What Are You Reading?

“What did you read today?” asks my book-reviewing blogging friend, Marcia.  That question made me examine my reading habits.

What I really love is drivel. Shock!  I thought I was an intellectual!  Drivel is different from trivia, the plural of trivium.  Drivel is “silly nonsense”, while trivia (pl) are a step above that, “inconsequential or insignificant matters.”  Actually I love both.  And I can spend enormous amounts of time organizing myself so that I can enjoy my drivel to the fullest extent.  Talk about a trivial pursuit!  When I start some organizing project, it quickly morphs into something draconian, and I have created a dracon, just to get my trivia faster.

My favorite place to find the trivia and drivel I adore is in the genre of blog.  To make my reading more efficient, and get in more trivia every day, I have tried to organize my blog reading since my comment chat with Russel Ray about how to follow 1,900 blogs and still have a life and a career.  I don’t want to just read Pando’s news about the latest economic crisis in Central California.  OK maybe I do.  No, really I don’t.  I prefer to read about the birds in San Diego, or how Ralph irons his pants in Spain, or how to properly use the words “try to” as opposed to “try and.”  You don’t get this kind of writing in the mainstream Reader because it’s clogged with stuff from Turkey and Central California.

Step one cut the list from the WP reader.
How to Organize Your Blogs  Step one cut the list from the WP reader.


So I have done what any docile, well-educated student does – listened to a pro, and copied.  I cut and pasted my blogger friends from Reader into a spreadsheet.  Please don’t be insulted – you’re more than a number to me.  However, I am finding this to be quite a frivolous worthwhile simple process.  I thought I would be so smart and go to my reader and copy all the blogs I follow and past them in a spreadsheet and bingo, I could just click and follow.  WRONG.  Click, and go to reader, then click again and go to the website, the don’t forget to copy the url and paste it back into the spreadsheet where that cheater Reader connection url was embedded deceptively into the name of the blog.

Determined to make this work so I could get in more trivia every day and save time doing I took this project to the next step.  Russel Ray paid me a high compliment when he wrote that he colored my site green on his spreadsheet because I was more than just a blogger.  That made my day.  I colored my favorite people green, too.  I’m not going to tell you how long that took, or the process to do each one.  Suffice to say that I had too much time on my hands for a couple of days this week.

This whole organizing episode I’ve had reminds me of a story – BTW kuddos to me, I made it through the Bs on my alphabetical list.  I cheated a little bit, and went through the whole list and marked my very favorite blogs green before I went back to the top and started down the list.  As I was saying, this complicated process reminds me of a story about my grandma, that Mom and I laughed about for years.  Trust me, it fits here.

Grandma, age 55, wanted to go outside and work in the garden, but she couldn’t find anything to wear.  She had a closet so full of clothes that they spilled out of the bedroom.  She couldn’t shut any of her inside doors because they had clothes hanging from them.  In spite of her glut of surplus clothes, she couldn’t find a pair of shorts that suited the dirty gardening task.  So she went down into the basement where she had a chest of drawers with my mother’s high school clothes packed away for safe keeping.  Grandma went through the depression, and never threw away anything.  She found just the right shorts for the sweaty job, and took them upstairs to put them on.  The problem was that they were way too small.  So before she could go  outside to weed, she had to alter the shorts by adding a two-inch strip of fabric down the outside of each side seam of the shorts.  I’m sure that was attractive because you know that she didn’t have any fabric that matched the shorts.  Nevertheless, Grandma persisted until she finished her alteration, and then she was ready to go outside to weed, after a nice glass of iced tea.  You know what happened, don’t you?  She was much too tired from sewing for a couple of hours to go weed.

OM_, I’m not like that …  am I?  In spite of all this crazy organizing, I have visited more sites this week than in a long time.  I did read 20 blogs yesterday, and not superficially, Meme.   REALLY!  And, I’ve remade some new friends – ones that write mostly trivia humor, travel, food, and, did I say humor?  Well it seems like trivia at first, but deep down, there’s that spark of something real and thoughtful in the humor and nonsense that makes me want to connect with that person.

That’s what I’m reading, Marcia. Oh yeah, I did read your blog, and thoroughly enjoyed it!  No, I wouldn’t call it trivia, exactly.  A book review, yes.  No, no, of course not.  It’s, …yeah, that’s right, mine is pretty similar.  No, my pictures aren’t …  No, not at all.    Yeah, I do talk a lot about… Yeah, Yeah.  Uh huh.  hmmm.  Ok, well, yes, I’m going to.  Listen, Marcia, I’ve got to go.  I’m working on a very important …  Yeah, yeah, yea, I know, you’ve got to go, too.  So keep in touch, will you.  I really miss you when I don’t hear from you once in a while!   OK.  You, too.  Bye.

