Category Archives: Language Arts

Better Your Writing: Step 4 – The First Draft

“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” – Ronnie Coleman

First Draft

With road map in hand, look through the notes you have in your journal about this topic and enter those thoughts in the box of your writing road map that makes sense. Now its time to let go. As you think more deeply on your chosen topic, let the words flow on to the paper or screen. In some ways this is the most liberating part of the writing process.

Really take a moment to explore the main point of each supporting paragraph. Write down every thought you have that relates to each main point. Feel free to look up information from credible sources and include that information into your rough draft.

You don’t need to worry about form, voice, sentence structure or any grammar in general. You only need to get your thoughts out of your head. Whether they are fully developed thoughts, half complete thoughts, just the beginning of an idea or just the end of an idea -this is the time to dignify your thought process by introducing it to the world.

The only real rule you want to adhere to is to put your thoughts in the correct boxes you created for your outline. Following this rule will save you time in the next revision phase. While this is the time to be free, be free in an organized way!

For example, if you are providing background information, or explore generally why you feel the way you do about something, most likely this information belongs in the introduction box. If you are providing evidence to support one of the claims you are basing a paragraph about, put that information in the correct paragraph block; If you are giving your final thoughts on the matter, be sure to write that information in the conclusion.

What to do if you can’t think of anything to write?

There are several techniques that people can use to get move past writers block.

First things first, be sure your environment is conducive to writing.. Make sure auditory distractions are kept to a minimum, though I do suggest soft study music if it doesn’t distract you. Be sure you are sitting comfortably at your desk or table, with the intention set in your mind that it is time to work. Have snacks and drinks available within arms reach to avoid having to leave the room to obtain nourishment. Try to make it impossible to distract yourself from the task at hand.

Before you read, take the time to read over the notes you have already taken about the topic at hand. See if any other thoughts, connections or strong feelings are evoked by reading over the material. If so, take note of it. These sentiments could lead to main topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

Another technique to employ to get through writers block , if reading your current notes isn’t helping, is to read. It seems counter intuitive, but many an author employs this technique. By filling your mind with new information, it gives you new concepts to wonder about, and connections to make, which ultimately translates into having more things to say.

If you don’t know what to say, perhaps you have questions about the topic? Write down all those questions – in the appropriate paragraph box in your outline- until you are done asking questions. Then look up the answers to those questions and write the answer – you guessed it- in the appropriate paragraph. It never hurts to let curiosity be your guide, when writing a paper at least.

Finally, you may want to keep yourself in the pre-writing session until you have something to work with. If you find you don’t have enough material, you will need to go back to your references, or find new ones, to make your point. It may be a vicious cycle. Due to this, it may make sense to schedule more than one pre-writing session until you have all the information that you want to include in your paper.

Still looking for ways to better your initial writing? Review my past posts on Journal Writing and Prewriting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Learning Guides, Writing, Writing Tips

Summer Reading Material – Honest History Magazine

This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase by clicking the links in this article, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you are still on the hunt for summer reading material for you child, Honest History is a great resource to consider.

This magazine is perfect for readers ages 6 -12 and each issue takes an in-depth look at the the topic depicted on the cover.

If your child is curious and enjoys reading about past events, Honest History magazine is perfect for them. The magazine was created for curious thinkers; it is designed for children whose imaginations are sparked by the the world around them and by what they read. If, when your child is done reading, they end up having more questions than answers – this magazine is for them. These magazines were designed to pique the reader’s interest and fuel their desire to learn more about the given topic.

Not only are the articles in depth, and written with the intention of keeping bias at bay, but it is impossible to not be engaged with the beautiful artwork present in each edition.

Not only do you have the ability to subscribe to the magazine to receive 4 issues over the course of the year, you can also purchase past issues.

Honest History Magazine has been kind enough to share a discount code of learningwleigh that you can enter at checkout to receive 10% off single issues.

