Language. We don’t often think about the words we use and the messages we send. Yet it is something we inherently know and do every day. We communicate with people using words, but communication or language is not just using words.
We use body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Language is something we understand, even if it is difficult to explain. Words mean things. Sometimes language can paint a picture, or express an emotion. Language can provide a window to our thoughts. Can language portray how we really feel?
Language is something that we can feel confident about until we get into a fight with a loved one. We think we make sense. We think people understand us. And then out of nowhere, we feel frustrated, flustered, hurt, for being misunderstood.
Language is not only the words we say out loud, but the words we think in our minds. The messages we tell ourselves to deal with the struggles we face.
My Canoeing Challenge – A Story
I found myself in the nose of a Coleman canoe, paddling a week’s worth of gear in hopefully waterproof garbage bags. We had begun the first part of a weeklong high adventure trip in Idaho. Half a dozen fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys and a few scoutmasters maneuvering the river from one point to another, pitching tents on the bank of the river. It was exciting and scary. A challenge that men accomplish. Something to tell my future grandchildren about as we sit by a campfire.
Each person had to prove that they were capable of participating in this adventure. I was a confident swimmer. But swamping a canoe, lifting it to dump water, and turning it upright is a solid challenge for any young man. Especially in the chilly, early summer snowmelt river. We proved we could do it, which put everyone in high spirits. Now we each hoped that we wouldn’t have to repeat that terrible process, potentially losing, or at the very least, soaking our clothes and gear.
We set out, enjoying the sunny morning, keeping our eyes open for eagles in the sky. I was paired with an adult by the name of Bart. He was a kind and encouraging leader, though he wasn’t afraid to keep us in line when we needed it. We made it for several miles without a problem. It looked as if we would make it through the day without incident. The river split into a fork. All of the canoes in our group floated to the left. Bart and I steered to the right hoping to stay in deep, moving water. We weren’t that lucky. We tried looking ahead, hoping to avoid logs or rocks close to the surface but with the sparkle of the sun on the water, we failed to float through a clear path. The bottom of the red plastic canoe scraped slowly against the bottom of the river until we stopped.
We were high-centered in water deep enough to potentially tip the canoe over if we attempted to get out. We tried to shift our weight and push with our oars, knowing if we broke the blade of the paddle the rest of the trip would be difficult. I had never really experienced such a difficult situation before this. I could see Bart getting frustrated. I was trying everything that I could without much effect. He was trying to be encouraging without being too mean. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I didn’t want to tip the canoe. I didn’t want Bart to think I wasn’t trying. I didn’t know what I could do. I didn’t feel strong enough to move the canoe. We were stuck.
Bart didn’t take my reasons or excuses or anything else I said. He became a coach, aggressive and encouraging. He said things like, “We can do this!” and, “Pull that oar like your life depends on it!”
I tried to lean into it, pulling the oar through what seemed like inches of water. I didn’t think we would get out of this unless one of us got out to lift and push the canoe. Bart might have. It was a serious struggle. I didn’t like being stuck there in the middle of a river. I didn’t like being thought of as weak. I didn’t like worrying about whether we would tip over and get all of our gear wet.
We made it through. I was sore and embarrassed, but we caught up with the others in our group. It was a struggle and one that I will never forget. It helps me to remember that it is okay to struggle. It helps me to see kids, young people, my students, struggle and reminds me that they are not broken. They have not failed. They are simply struggling and haven’t figured out how to get through whatever it is that they are dealing with.
What About You?
Does anyone really like to struggle? It is frustrating, but it is a part of life. It is something that everyone experiences, regardless of age, status, nationality, and gender. At one time or another, all of us have tried to do something and failed, or at least not been successful the first time. What keeps us from quitting?
When our babies first try to walk, and fall, we think it’s cute. We smile, lift them up, and encourage them to try again. However, shortly after we become proficient walkers we start to get frustrated when we try to do something and get stuck. We think there is something wrong with us when we try to read new words, can’t get it, feel stupid, and quit.
Struggling isn’t fun. Nobody really wants to struggle. We might accept it, and learn from it, but it is a challenge and takes time for a person to change their attitude or perspective, or accept that it might just be time to grow in some unknown way.
But what is worse? Struggling when we have support all around us, at school or at home when it is manageable to some extent. What happens when we are expected to struggle and live with other people who struggle? Shouldn’t we have some confidence in our ability to struggle?
Shouldn’t we understand that struggle is a part of the process? If we are struggling, we are learning and growing. We are finding out what we are capable of. We start to learn that we can do hard things, even if it isn’t fun. We can do things and survive, and hopefully in some instances, thrive.
What are you capable of? Have you given yourself time to get there? Don’t give up! Keep trying. Find a new way to think about the problem.
Who has inspired you to not give up? How have you overcome a challenge?
Who can you inspire? Who is struggling that needs to hear your encouragement?

