Archive for the ‘Advice from the pros’ Category

Guidelines for blogging outside material

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

This is a fantastic article about how to cite sources when you blog online. Share with your kids or use it for your own blogging experiences:

How Not To Steal Other People’s Content

Blogs are hotbeds of source attribution issues, probably just due to the sheer volume of content that’s posted there on a daily basis (you awesome inbound marketer, you). So let’s walk through a couple common scenarios bloggers come across when creating their content, and figure out how to address them!


Fabulous article on form vs. freedom at college level

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Listening to College Writers

What has stayed with me most strongly from the past two semesters has been students’ remarks that the most important thing they will take with them from English classes into the rest of their lives is the ability to bring out what is deepest in themselves with clarity, to take that terrible risk, and to be heard and understood by someone, whether a teacher, their classmates, or an even broader audience.

You have to read this article…

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

SAT/ACT writing tests… Do they promote good writing?

Jennifer posted this article link on the Scratch Pad this morning and asked if Brave Writer takes these kinds of issues into account when I teach the SAT/ACT timed writing class. As a matter of fact we do!

Read the article. Then read these comments:

Isn’t Ethan Campbell a fabulous writer? One of my favorite sub-textual messages taken from “Dispatches from the Front” is that getting a bad score on the GRE portion of the writing test says nothing about one’s ability to write. Ethan rocks! He’s got all the Brave Writer principles operating at once: personal anecdote/narrative, an opening hook, a strong writing voice, keenly observed details, the element of surprise, powerful verbs, a satisfying ending, the use of contemporary culture-currency to bump up the “I relate to you” factor, and more. (He does make one literary gaffe that I should point out. Macbeth did not speak the “All’s the world’s a stage” soliloquy, it comes from “As You Like it.”)

Yet he claims (and rightly) that the SAT/ACT testers don’t appreciate quality writing. They want predictable, orderly, lengthy writing (aka poor writing) that demonstrates to the graders that the writer knows how to follow the basic five paragraph format in a timed setting. And he’s right.

I took the SAT test through the Princeton Review online back when it first came out. I deliberately left out those obvious transition markers; the essay hangs together just fine without them. I wondered if they’d mark me down. Sure enough, I earned a 5 from both graders. The reason I didn’t get a 6? No transitional markers. :) I did, however, follow the five paragraph format.

Our SAT/ACT course not only teaches the format, but I also show kids how to prepare for the style of question they will encounter. They actually can prepare several topics in advance and have success using one of them without even knowing the question ahead of time. Timed essay writing is one of my strengths because as a history major back in college, I wrote them so frequently, I became expert.

Thanks Jennifer. Great article.

Thanks Ethan. You’re a terrific writer.

More about kids who need extra help

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

I just dropped my 12 year old off at Rita’s house. Rita Cevasco is the Brave Writer instructor who is our reading and language specialist. She’s testing our fourth child, Liam, for issues similar to Noah’s. Because I now have a better idea of what the issues might look like in a home that accommodates their non-traditional learning styles, I felt it would be helpful for us to get a better picture of what we might be able to do for Liam so that he doesn’t have quite as bumpy a transition to a traditional schooling environment (whenever he chooses it for himself). He hopes to be a zoologist some day and we both know (he even more than me) how much science and math that requires. It’s quite possible that he’ll uncover a non-traditional route to his dream job, but in the meantime, the primary requirements of every zookeeping and zoological post we’ve discovered include at least two years of college heavily focused on science and math.

Liam happens to be gifted in both… but can’t handle learning them in anything resembling a traditional educational format. He learned his math facts literally through playing online games. He has never used a math text until this year… which is a chore for him, but given his maturity, he is more willing to keep at it in spite of frustrations and tedium. All his natural science knowledge has come through reading, observation, zoo classes and Discovery channel. He retains animal related data like a steel trap!

Rita and I chatted a bit about my recent blog entry and many of your questions. The truth is, Rita says that she rarely sees a parent who comes to her that has misread her child. Usually a mother does know when something isn’t quite right. Sometimes the disparity is that the child is so amazingly gifted or bright in one area and then is profoundly average in others, that that gap between the brilliance and the average performance gives rise to concerns. And those concerns are often warranted because for a talented, smart child, the frustration of being held back by lacking verbal skills or poor handwriting or the inability to write or sit or organize thoughts is more frustrating than it might be for a child whose skills were more balanced.

As I read through the questions and comments in last week’s post, I thought I’d address one at a time as I have time and the ability to post. (My Master’s thesis is in revision right now so I’m juggling that in the midst of everything else!) Clare asked about the articles I read related to brain development. Because it’s been ten years since I read them, I no longer have the specific articles in hand. But interestingly, through a quick google, I did find an article that stated something similar to what I remember reading. (Note the happy placement of the word jungle as his metaphor for how the brain functions!)