So what important stuff are you doing?  What are you reading???


Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

Kristen Lamb, author of Are You There Blog?  It’s Me, Writer., writes non-fiction in a folksy, easy to understand style.  Read like good fiction, the pages of this how-to book practically turned themselves.  Writers and bloggers can immediately apply her tips to improve their blog, Facebook and Twitter platforms.

In spite of the fact Are You There Blog?  It’s me, Writer. was easy to read I found myself highlighting, taking tons of notes, and rereading to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I had to discipline myself to keep on track.  My thoughts were screaming, “Wow, I need to go to Facebook RIGHT NOW, and remove my birthday, but I did a little self-talk “Take notes, Marsha.  Copy down the tips you want to remember.”  Because LEARNING SOMETHING is the goal of reading a non-fiction book, it IS a different skill than reading fiction.

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts always lurk in my brain whenever I read now.  Across the United States, by the time they start high school, students will spend 70 percent of their school day reading non-fiction materials.  I would recommend this book for students from 6th grade up.  Common Core Standards also put a greater emphasis on writing than ever before.  Teaching students to blog, and having them interact with each other as well as others, means less editing for the teacher, more interest and commitment from the students.  For language arts teachers this book will address reading and writing standards at the same time.

Even young students can respond to a teacher’s blog about a topic.  This doesn’t mean that the teacher has to “write” every “topic” on their blog.  They can copy paragraphs or quotes directly from a book they cite.  By high school many students will have a Facebook account.  Lamb’s book teaches them to use it safely and wisely.  They also learn to use Facebook as a marketing tool to market themselves.  We often overlook, or feel too pressured to teach, the importance of the “soft” skills in education, of how to get along with people, how to motivate them, and get them to like us.  Those skills are an integral part of DOING social media.  Kristen Lamb integrates those skills as she explicitly teaches basics of blogging and using social media.

“Giving is when you take your time to read their blog, to repost their story and to congratulate their writing goal on Twitter. Giving is when you write a nice review of someone else’s book unsolicited and expecting nothing in return.”

Lamb, Kristen (2011-05-07). Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer (Kindle Locations 572-573). Who Dares Wins Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Students will learn that “people love feeling good” and that “a positive attitude is a key ingredient for a hit blog that connects with others in a meaningful way.” (Ibid Location 1519)

These soft skills that students learn will be useful to them no matter what profession or trade they choose to enter during or after high school.

Kristen’s book is available on Kindle, which means that note taking will be easy for students (and teachers who are beginning bloggers).  When a quote is copied from the book on the computer the biographical information is automatically noted.  WHEW!  That was EASY!

Mike Lebsock, 8th grade history teacher, President San Joaquin Valley Council for the Social STudies (SJVCSS), John Adams in Colonial Williamsburg

Mike Lebsock, an eighth grade teacher in Fresno, posts a blog entry then has his students write one response to his post, and one response to another student’s response.  How easy that would be using this book.  The teacher doesn’t have to write his or her own content.  He or she simply copies right from the book into the blog.  The biographical information is automatically there as well.

Are You There Blog? is easy to read, but that doesn’t mean that there is NO academic vocabulary.  The academic vocabulary is primarily content-based and can be grasped within the context of the book.  However, for students using Kindle or other e-readers, they can open a window with the definition of an unfamiliar word by just passing the cursor over a word and stopping.

When I started this review, I struggled with recommending it for Common Core because it was such an enjoyable book to read.  After analyzing how the book can actually meet many elements of Common Core I have changed my mind.  Non-fiction books can be enjoyable, and enjoyable books can be academic.  Read and enjoy Kristen Lamb’s book, Are You There Blog?  It’s Me, Writer. with your students – – or just for yourself.

Today’s Featured Blog 

My blogging friend Rommel, has taught me so much.  He was one of my first visitors before I knew squat, he had nominated me for an award.  I didn’t even understand what an award was.  He kept coming back when I was working full time+, and hardly had a second to visit any blogs, there was Rommel commenting on my blog.   Then recently he featured me on his site.  Who knew?  What a kind thing to do.  So it is with great honor and pride that I introduce my first Featured Blogger, Rommel.  The post that I chose, although he writes great travel stories, posts amazing pictures from all over the world, I fell in love with Once in A Blue Moon, a poem.  This is how it starts.

Another special post.

Here goes…

You know what…. I need to pause… An image first.

Can’t you just picture a vibrant young man venturing out on unfamiliar waters, writing a poem?

