Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Misunderstandings

"The meaning of communication lies in the way that it is received." *

I remember this lesson from speech class in my undergraduate years (must have been a similar curriculum to the Open University of Malaysia).  I guess it stuck, because I recall repeating this message several times to students, in instances of behavior management ("It's not what you said, it's how you said it!") and when teaching writing ("Think of your audience!").

This topic has come to my serious attention twice in the last three weeks.  In both instances, I was neither the speaker nor the receiver of the messages, but within close circles of those involved.  In the interest of confidentiality, I won't name names or specific details...but I felt drawn to write about it.

The first instance involved text messaging.  Wrought with drama in print but without vocal inflection to clarify, frustration with friends' squabbles got misinterpreted as a thinly veiled nod to self-injurious behavior.  Lesson learned:  be very careful texting, be very clear about what you're NOT saying...and be thankful for friends who support you and do the right thing even when the message they receive is (erroneously) scary.

The second instance was verbal.  I was not privy to the conversation, but affected by the fallout.  It was one of those situations in which both parties had points with which I agree.  The message was one of outreach and hope, but some received it as a call to rebellion--an invitation they did not appreciate.  And the lesson?  Maybe it is to consider your audience...or maybe, a point was proven by standing one's ground.  Either way,  I hope the parties can continue their relationship and learn from one another.

Meanings misconstrued in serious ways...are we "getting" the messages?  Where does the error lie--in the speaker or the listener?  I'm sending out vibes for clear communication for my friends AND myself; I don't want to get into tangles like these anytime soon.

*"Introduction to Communication." Open University of Malaysia. Web. 19 Oct. 2015. <http://www.oum.edu.my/v3/download/OUMH1203.pdf>.

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

If my workday alarm was not set so early, and I didn't have an author visit to host this morning, I would have stayed up to finish I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

Part mystery, part fantasy/webcomic--May and Trick are taking me on a suspenseful hunt for May's friend and co-creator of Princess X, Libby.  Libby supposedly died in a car crash with her mother three years ago, but the appearance of the princess around Seattle and on the web leads May to think otherwise.  Trick, a teenage hacker who's trying to get his life back on track after his college scholarship falls through, is helping May navigate the internet clues in cyberspace and on foot.

I bought this book to read and share with my own young adult daughter and son, who will appreciate the references to our modern internet culture (Reddit, Tumblr, Gchat, and other social media sites are woven into the story).  They'll also like the Princess X comics, stand-alone chapters between those with text , allowing us to figure out what really happened to Libby along with May and Trick.

I'll be staying up late to finish this book tonight; what will you be reading at bedtime?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Fuzzy, pretty lights

When you are parenting a high school marching band kid, chauffeuring to and from practices is part of the routine.  

We had staff development yesterday--a student holiday--and my day was filled with training on our district's new financial system, a committee meeting, and setting up for our fall book fair in the library.  Fortunately, my husband was able to leave work early to drive our youngest to the district stadium for his five o'clock call time.  

I had started my morning with my usual four-thirty alarm, battled a stomach bug all day, and finally left work at five forty-five in the afternoon.  Feeling exhausted and drained by the time I got home, all I could manage was microwaving a sweet potato to settle my stomach, laying on the couch to watch some TV, and zoning out on my Facebook feed and Candy Crush Soda Saga.

At eight-thirty, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, traded my contacts for glasses and shoes and socks for house slippers...and got into the car with my husband to pick up our marching band student.  I was reminded once again how nice it was to have my husband drive--he was on night shift for twenty years, and I was doing most of the chauffeuring until three years ago.  Picking up our youngest after evening practices almost counts as a date night!

It was nine twenty in the evening when we finally made our way home.  I took off my glasses to rub my eyes...and was awed by the fuzzy, pretty lights that surrounded me.  In my punch-drunk exhausted state, I went on and on about how the street lights and headlights looked like large, twinkling Christmas ornaments.  I was surprised by how much I could see--lines on the road, windows on buildings, store signs.  I'm rarely out and about in the evenings these days, and even more infrequently without contacts on, so it was enlightening (pun intended) to see how my eyes worked without assistance.

