Lost: The Simple Joy of Reading

Guess what happened last night?
I read a book. For fun.  Not a fun school related book, but a plain, unassigned, free reading book. For some reason, I had this urge to read a nice carefree book in bed.  As I was walking to the library to obtain said books, I couldn’t even recall the last time I had read a book for pleasure.  Where had my love of reading gone?

As a child, I was the kid at the library with a stack of books two feet tall, counting them to see if I had reached the checkout limit.  I was addicted to reading.  In the summer, my parents would have to limit the amount of time I spent reading so that I would go outside to play and be social.  I loved that i could be transported to a whole new world and take on a whole new persona with the turn of a page, wherever I was.

My mom read to me almost every night until I was in high school and had to do homework  until bedtime.  Together we ventured to Narnia, became family to Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, roamed the apple orchards with Anne, and lived on the prairie with Laura, Ma, and Pa, just to name a few of our endeavors. She would read from eight to eight thirty every night; we took turns on who would occasionally fall asleep halfway through; that’s when we knew it had been a long day.  I loved that time. It was mommy and me time, our own special treat at the end of the day after my younger sister went to bed.  Promptly at 8:30 she would stop reading and say, “Alright time for bed Linds.” And I would beg for just one more chapter, just one teeny, tiny chapter.  She would look how long it was, and if it was short enough she would say, “If we read this, you will have to have no troubles getting up on time in the morning.” Of course I would readily agree; I would do anything for just one more chapter.  Together we read over seven thousand pages, and I am eternally grateful to my mom for investing that time in me and helping me cultivate my love of reading.

Between reading at night with my mom, and reading by myself, I logged many hours as a bookworm during my childhood. Like I said I was addicted. But once I got into high school, assigned reading came like a thief in the night and stole my free reading time.  Even on breaks, I either had assigned reading to do, or I was so burnt out from doing the readings before the break, I didn’t even want to think about reading more.  And it got worse and worse every year.  As more and more reading was forced upon me, the passion I had for reading faded dimmer and dimmer.

Not to say there wasn’t ever light in the dark tunnel of assigned reading.  My initial love of reading helped keep a light burning, even when the material was thick and I didn’t understand it all.  I still remember sophomore year reading A Tale of Two Cities, and learning about diction, syntax, tone, and all the usually boring parts of literary analysis.  It clicked for me, and my inner book-lover and nerd came out.  I loved thinking about why Dickens wrote the way he did, because as anyone who has ever read Dickens’ work knows; he has a very distinct voice.  To this day, that is one of my favorite books.  It was a light in my tunnel of literary analysis of assigned reading, a reminder of what I used to love.  But alas, all good things must come to an end, and assigned reading became like a chore again.

Just like reading Tale of Two Cities reignited my love for the written word, summertime also was a time of relaxing with good books.  Granted, most of the time I still had assigned reading to do, but at least for a couple of weeks I got to experience reading for the sheer fact of wanting to read once more.  In the years before my grandma died, she began a quest to read the entire classics section. It was awesome when she was reading a book that I was reading for school, because we could discuss it and read it together.  She made it through the entire classics section at the library, and inspired me to read more classics.  Thus every summer, before our annual long camping trip I would go to the library, and pick up a stack of around seven classics to read that trip.  During the course of these trips, I noticed that I always gravitated towards the classics that were not commonly read in school.  I couldn’t bring myself to read a book leisurely that was a “school book” no matter how great it was. I wanted to read a book that was clearly distinct from any book that had been or would eventually be a graded assignment.

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Assigned reading didn’t make me stop reading forever. It also didn’t make me hate reading.  But even for an avid reader, assigned reading slowly tortured my inner book-worm.  I don’t know how it got that way.  How did reading go from something I loved to a chore, as soon as it became associated with a grade or a homework assignment? Where was the point when reading became a monster?
I see it happening in my sister, as she is reading To Kill A Mockingbird, which if I might add, is an exceptional book, that I would read over and over, but she isn’t reading it because she wants to, she is reading it to answer questions to get a grade.  Naturally when reading something to answer questions, regardless the subject, one will skim to find the information that pertains to the question and then move on.  By doing so, one usually misses key information that makes the story enjoyable to read and less like homework. My sister likes to read, but not nearly as much as I did my freshman year, and I can see the enjoyment fading away as the books take on more weight than they were meant to hold.

