Tag Archives: reading

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

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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!

He Was Big, But Was He Bad?

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Thanks to the “efficiency” of technology, this originally published with the wrong title and I fear went to subscribers with the title “Brain Surgeons and Truck Drivers Unite!” While there are some similarities, that’s a piece being developed for another day!


 

One of my more interesting assignments recently was working with a group of sixth graders who had just finished reading what is considered a “fractured fair tale”–in this case the story of Little Red Riding Hood written from the wolves  perspective. It’s not uncommon to ask students to read (or retell) a common story from another character’s perspective. The educational benefits are many. In this case, their assignment was to consider whether or not the retelling influenced their own perspective.

I was a bit surprised that all but one student readily bought into the wolf’s explanation. Most began to feel sorry for the poor maligned wolf now that they “understood” his perspective and were able to view the facts differently. But as I listened to them explain their conclusions, it was not so surprising. Kids are open-minded–much more so than adults–and are willing to consider new information. Yes, it makes them vulnerable but it also means they can learn and grow at astounding rates.

Now I will confess that I don’t recall ever questioning what happened in that story even as a kid. My reality has always been there was a big, bad wolf, a somewhat naive little girl, and a grandma who has a very brief role. I might have subconsciously identified with the wood cutter–it’s always  nice to identify with the hero. (There are several versions of the tale–in the earliest the story ends with grandma and the girl being eaten. They are not rescued. So much for the “happily ever after” aspect of fairy tales.)

Of course, we all know that the point of fairy tales is not to convince kids monsters exist. They already know that. The point of fairy tales is to show kids that monsters can be killed (attributed to G.K. Chesterton).

But in this sixth grade classroom (and, hopefully, many more like it) we find another point of fairy tales is to make us think. I found myself doing exactly that–not so much about whether or not the wolf was actually a victim as about how our perceptions influence our thinking and conclusions. One young fellow in the class took a minority position by remaining convinced that the wolf was a liar and was only trying to fool us the way he’d fooled Little Red Riding Hood. According to this young man, the wolf was  “bad to the bone” and we are crazy if we believe otherwise.

But are we?

Let us understand this is not about teaching truth. It might be about searching for the truth. It is certainly about learning. We have plenty of bias and close-mindedness in our adult world. I suspect some of that develops at a very young age when in our desire to protect children we adults create perspectives in them that actually become unchallenged prejudices carried into adulthood. Sometimes those biases are about others; sometimes they are about ourselves.

No matter who they are about, there is a lot to be gained in challenging them. Even if we end up maintaining our original beliefs, we may well gain empathy  and understanding of the bigger picture and those around us. That the wolf was big is probably not debatable. But was he truly “bad?” Are you willing to consider that he might merely have been doing what wolves do? In the book, he explains that he looks at grandma the way we might look at a cheeseburger.

In researching this article, I found some interesting theories about fairy tales, including speculation that they provide the “core of ethics.” Now much as I enjoy thinking, I really want to say, “or they might just be stories.” As a writer, I do think we should be careful to leave plenty of room for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

So you can decide whether or not the wolf was bad or simply a maligned opportunist–or perhaps even a victim. But you do have to think about it before you decide.

And the next time you hear yourself stating a perception  about others  (“All politicians are dishonest.”) or yourself (“I suck at math.”) you might consider whether or not that perception is a prejudice–a decision made without really thinking.  There may be some new information available or a perspective you haven’t considered. Now that you are an adult, it’s okay to let your beliefs and yourself be a little vulnerable. Remember, this is not a call for you to abandon your beliefs. It’s a call for you to learn and grow even if you end up believing what you always have.

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!

Mr. Boomsma, You Need To Focus!

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Picture a second grader with a scholarly look–glasses that tilt as kids’ often do; an appropriate lack of front teeth revealed by a smile reflecting a sense of accomplishment. We’d just finished reading a book together. She’d read flawlessly.

When we stood to return to her classroom, another class of young scholars entered the library. They were calling out greetings as they passed and this served as a distraction as I attempted to push my chair under the table. I didn’t notice that I wasn’t succeeding because the chair simply didn’t fit.

After watching me in frustration for a while, she placed her hands on either side of her face mimicking the blinders horses wear. “Mr. Boomsma, you need to focus!”

I chuckled at the maturity with which she attempted to resolve my problem and teach me a lesson. I thought I was busy. She rightly recognized I wasn’t  busy. I just wasn’t doing such a good job of handling multiple priorities-priorities that I had actually selected unconsciously.

It’s at least interesting that a seven-year old had that insight. Many people observing the situation would have thought I looked busy. But  had I focused on any one of the tasks at hand I would most certainly have succeeded. All I was really trying to do was push in my chair, keep track of my reader friend and acknowledge some other friends arriving on the scene. Like walking and chewing gum at the same time, these were manageable tasks.

It’s been several years since she taught me the lesson and I still use her gesture to remind myself I need to focus. Occasionally I use it with others. She is, after all, correct. Most people who complain about being busy just need to focus.

The flip side of this is the claim, “Be patient! I can only do one thing at a time.”

Really?

Let’s see. I’m usually doing lots of things at a time. I’m thinking, writing, breathing… My heart is pumping. I’m somewhat aware of some folks nearby talking… I didn’t really think about it, but I’m really quite busy. Fortunately I’m also fairly focused. If not, I could become very stressed over everything I am handling. What if I forget to breath? Now I need to sneeze. I’m so busy! I can’t take on another thing!

Having told on myself (and had some fun), I can perhaps reveal that I suspect a lot of people who complain about “busy” just aren’t focusing. Our wonderful brains do take care of a lot of this for us, but we also have the ability to manage our attention. When we don’t use that ability not only does our stress increase, but our “situational awareness” decreases.  I didn’t notice my chair didn’t fit because I was stressed. I was stressed because I wasn’t focused. It became about everything and that meant it was actually about nothing.

Note, however, there’s an opposite problem when we become too focused. I wouldn’t call it obsessive compulsive. I think it’s more about target fixation. During WW II pilots would sometimes become so focused on their target they’d forget to release the bomb and pull out of the dive. They’d lose perspective and crash into the target.

Somewhere between focusing and being aware of one’s surroundings there’s a sweet spot with a balance. But you don’t find it without looking. It might be under the table where the chair doesn’t fit!