Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reading Incentive Programs

A free personal pizza…a tub of Whole Foods ice cream…a box of doughnuts…a backpack—if I offered all these items to you for free, you would probably assume that I was kidding. But these are just a few example items that grade-school kids can get by…community service? Charitable donations? Paying money? Nope. Reading.

Many libraries, including my own local Redmond Regional library, offer reading incentive programs, often funded by philanthropic arms of companies such as Pizza Hut. You get a sheet on which “reading coaches”—parents, teachers, or guardians—sign their initials and the date to prove that you have read at least 20 minutes.There’s nothing wrong with the libraries that set up the reading incentive programs; understandably, the libraries want to get more people (especially the new generation) to read. What makes me angry is that kids do need incentives to read. The Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) website listed a few common complaints kids have about reading: “It's boring[…] I don't have the time[…] It's too hard […] It's not important […] It's no fun.” When kids complain about the food on their plates, we tell them that there are starving children in Africa. How are books different? Many people across the world do not have the chance to access reading material. We need to impress upon kids that the ability to read, and the presence of books, is a privilege and a great opportunity for them to learn.

One of the reasons kids may not embrace reading as much any more is that they have many other forms of recreation to distract them, from texting on cell phones to video games and sporting events. However, a big part of life is prioritizing. We need to compare the value of, say, Kung Fu Chaos, an ultra-violent “brawler game” ( to The Grapes of Wrath, an American classic that eloquently depicts the struggles of Depression-era people. Which one do you think sounds better?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

21st Century Piracy

In my humble opinion, piracy has lost its glamor. In the days of old, pirates were (or at least portrayed as) swashbuckling, cutlass-wielding daredevils. Today, they're a raggedy bunch of Somali hoodlums who ride around in speedboats and take hostages. Obviously, it's a different time; wielding a cutlass won't do you any good on today's waters, what with advances in weaponry. At the same time, guns don't create too much positive media coverage. What's a pirate to do? I have some tips for the Somali pirates' PR division:

1. Get way cooler clothes. Think bright colors, sashes, and maybe plumed hats.
2. Evoke images of the olden days by purchasing a few sturdy parrots. If you teach them well enough, they may be able to conduct your hostage negotiations for you.
3. I know that there really is not much of a government in Somalia, but get someone in a position of authority to give you some papers making you a privateer, a pirate who is commissioned by a government to fight or harass enemy/foreign ships. This does two things--makes you feel less guilty about stealing cargo because you have someone important behind you, and just may give you some measure of legal protection.
4. Publicize yourself as 21st Century Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Generally, all you have to do is steal cargo from ships and spend money in your area. And from what I've heard, you're doing that already.
5. Think of a motto/slogan/logo, like "Giving New Hope to Disenfranchised Somali Fishermen," "Give Us Your Cargo or Give Us 1 Million Dollars," or "Spreading the Wealth Through Economic Recycling on the High Seas."

200th Post!

I noticed on my blog dashboard that my blog is now at 199 posts. Thus this must be my 200th post. I'd welcome everyone to take a look at the archives, especially when I started writing in 2005.

Below is a video of me teaching.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Poems Written with Video Conferencing Students

Below are two poems written with video conferencing students. One is about hated food, another about a hated chore. Poetry is a great way to vent your this case, it was apparently hate.


I really don’t like stuffing
It simply does not taste right
Stuffing is too stuffy
It doesn’t please my sight

I really don’t like oatmeal
It simply freaks me out
The lumps and bumps in the oatmeal
Really make me pout

I really don’t like peas
They’re mushy and gushy and squishy
They’re round and bloated and green
There’s something a little too fishy.


Cleaning up after the dog
Is the most dreaded chore
Of all the tasks in the house
There is nothing I hate more.

For the dog uses the house bathroom
As though he’s one of us
Next he’ll buy a set of socks
And wear them to the bus

But the dog will sneeze and slobber
All over his new suit of clothes
And he will rip them to shreds
And then slobber all over my bed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Limerick Written with Fifth-Grade Students

Today I video conferenced with fifth graders, teaching Poetry Made Easy. At the end of the session we wrote a limerick about one student's cat, who plays dead.

I have a cat that plays dead
Perhaps it wasn’t fed
The cat fell down to the ground
The family gathered around
They put him in his bed.


These were some of the other ideas students came up with:

a dog lying on back for belly rub

dog that sounds like a cat when he growls

When rabbit wants to be petted, the rabbit bumps against the cage

Cat that plays dead

Dog hangs head out window

Dog tries to talk

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compare Contrast Outline

I was teaching Expository Writing 101: Compare and Contrast Essay to an assembly of sixth-graders today, and we decided to compare/contrast Skittles and M&Ms. To the students I spoke with: great job, and feel free to write the actual essay! This is our outline:


Point 1: Texture and Shape

1. Skittles are gummy
2. Skittles are round.
3. Skittles are smooth on the exterior.

Point 2: Color

1. Skittles come in blue, red, yellow, green, purple and orange.

Point 3: Flavor

1. Skittles taste fruity.

Point 1: Texture

1. M&Ms are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
2. Round
3. Smooth

Point 2: Color

1. Same colors as Skittles with brown
2. You can get a photo printed on an M&M

Point 3: Flavor

1. M&Ms are chocolate
2. Some M&Ms have peanut butter