Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Kids" or "Children"?

From: mk-mk.facebook.com
When I first started talking to my parents about my book (Teaching Content Area Graphic Novels, 2012) my father stopped me and said, 'You can't keep using the word 'kids' - people will be insulted, because you use the work 'kid' a lot and a 'kid' is also a goat."

Fast forward a few months...My brother, who is visiting from overseas, said the other day that he was ready to go home because he missed "being away so long from his children."

And, while I have been thinking about my father's comment and choice of words for young offspring and learners in my book, my brother's comment sounded weird to me.  Weird- not that he wanted to be with his children (which strangely doesn't sound weird now as I use it), but that he called them "Children."  His oldest (of four) is twenty five, his youngest Eighteen - all are fairly independent adults.  The way he used the word (or maybe it was just his tone and not the word itself) - made them sound young and they aren't. 

 So I asked myself are my nieces and nephew kids or children?  What would they prefer being referred to as?    Does it make a difference?

"Children" to me connote youngsters, and I will bet my bottom dollar that my nieces and nephews would prefer not being referred to as children.  On the other hand, my dad would emphatically state that "kid" is a baby goat. So how should we refer to our offspring once they hit young-adulthood?

Bill Cosby in his comedy routines, always spoke about his "children" as you see here in this clip:

Robin Williams, on the other hand, used the word "kids" to describe very young prodigies in his Inside the Actor's Studio performance:

When I google-image "kids" and "children" - I literally get the same images.  So at least to Google, these words are interchangeable. 

According to The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (second edition, unabridged):
child (child), n. pl.chil-dren. 1. a young boy or girl. 2. a son or daughter. 3. a baby or infant. 4 a childish person. 5. a descendant.
kid n, 1. informal. a child or young person. 2. (used as a familiar form of address.) 3.. a young goat. 4. leather made gloves

Maybe my brother is simply too formal for my taste (at least when discussing his offspring)? Or, could it be a cultural thing? An age thing?

I recall in the book Frindle (which I've mentioned in previous blogs) by Andrew Clemens, the story focuses a lot on what makes a word a word.  The bottom line is: you do.  So.... while I realize that "children" may simply be a more formal word and "kids" informal, I can't help but wonder...how do OTHERS use and /or connote these two words?

In surfing the web, I found a blog by Drew Gardner (http://blog.aikidojournal.com/2010/07/06/of-kid-and-child-by-drew-gardner/) who tackles this issue from the mindset of an Aikidoka and apprears to disagree with my impression as he notes that:
The kid simply plays around in the dojo, as if it were recess from elementary school, even if he has learned how to keep the appearance that he is in-line...  Others on the mat know his fool-around-mentality from day one, and the odds suggest he will never alter his foolishness... The child is much different from the kid. A child, especially one who finds the opportunity to train with fine sensei, accepts being a beginner. Even if for a glimpse he has a technique down pat, he immediately reminds himself that his senpai and sensei are there to erase such complacent thought for the better. He also realizes early on that he will not master a single technique before he passes away in the perhaps multiple decades to come, but he does know that by looking up to his skilled sensei and respectful senpai, he will become better at technique, and more importantly he will grow as a person.
While I may be totally blowing my brother's choice of words out of proportion, I do still wonder about word choice.  

What does this all mean, and what am I sending you away with? I'm not sure, which bothers me.  I have always tried to send you away with food for thought and/or helpful parenting/teaching tools.  I think though there is an important message here:  Not only do we make a word a word, we have to:
  • carefully chose the words we use;
  • recognize and monitor how we use them and the tone employed;
  • think and be aware of how others might interpret our word choices/usage (sometimes this matters, sometimes it does not - but being aware of this before using a word is helpful); and
  •  understand that words always have an impact and reflect our conscious (and sometimes subconscious) thoughts and we therefore, again, must be careful and cognizant of our choices.

What do you think?  Has the choice of "kid" and "child" every hit you?  How do you (or might you) refer to your young-adult / adult offspring - 'kids', 'children',  'progeny' (wayyyyy tooo formal for my taste)?

Finally, before I go, I just want to give a shout-out to Heather at http://my-2-cents.blogspot.com who is featuring my blog post.  Thanks, and please check her posts as well - there is ALWAYS cool stuff to be seen and learned about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


One follower, asked me to blog about the skills involved in juggling. And, while not many of us will ever need to juggle balls, pins, poi or fire, there is a lot we can learn from juggling.

I think the biggest caveats (aside from the obvious: greater eye-hand coordination) we can get from learning to juggle are:
  • sharpening attention skills
  • sharpening metacognition
  • gaining greater self concept/confidence
In other words, studying and practicing juggling teaches us to focus sharply and not be distracted, and to be keenly aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it.  [Granted once we become proficient jugglers, we no longer have to think about what we are doing, but while learning the skill, it most definitely sharpens our metacognition.] It also helps us focus and gain greater confidence in ourselves, and is an after-school project to consider seriously for our kids.

From chumpysclipart.com
Skills Needed for - and Gained From - Juggling:
  • Attention - the juggler is always focusing on the ball or pin in the air and NOTHING else is interfering with that focus;
  • eye-hand coordination - the juggler knows at all times which ball or pin he has released and where he will catch it; 
  • cognition - knowing HOW and WHERE to throw the object so that it WILL land where expected;
  • intrinsic awareness of weight and gravity - understanding the weight of the object about to be thrown, how hard to throw it and where to catch it - which can be learned with practice
  • sensory integration - learning how to hold, touch and catch the objects;
  • an awareness of timing, sequencing and patterns (patterns of throwing and catching, primarily) - which is learned and sharpened with practice
  • patience and practice 
Juggling balls and pins can even teach you how to juggle life and its responsibilities. As the following video (by Jason Garfield professional juggler) demonstrates, there is more we can gain from learning to juggle than just throwing balls in the air:

Life Lessons Learned from Juggling:
  1. "Break down learning to juggle into the most basic skills" -  do this with other looming projects.  Anything overwhelming can be broken into manageable parts.
  2. "If you make a bad throw, don't continue.  Stop, regroup, gain good form. " Isn't that true with leaning just about anything?  Memory - muscle memory - any memory is important to gaining expertise.  You don't want that memory to be bad form.
  3. When leaning to juggle, "stop, think about what you did, and do it again."  Another great learning technique.  In educational terms this would be called "metacognition"  being aware of your thinking and actions.  Very important to learning - anything.
  4. "Just do it already, don't let the third ball control you"  Boy if I don't need that recorded in my head all the time.  So often juggling (projects, chores, responsibilities) seems so overwhelming.  The key, again is break it down into basic parts and don't let it control you!

While I have never really picked juggling up, one of my daughters did.  Aside from sharpening her attention to detail, she gained greater poise (as she had to stand and throw straighter) and greater self confidence. She found a peace-of-mind as she juggled and every so often she still juggles as an adult.

I recommend juggling as a tool and hobby to help build all sorts of important life skills.  What's your feeling/experience?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Invigorating Instruction: Finding Relevancy in English!

From: wagner-gr.wikispace
In rereading "The Decline of the English Department"(http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-decline-of-the-english-department/) (2009) by William M. Chace (Professor of English and President Emeritus of Emory University), its tone and relevancy jumped out at me.  More and more schools and universities are dropping 'core' requirements and liberal arts influence and focusing on 'specialty' courses.  I think it's a mistake.  Our kids should be receiving well-rounded instruction and education.  We need to make the liberal arts more relevant.

Chace begins with statistics:
...from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures)... In one generation... the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to ...less than 16 percent...
...during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent. Despite last year’s debacle on Wall Street... students are still wagering that business jobs will be there when the economy recovers.
The Problem: While many might argue that this is no big deal, students want more 'useful' majors. Chace laments that English is not perceived as useful, when in fact, critical reading enhances critical thinking, and English courses should be vehicles for writing instruction and improvement.