Head on over to HonestHistorymag.com and explore the titles and content of some of the past issues, including: –

Honest History – Past Editions
  • A Portrait of India
  • An Era of Exploration
  • The Spirit of the Games
  • The Race to Space
  • The Story of an Empire
  • The War of the Currents (Edison vs. Tesla)
  • A Pirate’s Tale
  • The Swan King
  • Cookbook: History is Delicious

Each edition comes with well written articles and suggestions for DIY activities.

Whether you subscribe or just purchase one or two single past editions, your child will be well served from a language arts and history standpoint if they commit to reading these magazines over the summer.

Have you experienced “Honest History?”

Let me know your experience in the comments below.

Leave a comment

Filed under Favorite Reads, Language Arts, Reading, Summer Reading Reading Guides

2021 Summer Reading Club Descriptions

Read the descriptions of the clubs below and click on the links to register for the clubs.

Family Reading Club

Sundays at 1PM – July, August, September

Elementary- level books, articles and other reading material are read and afterwards either individual families, or families come together to speak to each other about the story and make connections. Literary activities are provided as an option for families who want to continue to explore the topic after the meeting has ended. Perfect for family members of all ages. Launching Week of July 1st, 2021

$20 per month,

$50 if you buy three months at a time.

Use Coupon Code: Place all three months in your cart and use: FamilyReadingClub2021

The entire household can participate for one price.


Elementary Summer Reading Club

2PM grades K-2; 3PM grades 3-5

Tuesdays and Thursdays

July – 6, 8, 12, 15, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29

August – 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26, 31

Elementary level books are read out loud and then we work as a group on literary activities that help reinforce the story elements as well as reading comprehension strategies. If you miss the live read, a video will be posted of Leigh reading the book so that you can hear the story that way. By the end of the class, your student will have built a portfolio of summer reading work.

Launching the week of July 1st, 2021.

$50 for the entire summer, for each time slot.


Novel Study – Phantom Tollbooth

Wednesdays 2:00PM – 3:30PM

July 7, 14, 21, 28

August 4, 11

Grades 6-8

6 week course

Explore the world created by Norton Juster. In this story we follow the adventures of Milo, an apathetic boy who happens upon a toll booth that takes him to a different world. In this land language is figurative, so you better be sure to say what you need efficiently and correctly. Besides reading the story, we will learn about figurative language, note-taking, themes, and how to prepare your notes to write a paper.

$75 for the course


Transformation Book Club

Grades 9-12

Friday 2:00PM – 3:30PM

July 9, 16, 23, 30

August 6, 13

6 week course

This book explores the work of two NJ-based authors. The first, “Turning a Mess into a Message” by Edison Jaquez describes how the author found himself at rock bottom and how he worked to get back on top of his game. Each chapter focuses on a different area of life and provides tip on how to successfully navigate the situations we live through.

The second book is called, “I AM, I WILL” by Dr. Daniel Jean. This book is essentially a life plan to creating the life that you desire. Both books, and the activities within, can serve as a solid life plan.

$75 – includes the cost of books


COMING SOON

Active Reading Strategies

Grades 4 – 7

3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class introduces readers to five reading strategies including visualization, predicting, connecting, questioning and monitoring understanding. We will also go over the KWL Chart.


Grammar Boot Camp

Grades 4 -7, 3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class will review parts of speech, punctuation, sentence structure and the paragraph. This is the perfect class to get students ready to identify and utilize grammar in the classroom or for any written assignment.


Writing Boot Camp

Grades 4 -7

3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class teaches the writing process, how to write the perfectly planned paragraph and essay. This class will help students to respond properly to open ended questions in class and on essay assignments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Summer Writing, Writing Tips

Summer Writing Activities List

Summer 2021 is upon us and every literacy advocate and organization has released their official summer reading lists. While everyone is excited to begin the beloved annual summer activity, the question begs to be asked, what about writing?

