2018 100 Book Challenge Update

Where are you in your 2018 Book Challenge? Join me on GoodReads to track your progress.

To support Henderson Memorial Public Library, I signed up this year for the ICON 100 Book Challenge. Yikes! Posting reviews on YouTube Live kept getting shut down midstream, so GoodReads is the place to follow along.

While nearing the halfway mark, and want to highlight some of my favorites so far (in no particular order):

Thrawn & Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

If you’ve memorized the original Star Wars movie trilogy, Timothy Zahn’s work is extremely satisfying. He is adept at maintaining a wide range of delightful characters’ voices, while keeping a fast-paced plot moving and tightly focused. Just like with Darth Vader, Thrawn is written as the villain you love to hate: terrifyingly skilled, yet somehow still has a human (Chiss?) heart underneath it all, buried very deep. The juxtaposition of Thrawn with other beloved Star Wars characters such as Padme Amidala and Grand Moff Tarkin is brilliantly written.

I think in some ways, Thrawn is an autobiographical portrait of the author in terms of his ability to outthink everyone around them in ways that are awe-inspiring, instead of condescending. These newest additions to the bookshelves will have even more Star Wars geeks screaming to see Thrawn on the screen.

At one point, a stormtrooper reflects on Grand Admiral Thrawn’s leadership style: “If he lasted long enough, maybe those lessons would someday become the military standard. If that happened, he suspected, the Empire would stand forever.”

The Star Wars Empire, anyway.

Child in the Church, edited by E.M. Standing

This collection of essays documents the early experiments in applying Montessori’s educational methods to catechesis (religious education). The ideas are practical, refreshing, and inspiring. If you’ve participated in formation for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and want to go deeper, I highly recommend this book.

The Story of Job, retold by Regina Doman, illustrated by Ben Hatke

The best commentary on Job & the problem of evil I’ve ever encountered, in a format understandable even by elementary-age children. Read it.

Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Part storytelling, part sociological analysis, Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments are worth reading all the way to the end, even if you come to differing conclusions. If I were forced to recommend just one chapter, I would make “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” required reading. This is one of those books that might actually save lives.

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz

Montessori children come with the same personalities, challenges, delays, and absurdities as other humans. This book confirms it.

Whether you’re in a Montessori environment or not, this book contains a series of valuable vignettes about developing an inclusive community among children. I have to warn potential readers, though, that the book turns into an argument for Montessori method first and only. If you can tolerate the constant digs against non-Montessori educators, the beautiful descriptions and creative solutions are well worth the read.

10 Things Tutors Can Do That Books (And Computers) Cannot…

AmeriCorps Member reading a book to a girl on MLK Day1.       SMILE!

 2.       Read aloud together.  Fluency (reading smoothly and with correct inflection) is very important to reading comprehension, but only speaking with other human beings can fully build this skill.

 3.       Model curiosity and inquiry. Being a good tutor isn’t about what you know; it’s about showing how you know and showing others how to learn.  Demonstrate the use of reference materials, and ask open-ended questions that make you both think a little deeper about a topic.

 4.       Figure out how the skill is relevant to the learner’s life. Every person has different goals and life experiences.  Ask your learner “What should I know about you?”  Write down what you hear, and then connect that information to what you are learning together.

5.       Use concrete, 3D objects to introduce concepts. The more senses someone uses, the more she or he will remember.  Use TOUCH to bring concepts to life.

6.       adult learner and tutor reading togetherIdentify what a learner already knows.  Humans retain new information by connecting it to what they already know.  A good connection is often more memorable than a good explanation.

7.       Mentor how to apply critical thinking skills to everyday incidents.  A learner’s life experiences are not distractions from learning…they are opportunities to learn and apply things like writing skills, time management, prioritizing lists, and evaluating information.  The ultimate goal of education is for learners to have a better quality of life and relationships.

