My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

Why Writing is Vital to Your Child’s Education

In the past 15 years or so, educators and parents have warned that budget constraints threaten to eradicate music and art education in schools. There are compelling arguments why that would be a huge mistake. Creative right-brain activity helps young brains develop, aiding in problem solving. It’s also a breath of fresh air for the more predominant left-brain.

However, in all that discussion, writing is never mentioned. I went to high school in the 1970s, in Ontario, and despite a well-funded school system that allowed for choir, instrumental music classes, and art classes, from grade 9 through 13, there was only one grade 13 class that was strictly for creative writing.

Notwithstanding the benefits of any creative activity, I suggest all students benefit more, in the long run, from creative writing classes, than from music or art classes. On a practical level, the ability to write concisely and creatively is vital to them advancing in their careers.

Put another way, being unable to write clearly, including poor grammar, sentence construction, and spelling, will hamper their career advancement. It will subject them to a kind of intellectual prejudice.

One could say that essay writing in high school will cover both grammar and composition, but many post-secondary professors beg to differ. Students arrive at college or university lacking basic writing skills and fumble through some basic freshman-year instruction. After that, colleges and universities don’t impose any writing standards.

Creative writing, as opposed to essay writing, allows students of all ages to approach the task of learning how to write in a fun way. It will encourage them to read more and it will stimulate that right-brain activity.

Quite simply, grade school students with superior writing skills will do better in high school. High school students with superior writing skills will do better in college or university. And on and on, throughout their lives, whatever their career-track might be.

Academic or business-oriented graduates will one day have to write compelling project proposals if they are to get ahead. More creative, right-brained graduates, like visual artists, will have to write their own proposals or express their artistic point-of-view in writing. Musicians who write their own lyrics will benefit from writing poetry. Even trades-people must communicate via email or through websites with their clients. Creative writing, as a fun way to encourage children to improve their writing skills, is vitally important to any student’s ability to succeed in life.

Writing, Typing, and Brain Processes

There are constant discussions about writing tools and writing styles – by pen or by keyboard, cursive or print – and how they affect literacy and learning. The discussions range from the importance of continuing to teach cursive writing in schools – does it help with learning or is it just for tradition – to an even more pertinent question of whether we should continue to treat writing by hand as an important skill at all. With these discussions, I have found that each medium is pit against the other as polar opposites; you can either have this or that. Either we keep cursive writing in the curriculum or we take it out entirely. Either writing by hand is important or typing is the way.

Scouring the internet to get a balanced viewpoint of the advantages of hand writing and typing, I came across a lot of articles that defined typing based off of the advantages and disadvantages of writing by hand. But, to me, a disservice is done by not exploring typing in its own terms rather than as a “how it differs from handwriting” kind of definition.

In my opinion, typing is not writing by hand, it’s typing. It has a rhythm; one that allows you to flow through a piece of writing coursing through your mind or pummel through a report that needs to be done. It’s convenient and fast but it’s also allow you to be more creative because you can get more on paper, or should I say, onto the screen.

With writing by hand, you feel what you write. As quite a few articles pointed out, writing by hand forces you to slow down. It works with the muscles in your brain, creating a muscle memory that can help you remember and learn and be more involved with whatever you are writing. (Cursive writing fans will be pleased to know that joining letters together helps children recognize groups of letters as words, minus the fancy curls which are not as important.)

So maybe the solution is not to choose one over the other but to understand how each works for us and employ it that way. In a classroom where students can enhance the learning process as they take notes or where we, as parents, teachers or influencers in their lives, want them to dig deeper, maybe they can be encouraged to write by hand. If the students have an avalanche of words in mind that have to be ousted immediately, then perhaps let them take the waterfall that is typing and run. All we have to do is guide them to know which is which.

So maybe the question we should be asking whether our students are being given enough tools that will help them express themselves in written form. What are your thoughts? Are they?

 

Creativity: An Outlet of Expression for ALL Children

In today’s society, children engage their creativity through a number of ways: art, drama, and writing to name a few. Creativity is a form of expression, and can be possessed by all no matter an individual’s capabilities. Our bodies provide us with tools that help in expressing ourselves and our creativity to others. For example, our hands help us write an imaginative story, our eyes to read, our voice to read a personal poem, our muscles to act out a dramatic scene. However, a lack of such capabilities doesn’t prevent creativity, but forces children with certain disabilities to think of a new way to engage in certain activities. An experience that has opened my eyes to the different methods of creative expression was when I began to tutor an incredible little girl, Sophie Sullivan.

