Saturday, January 29, 2011

:The Daily Miracle": READING

This morning I saw my friend Malcolm Guite had a cool word study on his MugBook page:

In Greek the word "euangel" literally means good message (hence good news) , or more literally "good angel", (angel meaning "messenger" or "bearer of news"); this is the root of the latinised English word "evangelist". But when the word was first translated into Mediaeval English it was translated "good spell" (written "godspel"). "Spell" at that time meant "word", and also curiously, "play", and "enchantment" (related also to spiel - game or play) and the word "god spell" was eventually contracted to 'gospel'.

So of course I visited his blog--he is a professor at Cambridge University in England, as well as an Anglican priest, a poet, a Harley lover. He'd posted this gem under the title "The Daily Miracle":

What a miracle that you should be reading this! The everyday miracle that we call ‘reading’, a miracle of interpretation, of leaps from shapes on paper, to unsounded sounds in the mind, leaps from sounds to meaning, and from common meaning to a communion of minds! We take it all for granted, we scarcely notice what we are doing, but sometimes we should pause and reflect what an extraordinary achievement literacy is, and how privileged we are to be able to do it.

and I have been thinking with gratitude and wonder about the Magic of words all day.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

middle schooler praise

He was serious:
"You should have a TV show
about history..."

D. is academically on the bubble--he has a D-/F+ currently with one more week in the semester. We were learning about the Whiskey Rebellion, taking graphic notes in six panels. He looked up from his notes and sincerely gave me that haiku-friendly compliment. I didn't know how to react because middle school praise is as blunt and sincere as middle school scorn; it has no kiss-up coating or social distance. His comment was like being bear-hugged in public. I recovered my balance, smiled and thanked him, and pressed forward with the excise tax and Washington's march on Pennsylvania, but inside I was cartwheeling.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Our site has a twenty minute reading period built into the day. I am in the minority of teachers that enforce it. Despite the awesome staff at our school, many shrug and give into the resistance of the kids, letting them do their homework, flip though catalogs, socialize. I bully the kids into reading. And sometimes I win.

I remember one resistant reader, B., who picked up Monster by Walter Dean Myers and got hooked. "Miss M, can I take this home?" You think I'd say yes? No way! I knew that he would itch all day for reading time, sit quietly “in” the book, try to devour it as quickly as possible. (Plus I needed time to find another book to recommend to him when he finished!) Truth be told, he wasn't turned into a reader when he finished his book--but he was transformed from an anti-reader, and that's progress.

Another resistant reader, T. started reading The Hobbit because his uncle made him promise he would. I told him he had to give it fifty pages before judging it, that it might take him that long to”get into it.” One day as the bell rang he smiled, “It only took twenty pages.” But after several weeks I noticed that every day T. was still sitting with The Hobbit in his hands without reading it. Come to find out, he’d finished but didn’t want me to know because he thought he had just read The Only Good Book in the World. I was the lucky one who got to tell him there were three more books even better! “Is Bilbo in them?” Yes, I said, not as the main character, though. “Then I don’t want to read them.” Now THAT is love. Misled love, but T. had become emotionally involved with a character.

Of course I persuaded him to give Tolkien another shot, and when Peter Jackson’s first LOTR movie was released, I took a friend and met T. at a theater so we could enjoy it together. We both agreed that though we liked the movie, THE BOOK WAS BETTER.

Through the magic of books I have lived in Georgia with four Black women during the fifties (The Secret Life of Bees), turned into a dragon (Voyage of the Dawn Treader), been a misunderstood concierge for wealthy families in a Paris apartment building (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), dressed as a ham hock for an Alabama school play and escaped being killed (To Kill a Mockingbird), enjoyed bush tea with a "traditionally built" friend in Botswana (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), lost my daddy to the Twin Towers on 9/11 (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), vetted all manner of livestock in Yorkshire (All Creatures Great and Small), survived hurricanes and escaped rabies in the Everglades (Their Eyes Were Watching God), been to Venus (Perelandra), escaped dire consequences of the Mexican Revolution (Rain of Gold), lived in the underground Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, resisting the Nazis (Mila 18), exercised my free will (East of Eden), been blind (Blindness), lived on a whaling ship disguised as a boy (Ahab's Wife), run through Paris sewers (Les Miserables)--

...and, while each of these books has wrung my heart, I am the happier for them.

Unhappy People Watch TV, Happy People Read/Socialize

This article I copied from is PACKED with implications, conclusions, conversations waiting to happen--you may just want to read it during your favorite show's commercials:

Newswise — A new study by sociologists at the University of Maryland concludes that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy spend more time reading and socializing. The study appears in the December issue of the journal “Social Indicators Research.”

Analyzing 30-years worth of national data from time-use studies and a continuing series of social attitude surveys, the Maryland researchers report that spending time watching television may contribute to viewers’ happiness in the moment, with less positive effects in the long run.

“TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,” says University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson, the study co-author and a pioneer in time-use studies. “It’s more passive and may provide escape - especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself. The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.”


Based on data from time use surveys, Robinson projects that TV viewing might increase significantly as the economy worsens in the next few months and years.

“Through good and bad economic times, our diary studies, have consistently found that work is the major activity correlate of higher TV viewing hours,” Robinson says. “As people have progressively more time on their hands, viewing hours increase.”

But Robinson cautions that some of that extra time also might be spent sleeping. “As working and viewing hours increase, so do sleep hours,” he says. “Sleep could be the second major beneficiary of job loss or reduced working hours.”


In their new study, Robinson and his co-author, University of Maryland sociologist Steven Martin, set out to learn more about the activities that contributed to happiness in people’s lives. They analyzed two sets of data spanning nearly 30 years (1975-2006) gathered from nearly 30,000 adults:

  • A series of time-use studies that asked people to fill out diaries for a 24-hour period and to indicate how pleasurable they found each activity;
  • General Social Survey attitude studies, which Robinson calls the national premier source for monitoring changes in public attitudes – in-depth surveys that over the years consistently asked subjects how happy they feel, how they spend their time among a number of other questions.


Robinson and Martin found that the two sets of data largely coincided for most activities – with the exception of television.

From the General Social Survey, the researchers found that self-described happy people were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers. By contrast, unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time.

According to the study’s findings, unhappy people watch an estimated 20 percent more television than very happy people, after taking into account their education, income, age and marital status – as well as other demographic predictors of both viewing and happiness.


Data from time-diaries told a somewhat different story. Responding in “real time,” much closer to daily events, survey respondents tended to rate television viewing more highly as a daily activity.

“What viewers seem to be saying is that ‘While TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, the shows I saw tonight were pretty good,’ ” Robinson says.

The data also suggested to Robinson and Martin that TV viewing was “easy.” Viewers don’t have to go anywhere, dress up, find company, plan ahead, expend energy, do any work or spend money in order to view. Combine these advantages with the immediate gratification offered by television, and you can understand why Americans spend more than half their free time as TV viewers, the researchers say.

Unhappy people were also more likely to feel they have unwanted extra time on their hands (51 percent) compared to very happy people (19 percent) and to feel rushed for time (35 percent vs. 23 percent). Having too much time and no clear way to fill it was the bigger burden of the two.


Martin likens the short, temporary pleasure of television to addiction: “Addictive activities produce momentary pleasure but long-term misery and regret,” he says. “People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged. For this kind of person, TV can become a kind of opiate in a way. It’s habitual, and tuning in can be an easy way of tuning out.”

The point of this post is not to slam TV or movies, but to offer A BETTER WAY. That's what education is supposed to do. All legal work has dignity, but education offers choices. I ache when I think of all the wonderful hours my students miss if they haven't yet discovered the magic of reading.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Teaching the Bill of Rights? Easy and Fun!

How to Help Kids Learn the Bill of Rights in Six (Mostly) Easy and Fun Steps

1. Pass out the amendments, and as a class, "translate" them into 8th grade English. Answer a billion legal questions along the way. Make sure you either have a J. D. degree, know a lawyer, or are good friends with Mr. Google.

2. Have the kids draw visual aids to help them associate the rights with their numbers. I draw them step-by-step, and the kids are able to reproduce them. Here are the raw, unretouched pictures I used today, #2 - 10, scrawled without knowing I'd be posting them. (Amendment One is in the first picture, and it's lame.)

Amendment Two is the right to bear arms. My bear has a gun-shaped two. Today I dressed period four's bear as Rambo.

Amendment Three:

"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

We call this the NO QUARTERING amendment. Get it? No quarters? Bahahaha.

This amendment protects privacy, so the fence made of fours protects the happy private guy in his four-shaped house. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The "fours" is with him--bahahaha, I crack me up.

The fifth amendment has waaaaay too many details to individually depict in one simple graphic, so we just draw the basic fact: citizens' lives, liberties, and property are protected by due process. Here's the picture--take it--take the fifth! Get it? Get it? Bahahaha.

Like its predecessor, we simply boil the sixth down with the catch-all title "The Rights of the Accused." I draw a downright accusable-looking dude who is obviously enjoying his rights.

Amendment Seven says you get a juried trial as long as what you are in court is worth more than twenty bucks. Here, the dozen sevens are transformed into jurors through the miracle of modern medicine, eye transplants. OK, so I just drew a dot on each one, but I prefer to be a bit dramatic.

The eighth amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment. Slap a number 8 behind bars and put a smile on his face because jail is fairly tame, or make an 8-shaped noose. I wondered if my noose was good enough, but then I remembered: no noose is good noose. Bahahaha.

Amendment Nine effectively says that we the people have waaaay more rights than are listed in the Bill of Rights. So many ways to portray this. But remember, I teach 8th graders, so I picked this one just for them. Bahahahaha! "Picked one"!! Ahh, I kill me...

Amendment Ten is like Amendment Nine for states. It says that if a power isn't specifically listed as belonging to the federal government, then the state has that power. Here is the mighty state of TENnessee showing his comparative strength to the federal government. I hint that this is the amendment that is a source of the Civil War-dun dun dunnnnn!--but they are too busy drawing to tune in.

3. Next, give each kid an amendment (or in the case of #1, 5, 6, and 8, PARTS of an amendment) for homework. The kid draws an example of the amendment on the front of a folded piece of blank paper and writes the amendment inside. The next day, set up a Gallery Walk where kids, using their notes, check out each other's art, trying to guess which amendment is portrayed. We do ours in a big circle, moving to the next art piece when I give a signal.

I let the kids do a silent victory dance if they guessed correctly. The Macarena surfaced today, along with the Hand Jive, the Sprinkler, the MC Hammer, the Robot and other classics. (The Michael Jackson crotch grab is verboten.)

4. Next, spend ten thousand hours making flash cards with the amendment (or PARTS of the amendment) on one side and the number on the reverse. Make enough sets, one per group of three for your whole class. (California's class sizes that meant I went through ten thousand reams of paper.) It's a hassle, but you will have them for a long time. I keep mine in ten thousand plastic baggies.

5. Have them play Bill of Rights Slap Jack©! Man, this really is fun. The dealer (who doesn't play) places a card, word side up, on the desk. The two players think and then whoever slaps and says the amendment correctly keeps the card. If a kid is incorrect, the dealer takes back the card AND one of the incorrect kid's previously won cards. Ouch--that stops random guessing! Winner of the most cards becomes the dealer.

Seriously, the kids love this game. Everyone gets better, and after a few rounds I put the dominators in groups together so they stay challenged, and the slower reflexed, thinkers, readers get mastery in less intimidating groups. NO ONE FEELS BAD about not being a dominator!

Listen, it really is super fun. If kids get hung up on who was first and all that nonsense, a quick game of Rock/Paper/Scissors ends the dispute so I never have to get involved. Everyone loves Bill of Rights Slap Jack ©--the seminar kids begged to keep playing, and the regular kids cheered when I said we'd play more tomorrow.

#6. For tonight's homework, they are prepping for my middle school version of Car Talk's Stump the Chump: each kid writes a short story that has a character who is getting three rights violated. Tomorrow, I will read some and the kids will have to figure out what amendments were violated. FUN. And then more Bill of Rights Slap Jack©, and then a test on Monday.