Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alexandria of Africa by Eric Walters (Grade 8)

If you're looking for a great book for a Grade 8 student, look no further. Alexandria of Africa is a perfect book for introducing compare and contrast essays. It compares the concept of wanting versus needing and poverty versus wealth. It compares the injustices of Ruth's world to the 'injustices' in Alexandria's. It also introduces pre-teens to socially and politically challenging topics.

Brief synopsis: Alexandria lives in Beverly Hills, California and has everything she could ever dream of. Much like her friends, she is a spoiled only child who gets everything she asks for. After she is caught shoplifting (for the second time), the judge is less than sympathetic. Her options are juvenile detention or therapy, of sorts. Before she knows what's going on, she is whisked off on a plane to Kenya to help build a school with an international charity. During the course of the novel, Alexandria comes to many personal realizations, as well as realizations about the world outside of her own.

My notes: The student I assigned this to LOVED this book. She read it really quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the story. During our session we completed a literary analysis table. Together we studied the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and discussed which rights the Maasai children had, but were being violated. We also compared needs versus wants, making a list of things that were necessary for survival.
The sequel, Beverly Hills Maasai, is next on the list.

Literary Analysis Table

Many of my students have a hard time remembering a book after they've read it. This is particularly problematic at exam time. Whether it be to help them organize ideas for essays or for exam review, this literary analysis table really helps students organize their ideas. Without fail, every student I have worked with felt that they had a better understanding of the book after completing the table.

The literary analysis table is suitable for students in grades 7-12. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Presentations, Part II - Using your voice

Four Tips for Using your Voice More Effectively

1.    Deep breathing - If you find that your breathing gets faster or gets more shallow right before a presentation there are ways to control it. You need to find a way to slow down and deepen your breathing. This will, in turn, calm your nerves and alleviate anxiety. Here are a couple of tips to try out before going into your presentation.          
  • ·      Exhale as forcefully as possible. Blow all the stale air from out of your lungs. Do this several times
  • ·      Take a long, slow breath through your nose, filling your lungs right up
  • ·      Hold this breath for two seconds
  • ·      Exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your lungs completely
  • ·      Repeat this for one or two minutes

2.  Articulate Saying your words clearly or “articulating” them is an important part of using your voice effectively. When you’re articulating well, your audience hears each word clearly and crisply. The easiest way to develop this skill is to slow down a bit when presenting and to practice articulating on a regular basis.

3.   Volume and Pitch - It seems basic, but a lot of presenters get it wrong. Let me say this loudly and clearly: it’s absolutely essential that your audience can hear you without straining to hear. The key is to speak to your audience so that they can comfortably hear what you are saying. The same level of volume does not work in all situations. Make sure that those who are sitting in the back can hear you clearly.

4.   Slow it down - Pace or tempo means how quickly or slowly you are presenting. If you’re like most people, then you probably tend to speak more quickly when presenting. This normally happens when the presenter is nervous. The best way to set and use an effective pace is to intentionally slow down for the first few minutes. This allows you to gain control of your pace and stops you from racing forward at top speed. After the first little bit, most presenters find that they’re not as nervous and the right pace just comes naturally. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Presentation Tips, Part I - Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is more powerful than verbal communication. Everything - the way you move, how you dress, your facial and hand expressions – say a lot more about you than you may think. Before we even hear someone speak we have already made assumptions about who they are. We might decide that they are professional, honest, smart, interesting, or trust worthy – and all before they even say a word. So much of our information today comes in a visual format – keep this in mind when presenting.

You are what you wear. Your appearance means a lot when presenting and in order to be taken seriously, you need to create a professional appearance. It’s important to neither dress ‘below’ your audience, nor dress too much ‘above’ them. A good rule of thumb is to dress just slightly better than your audience. Besides your clothing, it’s especially important to be neat and well groomed. You can wear make-up, but don’t overdo it. Remove chipped nail polish and keep your hair neat.  If you don’t have a professional appearance, people will look at you and wonder, “If they can’t take care of themselves, why should I trust them to take care of anything else?”

Good posture is key. The way you carry yourself is just as important as what you wear. You want to carry yourself in a way that shows that you are confident and professional. Regardless of how you are feeling inside, if you look confident on the outside, people will believe it. If you appear to be nervous and uncomfortable, people will doubt your message. So, what can you do? First, sit and stand up straight. Don’t slouch or lean on things. Second, be comfortable – you don’t want to look as rigid as a statue. Third, hold your head up high. Don’t drop your eyes or your chin. Fourth, lean forward to show a bit of interest. Fifth, use an open posture. Don’t cross your arms or legs. This type of body language says that you’re closed to conversation.

