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.

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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.

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Filed under News Literacy, Reading, Summer Reading Reading Guides

Meet the Holistic Health and Life Coach

This week, I had the opportunity to talk to Alexandra Marrero, Holistic Health and Life Coach. Alexandra has spent the last several years on a journey to understanding the mind, body, soul connection and sharing what she has learned with the clients of her wellness business Restorative Health and Wellness.

Her journey started with physical fitness. Working to make herself feel better after the weight gain that customarily comes after pregnancy and childbirth. During the process of reaching her physical goals, she realized there was much more to learn with regard to feeling the best one possibly can. Physical fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. Caring for your mind and soul is also important to feeling great and achieving optimal performance in anything you do. Below, Alexandra explains ways to work towards achieving a mind, body, soul connection.

How do you define “holistic health and life coach? A holistic health and life coach is someone who focuses on all aspects of the body and the mind instead of just focusing on the symptoms that the client is experiencing.

Do you find that people have a misconception about what you do and if so, what is that? Set the record straight!
The biggest misconception people have is equating “holistic” to “new age.” It’s not new. Holistic and alternative care has been performed for hundreds even thousands of years. People also think that because I don’t use toxic or synthetic medicine, that what I do doesn’t work or isn’t real. My goal with my clients is always to add what is missing from their life. If something is wrong, it means the body isn’t balanced. I always ask, “what form of nourishment is missing, how can we create balance?”

How did you first learn about this field? What motivated you to engage in this type of work? Learning about this field, and getting to the point that I am now, was a nine year journey and counting. It started shortly after the birth of my second son. I was depressed, overweight and in a bad place. I knew I needed to make a change. I simply could not continue living life the way I did. I hated myself for my faults. I had underlying issues stemming from watching my father not take care of himself; and ingest medicines that never fully made him better. I understood when I became older that I didn’t want to live life this way. I wasn’t sure how to escape my depression and bad feelings. I started focusing on myself physically. I went to the gym and began losing weight and weightlifting. I began to feel GREAT! I replaced my old bad habits with my new hobby – working out. Eventually I progressed to understand and apply proper holistic, nutrition and lifestyle changes to my life. Feeling better lead me to understanding my mind better. I started to know myself more and what I needed to feel balanced, Finally, I worked my way into energy work, working on my soul and total balance and alignment. It became a lifestyle for me; and I love to share it with people. 

Generally speaking, when dealing with new clients, where do you find the most deficiencies with regard to their holistic self care?
Generally speaking, most people that I come across have mind/body connection deficiencies. Even though in this day and age more people are the most conscience about mindfulness than in the past, there is still the biggest deficiency between mind/body connection. Examples of this include running oneself ragged; allowing the mind to run on overdrive leaving the body feeling exhausted and helpless and not understanding why they feel  the way they do. It is important for people to stop and listen to their mental and physical cues and respond accordingly.

What are your go-to techniques to assist your clients with rectifying these deficiencies?
The basic techniques that I regularly suggest first to reestablish the mind body connection are to meditate and journal. Just like we wash the body on a regular basis we need to wash the mind. Journaling is also a great way to obtain mental clarity. The key to journaling is to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself straight forward questions and allow yourself honest answers. Journal long enough to get your ego to step aside and allow yourself to express vulnerable feelings. Getting your troubles written on paper allows you to do it in a safe way so you don’t feel like you are spreading negativity if you were sharing your troubles with a friend. 

How can people better understand the mind, body and soul intersection?
Everything is connected. For example, if we’re not honoring our true self, or our soul, and our needs it will lower our vibration. This will affect the mind causing us to make poor decisions, and therefore the body will feel drained and can experience physical symptoms. It is a cycle.
If someone wanted to learn, on a basic level, how these three intersect, I would suggest reviewing Paul Chek’s work. He explains this concept in layman’s terms so that someone new to this doesn’t feel overwhelmed or like they have traversed into “new age” territory.