Writing is an incredibly important tool we humans have to help us think, learn and communicate. An article from Psychology Today, “How Writing Makes You Happier, Smarter, and More Persuasive” discusses various studies that prove or imply that writing helps people to unwind, communicate better and retain thinking skills.  With so many benefits, why aren’t Summer Writing Lists assigned?!

Not only is it beneficial, but writing is necessary in our modern world. The skill is needed to pass elementary and secondary education levels as well college. Developed writing skills are necessary for full engagement in the workplace. We even use the written word in our personal lives– Facebook rant anyone? Don’t those come off much more relatable and understandable when they are well written? It is in everyone’s best interest to develop writing skills Facebook ranters – and their audience alike.

The best part about this journey is writing doesn’t have to be boring even though it can feel that way when the activity is mandated. This is why summer is a great time to explore writing projects that speak to one’s own soul. Be sure to mix it up, however. Satisfy your inner curiosity with an easy writing assignment, but remember, it is also important to be challenged by choosing writing projects that work on building different skills and may be out of your comfort zone. Diversify your writing journey by choosing projects with an analytical, comparative, descriptive or persuasive angle.

If you are not sure where to start with choosing your writing project, below you will find lists of summer writing project ideas and strategies. Try to complete one of the suggested tasks or let the ideas be a spring board for creating your own writing tasks.

Writing Projects

Summer Reading Support:

  1. Find a question guide to your selected summer reading book and answer the questions on a blog or in a note book.
  2. Write a character analysis. This requires writing while reading and then writing after thinking. The finished product could be a presented as a blog post, letter to a friend, letter to the character, etc.
  3. Setting analysis.
  4. Prepare an interview for one of the main characters in the story and answer the questions in the way you think the character would answer.
  5. Write a journal entry from the point of view of the main character. Try to talk through the thoughts of the individual during a tough time in the story.
  6. Take Notes while reading – focus notes on your chosen analysis topic.

Explore Personal Interest Topic:

  1. Journal on Topic of Choice- Follow any updates on a particular topic all summer long. Record your thoughts in your journal on each article read. Aim for 10 articles through out the summer. Conclude the journal with a final entry that reveals your conclusion from your summer study. *Bonus points if you interview people or find additional information and include a written response to each piece of information in your journal.* Some Areas of Study could include:
    • Science-
      • Biology
      • Chemistry
      • Physics
      • Math
      • National Politics
      • State Politics
      • Local Politics
      • Current Leaders in various industries
      • Health topics:
        • Prevention
        • Specific Diseases
        • Nutrition
        • Self-Care
      • Fitness:
        • Weight-Loss
        • Rehabilitation
        • Body Building
    • History
      • American
      • Any other country
      • of movements
      • leaders of movements
      • of states
      • of cultures and people
      • biographies of famous people and leaders or local heros
      • of national holidays
    • Literature
      • Current reading lists
      • Classic literature
      • Genre Based
      • Geography Based
    • Music
  2. Write a news article or a series of news articles about any topic of interest. (see list above.)
  3. Identify a specific company, event, industry, advancement to study. Identify all the top players and write short biographies on each and what their respective contribution to the industry.
  4. Find the slant – For a chosen, topic search out articles for it based on given philosophies and in an essay compare and contrast each article, pointing out the common facts used in each article and what isn’t common.
  5. Journal about a learning experience. Choose a fun, but educational place to go and make a date to visit. Prior to going decide what you want to learn about and pull online sources the destination offers about your given topic. By writing a pre-event, during event notes and post event reaction a learner will use writing to form a well rounded opinion and assessment of their learning experience.
  6. Assemble a YouTube Playlist of videos discussing your chosen topic. Produce a written response that includes a reflection on the theme your video collection, another writing that describes and defends each video selection on the playlist and another writing that provides a response to each video.