I left my glasses off until we pulled into the driveway.  Focused on sleep, I toddled off to bed, removing my bifocal spectacles one more time before placing them on the nightstand and turning off the not-so-fuzzy-or-sparkling lamp.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I See KittyAlmost every child I know has asked for a pet of their own, and I See Kitty by Yasmine Surovec addresses that overwhelming desire in simple text and detailed pictures.  Young children will delight in finding the kitty images throughout Chloe's day, and will most likely guess the surprise hiding outside her bedroom door.
I have been reading Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (illustrated by Christian Robinson) to my kindergarteners in the library.  It is a sweet story of pups switched at birth; for those of you who grew up with Sesame Street, think of the "one of these things is not like the other" song.  I've been questioning students on the feelings shown by the mother dogs in the book, as well as delving deeper into the meaning of family.  I would pair this with Jamie Lee Curtis' Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born as springboards to discuss adoption.
Next week, I begin meeting with the fifth grade Book Lunch Bunch in our library!  There will be even more books to write about then, as we discuss personal and shared reading.

What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuesday Slice: Rigor and inference

It is never more evident that I work on a book-loving campus than during our twice-yearly book fair fundraisers.  The students come pouring in as soon as we open the door at 730a, hurrying to make their purchases before the bell rings.  At 740a, there are long faces as we ask them to label a sticky note and "layaway" their stash of books, assuring them that their teachers will let them come down later to pick them up.

It's also a time when I get to chat with parents and grandparents, helping them find books for their little ones.  Some accommodate their children's wishlists, while others are intentionally looking for books to "stretch" their readers with different genres and more difficult text. As a parent of avid readers, I've tended to be more like the former buyer, not the latter. 

A school librarian's dream, to work with a campus of readers.  Why, then, do we have a testing "hotspot" on the skill of making inferences?

One of our attentive, actively involved parents asked me about my suggestions for remediating the "inference hotspot" on our test scores. I explained that inference skills rely heavily on the background knowledge of the student--and that is formed by life experience and wide reading. Play and socializing are so very important to be able to infer character feelings and motives, too. We should be spending more money on field trips!

Notice I said "wide reading", not "harder reading".  Time and again I find younger students who are able to decode  vocabulary beyond their grade level, and may even test higher in snapshot comprehension assessments, reaching for those thick volumes in the fiction section.  But are they really able to comprehend a story arc that stretches over 300 pages?  Do they get the depth and complexity of the characters, infer hidden motives,  enjoy the rich vocabulary?

Some may be able to do so, but I suspect many don't.  In the surveys I give to the students.  many confess that they have a hard time finding a book they like, and rarely finish a book they've checked out. I have to wonder how much is due to choosing books that are, simply put, too hard.  And if one improves reading skills by reading more and reading deeply, then leaving books unfinished defeats the purpose.

Dr. Seuss' books may not have SAT words, but they do have lessons on caring and learning through play.  Robert Munsch's picture books cover a wide variety of family situations and feelings.  Following along with Amelia Bedelia's foibles  or Geronimo Stilton's adventures allows younger readers to become familiar with characters and learn to anticipate their actions.  "Easy reader" nonfiction books allow students to explore their interests and focus on the content, not the decoding.  

Life lessons, making connections with text, delving deep with characters and interests--this is what increases inference skills, as does maturity and experience.  Don't be so fast to skip over the picture book section, readers; there is learning to be had there.

And don't be afraid to revisit those books.  As my oldest daughter once said, "Oh, The Places You'll Go meant a lot more to me as a graduating senior than as an elementary student."

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

At our monthly librarians' meetings, we are given the opportunity to choose new books to read, review, and add to our campus libraries.

I recently chose Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye, a chapter book with an intriguing title and cover.

By the second chapter, I was making connections between Witherwood and Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, with a shared theme of wily, independent children left to their own devices due to an absence of parents.

In Skye's book, motherless siblings Tobias and Charlotte Eggers have had their fill of incompetent nannies, and their father has had his fill of their escalating misbehavior.  In an effort to scare the children straight, he drops them off in front of a reform school, with the intent of picking them up after letting them stew awhile.  Unfortunately, a car accident prevents his return. The children are left to fend for themselves in this strange facility with creepy employees, vicious animals of questionable species, and the mind-bending Mr. Withers himself.  Will they ever see their father again?  Will they live that long?

The book's darkly funny narrator reminds us that bad things happen all the time.  Don't expect a happy ending...but it will leave you wanting more to the story.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.