Tag Archives: literacy

How Do You Spell… and does it matter?

According to a recent warning from Techlicious, there’s a fairly slick scam being foisted on Amazon users. Except maybe it isn’t so slick if you’re paying attention. Here’s a sentence in the warning  from Techlicious that caught my eye:

For instance, one tell-tale sign of bogus emails is the presence of sloppy writing in the email — especially misspellings and grammar errors. However, not all scammers failed English 101, so some phishing emails actually do sound and look professional. So, looking for language anomalies may not be 100 percent reliable, but they are usually red flags.

That’s sound advice, but there’s one problem with it.

I maintain several blogs/websites that include contributions from others. I have come to the conclusion that many adults either do not know or do not pay attention to basic rules of grammar. Therefore, I do a fair amount of editing.  Yes, it makes me feel needed, but it also makes me feel sad. Why aren’t we more interested in the mechanics of writing and communication?

I don’t consider myself a “Grammar Nazi” — in fact, I believe there are times when one should ignore a fine point of grammar in the interest of good communication.  However, my high school English Teacher (Thank you, Mr. Russo.) often  said, “You can’t intentionally break the rules of grammar if you don’t know what they are.”  He often made this statement when students started whining because they didn’t see the point of learning the rules, keeping us focused on communication and the role those rules play. (We also learned that violating a rule of grammar unintentionally sometimes resulted in communicating something we did not intend to say.)

Well, technology gives us another reason to pay attention in English Class. An inability to recognize fundamental spelling errors and violations of grammatical rules increases the odds you will fall victim to a scam. 

Yes, in the larger sense it’s actually about paying attention to detail. I received a phishing email from “Capital1” instead of “Capital One.” In the scam reported by Techlicious, the request to “confirme” your order details is like waving a red flag.

I’m truly excited to report yet another reason to promote a knowledge of  “good” writing, including spelling. Aren’t you?

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

SeDo Dictionary_34SM
Third Graders learn the “Dictionary Race” during a Dictionary Day Presentation.

Bet you didn’t know today is World Teachers’ Day! Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” is the slogan for 2015.

By sheer coincidence, today I will be working with eighty third graders as part of the Valley Grange Words for Thirds Program. The program is designed to give third graders their own personal dictionary. I have the honor of facilitating the process and teaching the kids a little history and some basic dictionary skills.

Another coincidence was that one of the email newsletters I subscribe to included a very appropriate quote by thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900).

Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being, something that is not ultimately amenable to education or cultivation by anyone else, but that is always difficult to access, something bound and immobilized; your educators cannot go beyond being your liberators. And that is the secret of all true culture: she does not present us with artificial limbs, wax-noses, bespectacled eyes – for such gifts leave us merely with a sham image of education. She is liberation instead, pulling weeds, removing rubble, chasing away the pests that would gnaw at the tender roots and shoots of the plant; she is an effusion of light and warmth, a tender trickle of nightly rain…

There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud – but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.

And therein lies a wonderful way to celebrate this relatively unknown day… thinking about those who have educated and “cultivated” us. We are all teachers and educators. We are all learners and students. I expect to learn something from these kids today. And I hope they learn something from me and the experience they have.

As I read Nietzche’s thoughts I was most struck by his suggestion that educators are liberators. Dictionary Day today will have, for me, a slightly different meaning today. I will be considering how today’s lesson and the book each child leaves with will be freeing and surely contribute to the person each becomes. As the kids would say, “Awesome!”

World Teacher Day

37 Ways to Help Kids Learn to Love Reading | Edutopia

An outtake of the pop star and the hunk!

Part of my summer reading program will be reading about reading! This morning I found a great resource–37 Ways to Help Kids Learn to Love Reading | Edutopia. Some of these are really awesome. Admittedly, most are from and for classroom teachers, but many are adaptable for home use or at a public library. One that sounded like tons of fun is creating “voice cards.” A deck of cards is created identifying various voices (cowboy, teacher, etc.) The child draws a card and then reads aloud using that voice. I can hear the laughter, pardner!

Mr. Boomsma Makes Mag!

SR Mag Clip“Mr. Boomsma” is the subject of a special article in the October Issue of Maine Seniors Magazine. The article was originally going to focus on the Grange, but as her research developed, writer Donna Halvorsen found a slightly different focus. She writes, “Each Grange can choose its own projects, reflecting local needs and interests. That’s how the Valley Grange, whose area stretches from Monson to Milo, came to focus so strongly on children. And how Boomsma—who talks with his hands and quotes Socrates—built a life around it.

I knew I quoted Socrates, but didn’t realize I talk with my hands. Although it makes sense because I happen to believe that a teacher can and should be his own greatest visual aid. I like to draw, too! (I didn’t say I was good at it… in fact I’ve been working on forming my letters correctly so I don’t embarrass myself in Kindergarten.)

One interesting side bar story… when the article was going through it’s final edits, Donna requested some pictures of me “working with kids.” Since I’m usually the photographer at school, I didn’t find very many so we decided to have a photo shoot. But who to invite?