Writing for Change:

  1. Is there something happening in your neighborhood that has you concerned or upset? Or conversely, are you excited about a change or upcoming event? Take the time to write to your local government to let them know! You can write directly to the mayor of your town, or perhaps to a councilperson. Be sure to be respectful and present your thoughts in a concise and professional manner, even if you are upset.
  2. Is there something happening in your state that you want to express your opinion about? Write to your governor or your local senator. You can find out who your representatives are by going to Ballotpedia. Type in your address and find out who represents you and write to them this summer!
  3. What social issue leaves you shaken to the core? Learn about it and write about it! Either create an ebook or blog that focuses on bringing awareness to the worthy cause. Update the blog with posts relay interviews with the main actors of the movement as well as new people you were able to recruit for the cause.
  4. Volunteer to be a Soldier’s Angel. This service is a group of people that work to ensure that military members are engaging in communication with citizens back home. This service is a 3 month commitment, in which you are required to write one letter a month. Besides the time commitment, it appears to be a free service.
  5. Everyone has heard of pen-pals but have you heard of having a penpal in…prison? Its a real service. Writeaprisoner.com is a platform where people can find a prisoner with whom they can exchange correspondence. You can search prisoners to choose from based on their goals and interests as well as review the crime they are convicted of before committing to a pen-pal.

Culminating Projects:

  1. Develop the entirety of your project into a blog, website or e-book.
  2. Develop a portfolio -digital or hard copy.
  3. Submit final written thoughts/article to local publications in an attempt to get published.
  4. Develop a slide show and post on a blog or website.
  5. Use a blogging app to create a digital magazine showcasing everything you read and learned over the summer.

Comment below – are you excited and motivated to produce a piece of writing this summer? What project will you choose? Do you have an idea that isn’t listed here?

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Arts, Summer Writing, Writing Tips

Why You Should Expand Your Vocabulary

expand your vocabulary

Do you find yourself utilizing the same word repeatedly? Do you have a hard time expressing yourself clearly? Have you ever wanted to find a more direct way to speak or convey your thoughts to others? All of these happenings and thoughts could be clues that you desire to expand your vocabulary.

But these aren’t the only reasons people should actively work towards refining and expanding their language ability. In fact, they only scratch the surface in terms of reasons for anyone to actively seek to improve their communication skills and expand their vocabulary. From advancing your communication skills, to connecting to people, to having a deeper understanding of the world around you, there are practical and beneficial reasons for actively expanding your vocabulary.

Words Are Our Tools

“Words are instruments, they are tools that, in their different ways, are as effective as any sharp edge or violate chemical. They are, like coins, items of great value, but they represent a currency that, well spent, returns ever greater riches.”

Tim Radford, Address Book: Our Place in the Scheme of Things

Words (after individual letters) are the basic tools humans have for conveying our messages to each other. The words that we choose to use and the way we string them together make all the difference between a message being clearly received by the recipient, or not. The idea that words can be used as social tools is explored in the linked psychology paper.

Think about a time that you had to have a difficult conversation with someone – perhaps with a boss or a loved one that you were upset with but didn’t want to hurt. When it was your turn to speak, did you angrily say whatever words came to mind recklessly? Or were you careful, pausing before speaking to ensure your message was delivered gently? Believe it or not, even if on a subconscious level, you understood in these situations that your words were powerful and had the ability to either make or break the situation.

Salespeople are a group of people that are acutely aware of the power of words. They are trained, or some instinctively know, to stay away from words that sow doubt in the minds of their buyers and will tend to use words that breed positivity or make a buyer feel good about what they are buying.

In each of these instances, the respective speakers are aware of how their words can affect the outcome of the situations in which they are participating. Whether it is completing a sale or having a heart to heart with a loved one, or conducting a professional conversation at work, the words used during these conversations are important, and most people understand this – even if it isn’t something they actively think about.

Expanding your vocabulary to be able to use the precise word needed in any given situation can greatly increase your chances have having the situation work in your favor.

“Language is the key to the heart of people.”
― Ahmed Deedat

When working to connect with people, the words that we use can help bring those connections closer.

