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About this blog: I am a language arts teacher at Crittenden Middle School and the facilitator of the CMS Panther Pen blog. I grew up in the Bay Area and I love it here. I went to school in Santa Clara, and studied literature and political science ...  (More)

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Challenge from CMS: What has reading taught you?

Uploaded: Sep 5, 2014
"If you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything."

This is one of my favorite quotes about the importance of reading by Tomie dePaola, and I grew up believing that it was true. It's probably one of the reasons that I was drawn to study literature in college, and why I teach English Language Arts now.

As a young girl I remember going to Kragen Auto Parts with my mom to pick up a book on Camaro carburetors, along with an assortment of unfathomable doodads and thingys. That weekend, head bent over the book, parts strewn across the dining table, she rebuilt the whole thing, put it back in her pretty powder blue car, and took my sister and I to school Monday morning. A book taught her how to do that. Because she could read, she could fix her car. My mommy was amazing! I became even more convinced that, apart from the princesses, dragons, and magic wardrobes that lived on my bookshelves, other books held magic that I couldn't even conceive of.

When I shared the dePaola quote with my students a few days ago, and told them that if they can read well, they can teach themselves anything, I was challenged: Why would people learn anything these days by reading? Isn't a Youtube video easier?

So I need your help: What have you taught yourself to do by reading?

We'll be following along, and hopefully be inspired to find new ideas to open our minds.

Thanks! Ms. J
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Comments

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Posted by Jim Neal, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Sep 7, 2014 at 8:50 pm

When I was in the third grade, I read my first book without pictures, "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov. It was amazing and opened my mind to limitless possibilities of what could be achieved in the future. I decided at that point that I wanted to build robots when I grew up. However, as I got to my teen years, robots were still things that you saw in sci-fi movies and there were no practical experiments to build the humaniform robots that Asimov wrote about so I decided to learn about the next best thing, computers!

I started my computer classes in my senior year of high school and have been working with them ever since. I have seen them develop from large, very heavy systems to the lightweight handheld systems in use today.

A few years ago, my wife brought a Harry Potter book from Italy with her when she moved here to the United States. She knew that I was a huge Harry Potter fan and her version was in Italian. Being thoroughly familiar with the English versions, I started trying to read it. It was very difficult at first and I could only understand about one word in twenty. So I read it over and over again on my two hour commute each way to Berkeley and found that I could understand more every time. I read it almost 100 times and now understand about 98% of the words! I can now read and write Italian fairly well, and my spoken Italian has also greatly improved because reading it helped me to understand the syntax and rules.

I hope that reading my comments inspires others to read more. There really is no limit to what you can learn and what it will lead you to.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Sep 8, 2014 at 7:42 am

More than anything else, reading teaches writing. You can't be a good writer unless you are well read.

Books are good for communicating information about relatively passive or mostly mental topics (like history, computer programming, philosophy), not as good for physical activity (how to swing a golf club, how to filet a fish, how to play the violin, how to dance).

You can read tons of books and learn lots about history or rules, but they aren't going to help you hit a home run off a Sergio Romo slider, serve an ace to Serena Williams or play a Bach prelude like Murray Perahia. Same with almost any other physical activity, books must be augmented by actual activity and practice often mentored or coached by someone with experience. That's the whole concept of coaching.

Reading the DMV driver's handbook or the California Vehicle Code may make you a better traffic judge, but you can't learn how to drive just from reading a handbook. That's why there are behind-the-wheel sessions.

Cookbooks are a great example of how book learning is limited. There have been a proliferation of cooking shows and online videos on cooking, mostly because book-based teaching is limited for many (if not most) people. Books were the main form of publication until television and the Internet emerged.

Ironically, an activity that is closely associated with writing can't be taught by reading: typing. Sure, you can be an excellent writer and a lousy typist, but regardless, you can't really learn to type by reading a book. When I grew up, I took a typing class in junior high. It was all exercise-based. Today, people use typing tutorial computer programs, but there's really no reading involved, just rote exercise.

You can learn a lot from books, like the Peloponnesian War, but not so much for other subjects, like how to dance to Tschaikovsky's Swan Lake.


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Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:45 am

One thing I learned over decades of reading is that books do not replace personal experiences.

Books are essentially about someone else's experience (fictious or factual). You can read all the Julia Child cookbooks and MFK Fisher food essays on the planet, but they don't replace getting on a plane and flying to France.

Admittedly, I'm more of a person interested in experiences. I'd rather have more stamps in my passport than a fancy car or huge house.

Another revelation is that real life is constantly more astonishing than fiction. There are real stories so incredible that if you tried to pass them off as fiction, people would just laugh. "That's nice, but it would never happen. Nobody's that [smart/stupid]." For this reason, I abandoned reading fiction about ten years ago.

The latter lesson is not easy for a young person to understand since relatively little has happened in their lives. I'm not sure there's an easy way to teach that lesson. That understanding (like many others) has to come from within. Heck, it took me decades to figure it out.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

This is not to say that there isn't good fiction. There's lots of great fiction, most of it was written over a hundred years ago. I think young readers should be encouraged to read the classics since much of Western culture is based off a handful of these stories. I'm glad I was made to read a lot of these as a kid.

I suppose the most important takeaway is that people's reading tastes evolve. What you are reading when you are 10, 30, 50, and 70 likely won't be the same.

Again, I still believe that the most important thing one learns from reading is writing. Most people won't be published authors, however good writing is important in business communications and many other areas of life.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Ms. J, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:27 am

Thank you for your responses! My students and I appreciate the time and thought that have obviously gone into both responses, and I very much appreciate sharing in a community dialogue with you.

Jim Neal: I'm considering making my 20% project this year to become conversational in Spanish, and reading some of my favorites "en espanol" may be the way I do it! It's encouraging to know that someone else has accomplished the same task.

Jay Park: I tell my students all the time that the more you read, the better you will write. It really is the key to being successful in any profession that one may end up in. While I do agree that reading about something is a passive way of acquiring knowledge, and that experience is the best teacher, I do think that the written word can be a valuable teaching tool. I may have had to practice sautéing several pans of onions and mushrooms to get it right, but I did in fact learn the technique from Julia Child. Similarly, while I am still honing my teaching practices every day, I learned about many of the techniques that I use from reading both books and blogs by educators.

Again, thank you. Let's keep the responses coming!

Cheers, Ms. J


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Sep 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm

See how great the MVSD teachers are! Her article also, for those interested, is a good explanation of how Common Core works for more "informative text." It is just a slight shift - a higher percentage of 'carburetor books' for girls and guys. Also some better - "reading in the subject matter" [Education speak for, even math, science and social science need well developed reading skills]. A little less Shakespeare, a tad less poetry and literary analysis.
I'm not a bi-literate - but my second boy is in French. Read the high school 'literature novel' in its original 1880's French - and then participated in the English version of literary analysis. Jim Neal - he had fun stretching himself also!
I always had fun going over to CMS to substitute teach the language classes. The teachers were always well prepared to 'hand it over' for a day. (which is extra work)


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