From your perspective, what are the biggest issues individuals have with mind health?  (Is this different from the term, “mental health?”)
People may prefer the term “mind health” because they don’t want to confront the stigma associated with the term “mental health,” but ultimately the biggest issues people have, that I have come across is anxiety and depression.

When it comes to caring for one’s mind, what are the top activities to maintain its wellness? 
1. Focused Breathing 2. High Vibration Food 3. Meditation and 4. CBD.

What issues will people suffer from when soul health is neglected?
Someone who neglects to take care of their soul health will suffer a domino effect of symptoms. They will vary individual to individual. They can have physical, mental and emotional symptoms. 

What wellness techniques can one implement to improve soul health?
People can meditate, set boundaries, understand their limits and honor them. Honor their wants and needs.

In what way do people neglect to take care of their soul? Out of the three areas you focus on, body is the one in which, I believe, most people think they know how to take care of. What do you find is the biggest misconception most people have about taking care of their body? “I can eat whatever I want as long as I work out.” If you put trash in your body, you will still suffer negative effects – even if you workout. You can’t out work a bad diet. 

What is your approach to finding out a new client’s actual needs vs. what they think they need?
Asking a series of questions that focus on mind, body and soul. Tap into their energy and perform energy work.

Which service of yours is most popular among your clients? Card Readings and energy work.

Is there any message you would like to give readers that the above questions don’t address? Self care is not selfish – this especially goes out to the moms and parents out there. Self care is one of the highest forms of self love. When we practice self care it allows us to be a better version of ourselves that we share with everyone! 

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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.

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Meet the Author/Motivational Speaker

Some links below may be affiliate links which means that if you buy an item through a link you click on this page, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

This week, I had the pleasure and privilege to speak with self-published author, motivational speaker and philanthropist Edison Jaquez via email.   We discussed his upcoming book, Turning a Mess into a Message (release date: July 15, 2018), what motivates him to give back and in what direction will he take his next steps.

Leigh: So, this is your second book, how does this second accomplishment make you feel?

Edison: First of all I want to say thank you for interviewing me and for all the great work you’re doing. It still hasn’t hit me like I know it will but I feel blessed and like I’m living in my purpose with this second book.

Leigh: You are very welcome! Thank you! What would you say was your motivation to write the book?

Edison: The motivation behind writing this book came from the love I have for helping others find their purpose in life and teaching them to never give up on their dreams no matter what obstacles life throws at you.

Leigh: So would you say your purpose is helping others find their purpose, especially through adversity?

Edison: Yes, I believe I was allowed to face different challenges in life so that I would be able to identify with others and encourage them along their journey.

Leigh: Who do you hope this book reaches?

Edison: I hope it reaches everyone from all different races, gender, backgrounds etc.

Leigh: I think it has the potential to; it seems the purpose is to motivate anyone, whether one with serious legal problems, or one who simply needs help getting back up after rejection to not give up. Great topic! In what way do you hope to inspire your readers?

Edison: By sharing my struggles and success in this book, I hope it inspires people to go after their dreams and never give up!  I hope to be the motivation my readers need to take their life to the next level.

Leigh: The book’s title is “Turning a Mess into a Message,” what would you say is the main difference between the Edison then, that was a “mess,” and the Edison now that brings a positive Message to people?

Edison: This is a great question! I would say the Edison then would always try to please everyone and didn’t fully believe in himself. Pride often got the best of me until I learned to humble myself. The Edison now puts God first, continues to build self confidence and understands nothing happens overnight.

Leigh: So you have gained the confidence to keep going no matter what and trust your decisions? That is pretty powerful! Congrats! Who would you say helped you the most with your transformation to an inspirational figure?

Edison: Of course God 1st, second my family- my wife Jennifer, my kids Armani and Jacob, my mentors and friends.