Perhaps you have heard the idiom, “you are speaking my language.” There is so much truth to that phrase and there are instances where knowing the vocabulary of the person with whom you are speaking will undoubtedly help you to connect with that person and ultimately achieve whatever objective you are seeking.

Perhaps it is simply to make new friends, court a significant other, complete a sale, or successfully deliver a persuasive message to different people, speaking the language of the people with whom you are trying to connect can lead to better results.

One of the best ways to “speak the language” of your audience is to learn the basis of their language – their vocabulary. So if that person is into music, social justice, manages a company or had a different point of view than you, you need find the way they speak or think, and cater your message to that way of thinking. That task will include needing to understand their vocabulary and the concepts to which they subscribe. But of course, their concepts might be explained using specialized jargon – jargon that you would need to know in order to connect with your audience.

If you want to connect with different people, for any reason, expanding your vocabulary to knowing and understanding theirs is the first best step.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

As the late, great Robin William’s character Mr. Kleinbaum so eloquently proclaimed in the above quote – using less advanced vocabulary is in some ways an act of laziness. Especially given the technological advances that have flourished since that inspirational film was released.

Finding the exact word needed to properly convey one’s thoughts is easier than ever now that the internet and Google have been invented. And when it comes to wording a message in the exact way needed to meet an objective, taking a few seconds, or minutes, to search the right word is the least that could be done to get the message right.

Sometimes, crafting a message, even in everyday discussion, can be a labor of love. Adequately preparing can reap rewards ten-fold.

Do your self a favor, take the advice of Mr. Kleinbaum, and use the appropriate advanced word to further your message. Take the time to expand your vocabulary and you can’t go wrong.

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
― Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

It can be argued that the more words you know, the more minutely concepts could be understood which ultimately results in a more robust knowledge base. Just like words are the basic building blocks of communication between humans, they are also the basic building blocks of our knowledge and our thoughts. The higher level verbiage we use translates into a higher level thoughts and thought processes. These higher level thought processes can lead to an expanded understanding.

One example that illustrates this point is the way most science text books are set up. At the beginning of every chapter is a list of vocabulary words that will be utilized during the chapter study. Understanding the meaning of those words and the context in which they are used will help a student to understand the material better.

While it is true that everyone has different learning strategies, I am hoping that I presented enough evidence here to support the idea that expanding your vocabulary is a beneficial activity that can help enhance your life in many ways. From creating or deepening personal relationships to achieving goals and having a deeper understanding about the world around you, expanding your vocabulary is the best first step anyone can take to increase their knowledge.

Do you agree? Do you think it is beneficial to expand your vocabulary? Why or why not?

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Arts, Learning Guides, Vocabulary Words

How to Participate in a Book Club

So you joined a book club, now what?

Perhaps a friend or coworker suggested a book club for you, or there is a book that you have wanted to read for a while and coincidentally an organization is running a book club with your book of choice, so you signed up.

But now the pressure is on. What is the best way to participate and contribute to the book club?

First and foremost, unless you have signed up for a particular duty related to the book club, your main goal for the book club should be your own personal enrichment. It is okay to be selfish with this! You want to get the most out of this book club for yourself. If you do this well, you will find that oddly, it could help others in the group.

What Tools Do You Need

  1. Time – This seems obvious, but be sure to give yourself time to read the book, but also enough time to digest what you read. I will detail this further later in this blog.
  2. Physical notebook or digital notebook – you want to use this tool to gather your thoughts about the reading piece.
  3. The book- you don’t necessarily need to purchase it. You can borrow from the library or a friend.