I can’t imagine how it is for students who don’t like to read in the first place.  Actually I can; those are the students that don’t even bother opening the book and if the teacher is lucky the student will Sparknote it to at least make it appear like they are reading.  In doing so, they miss out on finding a favorite book or author, which might have led them to find a type of writing they enjoy reading.

It is not to say that assigned reading should be abolished.  What I am trying to suggest is actually very far from that.  Assigned reading exposes students to many different time periods, ways of life, styles of writing, etc. and provides great examples of how to write.  But we aren’t all going to be novelists. Maybe we should add a little more article and essay reading into the curriculum, because in this digital age, isn’t that what the majority of what our students will be dealing with in their workplace, or even in their daily lives?

Will adding articles help students enjoy assigned reading more? Possibly, maybe it will help the slower readers have confidence, because it is a shorter piece of work. Will letting students read what they want to read help them like assigned reading better? Maybe.  It might make it less of a drag and give each student the freedom to read material on what they are passionate about, or even find something they are passionate about.  But then what does one do about grading? How does one grade an enthusiastic student who only likes to read, say cookbooks and travel guides?  How does one encourage, if not require, the reading level to be grade appropriate?  How can one tell if students are actually reading the books?

I don’t have a solution, I really don’t even have suggestions on how to attempt to fix this issue, but I do know that somewhere between freshman year of high school and freshman year of college, my love of reading was vastly diminished as a result of reading wonderful novels knowing that my future would be partially determined on how well I understood and could analyze the book.  My understanding of the book led contributed to my grade in the class, which then played a huge factor in what colleges I got in to.  Reading somehow got reduced to a means to an end, and because of this many have lost sight, at least temporarily, of what the simple joy of reading is, myself included.

To conclude, I have one question that must be addressed; how do we reclaim reading from being a means to the end, and return it to the simple joy that it brings?

College, Black Beans, and Brownies

People always said, “Oh yeah, once you are in college, you will miss having a home cooked meal every night.”  And the true meaning of this statement never sank in until I was actually in college.  I have eaten cafeteria food for a little less than a month, and I cannot wait to go home and eat my parents cooking.  Not that our cafeteria food is bad, it just isn’t the food I’m used to. For all my UC school friends that still have another three weeks of summer, savor every bite of home cooked food.  Appreciate it in its entirety.  You will miss it.

I was assigned to live in a room with three other girls.  I was very unsure of how it was going to turn out because living in a cramped space with complete strangers for nine months could go many ways.  Then, the week before I left to go to school, one of my roommates emailed us and informed us that she toured the room and we have a full kitchen and bath in our room.  Um, excuse me?  What?  How is this possible?  As it turns out, we were randomly assigned to the Resident Director’s apartment that was converted into a student dorm.  We basically won the entire housing lottery.  It has been such a blessing to have a kitchen and be able to make my own food once in a while.  The truth is that I wish I could make every meal for myself and not even have a meal plan.  But alas, since I’m living on campus, I must have a meal plan and I should use it or it would be a huge waste of money.

Anyway, I have made eggs, chocolate chip banana pancakes, two batches of chocolate chip cookies, toast, and as of an hour ago, black bean vegan brownies.  I even sent some cookies home to my mom and sister, because my sister made a comment over the phone that she and my mom were down to their last homemade cookie after sending me so many in a care package and how it was too hot to even think of turning on the oven to make more.  So I sent them some dorm-made cookies because I wanted to repay the care package favor.  Because really, no one should be without homemade cookies for too long, especially after school has just started.  That cookie in your lunch very well could be the highlight of your day some days. (Sadly, this is the case once or twice in life; you have bad days that require a cookie to make it better.)  I learned to check with the person who ships your package as to how long it will take for it to arrive, because once they got back home, they were a little crumbly and drier than expected.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

Anyway, tonight I made plans with a friend(yes, I made a friend. Can you believe it?) to try out this new vegan recipe I found on Buzzfeed.  We had no idea how it was going to turn out, but after being sick all weekend and therefore doing nothing but homework and sleeping, I had a little free time tonight to try it out.

