Teaching How To Live Forever

Laura Perkins works with the KDP chapters in the Southeast U.S. She went to school to be a teacher, but said “heck no” after one month of student teaching.

The Illustrated ManToday, several KDP staffers are celebrating the birthday of one of our favorite authors: Ray Bradbury. He lived from 1920 to 2012, and wrote hundreds of short stories, novels, screenplays, and so much more. His stories brought fantasy and science fiction to a broader audience.

I, like so many others, was introduced to his writing by one of my middle school teachers. Bradbury quickly became one of my first literary obsessions. I remember scrounging for the change to make a photocopy of “The Veldt,” because I just couldn’t bear to be parted from the first really powerful piece of fiction I’d ever read. My teacher knew how inspiring Bradbury’s storytelling could be and followed the readings with creative writing sessions. She used a tool that Bradbury had used himself early in his career: make lists of nouns to generate ideas for stories; string together ones that spoke to us; and let our imaginations go.

I’ve read several interviews where Bradbury talks about his own introduction to writing. In his memoir, Zen in the Art of Writing, he recounts meeting a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico in 1932 who commanded him to “Live forever!” which seemed to have opened up a new world for this twelve-year-old boy. Remembering the moment, Bradbury said, “I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped”.

It turned out my dad was a big fan as well, and we had a great time connecting over our shared love. At some point in my adolescence, when I was trustworthy enough, my dad gave me his signed copy of The Illustrated Man. It has always been one of my most cherished possessions and means even more to me now that my father has passed. Inside this book, I have my very worn copy of “The Veldt” that I still can’t seem to part with, even though the story is included in the novel. I’m so grateful to have been introduced to his writings and to have had the chance to make memories with my dad over these words.

It is clear that writing brought Bradbury joy, and I’m so glad it did. Ray Bradbury has inspired generations to use their imagination to create and has taught us all about the transformative power of literature. I’m sure his work will continue to touch new readers for years to come and maybe even inspire a new writer to dream, write and live forever.

Celebrating E. B. White

Sally Rushmore edits the New Teacher Advocate. She formerly taught secondary science and computer applications at a community college.

We celebrated the birthday of Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White last week–he was born July 11, 1899. He was a contributor to (and for a while, on the staff of) The New Yorker magazine. However, you probably know him as a book author. You may have used The Elements of Style, also simply known as “Strunk and White,” in an English composition class in college or high school. White’s college professor William Strunk, Jr. originally wrote The Elements of Style in 1918 and White enlarged and revised it in 1959. He updated it again in 1972 and 1979. An illustrated version came out in 2005. It was listed as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923 in a 2011 list by Time. In it White said, “With some writers, style not only reveals the spirit of the man but reveals his identity, as surely as would his fingerprints.”

Most of us prefer to remember E. B. White for his children’s books. You most likely have read or seen the movie of Charlotte’s Web, which is often voted the top children’s novel for ages 9−12. You may also have read or seen movies of Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan. These books are a few that were written by White. If you’ve never read them, get the boxed set so you can read them over and over—to yourself, your students, your own children, your grandchildren, and your neighbors’ children. Enjoy the movies as well. Either way you’ll learn the life lessons in a fun way.

He spent a great deal of time on a farm he and his wife owned in Maine, often going to the barn to write. After writing Charlotte’s Web about a spider he watched, he said, “I like animals, and my barn is a very pleasant place to be, at all hours!”

White’s influence as a writer was and still is far-reaching and will last for generations. Another example of his influence is a book called Here is New York. It is available on Amazon.com along with lesson plans and a study guide. It is appropriate for middle and high school students. It reflects his appreciation of the city he loved.

During his lifetime, many young readers asked Mr. White if his stories were true. In a letter written to be sent to his fans, he answered, “No, they are imaginary tales… But real life is only one kind of life — there is also the life of the imagination.” E. B. White died on October 1, 1985.

So whether you teach in the city or in a rural area, you will be happy to find a classroom management webinar to help you.

It Only Takes One

Katie Heath is Northeast Regional Chapter Coordinator at Kappa Delta Pi.

John said of his mother, “She loved Aaron Rodgers of The Green Bay Packers and french toast. This is the picture used at her memorial and I can say it was real to all who attended.”

John said of his mother, “She loved Aaron Rodgers of The Green Bay Packers and french toast. This is the picture used at her memorial, and I can say it was real to all who attended.”

Earlier this year, more than 1,200 books were donated to a low-income community in southern Wisconsin. More than 600 people between the ages of 3 and 78, all across the community, received the books.

You’re probably thinking that this was a huge initiative, led by a large group of people as one collective venture. But in reality, all 1,200 books donated were the result of the efforts of a single individual, John MacDonald.