Get the Most Out of It

“To read without thinking is like eating without digesting.” –Edmund Burke

  1. If your book club provides guide questions, by all means use them! You want to read the guide questions before each chapter. Then, while reading try to find the answers to those questions. Doing this could prepare you for the discussion when the book club meets.
  2. When you are reading, if there is something that really moves you, take a moment to write about it in your physical or digital notebook. Perhaps it is a line that makes you think deeply; or it resonates with something that happened in your own life. Either way, when what you are reading evokes a strong emotion in you, take the time to explore that emotion and write about it. You should notate the particular quote that had an effect on you, along with the page number. The write your thoughts. Some writing prompts for that activity are as follows:
    • This quote made me (angry, sad, happy, nostalgic, etc.) because……
    • This quote reminded me of a time when x happened to me……
    • This saying reminded me of my (friend, family member, loved one, etc.)
    • This quote reminded me of a scene in another book I read. Compare the two.
  3. Write down any questions you have. Maybe something that a character does makes no sense to you. Write a question about it. Maybe you question why the author made a particular choice? Write that question down and bring it to the discussion. You never know, someone else in the group may have the same questions.
  4. Summarize each chapter when its done. If you take no other notes, a great way to take organized notes is to simply summarize each chapter once complete. Doing so can help you navigate through the book quickly while discussing.

What if you Didn’t Read the Book?

Don’t panic. It’s okay – it happens sometimes. Still attend the meeting. If you are put on the spot, just be honest. But listen to what other people have to say about the book. Even though you didn’t read it, listening to other people’s insight can still help you have an understanding of the themes and lessons learned through the story or narrative. And perhaps it will motivate you to read the book. 🙂

I hope that this covers the basics of participating in a book club. If you have any questions or need some further advise, feel free to comment below.

Happy Reading!

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Arts, Reading

How to Overcome Reading Challenges

One of the biggest challenges I have heard people express about reading is being able to stay focused to complete the paragraph, page, chapter or – the entire book. Even if it is a book or article that covers a topic that readers have an interest in, they still can’t seem to find a way to stay focused.

If this describes your reading experience, don’t worry – you are not alone.

The good news is there are several strategies you can utilize to break through this reading setback.

  1. Set your reading environment. If reading is truly a challenge for you, take the extra step of making your reading time and environment conducive to your goal. Sit somewhere that is comfortable and quiet. Make sure the electronics are off or set on silent. Perhaps you could put some peaceful instrumental music on low volume for background noise, if you feel it won’t be a distraction for you. Have any beverages such as coffee, tea, water – or wine if you are of age, and your snack of choice within arms reach to limit any need to get up in the middle of your reading session.
  2. Set your reading intention– Before you start reading, close your eyes, breath deeply for a few breaths. Tell yourself, either in your mind or out loud, “I will read 10 pages today,” or whatever the goal is for the reading session. Say it at least three times. Open your eyes and get to work.
  3. Use your finger to guide your eyes. This may seem like a juvenile method, but it really works well. Sometimes our eyes are lazy. It is so easy for them to wonder to any little distraction that makes its way into your reading environment. By using your finger as your guide, you are forcing yourself to stay focused on each word as your finger passes it. If you are new to reading, do this exercise for short time. For example, perhaps just have the goal to do this with three sentences at a time. Then work your way up to a paragraph at a time. Then two paragraphs and so on until you feel comfortable with it.
  4. Use guide questions – Now that we have found a way to keep our eyes from wandering, we have to find a way to keep our mind focused. Guide questions are a great way to do that. Generally you want to read guide questions before you start reading. The goal is to find the answers to the guide questions while reading. In this way, you are giving your brain a job to do. Reading then becomes a way to find specific information, rather than an activity of deciphering what feels like random information.
  5. Creating questions– If guide questions are unavailable, create your own questions. This can be done by turning chapter heading and subheadings into questions. Then dedicate your reading time to finding answers those questions. Additionally, you can use the 5W questions (who, what, where, when and why) plus how, to create questions for yourself before you begin each and every reading segment. When you take this route, sometimes you will find the answer and sometimes you wont, but either way, it gives your mind a job to do while reading, which can make it easier to focus.

If you aren’t a fluent reader, getting into reading may take some intention and work. However, once you overcome those challenges, reading can be rewarding. Being able to learn on your own time is empowering as is using your brain to complete all the complex processes involved in learning new information through reading.

I do hope these tips work for you! Feel free to comment your experience below.