The verdict is that they are super fudgy, rich, and dense, and completely and unexpectedly good.  When I heard they had black beans in them I was a skeptic, but these are definitely brownies I would make again.

 

I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It was way better than any picture I could have taken. But mine did turn out looking like this. :)
I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It is way better than any picture I could have taken.  Props to her for this excellent piece of food art. :)

 

Here is the recipe that I got from Farmgirl Gourmet, and then tweaked to fit the ingredients I had in my dorm:

 

Dark Chocolate Vegan Brownies

Ingredients

1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and filled with new water

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I used regular unsweetened cocoa powder, because it was cheaper)

4 tsp instant coffee powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup of water (the original recipe calls for Guinness beer, but seeing as I am underage, that wasn’t going to happen)

3/4 cup chocolate chips (or nuts, if you so desire)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain the can of black beans into a colander, rinse the can clean and the beans until all bean juice is gone.  Pour the cleaned beans back in the can and fill the can back up to the top with fresh water.
  3. Puree the beans and water in the blender and set it aside.
  4. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee powder. Mix together.  Make a well in the center to pour your liquids into.
  5. Pour bean purée, water, and vanilla into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix together, being careful not to overmix.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips or nuts and pour into a greased 9 by 13 pan.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes and rotate the pan halfway through.
  8. Let cool and enjoy! :)


Note: Depending on whether you like coffee or not, I would adjust the amount of instant coffee powder.  The four teaspoons definitely makes it so you can taste the coffee-ness but not in a bad way.  I don’t drink or enjoy coffee, but I loved the extra layer of flavor it gave the brownies and it complimented the chocolate very nicely(as expected). Also, I haven’t tried it with beer yet, but I am curious as to how it tastes, so when I get home I will be trying it again, this time with the beer.  Lastly, I am not vegan, so I didn’t worry about using butter to grease the pan, so if you are vegan use canola oil or cooking spray.

PS Don’t worry, I promise I have made more than one friend.  I mean, who doesn’t want a friend who will bake them yummy goodies all the time? :)

Click here to see the original recipe!

Making an Impact

This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and in honor of it, I am posting something I wrote about my current English teacher, Mr. Theriault.  He is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for forcing me to do so.

“Young lady, do you need to change seats?” It was the first day of school my sophomore year, and I had completely forgotten to bring lined paper.  I had quietly turned around to my friend sitting behind me to ask for a spare sheet so I could write our essay on the assigned reading we had over the summer.  I was in shock and intimidated that I was scolded for asking for a piece of paper, especially on the first day of school.  I was so scared of my new English teacher that I left class that day thinking, “Okay, breathe and relax, if it doesn’t get better, you can always switch to another class.”

Switching to another class would have been one of the biggest mistakes in my academic career, if not my life.  I know it seems cliché, but it is true. I would have missed out on having an extraordinary teacher who does not just teach English, but teaches life.   Shortly into the school year, amidst his ridiculously hard bi-weekly quizzes, he told us, “I am going to grade you on your effort in this class.  The standard measures of competence and effort [by tests and quizzes] will have less value in my class; not so you can slack off, but so you can stretch yourselves to new levels without fear of damaging your grade because of it.”  Though his class is one of the most challenging classes I have had, it is addicting; there are too many days in which I walk out of his classroom, wishing I could stay in English all day, thinking “This is way more worthwhile and meaningful than any of my other classes.”

It was in his class that I first learned how to properly read and annotate a book and was able to enjoy analyzing the syntax of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.  It was in his class, that student presentations became something to look forward to, instead of a waste of a class period, as more often than not, they came with goodies and plenty of audience interaction which kept it interesting.  It is in his class, and really only in his class, that I feel completely at home.

The wheels are always turning in Mr. Theriault’s head, thinking of how to make himself a better teacher, his lessons more fruitful, keep students more engaged, and how to make education less daunting.  He is never afraid to share what he is working on with his students as well as the rest of the world through his blog and Twitter.  Mr. Theriault has taught his students to share their work and thoughts, by assigning weekly blogging and a twenty percent project every year.  Through blogging, I have written more this past year than ever before in the entirety of my high school career altogether.  He has given us the freedom to develop our own voice, something that is so hard to teach, yet so critical for higher level writing.