Leigh: That’s great! It reminds me of the phrase, “It takes a village….”  While reflecting on your past to write this book, were there any lessons learned that perhaps escaped you while you were living through the situations discussed in the book?

Edison: Yes, there were many lessons. I wish I took the advice of those who saw the best in me and made better choices.

Leigh: Did you ever imagine when you were younger that you would be the author of two books? How do these accomplishments make you feel, looking back?

Edison: I never imagined being the influential person I am now. If you would have asked me back in the day I would have said, “No, not me”. These accomplishments make me feel like I’m doing the right thing for the younger generation to follow, especially my kids. It also makes me feel good that I can be an inspiration to the older generation.

Leigh: Did you find the writing process to be cathartic? Would you recommend writing to anyone going through a tough time?

Edison: Yes, I actually did. What I would say to anyone who desires to write a book is that it’s important to be honest with themselves before they decide to share their story with the world.
Leigh: Sometimes being honest with yourself can be the hardest. If you had the power to change your past, is there anything that you would change? Why or why not?

Edison: Honestly, I wouldn’t be the man I am today had it not been for my past but if I could change one thing I would say the pain and heartache I caused on my family.  

Leigh: Great answer! Sometimes adversity can be a good thing, in hindsight, of course. Now that the book is complete, what are your final thoughts?

Edison: I’m truly blessed and humbled by the outcome of this project. I truly feel this is by far my best work.

Leigh: That is great! And to think there is so much more to come. Speaking of which, what are your next steps as an author and motivational speaker/inspiration?

Edison: I’m working on my 3rd book which will be a children’s book that I’m very excited about.

Leigh: That is great news! You are turning into a serial author! You certainly don’t waste time!  Do you have any final thoughts you want to share?

Edison: I would say to everyone reading this interview to always believe in yourself and never never give up on your dreams!! Thank you.

Leigh: Thank you for spreading positivity  and thank you for your time today.
Clearly the goal of the book, and Edison’s work, is to motivate people to live their best self and to not give up on their dreams. He truly wants his readers and followers to learn life lessons from the mistakes that he made to save those people from the heartache. I hope this book reaches whomever needs it.

If you need a pick-me-up, or would like to learn how someone turned their life around from unthinkable circumstances to sky-high success, pickup Turn a Mess into a Message by Edison Jaquez. Continue reading

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“Who Decides the News?” and Why it is Important for Readers to Understand This

Tragic news about the site moderator.

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Meet The College Professor/ Poet/ Youth Motivator Dr. Daniel Jean