Six Shifts in ELA: More Informational Text

Bill and Melinda Gates want our students reading more informational texts.  Actually, that’s what we do primarily as adults, so much so that many people don’t have left over time to read for the pure pleasure of it.

For those of us who teach history-social studies this shift is a godsend.  When it comes to Social Studies, there are two questions to answer about this shift.

  • What non-fiction or informational text should my students read?
  • How should I support the language arts teacher in teaching the students to read in my content area of history-social science.

What to Read:  Recommending Informational Texts

First of all there are many recommended and interesting non-fiction items  that are as pleasurable to read as fiction.  In the Implementation Toolkit published by Tulare County Office of Education aligning the ELA Common Core Standards and the History-Social Science Analysis Skills, there is a list of books recommended in the standards and the California State Framework for History-Social Science.  Two types of informational materials are examined in subsequent paragraphs.

Cover designed by Laura Malmquist

Reading Biographies 

One of the easiest and most engaging informational texts for students to read are biographies.  Suggested biographies are listed for each grade levels.   Biographies  bring history to life because they put faces on the people that played in the drama of history.  Students  typically start out thinking that  “people in the past were stupid”  (Levstick & Barton. 2011. p. 134).  Biographies put people and their environments into perspective, and answer big questions about why they made the choices they made.

Student Activities to Make Biographies Relevant

  • participating in readers’ theaters
  • reading silently using graphic organizers to process information
  • practicing choral-reading interspersed with solo readers to stress:  timing, vocal emphasis and pronunciation
  • writing biographical poems
  • creating an advertisement for the biographical character using propaganda techniques
  • taking notes from different sources about the target historical character
  • making comments on a blog about the biography

Reading Primary Sources

  •  Diaries
  •  Memos
  •  Letters
  •  Photographs
  •  Cartoons
  •  Paintings
  •  Billboards
  •  Statues
  •  Autobiographies
  •  Charts
  •  Maps
  •  Political documents
  •  Military records
  •  Vital records
  •  Census records

Two Tools to Analyze Primary Sources:

One of the most important differences between analyzing sources from a language arts perspective and a history-social studies perspective is the critical, analytic eye with which historians look at the source.  Bruce Lesh, author of “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?” instructs his students to look beyond the text to the context and the subtext of the source.  The context is what was going on in the world during the time the source was created, and the subtext is reading between the lines to find out what is known about the author and the intended audience of the source.  Students are taught to ask, “What was the reason this source was produced when it was?”  Lesh. p. 39  this kind of questions jolt students out of their complacent history comfort zone into a place where they are forced to examine history as it was.

Using primary sources and biographies of both famous and ordinary folks that lived during particular periods of history allow students to create their own understanding of the context of history and draw conclusions in the same way that professional historians do when they are “doing” the work  of historians.  Students who read more informational texts and spend time analyzing them will develop critical thinking skills they need to be effective citizens of the 21st century.

Just Finish It

Such the Like motivated her with her blog post about what books she is reading.  I, too, love to read, at least I think I do.  If it’s not fiction I love to start reading.

That’s why I read so little fiction.  I can’t stop reading fiction until the end of the book – even if I keep my scratchy eyes open until 2:00 a.m.  Unfortunately, there is so much else on my list to read, so I feel guilty reading heart-stopping, bone-chilling fiction.  I did take time to read all of Cristian’s book, Remember,  because it was short, and I wanted to see what kind of writer he is since he is writing about how to write.

I like reading on Kindle because it keeps track of what you are reading, and how much of you read.  Kindle would tell me if I read 100% of Cristain’s book because all the dots should be blackened to the end, but since I read it on my iPhone while I was waiting for an appointment, the dots won’t be filled in until I sync my Kindle.

When it comes right down to it, I’ve been ignoring one of my favorite hobbies, reading books, and substituting it for reading on the internet.  It almost seems like I’m not reading when I read the internet because I’m just scratching the surface.  I read for information.  My friend has an ailment, I look it up.  I read a post on Facebook about a movie I’ve don’t know, so I stop and look it up.   I have friends who are way over my experiential head, and I can’t stand that, so I check things they write about out – on the internet.  I’m at a lecture, and the speaker says he has a web page – I visit it.  He makes a comment about the newest thing that the Igeneration is using.  I google it.  It’s five years old, and out of production.  Good thing he’s entertaining!


My step-son wants me to buy a Zero.  We check it out together.  I can’t even read the specs without his expert help.  I don’t think I’m ready to own a Zero, but I’m intrigued.


My husband wants to put up an awning.  We check out the newest things on HGTV’s blog.

But I can’t finish my books.  Here they are, and I like them all.

Now that I’ve confessed to you I promise that I will finish one of them today.