Tuesday, June 28, 2011

X- Rated Cursing and a Bedtime Story for the Sleep Deprived Parents. What is Acceptable?


 I submit this post in honor of a (belated) Fathers' Day and "X" week at ABC Wednesday. I hope I don't offend anyone as I offer this bedtime story by Adam Mansbach, read by Samuel Jackson. It was forwarded to me by my sleep-deprived cousins as they learn to juggle life with their second child and I now share it with you:

THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN'S BOOK.  IF you are having trouble with bedtime and getting your kids to sleep, please see my blog post: http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/04/getting-them-to-sleep-bedtime-rituals.html

So, with a smirk on your face and the kids asleep.... let's talk X-rated mouths:  What is your take on cursing?

I was raised by conservative parents who would not stand for cursing.  (They threatened to wash my mouth out with soap if I cursed.  I was a good girl - for the most part). As a result, I tend not to curse but I must confess, there are times when a good well placed curse (with emphasis)  makes all the difference in the world! [Just ask my husband!]

What is your take on cursing?  Is it alright to curse in front of your child?  To your child?

An educator's perspective on cursing in front of kids: Don't do it (at least not regularly or intentionally - we all have our moments).  There are so many truly colorful onomatopoeic expletives that can be used in lieu of cursing that present wonderful intellectual and verbal challenges to the creative communicator.  I also think that aside from the well-deserved curse, using crass curse words too frequently cheapens our language.  That said, I do love the delicately placed colorful curses as they add depth and diversity to conversations (and often just feel good releasing).

Here are some alternative expletives:
  • persnickety
  • shoot
  • nuts 
  • whoopsadaisy
  • fiddlesticks
  • freaking
  • sugar
  • knucklehead
  • halfwit
  • dimwit
  • numbskull
  • lewd
  • warped
  • cavernous
  • tedious
In my opinion, however, Shakespeare was the master insult / curse-writer.  Below are two clips from Much Ado About Nothing which illustrate his craft at cursing.  Explore these clips (or the entire film/play) and the list of selected insults and curses below on your own or with your kids, and please add your favorites in the comments:

  • I would my horse had the speed of your tongue! (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous. (As You Like It)
  • Thou art a flesh-monger, a fool and a coward. (Measure for Measure)
  • A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality. (All's Well That Ends Well)
  • Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of the Nile (Cymbeline)
  • You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!  I'll tickle your catastrophe! (Henry IV Part 2)
  • Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver'd boy (Macbeth)
  • Thine face is not worth sunburning. (Henry V)
  • A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.  What a piece of work is man! (Hamlet)
  • My two schoolfellows.  Whom I shall trust as I will adders fangs. (Hamlet)
  • Scurvy, old, filth, scurry lord (All's Well That Ends Well)
  • You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knave. (All's Well That Ends Well)
  •  I desire that we be better strangers. (As You Like It)
  • Beg that thou may have leave to hang theyself. (Merchant of Venice)
  • Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one. (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • This is a subtle whore, a closet lock and key of villainous secrets. (Othello)
  • Hang cur, hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker. (The Tempest)
  • Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. (King Lear)
  • It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (Macbeth)
  • milksops
  • braggarts
  • artless
  • bawdy
  • base-court
  • beetle-headed
  • beef-witted
  • boil-brained
  • clay-brained
  • barnacle
  • beslubbering
  • clapper-clawed
  • canker-blossom
  • craven
  • curish
  • errant
  • dankish
  • fobbing
  • frothy
  • earth-vexing
  • fen-sucked
  • folly-fallen
  • haggard
  • haughty 
  • lewd minx
  • loggerheaded
  • lout
  • maggot-pie
  • mewling
  • paunchy
  • ill-breeding
  • malt-worm
  • mammet
  • puny
  • puking
  • minnow
  • rutish
  • roguish
  • reeky
  • rank
  • pernicious
  • plume-plucked
  • pox-marked
  • surly
  • ratsbane
  • swag-bellied
  • scut
  • strumpet
  • timorous wretch
  • vassal
  • villainous
  • wart-necked
  • urchin-snouted
  • whey-faced
  • yeasty

This list is a mere sampling.  Explore the remainders on your own or with your child, friend, or nemesis. In the meantime, here is one more clip.

