Reading is for Babies

Father reading to baby The American Pediatrics Association says, “Immunize your children against illiteracy.”

NPR’s Audie Cornish interviewed Professor Susan Neuman about new evidence showing that the younger you read to your children, the better. Reading benefits babies, from earliest vocabulary development though later achievements.

Were you one of those lucky children who was read to?

I have preschool memories of my dad reading me Dr. Seuss and, I kid you not, The Wall Street Journal, and my mom reading me a chapter of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi before every nap.

Reading to my own children was even more enjoyable. My first toddler was barely forming two-word sentences when he announced from his car seat, “No, Pat! No, Pat!” He was pointing to a cactus, alluding to Dr. Seuss: “No, Pat, no! Don’t sit on that!” My younger son, by 3 or 4 spoke fluent King James, holding a book, pretending to read, making up stories and admonitions with archaic verb tenses and expressions, never confusing it with our colloquial English.

Reading is not only for babies. Don’t let children outgrow it! Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook) suggests that teens wash dishes while parents read aloud. Talk about a Win-Win. The Phantom Tollbooth made a favorite dish-time hit.

Reading obviously benefits brain development, language acquisition, and academic achievements, but what I love most about reading/being read to, in classrooms and families, is the social development, between the literature and the readers, and the readers amongst themselves.

  • Empathy: reading another’s mind, walking in others’ shoes, experiencing other ages, places, cultures, and times.
  • Common vocabulary, allusions, characters, and private jokes, instantly conveying a concept or strengthening a relationship.
  • It’s hard to read and argue at the same time. (Certain people can pull it off—it helps to be attached to the literal, as in high-functioning autism—but imagine where such a person would be without literature and those ensuing discussions.)

What is your favorite reading benefit? Your favorite memory of communal reading?

Interview: http://www.npr.org/2014/06/24/325229904/to-immunize-kids-against-illiteracy-break-out-a-book-in-infancy

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2014. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Photo © Liza McCorkle. iStockPhoto.

Want a More Effective Brain?

Do you think of your brain as a tool? Or have you confused your brain, your processes, your thoughts with your very being? You are not your brain, yet exercising your brain can do wonders for your experience of life, and your writing as well. Here are ten ways to stretch your brain:

http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/08/22/10-habits-of-highly-effective-brains/

Personally, I like Art Kramer’s advice: “Ide­ally, com­bine both phys­i­cal and men­tal stim­u­la­tion along with social inter­ac­tions. Why not take a good walk with friends to dis­cuss a book?” Yes!

And for a real breakthrough in learning, find a Brain Gym teacher.

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

“The Power of Your Past”

John P Schuster The Power of Your Past book cover 9781605098265L
My birthday present from Berrett-Koehler

The week of my birthday, I won a book! (The Berrett-Kohler newsletter I’ve recommended to you has a challenge, and I entered.) And because I was in transition, stepping from one year into my next, and even from one job toward another, I chose John P. Schuster’s The Power of Your Past. I’m still enjoying it, savoring its reflective exercises.

While many are preaching at us to live only in the present, John warns against amnesia. He agrees that we should live in today, but not without learning from yesterday and claiming its gifts. He says, “It is about gathering important insights, and the wisdom that comes before informed action.” He advocates that we not misuse the past, either romanticizing/ minimizing the past, nor getting stuck in victimization, but instead, that we reflect on our past experiences and mine them to refine our identity, remember our dreams, and clarify our choices.

John outlines a process to “Recall, Reclaim, and Recast” the past. He recognizes that not all minds work alike, so he offers graphic organizers for several approaches. He has us identify the settings of our lives and consider the places where we did get stuck (what he calls compressions) and where we found encouragement or achievement (his evocations). That alone is a great start toward understanding where we have healthy relationships with our pasts and where there’s more treasure to be found.

And another gift for me: the book is well-edited and well-designed. Too often I get distracted by my own editing brain. So far, I’ve found only two suggestions. (1) I would left justify epigrams, instead of right. (2) I’d simplify some of John’s compound, complex questions. For example, here’s the first question: “How well do I integrate the gifts of my body, my mind, my will, my feelings, my sense of play, my enthusiasm for learning, in a way that helps me to be a well-balanced person?” (Say what?) So I wrote out the question, realized the point was whether I’m well balanced, and felt relief that I wouldn’t need a week to answer it.

This book is the perfect length–just enough examples for memories to bubble up, accompanied by simple processes to inspire reflection and insightful writing. It’s warm, wise, and welcoming.

Don’t skip the footnotes. I always read them–academic editor training is forever present–and I like to read notes all at once, after I’m well into a book. John’s footnotes are the perfect blend of citations, additional readings, and conversation.

The Power of Your Past made a fabulous birthday gift. And yes, I’m already beginning the new job, the new editing projects, and one of my favorite years so far.

Thanks, B-K!

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Hamlet in Prison

This American Life Hamlet in Prison, screenshot

Jack Hitt’s hour-long report  for This American Life on Hamlet performed by prisoners, originally broadcast in 2002, has inspired me all week with its deep insights about Hamlet and encouragement for my own students, a few of whom have come from prison.

Nobody points out the ex-cons in my classes–I wouldn’t know that detail if they didn’t confide in me themselves. A couple have broken my heart by returning to prison or to the streets, but most are determined to take their second chance and become a blessing to their families. Like this reporter, I don’t necessarily want to know what they’ve done in the past. For me, their life begins here and now.

