Tag Archives: social media

When Reading Is About Writing… and writing is about reading

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Simple as that.” That’s okay advice for people who want to write. Writing is definitely about reading. As one who loves to do both I could probably have a lot of fun with this–including wondering how many writers love to read what they have written.

Many folks know that I have worked with second and third graders on a volunteer basis for quite a few years. Much of that work is geared to encourage them to read–and, hopefully, to develop a love of learning. One of the little poems we share at the beginning of the year is:

The more you read, the more you know.
The more you know, the smarter you grow.
The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice.
When speaking your mind or making your choice.

After making some presentations to third graders in an assembly last year, I joked with a teacher about the need to offer some public speaking curriculum to third graders since none would give an acceptance speech. After thinking about it, maybe it’s not a joke. Afterall, we are trying to create an integrated education for our kids, right? And if reading makes you smart and being smarter makes your voice stronger, shouldn’t you be able to speak (and write) with greater confidence and skill–at any age?

Another interesting conversation I had recently was with a media and communications professional. We were sharing some thoughts about how much media has changed in the last decade and ended up discussing the need for “media relations” training for elementary school kids. These kids are, after all, at least social media darlings as young as babies when their parents post their photos on Facebook and other media. While this might be a topic unto itself, a reality is that a lot of kids are “stressed” over their image at increasingly young ages–partly because they haven’t learned how to manage that image.

It was bad enough when we had to worry about the Three R’s without these added challenges. But it’s also still arguable that a good foundation in “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” would certainly help with the challenges and perhaps allow children to have stronger voices and make better choices.

I’m increasingly pleased and impressed at the numbers of kids who talk about reading at home with a parent or grandparent. (I have a great story to share about the nine year old reading the newspaper to his grandfather in the waiting room at my chiropractor’s office.) While the work of making shared reading the norm is certainly far from complete, what about the second “R” — writing?

The good news is adults (and kids) are “writing” more… the bad news is much of that writing is poor at best. And the worse news is the media doesn’t always encourage or reward traditional writing skills. (I admit–it’s interesting to consider what Mark Twain might have “tweeted.” It’s even more interesting to consider what he would have thought about the challenge of writing something meaningful using less than 140 characters or letters.)

So here’s the challenge… if you are reading with a kid, why not introduce the idea of writing? If it seems a bit more intimidating there’s a good resource for you. You can download a 17 page guide with lots of tips for how to help your kids improve their writing skills–and make the process more natural and fun. (I suspect you could use a few of them on yourself as well!) A better idea might be to contact his or her teacher since not all school systems use the exact same vocabulary and curriculum, but in general any stimulation and encouragement will be good.

I’ve always been grateful to one college professor–“Mr. Bailey.” He taught us to write for sure, but more importantly, he made us write. Every day.  One sentence was allowed, but by the end of the semester it was hard to stop with one. You can get better simply by doing things.

We’re not going to talk about ‘rithmetic.

Yet.

Making Change and Not Making Changes

Chose both the road and how far down it you’ll travel

An important part of a recent vacation was spent in the Lancaster Pennsylvania area—also called “Amish Country.” When I lived closer, visits to the area were frequent and I developed a familiarity with the area. So this was an interesting opportunity to return after a decade of absence.There is much truth in the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While there were some obvious changes to the area—it was equally obvious that many things have not changed. I have always avoided the heavily trafficked tourist areas and never shared the common perspective that Amish folks are a tourist attraction. I’ve always considered myself a guest among these special people.

One favorite back road farm stand had not changed much, although the attendant was now a nine year old Amish girl working alone indicating a new generation is now involved. She was pleasant and efficient, totaling up our purchases using a simple calculator. When I presented her with an unusual combination of bills and coin she pushed the calculator aside, took my offering, and counted back the correct change without hesitation. Watching her box our purchases cheerfully and carefully in the hundred degree heat was humbling.

I can’t help but contrast this with another experience several days prior. We ate at a restaurant where some of the servers were perhaps nearly twice my Amish friend’s age. Several of them actually couldn’t stop texting (or talking) on their smart cell phones while they were walking between the kitchen and their customers’ tables. They of course used computers to document our order and calculate our final bill. I did not test our waitress’s change making ability—credit cards eliminate that need anyway.

The Amish are also among one of the most misunderstood groups of people, often considered “backward” and “out of touch.” The point of this contrast is not to demonstrate that–the point is quite the contrary.

I would offer that the Amish are actually quite progressive. What makes them “different” is that they are selectively progressive. (Remember, my young friend did use a calculator for part of the transaction. Not long ago a brown paper bag and pencil would have been the tool of choice.) The important distinction between the Amish and society in general is that the Amish only embrace technology after careful and deliberate consideration of the impact it will have on individuals, families, and the community.

One of my frequent observations that might parallel this is “just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should do it.” We are inclined to want the latest and best. Technology offers lots of temptations. Why watch that old TV when you can have a wide screen? (The Amish question might be “why watch TV at all?”) Only a few months to go and I can upgrade my smart phone to one that’s even smarter! The possibilities are endless, really.

So while it would be possible and perhaps be nice to be able to order online from that farm stand in Pennsylvania (they make incredible pickles), I’m willing to concede that for this Amish family to embrace that technology would require some major changes in their lives. And for me it would mean that a visit a few years from now not only wouldn’t be necessary, but wouldn’t be possible.

Call me backward and out of touch, but I’m not ready to give those visits up.

Discuss this with yourself…

I just finished reading an article about “Electronic Overload.” The article encouraged me to determine whether or not it was time for me to get disconnected by asking myself a series of questions. (I kinda hoped the article would suggest feeling compelled to read it mean I needed to disconnect.)

At the same time, the article suggested that a need to be constantly connected to Facebook, Twitter, etc. has become the “new norm” whereby we feel compelled to keep up with our 813 Facebook Friends’ Daily travails, food choices, game scores, and assorted other drama. So I’m not sure if I was being encouraged to disconnect or understand that this is the way life now happens.

Since I had just spent my daily fifteen minutes of Facebook time prior to reading the article, I could relate. When I closed Facebook I found myself actually chuckling over some of the things I’d learned. I suppose I could list some here, but I’m not going to risk embarrassing people. Suffice it to say that I’m not sure I gained much by knowing where people partied last night, what quotes they liked and shared, what music they were listening to…

Okay, the latest picture of a nephew was  really cute… and having occasional contact with relatives and friends quite literally around the world is sorta neat. Many of these connections are ones I wouldn’t otherwise have. But like all good things, there’s a flip side to this. Our species seems to have difficulty with moderation.

I recently had a conversation (in real-time on the phone, not online) with a friend (A) who reported some difficulties with a mutual acquaintance (B) who “usually gets things done,” but has been unresponsive of late and is creating some difficulty as a result. A quick check of Facebook yields lots of reports of B’s game achievements and at least one request for me to “connect” and join in. Do you suppose there is a correlation? Is B somebody who should perhaps occasionally disconnect?

On a slightly different track, another friend sent me a link via email to a site with a cartoon she was quite sure I’d enjoy. In my reply to her, I noted that she created a bit of “lost time” for me this morning as I couldn’t resist poking through some of the others. It was in the course of doing that I encountered one that instructed: “Discuss this with yourself.” Now that’s a concept that deserves some exploration. For students who attend classes I teach, you can be assured you’ll occasionally hear that.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to ask you to discuss whether or not you need a little disconnect from electronic media. Many of you already know you do. I am going to ask you to discuss your priorities with yourself. That might include a hard look at your Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc. activity… if you can be objective about what you see, it will show you where your priorities are in practice.  If you can’t be objective (an admittedly difficult assignment–we’re better at rationalizing our behavior than analyzing it), at least discuss with yourself what you think your priorities are. Then discuss with yourself if your connections and habits match your priorities.

Ask Somebody!

For a number of years I’ve been conducting dictionary presentations with third graders. There’s a point at which I ask the kids, “What do we do if we come to a word we don’t know?”

Historically, the kids have pretty much unanimously replied, “Look it up!” (The pile of dictionaries behind me is probably a clue that helps them with the answer.)

Well, this year I was a bit surprised to hear a few kids say, “Ask somebody!” This in spite of the prominent pile of dictionaries.

And then today I learn about a project whereby Amazon.com has hired some folks from Quorus–a service that is adding a “social dimension” to online shopping. Say you are shopping for a gift and are having trouble deciding. The Quorus program would allow you to “discuss” the purchase (online) with other members of the family both in real time (chat) and offline.

Imagine being able to ask all of your friends online, “Will these pants make my butt look big?”

As if to reaffirm this trend, when I was getting instruction regarding my newly aquired SmartPhone, the representative pointed out that “the best thing to do when you are looking at an ‘ap’ is to see what the reviews (other people) have said about it.” Yep, that sounds like “ask somebody” to me! Instead of researching the developer and the features of the ap, I’m supposed to count stars I guess. (Actually, I do read reviews–but that’s only one component of the research.)

Surely we could spend days discussing the ramifications of this trend.  I’ll bet if we involved Madam DeFarge she’d opine, “It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.”

My relationship with technology is at times tenuous, although I confess I have personified my GPS and will occasionally argue with her, but often rely on her. “Greta says that I’ll be arriving in 45 minutes…” In practice, I’ve asked Greta (her last name is Garmin) how long the trip will take. So far, I remain convinced I’m still smarter than she is.

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not this is all good stuff. (Personally, I like seeing kids looking up things in the dictionary instead of asking somebody. I also still have arguments with Greta when she tries to make me take a turn that doesn’t make sense. Suffice it to say, asking somebody is not a substitute for using our brains.)

One of the questions this does raise… Where are we going to learn the social (media) graces? To wit, if I bump into you at the bank in Dover Foxcroft, I’m probably not going to show you a picture of what I had for breakfast. For that matter, if you invite me to lunch, I’m probably not going to whip out my (yet unnamed) SmartPhone to ask people what looks good on the menu.

Whaddya think?

Don’t say, “I’m not sure, let me ask somebody.”