8.       Make practice fun through enjoying games and repetition.  Practice makes perfect, but no one wants to do the same worksheet 15 times.  Use puzzles, flash cards, friendly competition, or quick “warm ups” to make the necessary repetition fun.

9.       Take a vacation.  Books don’t need a break to take care of themselves & their loved ones.  You do.  We will miss you, but don’t expect you to be there every single day. 

10.   LISTEN!

This list is meant to be fun and easy to remember, but these are also research-based tips to improve learner engagement and outcomes.  Happy Holidays & thanks to all the great tutors out there!

Write On Books: Top 5 Learning Skills

Why do I insist on buying my own books?  Because I can do this to them:image

I don’t just read a book: I digest it. I flip down the corners of pages to remember, look up things I don’t know, and talk about ideas with friends. Working in the field of adult literacy, we work hard to teach low level learners the basic strategies of reading, writing, and math. Once folks have the basic mechanics down, the next hurdle is strategies of critical thinking: compare & contrast, fact vs opinion, identifying bias, etc.

Lately, I’ve been thinking we might serve our learners better if we focused first on the basics of how to learn independently. So here are my top 5 skills for lifelong learning, strategies that have never let me down:

1. WRITE ON BOOKS: I have yet to be converted to buying an e-reader for the simple fact that I haven’t seen anyone scribble on the pages.  Writing on books can mean underlining or circling words & phrases, putting blocks & stars around quotes, making notes in the margins, even drawing pictures and turning down pages to return to later.  The key here is return to later.  The key quality of learning is that you gain skills or information you can return to at another time.  The easier it is for me to get back to the things I want to remember, the easier it is for me to read it again & make another impression in the soft grey matter of my brain.

Cell Phone Calculator2. USE THE CALCULATOR ON YOUR PHONE: Cell phones are common place these days, and there’s no charge to minutes or texts for using the calculator.  Pull it out to figure out how much Netflix will cost you over the course of one year, or compare the cost per diaper for different brands at Target.  Make it competitive: Whose car has the better gas mileage?  Or get silly: What is the collective age of all the pets in your house?  I know some people disagree with the use of calculators, but I consider it just an instrument without which I would miss much of the music of the numbers in my life.

3. MAKE A CALENDAR: I know that sounds like a basic life-skills, but actually it’s relevant to learning.  Calendars are just a measure of time, and marking that time, organizing your day & week & month are really making mathematical models about how to spend this limited resource.  Not only that, but if you write down the days & times of your learning opportunities (Learning for Life Class at 1:30pm on Tuesday) and check your calendar daily, you are more likely to show up & learn!

4. TRY SOMETHING NEW…AND MASTER IT: Nothing is a better work out for your brain then stepping outside of your comfort zone.  Whether it’s going to a new place, meeting people of a different culture, eating new food, testing out a new game…  Trying something new has to be balanced with having some structural and comfort zone in your life, but when you push yourself to not just try out a new area, but really wrap your mind around it and make it your own, THEN you will really gain invaluable skills that no one can take from you.

Daily planner with tasks for each day of the week5. MAKE PREDICTIONS…AND FOLLOW UP: In your daily planner that you will now carry everywhere you go, along with your cell phone calculator, jot notes about what you think will happen in your day.  When will you do certain activities?  How many glasses of juice will you drink?  Will your mother-in-law call about holiday plans?  What’s the weather going to be like?  When you have a question, write down what actually happened.  At the end of the day, go back to your observations and see if you were right.  Why did things turn out the way they did?  Guess what…you just did the scientific method.  You started with a theory (prediction or question), tested your idea against reality, and then analyzed those results to figure out why.  Whether it’s asking if your toast is going to burn or if the space-time continuum changes at the speed of light, the process is the same.  Pat yourself on the back, Einstein.

What do you think?  Are these 5 everyday skills you can use to make yourself into a lifelong learner?  Is there anything I forgot?  I predict there will be comments on this post.  Check back soon to see if my theory is correct.

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