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I recently had some eye-opening experiences regarding reading that I want to share. I love to read, have a reading specialist credential, and am a retired educator of 34 years. I also love to learn, and I did just that this week in reading two different books. I gained a new appreciation of the struggles some readers have with reading. If you want to read Part I of The Trouble with Reading which deals with dyslexia, click here.
The other book I read that was a learning experience was a printed copy of a nonfiction book I purchased to read with my book club. It is a well-researched book that focuses on a part of my country’s history. Reading it was a great reminder of the differences in reading a fiction and a nonfiction work. “Work” is an appropriate word here, because of the extensive research effort of the author and the extra time and focus the reader needs to devote to reading the book. There are so many historical figures that play into the book along with settings of note. It is hard, but important, to keep track of them all. It is a very good and well written book and appropriate for book club discussion. I had to schedule reading it into my day so that I finished it by the time of our meeting. In other words, reading it was a chore; to do it justice, I took extensive notes and found the process tiring. Also, it did not focus on a subject that is my primary strength which makes the book intrinsically less interesting and more difficult to read. I brought less background knowledge to the table.
The book was not entertaining, but I am glad I read it. Although nonfiction varies widely, in general it is not my favorite genre. As all teachers should know, I was reminded that nonfiction, which is the foundation of most subject area texts, requires a different set of reading skills and those should be explicitly taught after students master the general reading process. Early elementary focuses on “learning to read” and grades above that should focus on “reading to learn.” Some middle and high school teachers believe that students leave elementary school with the skills they need for content area reading. This knowledge, however, is developmental; what is needed to process a middle grade text is not sufficient for comprehension of a high school text. Unfortunately, many students do not leave elementary school reading on grade level, making the gap even larger. To some degree, all teachers must be reading teachers.
I recently had some eye-opening experiences regarding reading that I want to share. I love to read, have a reading specialist credential, and am a retired educator of 34 years. I also love to learn, and I did just that this week in reading two different books. I gained a new appreciation of the struggles some readers have with reading.
Although we often think of dyslexia as letter reversals, it is actually a problem that is much wider than that one symptom. Dyslexia is an impaired ability to read and is not correlated with IQ. It can manifest itself in many ways. I don’t have dyslexia, but an Advance Reader Copy I read this week made me feel like I do. Anytime certain pairs of letters should have been present on the page, they were omitted. Here are some examples of the defective text along with what should have appeared on the page.
stu ed-full (stuffed full)
e fat one (The fat one)
on re (on fire)
e notes owed (The notes flowed)
“at’s a rst.” (“That’s a first.”)
BUT MY FAVORITE was a character named “Cli.” It seemed like an unusual name; about half way through the book, I started laughing at myself. I applied the missing letter pattern and discovered that the character is probably named “Cliff.”
The missing letters were: th, ff, fl, fi. Spacing was not always consistent with missing letters. Without context and my understanding of the importance of context, I would have been totally lost. Being able to pick up the pattern was also important. As it was, I had to make myself finish reading the book for the purpose of reviewing, but the experience was less than enjoyable and quite tiring. I put myself in the place of readers who have reading difficulties—letter reversals, words moving across the page, etc. I have renewed sympathy for their struggle. Professionally there are still arguments over causes and remedies, but being given more time to process text and learning coping strategies are helpful to many readers. Those who find reading “natural” and easy can remind themselves that we all have strengths and be thankful that reading is so accessible for them while being supportive and understanding of those for whom reading is a fight for meaning.
Let me assure you that Advance Reader Copies rarely have that many problems and that reviewers are warned that these ebooks have not always undergone the final editing process when they are presented to reviewers. The published book should be and usually is free from errors.
Check back in tomorrow for my reflections on a different type of difficulty I experienced with the other book.
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book
by Nelda Hoyt Banek
The chronological scope of the Bible is huge, spanning approximately 4,228 years. Have you ever wished for a collection of Bible stories that covers that length of time completely and deals with the complexities of the Bible in an understandable way? Obviously a labor of love, the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book by Nelda Hoyt Banek is just such a book. At 649 pages, it is a large volume containing 312 stories and over 270 incredibly detailed engravings from 19th century folios. Until you actually examine the format, it can seem overwhelming, but it has an exceptional structure which can be used by individuals, in family units, or by schools as a complete curriculum. Parents who homeschool could use this for the Biblical portion of their curriculum. If the book is used cyclically as children mature, students will glean new knowledge each time they are exposed to the stories and discuss the truths found therein.
The introduction provides tips for sharing the stories with preschoolers in a family setting. A special mark divides longer stories into two more manageable pieces. Families can expect to read through the book in two years. Classrooms could cover the material in three years of 36 weeks per school year. In both instances, the pace would be one section every day for four days a week.