Please leave comments on how you handle cursing, cursing with kids, and cursing alternatives.   PLEASE  leave some of your favorite gems!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writers on Writing

When my son was in 6th grade he discovered Stephen King.  Not when reading (or seeing) King's Carrie, but from his Dark Tower series and his book On Writing.  King's On Writing became a major force in my son's writing as it helped him establish a writing routine, taught him how not to use too many adverbs, motivated him to write 45 minutes every day (outside of his school requirements), and reinforced his avid reading appetite. For those of you who have not read On Writing, the first half of the book is autobiographical, the second half is a treasure trove of writing guidelines and tips.  King even provides a writing prompt and challenge. I highly recommend it.

I too am inspired by On Writing.  I like the idea of taking and incorporating master writers' inspirations and advice to motivate, encourage and reinforce our writing and our kids' writing skills.

So sit back and read/listen/look at what others suggest:

Stephen King: Routine and music (yes, music!) help motivate his 'hypnotic' state when writing.

Note that in this clip (with King and Niffenegger), each author has a writing routine one slightly more structured than the other.  I found it interesting that Stephen King's ritual involves a "path" to his writing "place" to get the that "hypnotic" state of writing.  I also found it interesting that Stephen King listens to hard rock music when writing.  BUT when discussed further, both King and Niffenegger note that the music has to be something they like and that is so familiar they don't hear the words.  The lyrics if they listened to them would interfere with their writing process.

This last point has come up so frequently in conversations with parents:  Can my child work and listen to music at the same time?  In my experience, there are kids (and adults) who need background noise when they work, as it actually helps them focus; others need silence.  (I like background noise, myself - what about you?). We are all so different, I am not sure there is one answer.  I do know this:  research is now showing that college kids actually CANNOT multitask successfully.  Background music though, is a different thing as it is not being consciously attended to.

Neil Gaiman:  Read a lot and live...and write.

Terry Pratchett talks about writing and how he began by writing parodies of other writers' (good and bad) works - in an effort to shape his voice and skills.

Taylor Mali advises to "Root your writing in things, things you can touch... we find our way to truths through things..."

Barbara Kingsolver: "...you have to see, smell, hear and taste a scene...and real life experience is really important... getting into the world... to evoke that sense of space... Literature is made of details... while you might begin with big ideas, you end up with millions of tiny details..."

Toni Morrison talks about writing about the feelings of the most vulnerable (so others will better understand) - and she assumed the voice of the black female children whom she felt were the most vulnerable:

Did you note the common themes:
  • These author always wrote - even as a kid.  One wrote in the margins of all the books he had, another kept a diary, another  wrote and doodled in a notebook.
  • These author had to find his or her own way to make integrate their writing and their experiences - to make the writing "real."
  •  These authors read avidly.
Not bad advice: read, live and make things real!

In closing two more clips.  One on famous last words, because... if they're your last, make them count!

And a final, a more traditional "inspirational" closing:

How did you discover the joy and power of writing? What do you do to inspire you or your kids to write?  Please let us know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Visual/Verbal Literacy - Part 2: Reluctant Readers and Brick Walls

Aside from my confession below, I can think of no better way to begin this post than with another slam poem by Taylor Mali:

Confession:  I remember being in high school, home sick and asking my mom to read aloud to me.  She refused, saying I was too old.  With some serious prodding from me, she relented and read to me, and I will always remember and love her for it.  Even now, I beg my husband to read aloud to me too.  I just love it.  I love hearing his soothing voice - it relaxes me. I don't think you're never too old to be read aloud to. 

Aside from the intimacy of being read to, reading aloud helps kids hear and integrate the rhythm and sequence of language.  It is an excellent way to encourage reluctant readers and boost their language skills.