Leave a comment

Filed under Language Arts, Reading

Happy Black History Month!

Happy Black History Month!

Happy Black History Month, everyone! With this February being a leap year, we get one extra day to enjoy great novels, poems, plays and essays written by authors such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and Frederick Douglas, Barack Obama, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Angie Thomas, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Christopher Priest and many, many more. I am very excited!

This February, commit to celebrating Black History Month! Take time to read a book, poetry, essay of a new Black author – or your favorite author. Below you will find a list of books, websites, plays and events happening in February 2020. In honor of Black History Month, I have gathered some resources and compiled the below list describing how you can celebrate Black History Month:

  1. Read!! – Read as much as you can. All different genres – both fiction and non fiction. Below are Booklists to get you started.

2. Write about what you read! Whether you write a full essay in your journal or on your blog, post about it on facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, or text a friend or participate in an online group – react to what you read.

The response should explain how the particular writing changed your perspective or made you feel. Or you can compare what you read to a similar experience yours. There are no real parameters or requirements for the response. Just your personal reaction to what you read, in what ever form that takes.

3. Go to one of these events:

4. Tell a friend!! The works of literary art and historical documentation are important for everyone to read, understand and appreciate!

So how are you celebrating Black History Month? Learning w/ Leigh is offering a book club for children entitled African American Heroes. I hope to see you there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Favorite Reads, Reading

News Literacy Skill Building

As with any learning goal, working towards becoming news literate is a self-propelled process that takes commitment and vigilance.  Plotting out a strategy or to-do list can be a helpful guide to move through the layers of understanding.

Before you embark on this journey, however, understand that becoming news literate isn’t a simple skill that can be applied absent mindedly, like learning how to ride a bike or make a grilled cheese sandwich. Going though the process of becoming news literate will involve first facing the fact that, most likely, there will be a process of unlearning. Given how polarized Americans are, there is a good chance that some of the beliefs you espouse are biased.  And that is okay. We all have been influenced in one way or the other over the last decade or so. Just know that while working to be news literate, you may have to face your own bias. Be ready.

Now that you know what you are going to face, how do you create a learning strategy to master news literacy? Well to start off, you need to know where you are to understand where you have to go. The first step would be to assess your current level of news literacy.

STEP 1: What is my current news literacy skill level?

When it comes to learning anything new, any teacher, tutor or coach will want to assess a new student’s baseline. They have to understand where the student’s current skill level lies in order to come up with a learning strategy.  You will have to do this for yourself. Luckily,  there is a neat online tool to test your current news literacy level. Take this quiz prepared by The News Literacy Project. It is a 12 question quiz that focuses on what reports and photo journalists are allowed to do, their sources, how to spot ads and other aspects of understanding digital information. Once you have your results the quiz will help you identify in what areas of interpreting digital information you can use assistance.

STEP 2: Where can I obtain more information?

Now that you understand where you are, it will be easier for you to know in which direction your self study needs to go. The good news is, many universities and non partisan organizations are working to fight fake and biased news and provide a plethora of information to review. Some of those organizations are outlined in a previous blog post Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News.  For the most part, each source provides steps to take when confronted with a information that seems outrageous or questionable.

The site on which you took the original news literacy quiz is another great resource: newslit.org.  They have great articles, other quizzes, news and statistics for those learning news literacy skills.  Also, be sure to sign up for their news letter, The Sift for current examples of fake, biased or misinformation. The news letter is a great way to stay up to date on the latest falsehoods sweeping the nation.

STEP 3: Classes

If you have come this far in your journey, and still want to continue, taking a class may be a good idea for you.  Coursera.org offers a course that is developed and taught by professors from State University of New York and the University of Hong Kong.  This is a 13 hour, six week course that dives into such topics as “Where can we find trustworthy information?” and “How to apply news literacy concepts in real life?”

The course can be found here: https://www.coursera.org/learn/news-literacy

You are able to either audit the course for free, or pay for the course in order to earn the certificate, and have your assignments graded by professors, etc.