In February 2012, Sophie Sullivan, a healthy eight-year-old girl, suffered from a brain hemorrhage due to an eruption of an arteriovenous malformation. As a result, her fine and gross motor skills were affected, as well as her ability to communicate verbally.

After the incident Sophie couldn’t speak and as time passed, she began to make sounds, although still not words. Being a friend of the family for the past five years, I became Sophie’s tutor in October 2015. My first task was to try and develop an easy and convenient way for Sophie to express her thoughts and ideas. With help from her speech therapist, we created cards with letters on them that I taped onto a large board. From this alphabet board, Sophie used her eye movements and sounds to pick out letters to spell words and form sentences.

This strategy emphasizes how seeking alternative forms of communication can allow children with certain disabilities to effectively communicate and show their creativity. This opened up a whole new way of communication for Sophie and allowed her to express her opinions and ideas to myself, her family, and her friends Before, all those who interacted with Sophie had an idea of what she wanted or how she felt. But now, the board allows Sophie to explicitly tell us what is on her mind, her goals, and her dislikes—we know without a doubt. Her first Christmas card to her parents in 2015 emphasized how much Sophie appreciated her family and everything they did for her. It was extremely moving and made me realize that there is probably a lot this little girl has to say.

Children with disabilities should be able to participate in creative activities like their peers. A child’s ability to express themselves helps in development, but also gives them the opportunity to show others who they are as an individual – their values, beliefs, passions, and goals. Following the Christmas card, I encouraged Sophie to use the alphabet board to help her with her writing.

Over the summer of 2016, I discovered Sophie’s love of stories and fairy tales and thought it would be fun for Sophie to create her very own and wow, did she not disappoint! Princess Sophie’s Amazing Adventure is a fairy tale about family and coming together. It is full of excitement and adventure, and is centred around Princess Sophie, a princess who embodies love, forgiveness, and courage. Seeing Sophie’s excitement as she wrote and the creativity that progressed made me finally realize how writing can be about personal expression. It is a way for individuals to communicate to others their morals and important messages that are deeply rooted in who they are as a person. This story doesn’t only show how important Sophie’s family and friends are to her, but it also portrayed her as a caring, adventurous, and forgiving girl.

After reading about Sophie, I hope you see how anything is possible when there is determination and perseverance. Sophie’s accomplishment shows that anyone can reach their goals and be whatever they desire with the right attitude and support behind them.

Her disability did not stop her from pursing her love for writing stories; instead, it made those around her come up with a suitable, alternative form of communication that she could easily use to show her creativity. For families with children that have disabilities similar to Sophie or any disability in general, do not be discouraged.

It might take time to figure out a suitable method of communication for your child, but time does not correlate to impossible, rather, to patience. When the incident first happened in 2012, Sophie’s eye gaze and her ability to make sounds were not as nearly developed and controlled as they are today. Time is what Sophie needed to get to a place where she can effectively communicate with others and engage her inner creativity. Her story is a testament of how far she has come and proof that children with disabilities can engage in creative outlets that will make them feel heard and acknowledged.

Why The Library is an Important Resource for the Whole Family

In today’s age of instant gratification and Internet accessibility, a valuable resource is often overlooked: the public library. While the Internet is an undeniably wonderful tool, and yes, going to the library will require leaving your house, there is a certain magic to exploring rows and rows of paper-bound information “in the flesh.” Below are some of the many reasons why libraries are so important and how you can make them a part of your family’s life.

Libraries Have Books

Quite obviously, libraries have books. While this is common knowledge, many of us have likely not taken the time to consider the significance of having such a wide range of books available for free use. Libraries contain everything from fiction to non-fiction, classics to undiscovered hidden gems. As a result, these books can provide everything from entertainment, teaching a new skill, and information on just about every topic under the sun.

Libraries Provide Opportunities for Learning

The vast range of books at the library provides near-endless opportunity for learning. Be it an informative non-fiction book, a biography of an important historical or public figure, or a fictional story with an important message, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the library. This knowledge can be helpful for kids’ schoolwork, can assist us in becoming more aware of our surrounding world, or can guide us in the learning of a new skill. Does your child have a research project to complete? Take them to the library to find some original and fascinating information that will set their assignment apart. Are you or one of your family members looking for a new hobby? Peruse the how-to section of the library for some inspiration. Further, not only does the library provide concrete information, it can also facilitate the teaching of real life lessons. Learning to take care of, keep track of, and return on time their library books will teach children responsibility, accountability, and how to share.