Overview: Getting reluctant readers can be as much fun and as effective as hitting your head against a brick wall!  As my last blog was on visual literacy - an important skill to emphasize for all, especially reluctant readers, I want to spend more time now on visual literacy.  With summer here and school out, there is a lot parents can do to help build kids' literacy skills.  Here are some suggestions:

Read aloud at bed time, down time, or on a stormy afternoon (I recommend your reading Thundercake by Patricia Polacco and then bake a thundercake together). You can even read aloud at breakfast - if you're awake enough and have the energy - read cereal boxes together, read or summarize a newspaper or magazine article, or even share cool blog posts together.

Model reading independently- let your kids see you reading for fun and for work.  Let them see you enjoying it - finding humor, excitement, information!

Tell Stories -  making up crazy, zany ones or writing/telling serious ones.  The point is to become more comfortable using words.

Read wordless books and tell you the story:  Reading wordless books offers a wonderful opportunity for your child to become more comfortable with books and with using his or her words.  The more your kids use words (spoken, heard, or written), the easier it will be to USE them.

So, from as soon as your child can talk encourage him or her to read books aloud to you or silently to themselves -  just looking at the illustrations and telling the story (also great practice with visual literacy).  Here are some more of my favorite wordless books (I have recommended others in previous posts):

Looking Down by Steve Jenkins
The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Flotsam by David Wiesner 
Little Star by Antonin Louchard
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day

Make up stories - (even or especially zany, crazy stories) - the point is to play with words

Rhyme - play rhyming games, make rhyming poems (zany crazy poems work well here too) - rhyming provides opportunities to play with phonemes (word sounds).  The more familiar you are with word sounds, the easier they will be to visually recognize in print.

Graphic novels great motivators integrate visual and verbal literacies. 
Check out some of my other posts with graphic novel suggestions:

Encourage your kids to read alone - even if it's a picture book.  

Make sure your kids are reading high interest books on their "INDENDENT READING LEVEL" An independent reading level is the reading level the person can read comfortably with little to no error.  It is the reading level that is "easy" but engaging.  If your child is putting down a book mid-reading it is either because she or he has lost interest in the content, or because the book was too challenging, or both.

How to find an independent reading level? You can ask your child's teacher and/or you can experiment yourself.  Have your child read aloud to you.  If he or she stumbles over words when reading AND/OR cannot define words read, then that reading selection is too difficult to read independently.

Some high interest easier reading books for weak readers:  These books are entertaining but the language is easier and there are visual cues to help with comprehension and word recognition.
  • Sophisticated picture books
  • Horrible Histories by Terry Deary are wonderfully funny and often colorful and unusual stories from history or science.  There are also occasional illustrations to further express a point.  This a wonderful series of books for middle school students of ALL reading levels.
  • The Magic Tree House series are easy to read stories (second grade reading level) that older, less talented readers can enjoy reading as well.
NOT SURE?  Ask a Librarian!  They are fantastic resources for appropriate reading materials for kids of all ages.

Join or establish a parent/child book club.  Talk to your local librarian for assistance.  I did this with my daughter and it was a lot of fun.

The world around you is an oyster of words to read and write - take advantage of this! Read signs when driving.  Make up real and crazy signs.  Read and write blogs together - create meme challenges. Leave notes for each other.  Create and write cards. 

The best way to encourage reluctant readers is to make sure they are reading at the right level and to surround them with books, and reading and writing opportunities.

What's your opinion?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Visual vs. Verbal Literacy? No Contest


If a picture's worth a thousand words, why don't we teach visual literacy?

In a world where tweets, SMS's, and IM's are used more than letters and phone calls, learning to extract meaning from verbal and visual images has become more important.  Why:
  • When communicating and marketing ourselves, our ideas, our businesses, we create visual and verbals messages:  Business cards, billboards, advertisements, blogs, tweets, SMS' and IMs ALL have visual and verbal representations!
  • Socially - at work, play and in school, we need to read faces of other kids and adults to fully understand how to effectively interact with and respond to others.
  • To succeed in school and at work, we need to decipher the following - ALL of which rely on verbal and visual literacy:
    • Visual and verbal information presented in advertisements, shows, signs, etc.
    • Scientific and mathematical notations, charts and symbols;
    • Musical notes and notation;
    • Webs and charts;
    • Maps;
    • Logos;
    • Graphs;
    • Photographs;
    • Videos, movies, shows;
    • Cartoons (kids' cartoons, political cartoons, etc.);
In short, we have to learn to read and use images as well as letters.  And, for those who have trouble reading (or reluctant readers), visual literacy is even more important as it will make traditional learning and reading easier and provides another avenue of communication.

So really, there is no contest between visual and verbal literacies...both are essential!

Interestingly (at least to me), while the term "visual literacy" is credited to Jack Debes, co-founder of the International Visual Literacy Association around 1969, it did not come across my radar as a school psychologist and educator until very recently.  Similarly, while Mary Alice White, a researcher at Columbia University's Teacher's College has found that kids learn more than half of what they know from visually presented mediums, few schools consciously teach students how to evaluate and think critically about visual data. 

In fact, until VERY recently, there was little or no emphasis on visual literacy.

Point: Visual and verbal literacy should both be taught is school - preferably together.

That said, due to limited space, I will continue now with visual literacy and my next post will be about verbal literacy.

Some ways to help you and your child develop visual literacy skills:

Things to talk about together:
  • When walking, driving, flipping through magazines, looking at illustrations, and reading aloud books with visual images, TALK about the ads and images you see: 
    • discuss the color choices for the panels and images,
    • discuss what is and is not in the background image, 
    • discuss the choice of words and fonts used,
    • what type of feelings/impressions do the font choices relay?
  • When reading graphic novels discuss the three bullets above AND:
    • Do the panel shapes change?  How and why? [For example, dream and flashback panels are often portrayed within panels with squiggly lines vs. straight lines.  Also, spoken dialogue is often written in different text balloons from ideas/thoughts that are unspoken.] 
    • Discuss the way the panels are organized on the page - does one seem more dominant than another?  Why?
    • Does one page look different from another?  How is it different?  Why do you think the authors/illustrations changed the format?

Books you can read:
  • Wordless story books - here are only a few of my favorites:
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day; Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman; Chalk by Bill Thomson; and Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman
  •  Comic books and graphic novels -
 These are some of my favorite graphic novels for kids of various ages:
Laika by Nick Abadzis.  First Second Books (age 7+) - about the first sentient being sent to space by the Russians.
 I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Nimura. Image Comics  (age 12+) a book about 5th-grader Barbara who fights giants (but does she really -or is this one giant metaphor...sorry for the pun).
Courtney Crumrin Tales by Ted Neifeh Oni Press (age 7+) about a girl in space school.
 Salt Water Taffy by Matthew Loux Oni Press (all ages)
Possessions  by Ray Fawkes (ages 7+) about ghosts and gouls living together (lots of fun, lots of spunk)
Northwest Passage by Scott Chantler. ONI Press (age 9+) a wonderful account of this pivotal story in American history (with author annotation to help those novice visual
City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, illustrated by Pascal Dizin. First Second Books (age 9+) - about a girl sent to spend the summer in the early 1940's with her aunt, while her father marries his fifth wife...
Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi.  First Second Books (age 9+) another verbal-visual account of a pivotal event in American history
American Born Chinese First Second Books (age 9+) minority in America
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon First Second Books (all ages) wordless graphic novel all about friendship
The Olympians by George O'Connor.  First Second Books  (age 9+) a beautiful account of Greek mythology
Berona's War by Jesse Labbe and Anthony Coffey. Archaia Press (age 11+) a manual depicting this infamous (fictional) war
Gennerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell (age 9+) great story about a girl and her 'friends' in a very boarding school in a very different world
Mouse Guard by Luke Crane and David Petersen (age 9+) a graphic novel much like Brian Jacques' Redwall series.
Websites to visit:  Check out some of my other blog posts for specific age level suggestions:

    • Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is a great way to learn and experience the world of visual literacy.  For what it's worth, I just love this book.  McCloud shows how print fonts, print size, patterns, colors, facial expressions, designs, ALL influence our processing and understanding of the things around us.
    Sites to visit:
      This site provides an interactive 'periodic table' and I find it MIND BOGGLING that there are so many ways to visually present information.  This is an absolute MUST for teachers to go through.  It will change the way you teach and look at the world.