I have been personally studying the story of Joseph’s life, so I chose to closely examine those passages in the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book. The dysfunctional family story and the first mention of Joseph are found in story #21, but the first story that focuses on Joseph is #25, “Joseph Sold into Egypt,” based on Genesis 37. The Scriptural reference for each story is noted at the beginning of the account. A handy, but not intrusive, pronunciation guide is included at the bottom of pages for each story. There are eight stories dealing with Joseph. They are all well-written and true to the Scriptures from which they are drawn in Genesis.
Because the storybook is arranged chronologically, the next story concerns Job and is taken, of course, from the book of Job, but also from Ezekiel and James in an effort to place this account in the larger context of the whole Bible. The next story returns to Exodus with the tale of Moses’ birth.
In order to create a full curriculum for Christian schools or Sunday Schools, Nelda Banek has also created a series of workbooks for student use. The workbooks for grades K5-3 are called Bible Story Lessons. Scripture Studies are intended for 4th grade through adult learners. Upon examination of the workbooks, you can see that the curriculum is, indeed, rich and the lessons could be repeated in a two or three year cycle. There are six workbooks for each age range.
I am pleased that the student workbooks include both the story and the followup questions for discussion that comprise the large hardback storybook. That inclusion adds a lot of flexibility and support to teacher and learner. The activities in the appropriately named Scripture Studies are, as they should be, more advanced and complex than those found in Bible Story Lessons. I do think the teacher of younger students within both age ranges for each workbook would need to provide some support in completing the activities while the older students in each age range would be able to work more independently depending on their reading levels and experiences with Bible study.
My survey of Bible Story Lessons (Book A: Creation to Sinai and Job) revealed a variety of interesting activities. As an example, the workbook activities for the Joseph stories are a dot to dot, word search, matching descriptions with pictures, hidden words, fill in the blanks, secret letter puzzle, and color by description. All would serve to reinforce the information provided by the stories.
Looking at Scripture Studies (Book E: Nativity to Zacchaeus), I surveyed the activities for the first six lessons which cover Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Activities for these older students send the learner to the Bible to explore the original text for a variety of interesting fill in the blank activities. These activities help the student to delve more deeply into the Scriptures as the source of information and to understand the theological implications of the stories. The illustrations found in the hardback book are also included in the workbooks and sometimes are a part of the activities.
The end of Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book includes notes, a chart of the kings and prophets, index of proper names, timeline of Biblical history, illustration of the Tabernacle, the marching order of the tribes and depiction of their camping locations, four maps, and a list of resources. All of these are helpful aids for students of God’s word. According to the author in describing the curriculum: “Teacher’s guides are available for each book in these series, containing instructions for pacing the curriculum, the reprinted stories, an answer key to the student worksheets, discussion and short-answer review questions, review game ideas, and memory work suggestions.”
I taught in a Christian school for two years before I entered the public school arena. I would have loved to use this curriculum with my students. Having taught grades K-adult in my thirty-four years as an educator, I can attest that this is a well thought out curriculum by an author who is both a Biblical scholar and professional educator. More importantly, as I peruse its pages, I can tell that it was prayerfully constructed to provide teachers and parents with a tool that lays out the whole story of mankind in a Biblical perspective from the creation and fall of humanity to redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend the Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book for anyone wishing to read an easily understandable overview of the Bible through engaging stories or to teach Biblical truths to others in the same way. The workbooks are an excellent addition to help students focus on the facts of the stories and dig deeper into the Scriptures.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Nelda Hoyt Banek, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction, Christian, Religion, Theology
Notes: 1. For best pricing, I suggest you contact the publisher at www.aelfredrex.com.
2. Suggested ages:
Ælfred Rex Bible Story Book—all ages
Bible Story Lesson (workbook)—Ages 5-9
Scripture Studies (workbook)—Ages 9-13
Publication: September 1, 2014—Ælfred Rex Publications
Sample Quotes Taken from Joseph’s Story:
As they ate, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midianite traders coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices, balm, and myrrh to sell in Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What do we get out of killing our brother secretly? Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites. He is our brother and our own flesh. Let us not hurt him ourselves.”
Then Potiphar was angry, and he put Joseph in the king’s prison. But the Lord was with Joseph there, too, and caused the keeper of the prison to look on him with favor. The prison keeper gave Joseph charge of all the other prisoners. He did not have to check up on anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him. Whatever Joseph did, the Lord made it prosper.
Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter!
by Lynne Truss
illustrated by Bonnie Timmons
Having enjoyed the adult book Eats, Shoots and Leaves years ago, I knew I would love Lynne Truss’ book Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter! It is written and illustrated appropriately for children but could also be helpful for teenagers and adults who just don’t understand that a few tiny punctuation marks can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Bonnie Timmons’ drawings are hysterically funny and illustrate so well the concepts.