Some other online learning options include the linked resources below:

Journalism School

Digital Resource Center

STEP 4: Apply

Now that you have gathered all the tools and knowledge available at this time, it is time to apply what you have learned.  To be accurate, application should be attempted after each news literacy lesson. Seek and Find.

This, quite frankly, can be the exhausting part at first until it becomes second nature. However, if you are committed to training your brain to strain the opinions, falsehoods and bias from the information you consume, it is necessary.

Leave a comment

Filed under News Literacy, Reading, Summer Reading Reading Guides

Basic News Literacy to Combat Fake News

The phrase “fake news” has entered American lingo with the same force as the person who proliferated it took over the Republican party in 2016. Google Trends shows that the term had an exaggerated spike in search frequency starting in October 2016 with the peak of the search term occurring in February 2017. While the frequency has never reached the climax it did in February 2017, the search frequency is still significantly more elevated since 45 began his campaign for the presidency than anytime before that.

The increased search frequency of fake news online appears to play out in reality as well. It seems that when people of different ideologies have a disagreement, evidence presented by one party will be called “fake news” by the disagreeing party.  Or more commonly, people will label statements as “fake news” if they personally don’t agree with the statement, regardless of the facts surrounding what was said.

The phrase has been referred to as a phenomenon. It has been studied by MIT, the results of which were published in Science magazine and reported in The Atlantic. It has prompted leading universities such as Penn State, University of Michigan, University of California – Santa Barbara and even Harvard University to either post an article or dedicate several pages of their websites to defining, understanding and, basically, fighting against the spread of fake news. Even news distributors such as Huff Post and Fox News have either dedicated pages or aired segments of their website to “Fake News.”

What impact does this have on society? The proliferation of the dissemination of false and misleading information begets the requirement of being news literate. Being able to discern between biased and flagrantly incorrect data is the key to accurately understanding the world around us and the events that take place within it. The following steps will help begin the journey towards news literacy.

    • The first step is to understand what defines fake news. The University of Michigan provides a thorough definition. Essentially, its complicated and the linked guide categorizes 7 types of misinformation. Review the characteristics of each type and actively look to find them in your online travels.
    • Get your emotions in check. Remember that articles are purposefully crafted to evoke an emotional response to throw off the reader’s logical thinking. Many times, the inflammatory title has little to do with the story. Let your emotions flair, then let them go and look for the facts.
    • Ask questions! Almost any credible fake news guide available will undoubtedly advise to ask questions. This fake news guide from Harvard University provides some excellent questions to start asking when reading online content.
    • Seek independent unbiased news sources. Tall order. I know. But there are some out there:
      • First and foremost is the trusted C-SPAN.  It broadcasts live from the floors of Congress.  A great activity is to actually watch what happens in government and C-SPAN and then watch how the media reports on it.
      • Another independent news source, though it focuses on news local to NJ, is NJ Spotlight. This news service provides daily coverage of events in Trenton in a way that doesn’t focus on the partisan aspect of politics, but instead the facts. Very refreshing. They also host round tables and panels with local officials and moderate political debates.
      • NPR can be trusted for producing high quality content. They are an independent and non profit media company that provides written articles, radio programs, podcasts and live events.
      • Reuters proclaims on its about page to operate on the principals of independence, integrity and freedom of bias. This is an excellent source to search a particular topic after reading an inflammatory article.
    • Sometimes, not sharing is caring. One basic rule of thumb, which we have all broken at least once or twice in our lives, is do not share anything out of outrage or anger.  It’s okay to be outraged; its okay to feel anger. However, as mentioned previously, some articles are designed to make you angry. Its important to do due diligence prior to sharing the possible fake news content.

Being prepared to deal with the onslaught of content, information and opinions people face each day requires a skill that can be easily acquired if one gives a concerted effort. Try to consciously practice one technique at a time until it becomes second nature.

Leave a comment

Filed under News Literacy