I remembered how several years ago Kendall Kimball (then a second grader) announced to me she is going to be a “pop star” when she grows up. She also provided a detailed explanation of the difference between a “pop star” and a “rock star” and her determination has not waned. Needing a young model, it occurred to me that we might launch her career and establish her identity as a media darling. When you see the photo of us on page 35, I think you’ll agree–the camera loves her.

As for me… well, when the magazine hit Park Danforth–an assisted living center in Portland–my Aunt called to inform me that some of her girlfriends think I’m a real “hunk.” So I guess I’m popular with the eight year olds and the eighty-somethings.

Maine Seniors is a high quality magazine published right here in Maine and distributed throughout the state featuring “community icons” and “prime movers”— seniors who are making a difference in their communities and state. The article features some of Valley Grange’s initiatives such as Words for Thirds, Bookworming, and the GrowME project while telling some of my favorite stories about working with kids. But it also makes clear the fact that Mr. Boomsma believes it’s not about programs. The programs I like “are really just an excuse to do the real work.”

I would quickly add that it’s hard to think of something that’s this much fun as work. If  you  haven’t guessed what “the work” is, read the article.

A  complete digital copy is available on http://wboomsma.com. (Thanks to the publisher for generous reprint rights.) The entire issue will be accessible at http://meseniors.com before the month of October is over.

An outtake of the pop star and the hunk!
An outtake featuring the pop star and the hunk!


(Bookworms are volunteers from Valley Grange who visit school to listen to second and third graders read. The program has been ongoing at Piscataquis Community Elementary School for nearly ten years.)

There’s a well-worn couch at the head of the stairs where Bookworms sit with a second or third grader and listen to those children read from a book they’ve selected. On this day I was alone because I wasn’t bookworming, I was substitute teaching Kindergarten. It’s also a good place to wait and meet the class when they return from lunch.

A tall young man shuffled down the hall, heading for the library. I immediately recognized him as an “old friend” – one who truly taught me a lot about kids. I remembered how when he was in second grade I dreaded discovering that he was going to be my reader. “Johnny” was just plain annoying and seemed to take pleasure in being so. He was an angry child who frequently lashed out at his classmates and teachers. I was not the only one who tended to avoid him.

There’s of course more to the story but thankfully I started seeing him differently and treating him differently. I ended up enjoying spending time with him. I think he found me as much a challenge as I did him. I especially enjoyed those times when he found it hard to suppress the fact that he was actually enjoying our time together even as he groaned and rolled his eyes.

He’s a lot taller now and his voice is considerably deeper now that four years have passed. A groan still accompanied his rolling eyes when he saw me. But as he reached for the library door he smiled his little smile and said, “Mr. Boomsma, are you sitting there waiting for me to read to you?”

read_together_400_clr_3409I replied “Would you like to?” He didn’t respond but continued on his mission. (The older kids are allowed to print their work to the printer in the library.)

He came out of the library with the page he’d printed, walked over to the couch and sat down so his body was pressed against mine.  “We’re working on poetry.” There was no groan and I sensed he wanted to share.

I looked at the words and started reading aloud to him, thinking I was reading his work. That meant, of course, that I added some editorial comments about how good it was. By the time I’d finished I was thoroughly impressed. I noticed he was smiling again—that little smile that says “Gotcha.” He always did enjoy thinking he’d pulled one over on me. (Truth be told, sometimes he did.) So what was it this time? I looked at the paper more closely and realized I wasn’t reading a poem he’d written—it was a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In an attempt to diminish my error, I explained, “Well, no wonder I liked it so much. Longfellow is one of my favorite poets.” We shared some thoughts about some of Longfellow’s work for probably longer than we should have since he was due back in class. It felt right and was reminiscent of conversations we’d had a few years ago when he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t interested. I also wanted to prove to him that there was a time when I could recite one “The Children’s Hour” from memory. He explained the assignment was limited to “eight to twelve lines.” Darn. It was my turn to groan.

If you met Johnny, you wouldn’t immediately think he’s the sort of kid you’re going to sit with to read and discuss Longfellow’s poetry. For that matter, I’m not sure he actually sees himself that way, at least not yet. But for those few rhythmic moments, we connected. We shared something of each other and I was reminded again that every kid deserves to be loved and every kid has love to give back.  We are supposed to connect, help and teach each other. The line between teacher and learner is meant to be fuzzy.

In her TED Talk about teaching, Rita Pierson reminds us that “Every kid needs a champion.” She’s got it right, but I would add “Every adult needs a kid.” Kids should be seen and heard. Adults should look and listen because those kids have a lot to offer—even when they try to hide it. I want to believe that in some way I have helped and inspired this small person by being one of his champions. And, yes, I want to believe that he is one of my champions—even when he groans and rolls his eyes.

As a bonus, this recent encounter with Johnny has inspired me. Maybe the next time I see him I’ll again be able to recite that poem from memory. He’ll probably groan, but I’ll bet by the time I finish he’ll show me that little smile that says, “You thought I wasn’t interested but I was. Gotcha!”

But when I get to the end, it is I who will be saying “Gotcha.”

I have you fast in my fortress,

And will not let you depart,

But put you down into the dungeon

In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,

Yes, forever and a day,

Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,

And moulder in dust away!

And moulder in dust away!