Nobody wants to look like a fool. It’s embarrassing to be seen as dumb or clumsy. Do we lose this insecurity as we grow older? In our teenage years it’s probably the thing that takes most of our time. We worry about what others will think about our clothes, our shoes, our hair, the car we drive, almost everything. The thing is, as we worry about what others are thinking of us, they are thinking the same thing. We are motivated to do things that we wouldn’t normally do because of what we perceive to be other peoples expectations.

What is Perception?

Perceptions are dangerous. We can see someone and based on how they’re dressed, what they are driving, how they carry themselves, we think something about them. We perceive them as successful, or smart, or poor. But are they really? We don’t ever have the whole story in front of us.

Perceptions are always assumptions. We assume things about someone based on how they look. We assume things about what someone is thinking when we don’t really know unless they tell us.

Perceptions are a problem because we have to observe situations and people around us. We are accustomed to observing people and guessing things about them. This isn’t necessarily bad when we get to know someone. If we really know someone, our perception, our observations could be totally accurate. If we get to know our coworker, or a fellow student, and we see by their facial expressions that they’re having a bad day, we can attempt to help them feel better. We view ourselves and others as good people who care about those around us. We know that we intend to help, or at least stay out of the way.

We’re All Human

As a teacher, I have observed my students and made assumptions about them. I have seen them behave, or misbehave in class. Some teachers might feel abused or offended by this behavior. Maybe these teachers even feel targeted by their students’ indifference to the lesson and assignment, like it’s a personal thing. It’s not usually very long after I have thought something about a student, that I find out what’s really going on at home. Maybe not everything is revealed, but enough is brought to light to make me feel like a jerk for thinking negatively about a student.

I like to think I give every student a fair chance in class, but I’m sure there are things that cause me to think or act unfairly toward students. I can only hope that I err on the side of the student more often than not. Not every student feels comfortable asking for help or extra time on assignments.

One student helped me to realize an aspect of the stress of school, and my perception of male students that I hadn’t thought of before. I had heard that some male students are being thought of as lazy. They are perceived as capable by parents and teachers, but they’re not doing the work because they don’t care, or they procrastinate. While that might be true to some extent, one student admitted that he “plays lazy” because he is afraid to perform to his true potential because he was afraid that he would be expected to sustain that grade level or GPA through the rest of his school experience. He knew he was capable of doing it, he just didn’t want to spend that much time doing it. Parents perceived one thing, while he was presenting something else.

The other side of that is the students perception of the energy that would be required to maintain a certain grade level or GPA. Is it really difficult to pass some classes? What is our students perception of us and the work we are having them do? Are our students really capable of doing the work we are asking them to do? We need to be sure that what we are presenting as important and critical to our class, really is important.

Communication is intricate and dangerous. I don’t mean dangerous like someone could die; well maybe death is possible. We don’t just rely on spoken language but body language and facial expressions as well. When we think we see something and guess a persons intentions, we are perceiving falsely. Young people in particular can have a hard time understanding what an adult is saying. A simple lack of experience can cause all kinds of problems.