      As a parent - this is a fun site to share with your child - especially before projects.  Brainstorm different ways to visually present information.  It is fun!
      This site is also useful for parents and teachers.  It defines visual literacy, makes book suggestions and has free materials for teachers.
      This site is sponsored by the Oakland Museum of California and discusses why visual literacy is so important, and how parents and teachers can use photographs to better appreciate, understand and develop visual literacy skills.
      This site has some pretty cool lesson plans on visual literacy using all sorts of materials although most of the lessons are for middle or high school classrooms.

      What is your take on all of this?  I am really curious:  Obviously if you're reading this you love blogging - how much thought do you put into the visual aspects of your blogs?  What would you recommend to others?

      Tuesday, June 7, 2011

      The UnCollege? The Five Minute College? Or Traditional Liberal Arts?

      My husband jokes about college being the best seven years of his life despite the fact that he graduated in four years.  And, while he and I strongly advocate for liberal arts college education and are the proud parent of two college graduates with a third on his way, there is much to be said about the Uncollege social movement founded by Dale Stephens and recently posted by CNN: (http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/03/stephens.college/index.html?eref=mrss_igoogle_cnn)

       In the article, Stevens makes the following points:
      1. "[College] rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application..."
      2. "...Failure is punished instead of seen as a learning opportunity...College fails to empower us with the skills necessary to become productive members of today's global entrepreneurial economy."
      3. "College is expensive..."
      Dale Stephens advocates "taking education beyond the classroom through self directed learning with real world experience and self-designed projects:

      Father Guido Sarducci similarly advocated the "Five Minute University" - to simply teach what the average 1970's or 1980's graduate knows five years after graduation... all in five minutes.


      All joking aside:
      • TRUE: many students get 'lost' in college, and it is the highly motivated student who will get the research assistant positions and special attention and that many must compete for one or two coveted spots.  That said, isn't that true of just about anything we want?  Isn't this in itself a learning opportunity?  
      • TRUE: failure is punished rather than embraced and learned from and this is something we all need to reconsider and change.
      • Not all competition is unhealthy.  It pushes us to be better and in many cases teaches us that collaboration can provide a competitive edge.
      • TRUE: college is expensive both for families, cities and states.
      • TRUE: college is not for everyone.  Some young adults may do better in an UNCOLLEGE environment with mentors or direct learning/working experiences to help them attain their goals.  
      • TRUE: MOST SCHOOLS - from elementary through college often teach for tests and not to critically think, understand, and apply old and new concepts to real life problems.  This IS A SERIOUS ISSUE that ALL SCHOOLS MUST ADDRESS.  In the meantime, we as parents can help model creative thinking and real life applications of often dry school materials - see the following blog posts:
      • While liberal arts college may not directly teach entrepreneurial skills they advocate critical thinking and practical applications of theory. 
      • Good liberal arts colleges provide students with a breadth of knowledge which allows them to interact socially, at cocktail parties for example, and mingle with just about anyone for at least five minutes.  And, while I joke about this, being well-read is a vital networking skill. 
      While in college I learned about myself and what I could accomplish, I learned to live on my own, and I learned about Rousseau, Lincoln, Stalin, Machiavelli, Victor Hugo, Margaret Mead, Jean Piaget and Modest Mussorgsky - all of whom I have incorporated into 3-8 grade curricula and I am grateful to all those who believed in me.
        Most high school seniors are not ready for college.  They are still figuring out who and what they are, many have little direction, and many are burned out from the pressure of high school and looming college acceptance.  MY ALTERNATIVE: mandatory one or two year "community service" BEFORE college that would enable those with entrepreneurial skills to work at developing them while other young adults can gain personal growth and direction by building, clerking, interning, volunteering in community and/or private institutions, hospitals, museums, courts.  With this real life experience and growth opportunities they can then more clearly decide whether college is right for them, and if it is, they can more maturely approach the application and the learning processes college offers.

        Those are my two-cents... what are yours?  Is college for everyone?  Did you/do you find a benefit to a liberal arts college education?