John recently served as the president of the Alpha Epsilon Xi Chapter and has now transitioned into the Associate Counselor role to assist in leading the KDP chapter at Walden University.

His goal in completing this Literacy Alive! project was to honor his mother, who passed away in 2013. His mother was committed to giving back to others and wanted to help people improve their literacy skills. When donating the books, John focused on low-income families and those learning English as a new language.

John is just one example of why membership in Kappa Delta Pi means more than just a line on your résumé. Every day, members like John are living out the ideals of Kappa Delta Pi (fidelity to humanity, science, service, and toil) and are the reason this organization has an esteemed reputation within the education community.

Fidelity to Humanity – I can’t think of a better example of fidelity to humanity than John’s desire to serve his community and honor his mother. John showed compassion to those in his town; a commitment to improving the human condition through literacy; and dedication to continuous education with equal opportunities for people of all ages, races, and creeds.

Science – John’s desire to support literacy in his community shows that he is faithful to the cause of free inquiry and that he is committed to helping others have access to resources they need to continue lifelong learning.

Service – If you had to describe John’s “Book Exchange” project with one word, you might choose the word service. Every part of the initiative had serving others in mind—serving those in the community and simultaneously honoring his mother by continuing her dedication to serving others.

Toil – For me personally, toil is always the hardest of the ideals Kappa Delta Pi represents to live out daily. Toil is doing a task that must be done regardless of whether the task pleases oneself. Reading through John’s project submission almost brought tears to my eyes; I am thankful every day for the family members that surround me and that, as an adult, I am still able to live in the same city as my parents. I truly can’t imagine the pain and struggle of losing a parent, and I applaud John for choosing to honor his mother during a difficult time of grief and loss.

If you read our previous blog post about Literacy Alive! you know that I love supporting KDP’s signature service initiative because I get to hear about the wonderful events hosted by chapters and members all across the country. I hope more of you are inspired by John’s amazing example of how a single servant’s heart can touch the lives of so many.

Jump on the Literacy Alive! Bandwagon

Anne Boley is event and executive coordinator at Kappa Delta Pi.

Literacy Alive! project flyerKDP Headquarters staff has jumped on the Literacy Alive! bandwagon, and we thought you might enjoy hearing about our involvement in KDP’s signature service project.

We are working on a magazine harvest project for MagazineLiteracy.org. It’s such a simple concept and so easy to implement, yet it can have profound effects on promoting literacy.

Here’s how it works: staff, with the help of friends, family and neighbors, are collecting magazines of all types that are in good condition. We donate these to MagazineLiteracy.org, and they offer them to various organizations in need of reading materials for children and families. The magazines might go to a homeless shelter, a school program, or possibly a job training program.

Magazine collection editWe are recycling magazines while helping with literacy at the same time. It’s a great project that combines our focus on sustainability with our focus on literacy.

Our initial goal was to collect 500 magazines by July 1. We have already passed that goal and are setting a new goal of 1,000 magazines! It’s always amazing to see what people can accomplish when they work together.

How are you celebrating National Poetry Month?

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

It’s National Poetry Month! Teachers, are you busily celebrating this ancient and loved form of communication? Or are you (like me when I was teaching) busily doing anything and everything else because you hate teaching poetry?

Okay, hate is actually a strong word to describe how I felt about teaching poetry. Maybe “fear” is a better descriptor.

Poetry is difficult…difficult to read and difficult to teach. There are too many possible meanings in the reading, and too many clichés in the writing. As a teacher, I worried about exposing my students to poems that went deeper than Shel Silverstein and about encouraging them to extend beyond lone wolf or shining star metaphors.

It took a lot of trial and error, but I eventually put together poetry units that worked for both my students and me.

Here’s a partial list of what I did:

1)      I threw away the textbook. Okay, not really. But I did forgo using it through the unit. The poems in the textbook were classics like “The Road Not Taken,” but, ultimately, I felt like the kids would be more open to multiple interpretations if they read work that wasn’t easily interpreted through the internet or the questions at the end of the selection. Together, we scoured  www.poetryfoundation.org and http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/, among others, to sort through more modern and esoteric works by lesser-known authors.

2)      I allowed all justifiable viewpoints. Let’s say, for instance, one oooey-gooey eighth grader thought a poem was about love, while the kid with anger management issues thought the same poem was about being misunderstood. This divergence in interpretation stems from life experience and outlook and is based on what’s called “reception theory.” At that point, I allowed each learner to delve as deeply into the text as possible to support the individual theory. What I found was that when the kids realized that this dense form of communication could have multiple themes, their desire to read closely increased a lot.