An Example of Misperception and a Possible Fix

In school, a younger person might not have experience holding a conversation around an academic topic. In this particular instance, a student, Jane, was absent for a day. Now being back in school, Jane might feel lost and not know how to proceed with an assignment. Jane’s perception might be that the teacher expects her to know more than she does. Jane might be embarrassed because she wasn’t paying attention. Jane might be scared that things were covered the day she was sick. Jane’s perception is that somehow she is missing something that was probably already given to everyone else. Is she going to have the confidence to ask questions to fill in the gap that was created by her absence?

On the other hand, the teacher’s perception might be that Jane wasn’t paying attention, or already knows what need to be done. The teacher may or may not remember that Jane was sick and missed an important day. If the teacher remembers that Jane was absent, she might clarify what Jane remembers and what information she missed the day she was sick.

Jane has some responsibility to clarify what the assignment is about and ask for help.

The language of perception is challenging. Too often we are afraid to look dumb in front of other people. We want to be seen as successful and ‘with it’. We can’t control others thoughts or beliefs. We can only marginally impact how others perceive us. How do you dress? How do you style your hair? People make assumptions about you based on how you look. How do you want others to perceive you? Are you successful and confident? Do you dress that way? Do you want to be seen that way? Do you dress like you’re always ready to play basketball? How do you want to be perceived?

You and I are guilty of this kind of thinking. How do you perceive other people? What biases do you have about others? How we perceive others can impact how we treat others. How teachers or other adults perceive you can impact how they treat you. Most often this type of perception and treatment is unfair. A good teacher will take time to get to know students, and not make judgements about ability and intent until later when there is actual evidence of ability.

Let’s Fix It

So how do you manage your perceptions or how you perceive people? I can think of a couple of examples from my teaching experience. My most memorable experience with perception and expectation was when I taught 12 and 13 year olds in grade 7. I’m not super tall at 5’11”, but I did weigh a bit more than I should, and at the time I had a full beard which was almost all gray before I turned 40. I looked intimidating, but I didn’t really understand how intimidating I was until later in the year when students had become more comfortable with me and told me about their first few days in my class. They were respectful at the beginning of the year, which isn’t totally unusual. Everyone is nervous in those first days of school. Later I found out that they thought I was scary. They thought I would be mean, and strict, and unforgiving on their assignments. I just laughed with them. Our perceptions of others can really cause some anxiety.

So what? What does this have to do with me or my child now? Teachers are in the teaching profession to help students learn. Speaking from experience, some students ask for clarity or to understand, but don’t really want to know, or don’t plan on acting on what they are asking for. As a teacher, this can be frustrating. My perception of a student is tied to previous experiences with that student. I genuinely hope that each time a student asks a teacher for help, that that teacher responds seriously and with a helpful heart.

What you can do. Be specific and clear in your request for help. If you, or your student is asking for help or clarification, ask specific questions. Explain why you don’t understand. Honesty is always the best path. State the truth about who was distracting, or what didn’t make sense. Even if the teacher appears to be mean and scary, ask for what you need. If you can get written instructions for the assignment, that can help both teacher and student understand the end goal. Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask for help through email or other school instituted technology. That can work to include parents or others in the conversation.

Practice

Mr./Ms. –

I need some clarification on this assignment.
Can you please explain this to me again?
Are there written instructions somewhere that I can refer to later?
I’m not able to pay attention when I sit by _____________. Could he or I be moved, please?

Review

Perceptions are tricky. What we think we see or hear might not be right.
What our teacher or other adults see or hear might not be right. If more communication or clarification is needed, just ask. Let your student grow from this experience. Don’t take over because you want to protect him or her. Teachers aren’t mean people. They genuinely love the things that they teach and want to help others understand the information.

 

I hope this helped you out! Let me know in the comments.