Your face says it all. It’s important to look at your audience and to use your facial expressions to let them know that you’re focused on them. In addition, they want to see what you’re feeling and they’re smart enough to know that your emotions are on your face and not always in your words. One important thing to remember about facial expressions is that you never want to cover your face with your hands. This blocks the audience’s view of your face and makes them distrust what you are saying.

5.     Maintain eye contact with your audience – this creates a strong connection and lets your audience know that you are completely focused on them. Eye contact also gives you valuable information about how your audience is reacting to you. For instance, you might see that someone has a question, can’t hear you, or is completely bored out of their mind. This allows you to keep your audience engaged and to make changes as needed.

6.    Use hand gestures. Using your hands effectively can be tricky. If you use them too much you can appear nervous or excited. But if you don’t use them at all you will appear stale and boring. Hands can be used to visually show what it is you are trying to explain. Fidgeting too much will distract your audience and get in the way of the real message.                       

Fishing for Letters

Little Charlie (Age 5) and I work on one letter per session. Usually we complete a number of worksheets to practice phonics and printing, maybe read a story, put together a small story book of that day's letter and finish with an arts and crafts activity or a game. Some days it's a real challenge to find something that really grabs Charlie's attention. Some days I just wing it and hope for the best.

Today was F day and little Charlie and I were nearing the end of our session when I had a thought. "Fishing" starts with F and Charlie would love fishing. I grabbed a chopstick and tied a piece of string to one end. To the end of the string I tied a metal paperclip. Then I went to the kitchen and got my big stockpot and carefully laid the most commonly used letters of the alphabet in the bottom, magnet side up. I put the stockpot on a stool - just high enough that you couldn't see the bottom, and tested my little game. I cast the line into the pot and jiggled it about. Sure enough, when I pulled my line up, there on the end was a magnetic letter.

Rather than just have him identify the letters as he pulled them out of the pot, I decided to take it a step further. I got out my mini dry erase board and wrote down our names. Next to our names I put 3 blanks, like so _ _ _. I decided to compliment the lesson with the short A sound by putting the A magnet in the middle, like so _ A _. When Charlie pulled a letter out of the pot, he was asked to put it either at the beginning or the end of the word. Then it was my turn. We repeated the steps until we had a full word. Then I asked him to sound them out. Keep in mind that Charlie has been asked a couple of times to sound out first words and it has always caused him great anxiety. Today, however, was different. I told him that if the letters on the board made a word then he would get a point. Without even hesitating he sounded out the letters. Each time he read the word, he would look at me and tell me if he thought it was a real word or not. The ones he knew for sure, like hat, were the most exciting.

Charlie absolutely LOVED this game and he didn't even realize he was reading. I believe I will try variations of this game with different vowel sounds in the middle. It seemed to work really, really well.

Breathing Techniques

It might sound corny, but deep breathing techniques really help to relax the mind and body. With some students, especially those who experience high anxiety, deep breathing techniques can really help calm them down.
When Peter (age 5) arrived on Friday he was really high-strung. So I got two cushions and put them on the floor of our study room. We sat across from each other with our eyes closed. I asked him to breathe in as deeply as he could through his nose. He did it without even asking why. Then I asked him to push all of the air out of his lungs as hard as he could. We did this several times until I felt that he'd done it enough to calm him down a bit.
I think I will implement this technique into our daily routine. Younger children like routine and like to know what to expect at each session. This will be a good way to start the session.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Day - New Student

The first session with a new student is always tough. There are expectations to meet; your new student's, your new student's parents and, of course, your own. You want your new student to feel as comfortable as possible while you try to gauge how you can best help them to succeed. Every student is different and there is no one blueprint on how to work with them. Currently, I have 10 students and they range in age, from 5 to 39 years of age. Every one of them has different needs and it's my job to discover what they are and provide them with the skills they need to succeed. I like to think of it this way: Each student arrives on Day 1, toolbox in hand. Every toolbox comes with some tools already in it, but some are missing. It is my job to help them fill their toolbox and then, using those tools, build new and stronger skills.

My new student is 5 years old and his parents just discovered that he's blind. He has since been given glasses (at half prescription), which improve his eyesight somewhat. Once he's properly adjusted to his new glasses they will be moved up to full prescription. Peter has developed all sorts of coping mechanisms to help deal with his inability to see. He copes so well that you would hardly know that he's blind - but he is. His blindness causes all sorts of problems in school and his coping mechanisms create issues in the classroom. I have a number of things planned... this first class should be interesting.