Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Understand The Will and The Appetite (or Why It's Hard to Teach Kids to Read)

Teaching Reading in the Screen Age - Andrew Kern

I chose this seminar because I was so inspired by Kern's seminar on writing. I also am concerned about the difficulties in not only teaching reading nowadays but also in sustaining interest in reading.

Six pages of notes! I apologize because I wrote down the nuggets I found memorable or interesting, but they don't always connect to the things I wrote down before or after. Kern does tend to speak like this, but it all makes sense in the end. I found a lot of meat in this talk, so here goes:

Use books!

Teach a child to.... attention.
...remember things.
...bring it into harmony.

Do you pause when reading to allow images to form in your mind? IMAGE-ination....

Teach your child to handle the screens. (in the sense of creating good habits) Make a distinction between will and desire.

Nietzsche - everything living wants to live.
Humans have the ability to know what we want is bad.
There is a difference between what we want and what we will.
The screens appeal to the appetite. They are market-driven.

Capitalism (Marx) - desires will lead to centralization of big companies. Centralized economy --> socialism.

Strengthen the will and not the appetite. Train the will. Coaches know this. We accept this idea in sports.

Strong-willed people are actually weak-willed people with strong appetites. -Charlotte Mason

Discipline = legalism in some people's view

We tend to encourage the teaching of reading by exciting the appetites.
Instead, use white paper, black text, no distractions.

A child is a symbol of God. The eternal and unknowable "ikon".

Only the expert knows the basics of a subject. Kids can handle what is most obvious but not what is most basic.

Three Stages of Reading

1 - Dependent

When? Begins in the womb. Unborn babies can hear. Read to them. Choose adult books with good language.
Understanding is over-rated at this stage. Feel the flow of the language. It's complex.
Wind in the Willows contains the best sentence ever written. The second best is in Brideshead Revisited. (He did not tell us what they were.)
If you only read Cat in the Hat type books to children, the child will not be able to handle a complex thought.

2 - Decoding

This is an agonizing process of how the symbol = sound.
Only a symbolic creature could invent symbols and phonics.
Get to the point where you ignore the symbols for the meaning.
Study a foreign language with a different alphabet.
When you teach phonics simply, you are strengthening the will.

3 - Independent

The will keeps us going when the desires fade.
Reading is not a "subject." Not only is reading not a subject, there is not much difference between reading and writing.

Same Five Common Topics are for Reading and for Writing. (See notes from other seminar: The Five Topics of Invention aka The Common Topics.)

Use the rules like toys you get to play with.

What do these things teach us about how we learn?
1 - We don't know how we learn.
2 - No elemental sequence to reading.
3 - We read with the mind using the senses.


1 - Transcendent Insight
2 - Think Analogously (relating to analogies)
We are made to be like Him but it frustrates us that we can't be. We are analogies of God living in a creation, a work of art. The means by which we see truth is by analogies - stories. The best are the most universal.
3 - Information Gathering
4 - Disciplined Thinking - Translating is reading in slow motion. It focuses you.
5 - Community - Friendship is more important than your job in life.
6 - Wisdom. Even from the ancients.
7 - Harmonic Perceptions


1 - Reading incarnates truth.
2 - Reading must not be moralistic. Instead be transformed by the text.
3 - If you're not willing to submit to the work of art, don't experience it.

Teach Three Stages of Reading
Practice narration.
Always read above grade level.
Learn a foreign language.
Put story over information. Verse over prose, Aurality over silence.


  1. What should we read?
  2. Why should we read?
  3. What are the dangers inherent in reading? (immorality, moralism, laziness)
  4. How should we read?

Well, that's it! A lot of food for thought, although much of it seems disjointed when I type it all out. I recommend listening to this if you can find a recording or listen to anything by Andrew Kern.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Finally Feel Comfortable with the Socratic Method (or One More Time Through A Bargain for Frances)

The Socratic Method for Dummies - Become a Great Teacher - Adam Andrews

Adam Andrews again! Of course! I've actually heard this seminar (or nearly this same seminar) before, but as my friend and I are planning to teach our literature class this year using the Socratic Method, I figured this would be a great review and motivator. Since I've heard it before, my notes are not complete. However, here is my blog post of the first time I heard this seminar.

The Socratic method is based on the great Greek philosopher and teacher, Socrates, who said it is better to know nothing so as to ask a question to be informed.

To use the Socratic method, you need to be comfortable with your place as a co-learner with your students. This is much different from the workbook approach usually employed to teach literature with vocabulary words, comprehension questions, and optional enrichment activities.

You don't have to be an expert to use the Socratic method. Start from your own place of ignorance.

Five Conflicts
Five Thematic Elements
Five Elements of Plot

To decide the conflict, ask: What point in the story has the most tension?

The theme is the author's main point or reason for writing.

Adam used A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban to illustrate the Socratic method. A recent post on the CenterForLit blog covers this far better than I could, so I will just link you:
Picture Books for High Schoolers?

One thing I do want to know is that a good question to ask is: At what moment do we know it's going to be resolved? This is the tipping point of the story.

Whenever you have these discussions, you can ask students to defend their answers.

Teach vocabulary for discussing literature as you go through it, in the process, rather than separately.

What if you don't like the theme the author wrote about or if you disagree with it?
This is a great opportunity for clarifying worldview!

I am SO looking forward to teaching literature this way in the coming year to my co-op students with Ready Readers Volume 1 (which I had signed by Adam and Missy Andrews).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Convention Season: In Which I Learn to Use Red Ink (or Writing Four Kinds of Comments)

How to Mark a Student Paper Like a Pro (Only Better) - Brian Wasko

I got up bright and early on Saturday morning to make it to this 8:30 AM seminar by Brian Wasko of Write At Home which offers online writing classes. I've heard Brian speak before and enjoyed it very much. Since I teach writing classes, I thought I'd see if there were any tips or tricks Brian could share that would help me out, or at least this would let me know I'm doing things correctly.

The worst place to learn stuff is a school.
The average time to mark up an essay is 20 minutes. If a teacher has 150 students (as many teachers in schools do), that is 50 hours of grading time for just one essay. No wonder teachers don't assign enough writing!

Brian doesn't like the word "grade" as in "grading essays." He prefers to say "mark up" the essay since it has more of a connotation of helping kids with their writing.

Basic Paper-Marking Principles

  • Ink color doesn't matter. 
  • Use a pen, but talk too. (Mark it up first.)
  • Think "process" (multi-step) Three drafts is often appropriate.
  • First draft emphasis is on larger issues. What is the paper saying? Get the big picture.
  • Read it through once without marking anything.
  • Limit corrections. Pick your battles. Avoid the "it makes me nuts" attitude. Leave mistakes unmarked sometimes. We're only working on a few things at once.
  • Good writing is more than grammar: Content, style, substance, mechanical
  • There is no answer key for writing. 

Four Comment Types

1 - Positive Comments
Learn to find something positive.
Editing "hurts".
Students may not be conscious of the good things in their writing.
Sincerity matters.

2 - Corrective/Directive Comments
Watch out for just noting "vague".
Offer suggestions. Prefer two suggestions.
Use complete sentences. (He doesn't like the comment 'frag'.)

3 - Relational/Responsive Comments
Watch for tone.
Responding to content shows you care and you are "hearing" the student.

4 - Summary Comments or Evaluation/Scores
"Sandwich" method (something positive, something directive, something positive)
Brief paragraph of comments.

Brian showed some student papers on the screen that he asked the audience to comment on which was a fun exercise. Then he opened up the floor for questions.

Q - Once the marking occurs, do you recommend a particular rubric?
A - Six Traits rubrics
Don't get bogged down in rubrics because of multiple items in the checklist.
Customize rubrics. Weight the categories according to what you are working on.

Q - What types of assignments does Write At Home give?
A - Four modes - Narrative, Descriptive, Expository, Persuasive

Q - What is important in a writing curriculum?
A - Two approaches: Copywork/Dictation model or "Get Creative" model

I was pleased with this workshop because it confirmed for me that I am doing many things correctly as I evaluate and assess my students' writing. I disagreed with Brian on a couple of points and was encouraged to try a couple of new things as I mark up student writing in the future.

Great seminar!

Monday, June 6, 2016

2016-17 Writing Classes Announced!

Yes, this is what you’ve been waiting for!

Class information is now available on my new website - - for my 2016-17 classes. What am I offering?

Two great class choices for your middle school students are available in two locations. At Lapeer Free Methodist on Tuesdays, I will be teaching the IEW method to beginning and advanced students using the compelling Medieval Theme Based book from IEW. On Mondays at Richfield Rd. United Brethren Church, I will be teaching one of my favorite Creative Writing curriculums – Wordsmith. These classes are for grades 6-9.

High school students have three Tuesday options in Lapeer plus a bonus summer essay boot camp in Dryden. Once again, I will be offering my popular Academic Writing series which prepares students to write superb essays and research papers. Two new classes are on the schedule as well. First is a Response to Literature class that will enable your student to think and write analytically about literature. This class works as a stand-alone class but also fits perfectly with the co-op literature class I am teaching at Seeds of Faith Co-op. The other new class, Writing Remedies, is designed for the struggling high school student who needs a slower pace or more individualized instruction.

I am excited to add the new location in Flint and, as always, to be able to work with your students to improve writing skills.

Check my website for complete details and register early to ensure these classes will be held.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Convention Season: In Which We Learn to Be Biblical (or How Not to Be a Moralistic Therapeutic Theist)

How We (Mis)Read the Bible: Being Biblical As We Try To Be Biblical - John Stonestreet

Another speaker I heard last year was John Stonestreet, who is President of the (Chuck) Colson Center for Christian Worldview. I remembered him as a dynamic speaker and wanted to hear him again, especially in light of this topic. Lately, I seem to be surrounded by people who say God told them to do something but the thing doesn't seem to me to be very Biblical. So, what does Mr. Stonestreet have to say?

The first thing he told us is that he has the "spiritual gift of sarcasm." That should set the tone for you right away. This seminar is not for the easily offended. I will do my best to share his ideas from my notes, but I am sure I missed some important thoughts. He also recommended a lot of resources which I will share in a list at the end of this post.

1 - God exists (as opposed to the Naturalistic worldview)
2 - God is personal (as opposed to the Eastern or New Age worldviews)
3 - God has spoken (as opposed to the Post-modernistic worldview)

Are we being shaped by the Bible?

Teens today do value religion, but they mostly identify with a moralistic therapeutic theism which they have learned from their churches and/or parents.
Moralistic: God wants us to be good people.
Therapeutic: God wants us to feel good and be happy.
Theism: God is "there for them" but requires nothing of them.

On the screen, John projected many images of the different views of Jesus that our culture holds.

  • Buddy Jesus - Jesus is here to bless YOU. Consumer Christianity: I shop, therefore I am. (for Christian items)
  • Social Justice Jesus - This Jesus is all about alleviating poverty and has the attitude that "all poverty is financial."
  • Cool Jesus - Biker/hipster/etc.
  • Oprah Jesus - One way among many
  • Political Jesus - Salvation comes through a political party.
Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel – “It seems puzzling to me how greatly attached to the Bible you seem to be and how much like pagans you handle it."

Ways We MisHandle The Bible

Mistake #1 - We don't really read it. We own more Bibles than ever, but most are not read.

Mistake #2 - Read it without recognizing context. 
Don't take verses like Jeremiah 29:11 or Isaiah 55:8 out of context.
Bible verses are not fortune cookies.
Never read *a* Bible verse again. (Except for Proverbs)
For instance, the context of Matthew is Deuteronomy. 
Cross-references are helpful for understanding context.
Read larger sections of the Bible, but don't take those out of context either, such as 1 Corinthians 13.
Don't take the Moral McNugget approach (credit to Philip Yancey) which divorces the meaning from the larger context. He said we squeeze it and squeeze it until out pops a 'moral McNugget'.
Don't treat Bible stories like Aesops's Fables or children will equate them in importance.  He used the example of Max Lucado's Facing Your Giants as a way of taking a Bible story out of context. It's not true that just focusing on God means you will beat your giants.

Mistake #3 - Read Selectively.
We often read about Noah and the Ark but leave out the Noah Drunk in Tent story.
Can you read any novel that way? How about Les Miserables?

Mistake #4 - The "Magic" Use
The Bible Code. Don't look for hidden stuff until you've got the obvious stuff down pat.
Prayer of Jabez

Mistake #5 - Personalization
Every Bible promise is NOT ours.
The Bible is not an "answer book" like an encyclopedia.
The Bible (and Jesus) isn't necessarily interested in answering my questions.

Which world do we actually live in and what's its story?

God chooses to give us the gospel in a story. The entirety of Genesis to Revelation is the gospel. 

On The Handling of Scripture

1 - All but ignore chapter and verse. Better to read 45 minutes once a week than 5 minutes daily. (Except Psalms, Proverbs)
2 - Hold the story together as much as possible.
3 - Read it as written. Ask the questions.
4 - The story culminates in Christ Jesus.
5 - Avoid forced moralisms and therapy.
6 - It's not a book of heroes.
7 - This is our world, from Heavens to Earth to New Heavens and New Earth.
Genesis 1-11 show the brokenness.
Revelation 7-21 show everything returned and restored.
8 - Think "Re". Redemption and created intent.

Despair is a sin because Christ has risen.


Big Picture Story Bible by Crossway (tells one single story - best children's Bible he knows)
Biblica - "The Books of the Bible" (reordered, takes out chapter/verse/columns, reads like a book)
He Has Spoken by John Stonestreet and T.M. Moore (DVD)

For further reading:
HOW TO (MIS)READ THE BIBLE (this appears to be notes on the same talk I heard)