now I don't have to spend money I am not earning!  Soon I hope to learn what a "gadget" is and how use it, get it, apply it.  Help from you is greatly appreciated.

I feel like my son when he first learned to swim.  He was (and still is) scrawny, although now he is a whopping 5'10" and appreciates every centimeter!  At the age of 6, because my son had no fat on him (I am still jealous), he had no buoyancy.  The poor kid would sink.  And paddle as he may, the feet went first and then the rest of him.  It's funny now but it was a real struggle back then - on so many levels.  After about a year of lessons and for a long while thereafter, when he would get into a pool, he would swim, but always along the edge so he could reach up and not sink.  I feel a little bit like that right now, still holding on to the edge a bit and hope with your help to be swimming soon!

I think, however, that the struggle for me isn't really about blogging.  It is about redirecting.  In a sense I am recreating who I am.  No longer teacher, at least not in the traditional classroom sense, I am charting a new course.  My course has never been a straight line and I don't expect it ever will be.  I like it this way.  I like the challenge.  So when I got tired of consulting in schools, feeling that the problems were so embedded in the system that I was just treading water, I decided to redirect my efforts.  While I may go back to the classrooms and teacher workshops, right now I am writing and embarking on parent workshops - helping parents recognize the demands school places on their kids and how through reading, conversations and simple games they can create wonder, motivation and a love for learning while building strong relationships and school-related skills. 

I am enjoying it and look forward to moving away from the wall real soon.

So thanks for the visit, and if you know what a "gadget" is on the blog page, please let me know.   I would also love suggestions on how to make this more reader friendly and interactive.  Until then, I'll keep treading and looking for your comments.