Dr. Daniel Jean

When I first asked Dr. Jean if I can interview him for my blog, I asked because, after reading the timely lyrics he posts to his Facebook page, I thought someone who uses words so powerfully and beautifully should be featured on a literacy blog.  While I wanted to highlight Dr. Jean’s literacy genesis, his talents as a poet, and as someone who promotes literacy, I discovered someone with a much more powerful message than simply, “read 20 minutes a day.”
Dr. Jean not only promotes the belief that words travel, as evidenced by the organization he founded Wordstravel, but he has experienced this belief as he has traveled around the country performing his poetry.  Most interestingly, his words have traveled all the way to Ghana, where the Ghana Knowledge Tree Leadership Academy is building a library and naming it “The Wordstravel Library” after Dr. Jean’s movement.  Finally, through Dr. Jean, I am not only providing you a profile of a successful literary professional to look up to, but also a resource.  See his response when I asked him what advice he has for struggling readers.
Please take the time to read how Dr. Daniel Jean got his literacy start and what steps you can take to become an engaged reader and writer who positively impacts the world around you:
LWL: Who introduced you to reading?
DJ: I was introduced to reading by my older siblings who would read everything from books to cereal box labels. While I didn’t read with them, I saw them reading and perceived the value.
LWL: When did you start to like to read independently?
DJ: I struggled with reading comprehension until my eighth grade teacher Mrs. Richardson worked with me to focus better, underline key concepts and learn how to make the words come to life!
LWL: Did you prefer fiction or non fiction?
DJ: I prefer to read non fiction.
LWL: What were your favorite stories?
DJ: My favorite stories are true stories of individuals overcoming adversity. Soul on Ice and the autobiography of Malcolm X. Both stories highlighted how injustices and hatred can be overcome.
LWL: Who were your favorite authors?
DJ: I have so many. Edwidge Danticat is on of my favs and many of her stories are about my Haiti, my birthplace.
LWL: Where would you go to read?
DJ: I need to read in a quiet space.
LWL: Did you go to the library a lot?
DJ: They had a mobile library called the “Book Mobile” that would share books. I also frequent the library.
LWL: Did you have a lot of friends that you liked to read with?
DJ: I’ve never read with others.
LWL: Was reading something that was promoted in your community?
DJ: Reading was promoted by my community [which I define as my siblings and a few key teachers] but I met teachers who emphasized the importance of reading.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to read on your own, outside of school assignments?
DJ: I enjoyed reading and began writing poetry at a very early age. I have authored  a play entitled “Til Death Do Us Part?” and an anthology titled, “Wordstravel”.
LWL: Who introduced you to writing?
DJ: My Siblings.
LWL:  When did you start writing?
DJ: I have written poetry since my pre-teen years. My entire movement is based on the power of the word.
LWL: How did you use writing as a tool? (Diary, write stories, etc.)
DJ: I wrote poems for all occasions, parties, female friends, to address an injustice. I live by Ephesians 4:29 [ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Biblegateway.com]
LWL: Where did you used to go to write when you were a kid?
DJ: I would write anywhere and on anything.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to write on your own, outside of school assignments? Where do you go to write now?
DJ: I write to empower and express myself. I like to write on my apple products now (laughs)
LWL: What other ways do you express yourself artistically?
DJ: I make music, perform poetry, and utilize it all during my interactive empowerment. Swagger Seminars.
LWL: How, do you think, your passion for reading and writing impacted where you are today?
DJ: Effective communication is the key to personal and professional success. Reading and writing are essential to communication.
LWL: What advice would you have for a reluctant reader?
DJ: I would encourage them to read things they enjoy….also if they struggle with reading comprehension to contact me at wordstravel.org for assistance and encouragement.
LWL: What advice do you have for a struggling writer?
DJ: Wordstravel…..
LWL: How would you respond to the statement: “Books are a stupid waste of time, and so is writing about what you read in books.”
 DJ: I would love to meet the person who said that to help them fall in love with reading/writing like I have!
As you can see, Dr. Jean isn’t your ordinary literacy advocate.  He has given us his literary story, offered help for those who need it, recommended a Haitian author to look into, made a clear correlation as to why reading and writing is important and, in not so many words, showed that reading about over-coming injustice and hatred is the first step to over-coming injustice and hatred.  If you want to learn more about Dr. Jean, please visit his website www.wordstravel.org.

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Meet the Author: Novelist Armani Williams

Author Mr. Armani Williams

Recently, I was able to speak to the successful, self-published author Mr. Armani Williams, via telephone, about all things literacy.  This young, black, up-and-coming artist, who hails from East Orange, NJ, expounded on the genesis of his literacy, what books he enjoyed through his life and gave me, as only someone who loves to read can do, spontaneous text-to-self connections!  Most importantly, he explains how his love of literacy took him to where he is today and gives advice to children who may be struggling with reading and writing.
LWL: Who introduced you to reading?
AW: My mother! She was very adamant about my sister and I learning to read.  Besides being read to by my mother and, sometimes sister, frequently, books were just always a fixture in our home.  My older sister, who is six years older, had a lot of books that were eventually handed down to me. Books were always in the house and a part of my life.
LWL: Where did you go to read?
AW: My mom took us to the library every two weeks- no questions asked. She made sure we read all the books before we had to return them. I actually have a funny story about that.  There was this one book from the library that I eventually turned in -although past the due date.  I absolutely loved Sesame Street as a child and there was this story called Follow That Bird.  It was a movie and a book. It was a story about Big Bird having to leave Sesame Street to live with other birds. Well one day I took the book home and I loved it so much, that I didn’t return the book until SEVEN years later.  I dropped the book in the drop box to have some level of anonymity.
LWL: Wow.  You seem to have really connected with the story.  Maybe you were looking for other birds like yourself at that age? Did you have any other favorite stories?
AW: Yes.  I was happy to find books and read stories that had little black kids in it.  There is one story, One Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  My mom liked reading it to me and I liked reading it too.  Sometimes I think I may have related to the book because there is a little black boy in the story with a red snow suit on and, at the time, I had a red snow suit so sometimes I think I saw myself in the book.  I think my mom made that connection too.  I also discovered, Ms. Nelson is Missing by Harry Alard in the first grade.  I enjoyed the story of the book, but I also lived through that scenario in third grade.
In third grade I had a teacher named Ms. Scott.  She was a very nice woman and no one in my class was mean to her.  It was just that as a young gifted-and-talented group, we would talk a lot.  Usually about our work, but we couldn’t control our talking.  It turned out that Ms. Scott had gotten sick.  At first it started off with her taking a few days off, but by March Ms. Scott was on temporary leave and I got a new teacher.  My own personal Ms. Viola Swamp, except her name was Ms. Raikes.  Ms. Raikes was a very mean sub.  She would yell sometimes.  But as an older black lady, she just had a way of shutting down class conversations with the snap of a finger.  It wasn’t just that she was strict, she was old and crotchety too.  She gave a lot of homework and classwork to ensure there was no time for joking, laughing or talking.  There was no bonding with Ms. Swamp, I am sorry, I mean Ms. Raikes.  She was just mean as hell the whole time and I can not recall one positive memory with her in the four months she was my teacher.  In fact, Ms. Raikes’ name came up in a Facebook chat recently with friends and even though it is years later, I mean these people are already graduated from college, my friends still got the chills at the sound of her name.
LWL: Did you have friends you would read with?
AW: Not really. Boys were more playing Mortal Combat or X-Men than reading.  I remember one time, my Dad bought me a guidebook for Sega Genesis that had all the cheat codes in it.  That day I was surrounded by the boys all stretching their necks to see the cheat codes.  I felt really popular that day!
LWL: Who introduced you to writing?
AW: At 10 years old I took a class at the Newark Community School of the Arts. The man teaching the class was a college professor. He announced that we weren’t going to act, but write plays.  My initial thought was I didn’t know how to write never mind  how to write a whole play. The idea was so far fetched for me at the time. That night I went home and thought of a concept of a woman who was married and pregnant with a drug problem and wanted to get off drugs to be a good mom.  I have no idea where I got this idea, or why at 10 years old I was thinking about these things, but that night I wrote my first play.  It was then that I realized I was a writer.  From that point I just wrote more pieces. My professor’s name was Professor Stuart, but I haven’t seen him since 1995, when I took the class.  He doesn’t know it, but I dedicated my first book to him.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to read on your own, outside of school assignments?
AW: I just enjoyed it. I liked reading about complexities of life. I came from a household of celebrating being black. We read about up-slinging African-American people, college educated people with careers.
LWL: How did you use writing as a tool? (Diary, write stories, etc.)
AW: I enjoyed the art of story telling. I wrote poems that told stories that expressed feelings. I liked to tell stories of the human condition and about  people dealing with life as it happens to us all.
LWL: How, do you think, your passion for reading and writing impacted where you are today?
AW: Discovering reading and writing made me realize I was put on this earth to be a writer!
LWL: What advice would you have for a reluctant reader?
AW: Just try it and find something you enjoy. If you don’t know what to read, ask somebody; specifically your school or town librarian, they seem to know everything.
LWL: What advice do you have for a struggling writer?
AW: Never rush the creative process, it will come when it comes.  Read other things in the mean time!! When I sat down to write a book, I wrote it better because I read something else prior to writing. Not that I stole ideas, it just inspires you to create.  People write from their experience, including what they read.  By exposing yourself to more written work, you are giving yourself more experiences to think about before writing.
LWL: How would you respond to the statement: “Books are a stupid waste of time, and so is writing about what you read in books.”
AW: Everyone’s got opinions. I would never tell someone they were wrong, I just hope that they would change their mind.