Recommended educational approaches, then, consist primarily of trying to maintain a relaxed, focused atmosphere that offers options for learning in individually satisfying ways. The old paradigm of students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge has given way to the constructivist belief that students continuously build understandings based on their prior experiences and new information. The idea of a fixed intelligence has given way to a more flexible perception of gradual intellectual development dependent on external stimulation.

Gerald Edelman, chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at Scripps Research Institute and 1972 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology, offers a view of the brain that could influence the future classroom. Edelman’s vision of the brain as a jungle in which systems interact continuously in a chaotic fashion suggests that learners would thrive in an environment that provides many sensory, cultural, and problem layers. These ideas suggest that students have a natural inclination to learn, understand, and grow. Surround students with a variety of instructional opportunities and they will make the connections for learning. (

The primary breakthrough in brain research has been that real learning occurs through relationships between ideas, building on previous learning and engaged interest. For kids who struggle with verbal skills, sitting still to study, handwriting, sequencing and so on, this kind of brain research would indicate that perhaps you can cut a different path through the jungle. Capitalize on your child’s interests, hook up learning to areas of competence, and immerse your child in a subject area long enough for a child to form a relationship to that subject matter. Learn through channels that work rather than trying to beat a path through dense forest and obstacles.

When we first “deschooled” Noah based on the brain research I had read, the revolutionary new concept I incorporated into our lives was to focus on a single topic of interest at a time. We didn’t study math, spelling, writing, reading, history and science all in a day or even a week. Instead, when Noah showed interest in origami, we got books from the library, we bought the little colorful square papers from Michael’s, we looked up origami artists online and then, we made origami… for weeks. It’s not that origami was all we did for those weeks, it’s that we gave into it fully while the interest existed. I didn’t think to myself (as I had been likely to do previously), “When can we get done with origami so I can get him to do his mathbook?” Origami was sufficient for that season.

Origami naturally led to an interest in Japanese culture. I found and read the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes aloud to the kids. This book led us to World War II. My husband started checking out old WWII videos from the library and he watched them with Noah in the evenings. Noah became fascinated with old tanks both due to the movies and due to a computer game he liked to play with his dad called Bolo. So I checked out Dorling Kindersley books about WWII tanks from the library. The Internet was in its infancy at the time and Jon (my husband) was a big Internet dabbler. He set up a website for Noah and Noah built a website to feature tanks. It was never finished, but it did host photos and diagrams of the tanks and gave Noah his first taste of the power of html.

I could go on from here, the way his love of computer languages (and our family obsession with Shakespeare) has climaxed in his interest in linguistics in college. I see it now. I did not see it coming then.

Sometimes when I give this example of Noah’s, it looks too pristine, too obviously educational and wonderful. You must know that in the midst of this learning journey, he still had a hard time coming when called, remembering to brush his teeth (and other ordinary daily life kinds of expectations), and he became a target of bullying in our neighborhood. Learning became wonderful for a time (until I panicked again and imposed schoolish learning), but life was not without challenges.

Our fourth child, Liam, exhibits many of Noah’s traits, but his interests have been far more narrow and less obviously schoolish in disposition. His primary area of interest has been a couple of computer games he plays online. Having raised Noah and having watched the way pushing him to learn backfired so many times, I have been more hands off with Liam. His computer gaming led us to making a notebook (of about 20 pages which took a year to complete) that featured maps of an island chain he created out of his imagination. Because of his online gaming, he became deeply interested in maps, languages, flags, wars, topography. We used “Mapping the World by Heart” as a way to understand things like longitude and latitude, how to indicate mountain ranges and so on. Handwriting has consistently been a struggle for this left-hander so half of the text is in my handwriting as he narrated to me.

It was fascinating to see that his love of gaming led to this creative project. Immersion has been key to keeping his interest. It’s taken some creativity on my part to see how to capitalize on it.

Time’s up! I need to go pick him up from Rita’s right now. I’ll continue this entry tomorrow. Feel free to post more questions and thoughts.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids

Friday, February 16th, 2007

The Inverse Power of Praise

I praised Luke, but I attempted to praise his “process.” This was easier said than done. What are the processes that go on in a 5-year-old’s mind? In my impression, 80 percent of his brain processes lengthy scenarios for his action figures.

But every night he has math homework and is supposed to read a phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying, “You played great.” And if he worked hard to get to the ball, I praised the effort he applied.

Just as the research promised, this focused praise helped him see strategies he could apply the next day. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.

This article discusses the difference between unfocused praise for innate talents versus focused praise for specific efforts. I love the way it dovetails with Brave Writer philosophy which emphasizes offering support and affirmation for each writing effort a child makes, specifically praising successes in writing rather than general praise about a child’s abilities. Thought you’d enjoy it.