Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Visual Vocabulary

Three interesting sites to see word connections:


ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus


More Resources for Developing Vocabulary at LIM Resources

Making Decisions

by Ed Latham

Some nine years ago, I started questioning the way we adults make decisions as a society. I have been looking at ad campaigns, listening to radio, looking over Internet sales pitches for many issues that have come to vote. Pushing a point of view seems to be a universal human quality throughout time. There is a rising concern about how people push, versus share, a point of view and what effect that is having on how we are raising our children.

We ask children to look at all sides objectively and then, after weighing the pros and cons, make a decision that the individual will feel good about supporting. Can we even do that now? The key word here is objectively. People are passionate about what they want and how they believe. What percentage of adults can put aside how we feel long enough to explore all options, then reintroduce our feelings into the equation and make a good decision? Parents and teachers often agree that students need to be able to process decisions considering both emotional and logical rational, but those same adults are increasingly unable to process that way as a social group. How then are we teaching our kids to do the same?

In some classrooms, there are no opportunities for discussion or variation of opinion. Even in some classrooms that allow for discussion, some students may feel intimidated if they don't agree with the teacher or their peers. In some of the most open discussions, there is a sense from children that someone has to win. Educationally, we have taken learning to the level where freedom of expression is squashed by fear of being not with the majority. When a student gets work back, they almost never care about what they need to improve on, they look to the number or score to see if they reached a high enough score to move on to the next level or at least keep adults off their case for another two weeks. Fear of failing is not only inhibiting learning in some students, but is causing society members to make decisions out of fear instead of making informed decisions based on considerations of emotional and logical reasons.

In most any political decision in the last 9 years, there are usually two opposing arguments. Here is where the problem starts. Both camps are based on strong human characteristics and yet there is never a middle ground in our "adult" systems. Therefore, there is a constant fear that if we side with A then we are good/bad. From a child's point of view, the student even sees option D. None Of The Above, until the child learns that even though the option exists, rarely is it ever utilized. The decision process for adults has almost become religious. Either you believe as this camp does or you are in danger of being excommunicated or shunned by peers. All of those pressures, to fall into one camp or the other, are all based on fear of rejection. No matter the outcome, one camp is feeling like a victim.

For our kids, many of whom see adult decisions as right/wrong, good/bad, supporting the country/against the country, we need to look at ways we allow for differences or middle ground and for exploration of systems that may allow for differences to exist more harmoniously. Already our youth face pass/fail, teacher's pet/problem child, fitting in/social outcast issues every day. Do our current practices of working with children help to create the very same fearful behaviors that have been guiding our political and legal systems for years?

The inability to use both camps of reasoning and still "fit in" is creating a society of people that are becoming more and more out of touch with making decisions blend rather than polarize. As a result, our society is becoming more polarized, and our kids are watching, while they listen to us continue to extol the virtues of good decisions, getting along with others, and being accepting of differences.

How do we stop this perpetual cycle of decisions (kids and adults) made out of fear of not belonging or fear of causing someone to loose or someone to gain advantage? Insurance companies are thinking about changing health care based on personal choices we make. Many other aspect of "universal access" to things are going to go away because of the economics of a capitalistic society. The decisions we make individually are going to become more and more relevant as to how we are treated, not by other people, but by the government and businesses and organizations. This individual accountability for our decisions seems so polar opposite to the way social decisions are made (where you either gain with this vote or loose with that vote). I don't have solutions, but this polarization of emotional reasoning and logical reasoning is limiting individuals' rights to make decisions and not be punished for not conforming to either side of an issue. This is how wars begin and how conflicts continue to persist over huge tracts of time. Do we need more than two options? Can we even come up with a middle ground any more after discussion if people fear winning or loosing? Does the limitation on student choice in our education system help promote polarization into adulthood?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Let's Get Kids Excited About Writing! (Part 1)

By Pam Kenney

It's often difficult and frustrating to engage a boy's interest in writing projects. When I taught elementary literature/composition, one writing activity that was a sure winner was creating scripts for wordless books. Yes, I know wordless books are primarily for pre-readers, but the very fact that the story is told without text means the pictures are so detailed it's hard to resist adding words mentally as the action unfolds. Boys and girls alike love being authors, and a wordless book project can provide hours of fun, as well as surprising opportunities for acquiring important reading and writing skills.

Just giving children a few initial guidelines will be enough to get them off and running. One book I often start with is Frog Where Are You? by Mercer Mayer. In pictures only, it tells the story of a boy's adventures after his pet frog escapes from its glass jar home. I divide the students into groups of two or three and, after they have "read" the book, they start writing a script for the story. As they write, although they're having a grand time, they're learning about the beginning, middle, and end of a story, when to use sequence words, how to use and punctuate dialogue, how vivid word choice can enhance a story's enjoyment... I could go on and on.

Once the script is in its final form, it's time for the fun part. The kids love to add homemade sound effects to their story, including a ringing bell to signal when a page needs to be turned. I've had students spend hours experimenting with legos falling into in tin pan to simulate breaking glass, blowing through cardboard paper towel tubes to create winds sounds, clucking like chickens or barking like dogs, and having the times of their lives.

When all the parts of the wordless book story are in place, the next step is to record it. When I was a teacher, I used a tape recorder. Now, however, there are incredible resources on your computer that will fascinate any child: VoiceThread; Audacity; GarageBand (for Mac users); even iMovie (Mac users). I love Audacity because it's free, open source, and has all the bells and whistles you could want during a recording session. VoiceThread is great, too, because it allows you to invite your friends and relatives to listen to your children's creations. Stories can be recorded, also, to entertain preschool children.

When it's time to record, children working in groups usually choose one member to read the script, one to ring the bell when it's time to turn the page, and the third to make the sound effects at the appropriate time. Children working alone can do all three with a little practice!

Writing is laborious for a lot of children, but introducing them to wordless books is one way to make learning fun.

Some wordless book suggestions:

The Midnight Circus by Peter Collington
Tuesday by David Wiesner (a Caldecott Award winner)
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang
Will's Mammoth by Stephen Gammell
Good Dog, Carl books by Alexandra Day
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod
Frog Where Are You? and sequels by Mercer Mayer

Still more on wordless books at LIM Resources