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Better Your Writing: Step 3 Map out the Topic – Outline

So, for the past couple weeks you have been writing to your heart’s content and at the same time exponentially increasing your terminology for everything in your environment.  Awesome!  I am sure you have strung together sentences with words you never imagined you can join. And I hope you continue to let that writing fire burn.

However, now it is time to switch gears from using the creative right side of your brain to the more logical left side of your brain– but don’t worry, your creative self will still need to make an appearance every now and again.

The first action you want to take is to look through your journal and decide which entry inspires you the most, or fills you with passion, rage, bewilderment, etc.  The more emotion you feel, the more likely you will have something to say.  Now try to peer at your page with more “logical” eyes and answer the following question.  What is this entry about?  What do I want to say about this topic?  Did I already give examples for my point in my journal?  Are there more examples I want to add? Who will care about this? What is the purpose of this writing? (Do you want to give your opinion, educate or persuade the audience?)

After answering these questions, you should have enough information to quickly plan the basic information that will be included in your introduction paragraph, and body paragraphs (one body paragraph for each example provided).  To quickly plan your your basic information, create a graphic organizer:

On the top of one page draw a large rectangle and label it, “Introduction”.   Inside the rectangle, write what your topic is and why it is important or what your call to action, argument or opinion is.

In the middle of your paper, draw a second large rectangle and label it, “Body Paragraphs”.   Number each piece of evidence you have as you list it in the body paragraphs box.  Each piece of evidence will be the focus of that body paragraph.

The purpose of this is to simply serve as a road map while you are writing your paper. You may still need to do more research to find the answers you need to make your argument compelling.  Once all of this information is collected you can begin fully drafting.  In the meantime, you can use your graphic organizer as a guide for what research needs to be done.

Good Luck!!

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Better Your Writing: Step 2 Build Your Vocabulary

What makes for effective writing is the combination of a well thought out point with an attention-grabbing delivery.  Sentence variety plays a major role in that and one of the many ways to create a variety of sentences is to include a broad sampling of vocabulary.  The best way to obtain the knowledge of a broad sampling of vocabulary is to make a conscience effort to learn and incorporate new words into your daily speech.  There are several strategies to go about accomplishing this:

  1. Start with what you know.   Find synonyms to replace words you already use on a daily basis.  To do this for free, simply go to thesaurus.com and search for words you use regularly. For example, I looked up the word “argue” and found this list: http://thesaurus.com/browse/argue   Now instead of saying, “Kids, don’t argue with each other.” I am going to say , “Kids don’t contend with each other.”   I feel smarter already.  For those with a little to “invest” in vocabulary expansion, there is software available and rated on toptenreviews.com: http://vocabulary-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ultimate-vocabulary-review.html
  2. Be proactive when you don’t understand. When you are reading or listening to something new and you see or hear a word you don’t understand, be sure to make a note of it in your journal or reading log.  Before looking up the word, try to figure out what the word is referring to in the way it is used in the sentence.  Once you have meditated on the possible meaning, look it up and compare how close or far off you were from figuring it out.
  3. Compare word meanings. Sometimes the same word can be used to mean different things.  Familiarize yourself with all of the definitions of a particular word and be sure to use them in speech or writing.

All of this may seem very time consuming, but the truth of the matter is activities like this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes a day and should be incorporated into any time you set aside for yourself to read and write.

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