The pages are set up so the differences in meaning are clear. On one page, for example, the words are “Eat here, and get gas.” The illustration shows cars getting gas at a place that also sells food. On the facing page, the reader is admonished: “Eat here and get gas.” with the illustration depicting a restaurant where a patron flies through the air with a tremendous burp. (Now what grade school boy is not going to laugh at that?) Under each picture, upside down, is an adult explanation of the effect of punctuation or lack of it. The inserted punctuation is always clearly indicated in red. This book is a winner. It achieves its purpose of explaining why punctuation is so important. Who knew grammar could be so funny?
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to G.P. Putnam for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction
Notes: Ages 6-9
Publication: October 22, 2019—G.P. Putnam
If I Built a School
written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Jack uses his imagination to create the perfect school in If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen. Written in rhyme, the first verses immediately bring Dr. Seuss to mind:
Jack, on the playground, said to Miss Jane,
This school is OK, but it’s pitifully plain.
The builder who built this I think should be banned.
It’s nothing at all like the school I have planned.
Unlike Dr. Suess, Van Dusen sticks to real words and the book is ripe with opportunities for vocabulary study—after a long period of enjoying the story and illustrations.
As Jack takes his teacher on a tour, we see his ideas play out in colorful and fun illustrations. His concept includes puppies and a zoo in the lobby, hover desks, and hologram guests. This is such a fun book; I think it would be a particularly good read in the classroom lending itself to much discussion and creative followup as children illustrate and write about their own notions for a perfect school.
Warning to school administrators: there is no mention of testing in this book because as Jack concludes:
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun too.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Dial Press (Penguin) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages: 5-8
Publication: August 13, 2019— Dial Press (Penguin)
SO FUNNY! Share this with all of your English nerd friends and those English teachers you love to hate. History teachers will love it too! 😂😝🤓
The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
by Heather Won Tesoriero
Heather Won Tesoriero spent a year in Andy Bramante’s science research classroom. Andy, a former analytic chemist, left the corporate world to become a teacher, to make a difference. He and his students are award-winning, and The Class gives an in-depth look, not at what he does in his classroom as a model for cookie cutter programs across the nation, but at the teacher Andy and how he cares about his students and helps them be independent, creative thinkers in science and in their personal lives.
Andy’s students have to apply to be in his class which is centered around independent research and participation in multiple science fairs. Success in the science fairs can result in prize monies and affect college admissions. Along the way, the students learn advanced science (often in multiple fields), self-discipline, how to use professional scientific instrumentation, research methodology, and presentation skills.
The students in The Class live in tony and highly competitive Greenwich, Connecticut. Most would be considered nerds and most, but certainly not all, are from upper-class families. Many are children of immigrants and those parents are highly motivated to see their children succeed. Many of these very intelligent teenagers are also talented in other areas such as athletics and music. They will all go to good colleges.
The Class is formatted according to the school year with chapters about various students and Andy as they move through the seasons. We read of the students’ personal struggles as teenagers as well as their attempts to find a topic for research and bring their project to fruition. It doesn’t take long to become engaged in their struggles and begin to root for a good outcome.
This book has widespread appeal partly because the author seems to be invested in the subjects of her writing and makes them come to life. I learned a lot about the current world of college admissions. I must admit that the science involved in many of the projects was beyond the scope of my science background, but was explained well. I recommend The Class and wish Andy and his students well in their future endeavors.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction (Adult), Science
Notes: 1. Some casual swearing throughout the book by both teacher and students.
2. The author made several snide slurs about the current presidency. Those remarks seem unnecessary and politically motivated. They are supposed to reflect conversations she heard, but they certainly seemed couched in her language, especially a disparaging comment about the First Lady. A writer selects what to share from the many words and events that pass before her. I think in this case she should have asked herself two questions as she put pen to paper: Is it necessary to tell my story? Is it kind?
Publication: September 4, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)
Andy would have it no other way. To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability.
“All day, we’re telling the kids, do this, read this, use this—and if you don’t, you fail. They need a space where it’s okay to fail.” —Nancy Shwartz, Cos Cob school librarian and creator of Maker Space, a place at her school where creativity is prized
“We’ve moved from education, teaching people how to think, to training, teaching people how to bark on time. And highly structured curriculum and even scripted curriculum in some places—the teacher reads the lesson. Those are not places where someone is being educated. It can’t be… Which is more valuable to the person and to the society? I can memorize something and give it back to you in an orderly fashion, even in a comprehensively well-expressed fashion. Or I can think. To me, it’s not even a call.” —Thomas Forget, Ph.D., professor and Andy’s mentor