I’m also available for questions and other motivational helps on Instagram and Facebooknametag.png

I have to tread lightly when it comes to whether a book is appropriate or not. I live in a pretty conservative city, in a pretty conservative state, so when it comes to recommending books, I hesitate.

The Solution

I love hearing stories about kids finding the book that they couldn’t put down. Just the other day I had a 16 year old girl tell me about how she found a book at the school library by Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. I don’t know which book she was looking for but she picked another by Mr. Asher and started it at school that day. On a whim she decided to take it home. She finished it that weekend. She FINISHED IT! THAT WEEKEND!

Please forgive my excitement. She talked to me about how she hadn’t found a book that she liked since Twilight. She has connected the dots. She now realizes that she likes books with relationships where the characters have an issue that they need to work through. She likes books! 🙂

I can have a conversation with students about books that they might be interested in. I can gauge how they might respond to a book by their facial expressions. And I don’t pressure them. If they don’t like it, they know they can put it down and pick up something else. I want kids to read. I know they have to like it to keep going. I know that reading opens doors to vocabulary, ideas, compassion, respect, and less judgement. I can get a feeling for how much gore a student is comfortable with. I’m okay if a student isn’t comfortable with rough language in a story. I’m okay with students reading romances. I’m okay with students reading graphic novels. I’m okay with students reading, even if there’s gore, violence, language, relationships. Students, well…high school students, are generally better at accepting the differences of others in story form. Things that are edgy are appealing. I recognize that it’s not my job to teach my standards to my students. And I respect theirs.

The Problem

Parents. Parents are trying to protect their children from the sad and scary things that happen in our world. I understand. I’m a parent. I would never talk with my 8 year old daughter about the details of The Diary of Anne Frank. We might talk about it generally. The terrible things that happened during The Holocaust can’t be ignored, but there are levels of appropriateness. I’ll eventually talk with my daughters about dating rules and dating safety. They need to know what’s okay, what’s not, and what I will do if they need help.

Teenagers today are dealing with terrible things that happen at school. They know of students or have friends that have been through awful situations at home, at parties, or at school. They could be dealing with the topics that are coming up in books that are in our public and school libraries. Do we expect our students, our children to avoid these topics? Do we talk with them about what’s happening in the news, in our nation, and around the world? Here’s a small list of controversial, possibly inappropriate titles that are being read by teens in our country.

These aren’t bad books. They have language. They have mature situations. They’re dealing with things that are happening in our world right now. They’re addressing situations and ideas that our young adults are experiencing.

I have found that you have to trust what you have taught your kids. If they find a book, and the book has language that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll probably stop reading it. If they keep reading an edgy book because they have a friend who recommended it, and they’re trying to be understanding, is that really a bad thing?

Have conversations with your kids about what they’re reading and why they’re reading it. Talk about the difficult situations. What should they do if they have a friend who is contemplating running away, or committing suicide? Who should they be able to talk to? Hopefully that would be you.

Reading is an escape, but more often it’s a way to understand other people. It’s a way to understand people who are different from you. Reading is how we learn to treat other people, as if we were the main character in the story. We compare ourselves to the main character. We empathize with them. We cheer them on. We cry when they’re hurt. Reading is magic.

So, when it comes to determining if a book is appropriate for your child, you could search the internet for what other people think, or you could have a conversation with your child about it.

What do you think? Let me know.

Read on!
-Dave

 

Maybe the question should be, “How do I know if the time that it takes to read a book is worth it?”. That might be easier to work with. The people who love to read know what they like to read. They know that there are different categories of books. Not genres per se, but qualities of books. Let’s break that down. Why would someone read?

For Fun – Candy Reading

People who read for fun are reading for the same reason that people watch Netflix or go to movies. It can be an escape. It can be because of the director, actors, or the creator of the story as with the Harry Potter movies, or any of the Marvel or DC stories. It’s a fun adventure without requiring any serious commitment. It’s a break from our daily grind. Sometimes these books get bad publicity, like romance novels or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They definitely have a place on bookshelves. There’s nothing wrong with them. I encourage my students to read whatever they like, but also I expect them to challenge themselves and not read anything they’ve read before. Especially when they’re in high school. They shouldn’t be reading elementary level books in high school.

Skimming – Coffee Table Reading

There’s often not a lot of reading here. Coffee Table books are often full of pictures on a specific topic. These books might include topics in woodworking, collecting antiques, vehicles, or historical events and locations. These books are interesting and you can get a lot of information from them, but it’s a casual endeavor.

Literary Reading

Literary reading is something that we try to teach in school to prepare students for University. Not everyone likes this kind of reading because the books are often considered difficult or boring (though they’re not boring). The more challenging the work is, often times the more rewarding the result.

Academic Reading – Research

Academic reading can be a little bit deceiving. Academic reading, is learning about anything, from how a car works, to how to build a guitar. Academic research can be learning about a country, language, or sports statistics. Academic reading is often supplemented by video, thanks to websites like YouTube. People can find information about any topic. I’m sure you know this, though.

Back to the title question: What makes a book worth reading?

If it’s for a grade, it’s worth reading. If it’s for fun, it’s worth reading. If it’s for entertainment or conversation, it’s worth reading. If it’s a story that you love from a more difficult author, try reading it!

There are so many books to read, enjoy, explore, and discover!

How are you reading now? Are you escaping, or researching for class?

Read on!

-Dave

Entertainment

We live in a visual world and we love to be entertained. Our everyday lives are so stressful and busy that at the end of the day, we need a break. It’s great to escape for an hour or two and not have to worry about cooking, cleaning, laundry, and kids. Or, if we are kids it’s great to escape from the demands of parents giving chores, homework from school, friends and their problems, and the school-day itself. There’s so much going on in our lives that sitting down to read a book that will take weeks to finish doesn’t sound fun. It sounds boring. It sounds like school work. It sounds awful.

And sometimes, it is school work. Sometimes there’s an assignment to read a book for an  assignment. Sometimes there’s a test at the end of each chapter. So why read the book if there’s a movie version. It will be so much easier and save so much time if we just watch the movie version.

What’s the Problem With the Film Version of a novel?

Really, there’s nothing wrong with the film version. There are many great books that have been successfully converted to the Silver Screen. If it’s for entertainment, it’s usually great. However, teachers will often show the different film versions of a play or novel to show the artistic choices a director makes. Students can see how one version might be more effective than another, and how the characters vary from one version to the next. For classroom conversation though, it’s difficult to have a conversation about The Hobbit as it’s read in class while some students are making references to the film version. They are very similar, but there are some things that happen in the book that don’t happen in the film, and things that happen in the film that don’t take place in the book.

Recommendation

Films made from books are great. Watching movies for homework instead of reading is a bad idea. However, watching a movie to become familiar with the story can make the reading easier, more enjoyable, or possibly more frustrating. If your intent is to escape; watch the movie, or read. The story will be great either way. If you’re going to have a conversation about the book, you should probably be reading it. If you bring up details from the movie it will be obvious to the teacher or professor that you haven’t really read the book.

It’s almost guaranteed that if you read the book, the movie will be disappointing. There’s no substitute for the images your imagination can produce. There are things that we deduce when we decipher character intent and decode meaning from action or dialogue. Our minds are powerful and can make meaning from words on the page, even if the author didn’t write it all down. In a movie, we have to see what the director captured on film.

Let’s not argue any more about which is better. Book or movie, they’re both fun. Books are more challenging, and also more rewarding. Movies are great for a moment of escape. Both are valuable in a variety of ways.

What do you think? Are there movies that were better than the book? Are there movies that ruined a book for you? Let me know in the comments section, and if you’ve had this conversation before, share this article.

Read on, and watch on!

-Dave