Mr. Theriault is one of the only teachers I have encountered that will take time out of his class period, his precious fifty-four minutes of teaching time, to ask how students are doing.  He will ask about the sports events that he couldn’t make it to and other school related topics, but he will also ask students how they are doing personally.  If he sees that someone seems down, sick, or just exhausted, the first thing he says is, “Is there anything I can do to make your day better?”.  From chocolate and hot tea to sharing half of his lunch, he is always there for his students.  He realizes that sometimes his class isn’t the most important thing in our lives, and that our overall well-being is much more important than anything he could teach in an hour. He genuinely cares for his students.

I have been blessed to have Mr. Theriault as my English teacher both sophomore and senior year.  As the number of days left until graduation dwindles down, it is a bittersweet feeling; the excitement of graduation and college combined with the sad realization that my time in Mr. Theriault’s class is coming to an end.  I can see why he always has college students coming back to visit him; days in his class are treasured memories and visiting him brings them all back.  Mr. Theriault makes a huge impact on student’s lives every year, and I can only dream of a world in which all teachers were as committed, caring, and compassionate as he is.

"Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?" "Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?" "Okay" He laughs. "I never take selfies" Personally, I think this one turned out great.
“Mr. Theriault, can we take a picture?”
“Sure, how do you want to do this? Selfie style?”
“Okay”
He laughs. “I never take selfies”
Personally, I think this one turned out great.

 

Editing Videos Might be the Death of Me

We finally finished another Breakfast with Champions video this past week! Oh my goodness, both Erica and I never knew how long and tedious editing was.  We spent at least eight hours editing this video and by the end of it, we didn’t even want to look at the final product. I wonder if that is how filmmakers feel at the premier of their movies…  Anyway, we are super excited to have finished it and are excited to share it with the world.  Without further ado, here is an interview with Jack White, Vietnam Veteran.

An Interview with Jack White

Check out my friend’s update about our project! We both can’t wait to post the video, so keep checking back for it!

Singing in the Shower

For my English class innovation project my friends and I are documenting war stories from veterans. (I explain it in better detail in my Breakfast With Champions post.) We have a blog called http://breakfastwithchampions.wordpress.com/ and a Vietnam veteran named Jack White found our intro video on that blog and commented that he would love to meet with us. We met up with him this past weekend and he told us some amazing stories. It was great to hear from his perspective about things that my textbook could never tell me.

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Breakfast with Champions

In a previous post, I wrote about the twenty percent projects that my teacher has implemented in his classroom for the past couple of years.  This past Friday, my project began.

Let me tell you a little about it and what I have learned so far.

old car+mr h
Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss

This is Demetrius Harakas.  He owns the Fantastic Cafe in Santa Ana and is opening a new restaurant in Seal Beach in a couple of weeks.  He loves the 50’s and his diner is decorated in just that fashion.  He had searched for a car like the one above, for almost all his life.

His relatives in Massachusetts found one for him, he bought it, and then had it shipped to California.  He had it restored and now, for the past eight months he has picked up WWII veterans from their homes and taking them to the restaurant for a free breakfast and an eager ear to talk to.  As of now, he estimates that he has taken 70 WWII vets and their spouses to breakfast.

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Photo from OC Register Article by Mackenzie Reiss.

When he first brought his car home, and told my family and I his idea; I was amazed.  I thought, “What a cool experience for both him and the veteran”, but never thought anything more of it.  It wasn’t until we were given the assignment to “Find a need in the community, and feed it” that I came up with the idea of producing videos of Demetrius’ time with the veterans.  I knew that he wasn’t documenting them, except by personal journal, and I thought, “Man, that would be so cool to film.”  Especially, because in school we learn the factual history.  Though teachers try to use videos of firsthand accounts, we mainly have to learn facts: dates, names, and places.  How awesome would it be to have first hand filmed conversations with the veterans, available to everyone around the world?

So, I found a friend, brainstormed, pitched our idea to the film production class at our school and found someone to teach us to film.  Friday was our first day of filming, and it was such a great experience.  My two partners and I were able to sit down with a navy corpsman named Jim, who served in WWII, Vietnam, and Korea.  He was in the service for 24 years and had at least 30 medals on his lapel.  He was at the rank of master chief, with his official title being, master chief petty officer.

We learned so many interesting things from him, and his stories made history come alive for us.  That is exactly what we hope to accomplish in our project; to make history come alive for generations to come, when there are no more WWII vets to tell about it.  Did you know that WWII veterans are dying currently at a rate of 600 a day?  We want to preserve their accounts and stories before they are all gone, and become mere reenactment and guesswork.

If you are interested in seeing our progress, check out our blog:

www.breakfastwithchampions.wordpress.com

And take a look at our introductory video!

There you can nominate a veteran for a breakfast, providing the veteran lives in Orange County, California!  Thanks!

Bad Idea Factory

bad idea meme

This week we came up with bad ideas.  Lots of them. We discovered that in the process of innovation, one naturally has to come up with a few bad ideas before they get a great one.  Using this discovery, we decided to convert the classroom into a bad idea factory.  We spent an entire class period coming up with “bad ideas” in hopes of finding a few good ones.  Coming up with bad ideas is so much easier and people are more inclined to speak up about their ideas if there is no pressure for them to be good, as we are looking for bad ideas.

bad idea factory

If I had a dollar for every bad idea I had, I would be a millionaire.

Question Revolution

Recently, my sister has come home with geometry homework that she does not understand and asks me to help her.  Now, I passed geometry, but I am not a math wiz by any means.  So, I slide over to her side of the desk and give it a go.

Our conversations go like this:

HER:  “Lindsey, can you help me?”

ME: “Sure, what’s up?”

HER: “I don’t understand how to do numbers 10-15.”

ME: “Hmmm…okay, you just do this, this, and that, because of this property.  Get it?”

HER: “Kinda”

ME: “Why dont you ask your teacher for help?  Because I’m not always going to remember the concepts and be able to help you.  Did it make sense in class today when you learned it?”

HER: “I don’t know. I guess it made some sense.”

ME: “Well did you ask questions?”

HER: “Well, no.”

ME: “Why not?”

HER: “Cause no one asks questions.  I don’t want her(the teacher) to think I’m dumb.”

ME: “Why would she think that?  Teachers want to know when you don’t understand something, so they can re-teach it to help it make more sense. Why don’t you go in early before school and get help?”

HER: “NO!  I can’t go in early. People would think I’m stupid.  And I absolutely can’t have a tutor, cause that is even worse than asking questions and going in early.”

 

I proceed to remind her of my failings in math and how I spent countless hours going in for extra help and then many more at the tutor in the afternoon, just to finally have a grasp of the concepts that were taught in class that day.  What took the other students thirty minutes to learn, took me two hours and countless questions.  She calms down and finishes her math, but I am stuck pondering why asking questions is such a “bad” thing.

I never have had an issue with asking questions.  If there is any question in my mind, I usually ask it.  You know how there is always that one kid in every classroom that seems as if  their hand is up 75% of the time and on its way up, the other 25% of the time.  The one that ALWAYS asks questions.  Everyone can think of at least one.  Well, I am not at all ashamed to tell you that I am THAT KID.

But, I don’t understand why I am the only one consistently asking questions.  And most of my questions are not about understanding what is being taught, they are questions that help me connect experiences with answers, questions that make my mind turn, get creative, and delve further into the subject being discussed.

Why is asking questions considered such a bad thing to do in a student’s mind?  Teachers normally like questions; they show that the student is engaging in the lesson and learning.  So, why is asking questions so bad?  It really concerns me that the majority of students have been basically taught to learn by rote memorization and regurgitate facts for a grade.  Is our society so cut-throat and judgemental, that even in middle school students are afraid to ask a question in class, as it looks like a sign of weakness?  I do not know, but it needs to change.

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Questions spur change, innovation, imagination, and learning.  Einstein puts it this way, ” Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Without questions, we would be stuck in a rut, doing the same things over and over again, the same way.  If Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Issac Newton, Rosalind Franklin, and Watson and Crick hadn’t asked questions where would we be?  We would never had been to outer space, believing by candlelight, and the field of medicine would be very primitive.  Questions are vital to life, yet today’s students-the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, are afraid to ask questions.

My challenge to you is to ask a question a day, for two weeks.  See what happens.  Who knows, you could be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.  Challenge yourself to be creative and innovative.  We need a question revolution.