The Cause?  He continues:
There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English... to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case... that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology... and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations... In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.
History of English instruction: Chase then describes the course of English study and the humanities:
...In this country and in England, the study of English literature began in the latter part of the 19th century as an exercise in the scientific pursuit of philological research, and... that literature was best understood as a product of language...  a way of understanding the world...
...Studying English taught us how to write and think better, and to make articulate many of the inchoate impulses and confusions of our post-adolescent minds. We began to see, as we had not before, how such books could shape and refine our thinking.
Where is English instruction going?   Chace concludes with a somewhat depressing view of the future of the study of literature:
...The study of literature will then take on the profile now held, with moderate dignity, by the study of the classics, Greek and Latin. For those of us who care about literature and teaching, this is a depressing prospect, but not everyone will share the sense of loss...

This 'down-grading' in the perceived value of English Lit education is both depressing and unfortunate. It reminds me of Leo Lionni's Frederick:

Frederick is about a field mouse who unlike the others, does not collect acorns in the fall as they prepare for winter.  Instead, Frederick writes poetry as he observes and appreciates the beauty of the world around him.  Come winter, as the community sits eating their store of acorns and nuts, Frederick turns their long, boring, gray days into days of sunshine, warmth and beauty.

We need to infuse this love and appreciation of words as 'art' and 'communication' in our kids.

The problem as I see it is that whether in college, high school, middle school, grade school, or even preschool:
  1. English and language arts instruction must be meaningful while reinforcing communication skills.  It should show where we come from and where we might and/or might not want to head with exposure to the classics and contemporary works - reflecting how time and culture have affected our thoughts. 
  2. As our current world is showing us, majoring in economics is no longer enough to insure economic stability after college.  Whether you appreciate 'literature' or not, a liberal arts education insures students of a well-rounded education - one that can be used to jump start careers integrating affinities and interests.  We need to teach kids how to communicate through print, through text, and maybe even how to program / navigate computers yet another form of communication.
For Lower, Middle and High School English Education - We have to show our kids WHY's of reading and writing:
  • to entertain;
  • to model different ways to effectively and efficiently express ideas; 
  • to build vocabulary;
  • to teach and reinforce grammar;
  • reading and writing reflect cultural nuances and beliefs - reading books of different eras teaches us about those times and places;
  • different writing styles, formats, and genres emphasize different strengths, messages, and perspectives.

From: www.alumni.libraries.psu.edu
In addition to kids understanding these WHY's of reading and writing, teachers are instructed to achieve certain annual classroom goals. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA) have generated 'standards' for the teaching of Enlgish (http://www.ncte.org/standards).  These standards include:
  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world...
  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.  They [should] draw upon... prior experience... knowledge of word meaning and of other texts... word identification strategies, and ... understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language ... to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
There are just a few of the standards. Please visit the link above for more details.  
The problem though, is that while these standards detail educational goals, they do not identify HOW the goals should be met.  That is left to the individual teachers (which, as a teacher, I appreciate) but some do it better than others and there is often no continuity from one grade/year to another.  This is one area where parents can easily get involved: supporting, enriching and reinforcing reading, writing, communicating - i.e. language use..and making sure kids GET WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM!
  • Expose your kids to diverse types of literature.  
  • Expose your kids to 'classics' from different time eras and authors from different cultures.
  • Visit libraries, book stores, surf TOGETHER to find video versions or spoofs on favorite books and poems. EXPLORE the wide world of story together.  Communicate!  Share!
  • Read books together.  Talk about them:
  • Talk about what is relevant to your lives.  
  • Talk about the author's choice of words, tone, and perspective.
  • Talk about how believable the characters/settings are (or are not). 
  • Talk about what a sequel might look like. 
  • Talk about the author's use of prose and/or illustration to communicate a point. 
  • Compare and contrast one work to another of the same or different genre or time period.
  • Evaluate how current events may have shaped an author's story and use of language.
  • Write together:
  • Make lists for each other.
  • Leave notes on beds, refrigerators for each other.
  • Make cards for all occasions (from letters to the Santa and the Tooth Fairy, to birthday cards and invitations)
  • Write letters to magazine editors
  • Blog together - write reviews of current events or favorite books; write two-voice poems; write about creative projects.
  • Communicate with each other:
  • Try to have dinner together a few times a week (at least) where you talk about current events, how your days went.
  • Visit museums together - talk about the exhibits - what you liked and didn't like, it's design, how effectively (or ineffectively) it relayed information.
  • See movies together and evaluate them.  Talk about how well the characters were (or were not) developed, talk about the plot and story line (was it believable/), talk about the use of image, color and dialogue.  Compare and contrast movies of similar genres/ time periods. Talk!
  • Start or join book clubs (kid book clubs, parent-child book clubs)