And I’d love to have all of my students think of my class-as one prisoner/performer said of his experience with teacher/director, Agnes Wilcox–“For a few hours a week, we get to feel human again.”

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

How to Succeed in American Business

Teaching in a multicultural environment often includes overtly explaining American business culture and helping students practice that language. For starters, there’s the direct eye contact, the body language, the smiling, the small talk, the willingness to let people know you’re accomplishing something–while not crossing the line into boasting.

In “Looking at the Bamboo Ceiling,” NPR’s Melissa Block and Michele Norris interviewed Wesley Yang, author of “Paper Tigers: What Happens to All Of The Asian-American Overachievers When the Test-taking Ends?” and Jane Hyun, author of Breaking The Bamboo Ceiling. Both write about “Asian-American students’ over-representation in almost every index of achievement in education . . .  and under-representation in corporate leadership.” They describe the adjustments they have made to be as successful in business as they were in the classroom. They’ve learned to share achievements, and to connect socially through the nonverbal cues.

Hyun tells the story of working on spreadsheets while a colleague seemed to waste a few minutes every day, chatting with the boss. Hyun’s background had taught her to put her nose down, work hard, all alone at her desk; no one taught her that building relationships would also matter.

Yang explains that in many places in the world, if you went around smiling all the time, “you’d be perceived not as a friendly person, but as a crazy one.” He finds it handy to use his “Asian poker face” at times, and jokes that he hasn’t learned to smile, but notes that “the United States has a different expectation, and if you don’t meet that expectation, there will in many cases be a barrier to trust and acceptance . . . your whole life on the basis of something that seems so trivial and . . . can be changed.”

Just as Americans need to learn new communication styles when they work internationally, many of our own students require bicultural fluency to be successful. I tell students from backgrounds where direct eye contact is considered rude that staring at someone’s nose looks exactly like eye contact without being quite as uncomfortable for them. And I encourage them to retain the gifts of their own cultures, and to continue to use their cultural nonverbal traditions at home, while learning to speak “American business” at work and school. These additional cultural ideas make all the difference in American career and social success:

  • The American business sense of time requires punctuality and a full day of work all day every day.
  • You’re required to communicate. If you can’t come in, or you’re going to be late, you call your boss and make a new agreement. You don’t wander off early without letting people know what’s happening. (You also take the loss on your timecard if you’re hourly, or let people know how you’ll make up the work if you’re on salary.)
  • When you make a mistake, you apologize and learn out how to correct it or improve next time. Neither ignoring a mistake nor treating a correction as an attack on your honor will help you work things out.
  • Smoking won’t entitle you to extra breaks and won’t be socially acceptable in most workplaces. According to a 2009 Center for Disease Control report, high school dropouts smoked at a rate of over 28%, while those with graduate degrees were down to 5.6%. Yes, that would probably be the toughest adjustment you could make, but you wouldn’t be the first person to quit, and every organ in your 60-year-old body would thank you.

All of these learned behaviors are challenging, but possible. If someone offered you an extra $10,000 a year, or $100K, would you do it? That’s the invitation. You are officially invited to the ball. Feel free to dress up, put on your American business manners, and shine.

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Friday Flick: Music with Shining Eyes

If you’ve never loved classical music before, give Ben Zander twenty-one minutes to change your heart. If you’ve loved it already, share this with someone who could use a little healing. Ben conducts the Boston Philharmonic and speaks about his transformative experience with Landmark Education–a beautiful combination. This is Benjamin Zander’s TED talk.

Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes
Benjamin Zander at TED: Music with Shining Eyes

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

Image YouTube screenshot

Thanks, I Needed That!

WordPress showcased “10 Prolific Post a Day/Week Participants,” and I’m one of them!

Shall I tell you what this meant to me?

I realized today how burned out I’ve become in the last few weeks. New quarter, new classes, new students, new preps, new circadian schedule, forecast of 116 degrees and no rain, no summer vacation. When students whined, I felt their pain all too well, and my short fuse required amends. Already, life had been warning me so strongly of impending burnout that three of the four classroom projectors I had touched in the past week had refused to shine, and today, the fifth worked barely long enough before burning out. Colleagues comforted me, assuring me that vulnerability is wonderful for my growth as a teacher, and my students received me better in that vulnerability. The spill gates had opened and I came home weepy.

My son is writing a musical, Invincible, in which he explores vulnerability. (He’s wise beyond his years. And we were discussing it way too late last night.) So maybe I can receive the message now?

So here is the unvarnished truth: I came home, looked at my computer, and resented my blog for the sixth blogging day in a row. I hadn’t even been here in a week. I wasn’t being consistent anymore, felt I’d lost my stride, and had nothing I wanted to say in public. Vulnerability schmulnerability. (There, Drew, we’ve finally rhymed it.)

Here I’ve been writing all year to encourage your writing fluency and confidence–and my own had fizzled out.

I did check e-mail this evening, where I found several congratulating comments on this recognition. It could not have been better timed. This challenge itself has been a blessing in my life, and today, when I hit that wall and wondered whether I should quit, there you were, handing me a cup of water and cheering me on. Bless you all!

I look forward to visiting the other nine. Maybe one of them is as thirsty as I was today.

WordPress Daily Post
WordPress Daily Post

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.