3)      I made them write poems. Lots and Lots of poems.  We wrote sonnets, free verse, haiku, ghazal, narrative, and many other forms of poetry. I really wanted my students to understand poetry’s versatility, and to do so, we had make some connections about what we read and what we wrote. And then we had to write. A lot.

4)      When it was time to revise, I brought in an expert. As a teacher, I subscribe to the Roald Dahl philosophy that “Good writing is rewriting.” But paring down poetry, which is elusive anyway, was hard. To get my students really thinking about what it meant to revise a poem, I asked a friend of mine (who happens to be a poet) to send me two drafts of something she had published. We read the earlier draft and revision, discussing as a class what we noticed that shifted between the drafts, and then we wrote her some questions to ask about her process. Her responses were incredible and really got my students to think about the function of the poems they had drafted.

By the end of the unit, the students had produced enough work for an amazing public reading. In addition to being proud of the efforts they’d made to write, I was thrilled by the depth and sensitivity they expressed in their poems.

So tell me teachers: how are you celebrating?

Our district reading lists read like it’s 1950

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

During my years in the classroom, I spent a lot of time and energy pushing back against the expectation that I fill my classes teaching the Western Canon. I know, I know. Harold Bloom said these were the works our children needed to read to be educated citizens. And yes, a lot of what’s included in the Canon is terrific.

But it still bugs me.

You see, as Bloom wrote it in 1994, the Canon included an embarrassingly low number of writers who were either women or people of color. Don’t get me wrong, Don DeLillo is great. But why does he get four books on the list, while Margaret Atwood gets only one and Alice Walker gets zero?

Moreover, with so few female authors on the list, the number of complex female characters also suffers. It’s not that male writers can’t create believable females, but still…why do Canon readers trip over characters in eight Thomas Hardy books only to find Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical Esther Greenwood not represented at all?

It wasn’t fair when the book published in 1994, and it isn’t fair today, when sadly, our district reading lists still read like it’s 1950. But that’s changing slowly, thanks to trailblazers like Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins. Because of them—and women like them—there’s  a new generation of powerful female characters for girls to enjoy, and sometimes they even get to do it during class time. While you won’t find the Hunger Games trilogy on my home state of Indiana’s suggested reading list for schools, teachers everywhere are beginning to understand that strong characters, and the women who create them, make the world a more interesting place.

As educators, we have the responsibility to provide our students opportunities to read about all types of people, written from the perspectives of all types of people. Tell me, as March passes and we reflect on Women’s History Month, how are we doing?

Celebrate National Young Readers Week

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent twelve years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools.  

Can you remember the last time you read aloud to someone? What about the last time someone read aloud to you?

I was reminded this morning of the time I used to devote to reading aloud, when my fourteen year old, completely unprompted, began to recite Shel Silverstein’s poem “Sick,” while in the carpool line at school.

“’I cannot go to school today,’ said little Peggy Ann McKay,” the poem begins.

After my daughter uttered those words, she and I recited several more lines in unison before we couldn’t remember any more of the poem.

“I can’t believe you still know that poem. It’s probably been ten years since we read Shel Silverstein,” I said.

“I know. But it was my favorite,” she replied. “We probably read that book 200 times!”

She’s right. When both of my children were too small to read on their own, we devoted almost embarrassing chunks of every evening to reading aloud. Reading was my first love, and something I was eager to pass along to my offspring. When I first introduced a book, I was the primary reader, of course, while my children listened and asked questions. But then, as they got used to the rhythm of the language or associated certain sentences with specific pictures, one of them would take charge of the narrative, and I became a listener instead.

Then, as they took the next steps in their journeys as readers, I morphed into a full-time listener, holding my breath each time one of them encountered a particularly challenging word so as not to shout out the correct pronunciation for them and ruin the flow.

And eventually, as it happens as readers progress, they ceased needing me at all, instead working through books on their own and including me only on the occasions that they needed me to fork out the $14.95 at Target for the next offering of their favorite series.

My daughter, now in high school, has progressed to reading Gilgamesh and The Hobbit for her classes. Her days of loving Shel Silverstein are well behind her.

That’s why it was such a treat, I guess, to hear her draw from some of those early reading memories this morning. Her recall of “Sick” is a reminder to me that I didn’t log all those hours as reader—and then as listener—in vain.

This week is National Young Readers Week. The program, which has been around since 1989, encourages students to log the time they read each day, striving to reach a minimum of twenty minutes. It also encourages adults to read aloud to the children in their lives.

What will you read to your students this week? How will you use the time you’ve been given with them to instill a love of reading? And, like the reminder I received from my daughter today, what will you want them to remember about the time you spent together, sharing words?