What literacy promoting activities do you participate in with your child?  What is available in your community?  Let's keep this discussion going!

Here's to making literature come alive:
From http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2011/09/11 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


From writerg.wordpress.com
With school starting, so too begins homework.  For many kids, homework is a series of chores, often meaningless, that just have to get done. 

In my opinion, there are two reasons homework may be a chore:
  1. Teachers assign 'rote' exercises that have little thought, creativity, or meaning to students; or
  2. Homework is too difficult for a student's independent working level - or it is too easy and again becomes a meaningless chore.
The role of teachers (and often of parents) is to help kids find meaning and creative challenge in homework.

In Arthur's case (see the video clip), there is so much homework - it is overwhelming.  No fun, no creativity - just seemingly endless work.

There's another wonderful tale of homework in Frindle by Andrew Clemens - a story about Nick Allen - the master teacher distractor...and if you haven't read it with your child it is a MUST!  This story begins with Nick Allen as he prepares for fifth grade. He must buy a dictionary before school begins and on the first day of school is prepared to distract his teacher (who is notorious for her homework assignments).  As she is about to give homework Nick attempts to distract her by asking her 'What makes a word a word?'  She responds with, "you do!" The story is all about how she not only does not let Nick distract her from giving homework, she gives him additional homework figuring out exactly what makes a word a word.  This assignment is so meaningful, Nick is determined to coin a new work, "FRINDLE."  Read it.  It's brilliant!

 In the first instance (for Arthur), homework is a chore.  In the second (for Nick) it's a challenge.  Which scenario would YOU prefer?

The problem in assigning homework is that every student is different, and making assignments for each student is unrealistic. As a result, teachers and parents have to help their children find meaning in homework assignments.  There are some other alternatives though.  Here are some suggestions:

For Teachers:
  • Homework assignments can offer different types of questions and options for students of various skills and preferences to wrestle with on their own time. 
  • Provide opportunities to mentally manipulate content material creatively, making it more meaningful and personal.  
  • Instead of worksheets, have students construct vocabulary word games to play during recess and classroom breaks, or write a journal entry, screenplay, reflecting topics in social studies and science.    
  • Have students create comic books expanding poetry or texts covered in classroom readings  including selected vocabulary, and/or specific 'talking points' . 
  • Include an option for more abstract opinion questions that some students love pursuing and others find too philosophical and unstructured.   
For Parents:

    • Talk to kids about their homework (but don't do it for them)
      • Help your child find relevance to the homework assignments (especially if they don't immediately see it). 
      • Talk about the Arthur clip above.  Why is it so bad, what could make homework more palatable.
      • Jon Scieszka has some wonderful books on Math Curse and Science Verse  which may help your child find relevance in math and science.
      • Design a special place/table/desk/corner for homework.  Help them structure their time so that after homework is completed they can have fun.  This is really important. [See http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/03/theme-thursday-sense-of-space-and.html for more details.]
      • Not only should kids have a desk/table to work at, they should have their materials readily available as well.  This means pens, pencils, paper, dictionaries, etc., should be easily accessible as they're working.
      • IF an assignment is overwhelming, help kids break down assignments into manageable sequences.
      • Talk about project/paper options.  Brainstorm together and help guide your child.  Again, for projects you may need to help them structure their time.
      • Some kids find a slight music distraction helpful for concentration - other's don't.  Talk about this with your (older) kids.
      • When in doubt, go check out Calvin & Hobbes:

      Or, if you prefer music.... check out doing homework with Otis Rush: