Monday, December 26, 2011

Facilitating EXCHANGES and Challenging EXPECTATIONS

Typically we think of the classroom experience as the teacher relaying information to students, and, for better and for worse, that is often the case.  And, while teachers must relay new information, in my experience the best learning comes from exchanges: exchanges between student and teacher, between student and student, and between student and given materials.  These exchanges can and should occur in the classroom, at home, and in the world around us, and are particularly effective when they challenge or extend existing expectations.

The essentials for successful exchanges:
  • listening - listening for opportunities to take learning further, listening for questions regarding levels of understanding, listening for comments of challenge [challenging existing levels of understanding is often a very good thing], listening for nuances;
  • motivating
  • encouraging self-confidence in the ability challenge existing states of knowledge and understanding
  • encouraging risk taking in your child's thinking and problems solving
  • promoting respectful dialogue :
    • Pose open-ended questions
    • Allow your child to respond to your questions, pausing before responding yourself or, if you're a teacher, before calling on a student.  This allows them to process the question and retrieve and formulate meaningful responses.
    • Encourage different perspectives to questions and comments, accepting divergent opinions (without having to necessarily agree with them).  When you hear divergent opinions, try to help direct, guide, and facilitate discussions.
Let me share some examples of positive (and negative) exchanges: 
      • This Looney Toon is all about listening, risk taking, and encouraging Bugs (and Daffy) to think out of the box - something Bugs does regularly but Daffy does not....
      • There is a wonderful exchange in the book Frindle by Andrew Clements.  It is the beginning of fifth grade for Nick Allen, who is convinced that he can distract his Language Arts teacher (a fanatic about dictionaries and dictionary usage) from assigning homework.  So, just as she is about to relay that night's assignment, Nick raises his hand and asks her, "What makes a word a word?"  The problem (initially at least) for Nick is that sahe throws the question right back at him, saying that is a wonderful question and in addition to the class assignment, he must 'research' his question further.  He does the research and realizes exactly what makes aword a word, and proceeds to coin his own.  He learns ALOT more about words and language than he ever expected from this simple exchange, from listening to various literary sources, and from challenging existing expectations.  
      • Another exchange happened to me in the airport. I was waiting at the gate for my flight (which was delayed) and just watching the people around me.  There was a little boy "Daniel" who must have been about five years old, who had gone through his mom's stash of chips, her box of apple juice, and her patience as well.  The planes out the window were no longer a novelty and he and his mom were 'losing it.'  And, there was still the flight to take.  At some point the mom looked at me and I suggested a game to play, "I SPY."  She had never heard of it and so I explained the game:  One person privately selects an object within sight and generally describes it, "I spy with my little eye, something (or big, or smelly or any other adjective you care to give it)" and the other person has to guess what it is you spy by asking questions or just by guessing.  When the item is guessed, the players switch roles.
      The problem, once I explained the game was that mom kept picking small items or items Daniel could not see well.  Through their exchanges, though, she learned adjust her selections so Daniel could easily guess them.  The other problem, was when it was Daniel's turn to spy an object.  He, being a five year old, and very excited about the game would say, "I spy with my little eye something blue" and then immediately share what that object was with his mom -without her having the opportunity to play or guess. 
      What was so special about this exchange was that aside from distracting and entertaining Daniel, both mother and child learned how to adjust their choices and responses to the game. Furthermore, Mom was happy Daniel was occupied, Daniel was thrilled with his new game, he was learning and practicing adjectives and vocabulary, and what was about to turn into a shouting match, turned into a productive exchange between parent and child.
      • I observed another exchange between mother and child that did not work out well when riding on a train.  It was a summer Sunday afternoon and mother and son were returning from a day at the beach.  They were tired, the train was crowded, and mom had to navigate one large suitcase, a large overstuffed tote bag, and a cranky child.  She propped the suitcases against the window (a mistake) and sat her son between her and the suitcases.  He cried and fussed and she would not allow him to climb over (or simply move) the suitcase to look out the window, or allow him to walk up and down the aisle, or even read a book to him.  Instead she screamed at him to "shut up" and if others tried to help with advice she shouted "he's a two year old, they scream and cry - that's what they do...."  This woman had one expectation - her two year old cried and screamed - and she did not care or try to adjust that expectation.  She also did not care to exchange, motivate, or distract her child - she just let him scream.

      With 2012 approaching, let's raise our expectations, renew and enhance exchanges and become better listeners and motivators!

      Here's to a great 2012!!!! 

      Monday, December 19, 2011


      In this 2011 holiday season, I know we all have our wish lists, our kids' wish lists, our friends' and spouse wish lists to consider and attempt to meet.

      I actually think meeting and granting wishes (in moderation) is one of the perks of parenthood and this holiday season, but will be a challenge for many of us, given the economic situation we find ourselves in today.  That is why it is so important to help our kids learn to distinguish between realistic wishes that can be met and those that involve reaching, aspiring, and hoping (knowing in reality they may not be met - at least not immediately).

      To help kids learn to make (smaller) realistic wishes and (larger) hopeful wishes - talk to them about wishes, wish making, and expectations.  Read books about how how different characters make wishes and deal with making those wishes come true.  Talk to them about the characters and books where the wishes do not come true and how those characters deal with the frustration, disappointment, and realities they face.

      Here are some of my favorite books about wishes:
      • A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story  by Berkely Breathed  
      • Many Moons by James Thurber - about a princess who wants the moon, and how the king's jester finds a solution, where his advisors and wise men could not.
      • Ruby's Wish  by Shirin Yim  
      • Ava Tree and Wishes Three by Jeanne Betancourt 
      • Dealing with Dragons - the first in a series of chapter books by Patricia Wrede - about a princess who wishes she could learn math, science, and magic instead of etiquette and manners. 
      • Robot Dreams and Bake Sale both written and illustrated by Sara Varon are both wonderful books about wishes, dreams, and how hard it is sometimes to make them come true.  In Robot Dreams,  the dreams come don't come true the way they were initially intended; and in Bake Sale,  the wishes do come true after hard work and sacrifice.  Both are graphic novels geared for young and old kids alike.
      • When Wishes Come True by Per-Henrik Gurth.  This is a story about a polar bear who is sad because his wishes never seem to come true, and how his mother shows him how some of them do come true (like getting his favorite meal or wishing for snow to fall).  This is a great book that shows kids the difference between big and small wishes.
      Here is a read-aloud YouTube clip for When Wishes Come True:
        Here are some questions you can discuss with them after, or when reading the books:
        • What wishes do they think can be met and what may not be met?
        • What might characters do to help make their wishes come true?
        • How does it feel when wishes don't come true?
        • How do different people/ characters deal with the frustration when their wishes aren't met?
        • Talk about how we can help make certain wishes come true (in their lives and in others')
        • What are different ways people make wishes and why (i.e., wish bones, fountains, praying)
        Sometimes providing perspective will help when kids are frustrated or sad.  Here are links and charity suggestions that may help them feel better about themselves while helping other, less fortunate kids have their wishes met.  The charities below take monetary and/or 'gently used' donations:

        Make A Wish Foundation
        Kids Wish Network
        St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
        Operation Smile
        Children's Charities of America
        Boys and Girls Clubs of America
        Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
        Project Night Night - providing sweeter dreams for homeless kids
        KaBOOM! Buidling playgrounds, parks, athletic fields in low-income areas
        Locks of Love
        Save the Children Fund
        Ronald McDonald House Charities
        New Eyes for the Needy
        Sports 4 All Foundation
        Toys For Tots
        An index of local charities that accept clothing donations

        [PLEASE feel free to add some of your favorite charities (not listed) in your comments.]

        Wishes are SO important they set goals, raise expectations, and help us cope with life around us.  How do you help your kids make and deal with wishes?  Please let me know in the comments.

        Here is a lovely video clip of third graders responding to a unit around the book, Ava Tree and the Wishes Three by Jeanne Betancourt, and "what kids wish for":

        In closing, I would like to wish all of my cyber friends and followers a very joyous holiday season, with wishes for a happy, healthy, successful 2012.

        2011 was a good year for me professionally - with my book contract and so many new and wonderful friends and followers.  I thank you all for your warm, insightful, friendly comments.

        May 2012 be a year of peace, prosperity and wonderful family time for us all!!

        I just couldn't pick one version - I love them both.


        Thursday, December 8, 2011

        The Very Best of 2011 Kids' Graphic Novels with Links and Excerpts!

        As 2011 draws to a close, it's time to share my list of 2011's "Very Best" graphic novels for kids (although I LOVED them and last time I checked, I was considered - by most- to be an adult).  I am only a recent avid fan, and I rationalize my newly found passion by the fact that in the last few years this industry has exploded with diverse, quality, works that MUST be included in homes, schools, and libraries. I have included books with intelligent content, and quality art and prose.

        So here are my recommendations (note that I have also included accessible web sites that either deal with important issues or have online previews and excerpts):

        FOR KIDS 4-8

        Bake Sale by Sara Varon weaves a salivating tale of friendship, chemistry, and baking, and marching bands. It is about friends using creative ideas to help each other with life's dreams and unavoidable obstacles. Life's solutions (at least in this book) revolve around baking. There are seven recipes from classic cupcakes and cookies to sugared flower petals to marzipan.  It is wonderfully heart-warming and creative. Please see this YouTube clip for more about the book.

        Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell is a series of books about Antimony Carver, a girl with special talents attending a strange school called Gunnerkrigg Court.  It is a fictional school in a fictional world and the story weaves political intrigue, science, fantasy and mythology into a beautifully (verbally and visually) told story.  The books are published by Arehaia Studios Press but the stories are updated online three days a week at Gunnerkrkigg Court.
        Nursery Rhyme Comics edited by Chris Duffy is a compilation of nursery rhymes classics retold by 50 of today's most talented cartoonists and illustrators.  Each rhyme is one to three pages long, simply paneled and lettered for an easy read for all ages, and each one isa feast for the eyes and mind.

        Cover art for SQUISH, SUPER AMOEBASquish:  Super Amoeba by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is about the world of single-celled friends (Squish, Peggy and Pod) and as they navigate school, bullies and life.  It is wonderfully creative and these ameoba and paramecium move and interact with their environment in a very creative (and relatively true to life) way.  It is a great introduction to pond life and the single-celled world and a great way to discuss fact, fiction, and an author's use of both to tell a story.  I just loved this book and recommend it for home and school use. They have a second book out already (Squish:  Brave New Pond) with a third one coming out soon "Squish:  The Power of the Parasite"
        SLJ1107w_FTcomx_Hatke(Original Import) 
        Zita Space Girl by Ben Hatke -  invites the reader from the first panel.  Art and story are incredibly engaging for kids of all ages.  This is a great book to read aloud or have your child read on their own.  It is about Zita who knows she shouldn't touch an unidentified object while walking with her friend Joseph, but she just can't resist.  (Sound like any child you know?).  Even with Jacob's warning, she touches it and sending Jacob to another universe.  She knows she must go to rescue him and embarks on the adventure of her life. For more details see my previous post which has a YouTube video clip excerpting this book.

        FOR KIDS 8-12
        Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley is a funny, witty, intelligent series of books that follow Amelia as she adjusts to life in a new town after her parents' divorce.  These books deal with issues of friendship, loyalty, school, various family life issues, and social ' belonging' issues.  Gownley shows (not tells) kids how they can navigate life's lessons in a wonderfully fun, supportive and empowering way, while dealing with very real issues.  It is one of the best kid's book I've read in a long time. In 2011 alone, four different Amelia books have been published - the are ALL SUPERB and well worth the read.  Here is a YouTube video excerpt from one of the Amelia books.

        Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a story about how a ghost (named Emily) who is 'rescued' by Anya when she falls down a well, helps Anya deal with the awkward teen years.  She helps Anya address her self consciousness about her looks, her friends and being popular, with Anya's embarrassment of her family (they are very ethnic), and with her rebellious, confused emotions.  It is a lovely coming of age book. Here are the first 17 pages of the book, courtesy of First Second Books.

        City of Spies by Susan Kim and Laurence Klaven depicts life in the summer of 1942.  Evelyn's dad is getting remarried and he sends her to her aunt's house in New York City. Evelyn discovers herself and with the help of Tony, the super's son, they uncover a German spy ring after seeing newsreels asking citizens to help in the war effort.  It is exciting, empowering, and a lovely coming of age story. Here are 8 pages from the book, courtesy of First Second Books.

        Resistance (2010) and Resistance Book 2: Defiance (2011) by Carla Jablonski & Leland Purvis is a story about World War II from the perspective of  a boy, Paul Tessier and his family.  In Book 1 the Tessiers have to decide how to live under German occupation as they weigh their options of joining the French Resistance, remaining 'neutral', or sympathizing with the Germans (in the hope of more and better rations and privileges). They also must decide whether to help Paul's best friend, a Jew.  In book 2 Defiance the story continues. Paul is now 14 and he still wrestles with helping his beloved torn France. Please view some excerpt pages.

        Rust:  Visitor in the Field by Royden Lepp is a gripping story of Roman Taylor who struggles in a world similar to ours (which looks a lot like dust-bowl Oklahoma) to save his family's small farm which was devastated by a war.  One day a boy with a jet pack lands in the field and Romam begins to discover the secrets of Jet's past as he develops greater hopes for the future.  This is really a story for young teens, older teens and adults, which I reluctantly place here.  20th Century Fox has already picked up the rights to this awesome story.  Please check out these preview pages.

        The Olympians (Zeus, Athena, Hera) by George O'Connor are a collection of books on Greek mythology.  The latest is Hera.  The story is true to classic Greek myth, and the illustrations and panel /page arrangements are breathtaking.  Greek myths truly come alive in this series and it is a GREAT bet for any kids interested in Greek mythology. Note that Hades is the fourth book coming out in 2012.  I saw a galley and it is spectacular as well.  Also note that each book comes with suggested lesson plans, suggested supplemental reading lists, and a family tree of the Greek gods.  Please view the first 12 pages, courtesy of First Second Books.

        For 12+
        Americus written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill is about a book-loving boy from Americus, a small town in Oklahoma who eagerly awaits the latest edition of his favorite fantasy series starring a young sorceress who hunts monsters and tyrants.  Trouble arises with a movement to ban it from the library.  This book deals head on with book-banning in a sensitive, honest manner. The book appeared first on the web (and while now only available in print, this is a very cool link that deals with book banning), and is now available in book form.  Here is a 13-page preview for those interested (compliments of the publisher, First Second Books).

        Feynman written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Leland Myrick visually and verbally illustrates Richard Feynman's life from his childhood in Long Island NY to his college days at MIT to his work on the Manhattan Project, career at Cornell and CalTech,  his dramatic exposure of the Challenger disaster, his work on quantum electrodynamics and his antics in art and music (bongo drums).   This work is  an adaptation of Feynman's books ("Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" and "What Do You Care WHat Other People Think?" are two of my all-time favorite books) which are also well work a read. No science background is required for these books, although it may help with some sections. Here is a slide show excerpt of the book

        The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell is a semi-autobiographical story (about one of the author's father) who was a "Race Reporter" in Texas, 1976.  It is actually not out until January 17, 2012, but is available on Amazon for preorder. I was given a galley to read and it is powerfully honest, sensitive, and does a spectacular job relaying a very complicated, troubled time in our history. It is the story of prejudice, humiliation, degradation and a living testament of the growing civil rights movement in Houston Texas.  It talks about families who try to do the right thing, raise their kids' "right", make mistakes, but mostly make an effort to find the right path in a questioning time. Here is a preview - 13 pages from the book.  It is sensitive, smart, and honest.  A must read!

        Honorable mentions from previous years:

        Anne Frank:  The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.  The authors infuse this authorized biography with relevant history and perspective as Anne's story is retold.  It is an excellent read in which World War II and the Holocaust come alive, and lives lost all to early are remembered. 

        Drawing Words and Writing Pictures - Jessica Abel and Matt MaddenDrawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden is a GREAT gift/book idea.  I recommend it for kids ages 12+.  It is actually written as a course and has won multiple awards including: BCCB Recommended Title, Publisher's Weekly Comics Week Best Comic of the Year. I has chapters on lettering, story structure, and panel layout and comes with homework, extra credit activities and supplemental reading suggestions.

        I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly - a superb book about fifth grader Barbara who kills giants - we just don't know if she really kills giants, thinks she kills giants but is living (or retreating) to a fantasy world, or if this is a metaphor for something greater.  Please see previous blog post that illustrates how graphic novels like I Kill Giants are not only enteratining, but actually help shape inference skills and critical thinking (it has some excerpts from the book as well).

        Laika  by Nick Abadzis tells the story of Laika, the first sentient being sent into space by the Russians and of the political posturing of the 1950's space race.  Please see a previous blog post of mine for more details.

        Mouse Guard by David Petersen  Please see a previous blog post of mine for more details on this and other great reads.  It is the story of Medieval Mouse times.  It is already a classic work, the art and story are spectacular and it is well worth your time.

        The Sons of Liberty by Alexander and Joseph Lagos tells the story of Colonial America with a bit of a twist as two young run-away slaves are are left with superpowers as the result of an encounter with Ben Franklin's son who was experimenting with electricity.  This is the first story of a series and is wonderfully engaging.

        The United States Constitution Please my December 5, 2011 post for more details about this truly outstanding publication which seeming effortlessly describes the United States Constituion (Preamble and Amendments) as well as providing background and perspective to this work of genius.

        Tribes: The Dog Years by Michael Geszel and Peter Spinetta, art by Inaki Miranda is an outstanding science fiction adventure that considers the effect of a medical research lab's experiment with nano virus' gone awry.  While there is some violence (hence the older age guideline) the story and art are spectacular and worth the read (for older kids and ALL adults).  Please see  my previous blog post for details as well as this post dealing with Tribes and social cognition.  Here is a great YouTube post trailer for Tribes: The Dog Years that is spectacular and shows you Inaki Miranda's spectacular art. 

        This is a long posting, but these are all spectacular books that I fell passionately about.  Please leave some of your passionate suggestions as well - or questions.