Libraries Offer Entertainment

Books are often seen as a purely intellectual pursuit, and while reading is undoubtedly good for the brain, books can be wildly entertaining as well. The vast range of books available at public libraries means that there will be something there to engage everyone. You could even start a family book club, which is a great way to connect and reflect on what you are reading. Additionally, many libraries also have DVDs, so you could also select a few titles to have a family movie night. When you’re tired of flipping through seemingly endless and seldom interesting television channels, head to the library for some fresh and exciting entertainment.

Libraries Provide a Quiet Space

Today’s society is a fast-paced one and it can be difficult to find space to take a moment for yourself. Libraries provide the solution to this dilemma. They are quiet, calm spaces, accessible to anyone who needs them. They can be a great place to study, read, write, or work, and the serene environment will help to improve focus and productivity. Take the whole family to the library to work on homework, quietly foster personal creativity, or simply escape from life’s stresses for a few hours.

Libraries Connect Communities

Libraries can be a central part of the community they inhabit and provide a number of opportunities to get involved. Many libraries host various workshops and events, which are often led by or feature local talent. Getting involved in these events can be a great way to both learn from and give back to your community. Libraries can also provide various ongoing work and volunteer opportunities, which is a great chance for your older children to gain real world employment experience. Supporting and getting involved with your local library will help to make you and your family an integral part of the community fabric and could open you up to great new experiences.

The aforementioned reasons are only a few of many as to why libraries are still precious in today’s societies. There are endless ways that you and your families can make use of this resource and allow libraries to enrich your lives. Feel free to share below why you think libraries are important and what they mean to you and your families!

The March Break Literacy Race

March Break–it’s a great time to relax with your family, catch up on sleep, and make room for recreation. However, amongst the fun and games during a week off, kids tend to lose their motivation to accomplish anything school-related. That’s where the March Break Literacy Race comes in! This race challenges participants to complete a new literacy-related task each day, and offers opportunities to develop both reading and writing skills. The best part? It feels like fun, not school!

This race is adaptable to nearly anyone’s March Break schedule. Kids who are relaxing at home can challenge themselves when they start to feel bored with their newfound free time and kids on exciting family vacations can busy themselves when the beach gets too hot or the lines get too long. Encourage your kids to stick with the race by getting the whole family involved, or suggest they use it to stay connected with their friends. Kids can share what they read and write with each other, allowing them not only to develop their own literacy skills, but learn from others as well. Additionally, by challenging their friends to participate, kids’ competitive natures will kick in and motivate them to see the race through to the very last day.

Day One:

March Break is just beginning and the possibilities are endless! Being as creative as possible, write a short paragraph detailing your dream vacation. There are no limits on time or money spent on this vacation and it does not have to be realistic.

Day Two:

Read something non-fiction for fifteen minutes. It can be anything from a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a brochure. Get comfortable, find something that interests you, and focus completely on enjoying and absorbing what you are reading.

Day Three:

Find a friend or family member who can help you out. Together, you will co-write a twenty-line story. Alternate contributing single lines and do your best to work with each others’ ideas. Try to create a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. The catch? You cannot communicate with your co-author in any way outside of providing your lines for the story.

Day Four:

March Break can be full of new experiences, so take this opportunity to learn a new word. Have a conversation, flip through a book, and look at billboards. When you come across a word you don’t know, find out the definition, and try to use it in at least two sentences throughout the day.

Day Five:

Teach someone else a new word. Sharing is instrumental to learning, so today, you will help spread some knowledge. Think of the most interesting word that you know, and tell someone who does not know that word. Share the spelling and definition, and show them how to properly use it in a sentence.

Day Six:

Read aloud to someone else. A great way to practice both literacy and communication skills is by reading out loud. Pick something that interests both you and the person you are reading to, and have fun playing around with things such as volume, tone, expression, and character voices.

Day Seven:

The week is coming to an end, but hopefully, it has been a lot of fun! Write a poem detailing your favourite experience of this March Break.

While this race is specifically designed for March Break, it can be adapted to any time off. You can make it an annual challenge, and compare the progress made on each task year-to-year. March Break is a great time for kids to improve their reading and writing skills, but oftentimes, that can be difficult to do. This race is both manageable and engaging, so it won’t feel like another tedious school assignment. When kids are faced with the inevitable, “what did you do over March Break?” assignments upon their return to school, this literacy race will give them something interesting to write about.

Share in the comments below if your family plans on participating in the March Break Literacy Race!