Book Recommendations

Untidy Books: Ungifted

Along the way, I learned that not only do many adults not recognize bullying or destructive behavior, but also don’t know how to deal with it when they do. Gordon Korman has filled that gap with three conversation starting books—Restart, The Unteachables (both here), and Ungifted.

Although Ungifted deals with destructive behavior, the focus is elsewhere. What does it mean to be gifted?

As a result of a school prank wreaking unintended havoc, the prankster, is transferred accidentally to an academy for the gifted and talented. Donovan is below average academically while his new classmates are geniuses. Korman explores the definition of gifted as Donovan makes minor but important contributions to the school’s robotics team.

Separated from classmates who participated in his pranks, Donovan gains perspective on his motives and the consequences of his actions at his previous school. Like Restart and The Unteachables, we leave the story with hope.

One rating was a fifth-grade reading level, which makes it an easy, quick discussion book. Also helpful is Korman’s interesting characters and engaging writing style.

Has a book made a difficult or unpopular topic easier for you to discuss?

Book Recommendations, Parenting

Untidy Books: Gordon Korman

I like tidy books—especially when my family and house aren’t. Good morals. Tight endings. Families you wish would adopt you. Or you could adopt. But, regardless of how satisfying tidy books are, they don’t necessarily change readers.

Last Fall, I discovered and binge-read five Gordon Korman messy, middle-grade novels. We leave some characters on a better—but still rocky—path.

My favorites were Restart and The Unteachables because they explored what I have long believed. Bullies and other wounders are unaware of the damage they inflict. After thrusting their swords and exiting the stage, they forget those left behind—bleeding people with wounds that may leave lifetime scars.

In Restart, Chase has amnesia after falling off a roof. Why does his four-year-old stepsister scream when he is near, and classmates avoid him? As his memory returns, he is appalled at the bully he used to be.

In The Unteachables, teacher-of-the-year Zachery Kermit was shunned and relegated to the worst assignments after an eighth-grader’s folly.  After twenty-seven years, Mr. Kermit’s former student learns the consequences of his behavior and wants to make amends.

Although the themes are serious, the creative plots and memorable characters entertain.

Have you discovered an author?

Art, Book Recommendations

I See. I Think. I Wonder.

During one set of art classes, I hung a print of The Duck Pond by Claude Monet, and employed a method I learned from Teaching Critical Thinking Through Art. That day, I chose the See-Think-Wonder routine. *

“I see”—which is observation—yielded expected answers. “I think”—which is interpretation—yielded less predictable responses. However, I learned the most about my six-to eleven-year-olds from “I wonder.”

I wonder if the lady would invite me into her house for toast.

I hadn’t noticed the tiny woman by the door

I wonder if the ducks are arriving or leaving.

I thought the ducks were hanging out.

I wonder if there is always that much water.

I had considered the water level unchangeable.

I wonder if the ducks get along.

Hmm …

Am I negligent if I mainly experience art with my students? If I don’t focus on information? I hope not because I teach art appreciation for the love of both my students and the subject. I want children to have accessibility to art. I want their enjoyment of art to take precedence over knowledge.

What do you see, think, and wonder?

*For more information see Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison.

Book Recommendations, Homeschooling, Parenting

What Makes You Say That?

Until I took the course Teaching Critical Thinking Through Art,* I asked my students “Why?” Afterwards, l changed my question to “What makes you say that?” and I received more responses.

Children gave ready answers to “What makes you say that?” instead of hesitating over “Why?”

“There has been a fire,” one student stated after examining a print of Romare Bearden’s The Piano Lesson.

“What makes you say that?”

She pointed to something I had not noticed—black spots on the green wall.

What makes students respond more powerfully to “What makes you say that?” compared to the simpler “Why?”

Does the first imply the student has evidence to present? Does the latter imply a need to defend? I decided I prefer to be asked, “What makes you say that?” because it implies a willingness to listen.

For more information about this question, see chapter six in Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison.

Which is your preference? “Why?” Or “What makes you say that?

*See here.

Book Recommendations, Family

Reading to Readers Part 2

The evidence has become so overwhelming that social scientists consider reading aloud one of the most important indicators of a child’s prospects in life.

The Enchanted Hour*

Our family received knowledge, pleasure, common memories, and enhanced relationships from our years of reading aloud and listening to audio books. (See here.) Along the way I learned that we also received something else—changed brains.*

What were those changes? New neural connections in the brain, reinforced neural connections, and optimal patterns of brain development.

What were the results of those changes? The increase of social skills, attention span, language, and imagination to name a few.

The Enchanted Hour ‘s compilation of research—some of which I had read elsewhere or experienced with my sons—has compelled me to continue advocating reading aloud for all ages.

Reading aloud really is a kind of magic elixir.

The Enchanted Hour*

What are you advocating?

*The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon.