Most people are most vulnerable when they are teens. Worrying what other kids think about what they wear, who they eat lunch with, and where they’ll hang out on Friday night.

For some, it can be a great time of life and for others, it can be miserable. For some, it is a time to get lost in learning; knowing that teachers are there to help them when they don’t understand and redirect their actions when something is done incorrectly.

Unfortunately, many students often learn how to just complete a task. They figure out what the teacher wants and without putting much thought or effort into it, race through the work and turn it in.

The best teachers know how to draw students into intentional thinking, intentional problem solving, intentional learning.

I think all people are hesitant to really invest any time or energy into something that they don’t fully understand or love. It takes real effort and intentional action to try something new.

Think about the bravery that is required to do any physical activity, for the first time, in front of other people. You could be jumping on a trampoline, diving into a swimming pool, or learning a new dance. It is unnerving to put yourself out there for the first time. What will other people say when I screw up?Will they think lesser of me because I can’t do this thing right?

Imagine you’re entering a dance class in high school. Chances are most of the kids in this class have some experience with dance, cheer, or tumbling. They are already used to trying something new in front of other people. They know that they have some ability to dance and enjoy it so much that whatever other people are thinking doesn’t matter.

Until they hear that they’re learning a completely different type of dancing, Bollywood. They haven’t ever seen it before, they can’t imagine themselves moving and stepping because they’ve never seen it done. They’re not familiar with the music. The stories that are being told through this type of dance are culturally foreign. They nervously smile and look around to see that nearly everyone else in the room is feeling the same way. 

However, emotionally, dance is universal. The students learn to relate their own life experiences to the dance style.

What does this have to do with you?

Well, if you’re feeling stuck, or alone, or in a place that nobody understands, there is a way out of that feeling. It does take a brave step or two from you. You need to know what you want to do, but more often than not, you need permission. What is really blocking you from doing something new? What is keeping you from progressing? Do you know what needs to be done? Have you been given permission (from yourself or someone else) to begin?

We live in a world where it’s simple to learn something new. There is so much information in front of us on the internet that we can do nearly anything we set our minds to. But, you can over-prepare to the point of information overload. You can become stuck with so much information that you don’t know where to begin.

Trust the dance teacher, or a mentor, or a friend. You need instruction, but you need the signal to begin. Permission. Begin. Start. Make a plan, but take a step. Start doing something. People might be standing around watching you, and you might feel self-conscious that you’ll do something wrong. Don’t let that stop you. They’re not doing anything for themselves. They’re just standing there, watching you.

You have permission. That’s the only real block for a lot of people. You may begin. Even if people are watching. Give them a show. Show them that you want to achieve, learn, do. You can do it. You are capable. You have the ability to learn and progress built inside of you. Don’t let fear or others opinions stand in your way!

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, it can’t be as terrifying as being in a high school dance class 🙂

You can Own Your Good! Make it happen! You’ll be amazed at your progress and growth!

– Dave

Check out the Own Your Good podcast episode with Amber McCord, my friend, and a high school dance teacher.

https://davidlstone.com/own-your-good/

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

 

When I tell my students that we’re starting a poetry unit, I give them thirty seconds to groan and complain and make disgusted faces. I actually tell them to get ready to complain, and boy do they!

I understand why most people have a hard time with poetry. The language that writers used a hundred years ago, or more can be difficult to understand. It makes sense that we could be feeling the same things about love, or sadness, or death. We just don’t use the same words and metaphors to communicate those feelings and ideas.

The funny thing is, that when we understand the words, we understand the poetry and we like it. If we take the time to get into Shakespeare, we understand the insults, even if we don’t understand some of the words. We become accustomed to the language.

That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time on older poetry. Kids don’t have the attention span to spend days filtering meaning out of those dusty pages.

Don’t get me wrong, we still read Shakespeare. But only as much as we watch. His plays were meant to be watched.

Back to poetry. Introducing, Slam Poetry!

Kids seem to get Slam Poetry. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s performed. It can be sad, thought provoking, or funny, and it doesn’t have to rhyme. Some still feel like they have to make it rhyme. That’s okay with me, it’s their creation.

I give my students themes. I try to guide their thinking so they can naturally start writing about the thing they love, or the thing that they’re good at. They struggle for a while, but eventually they dig deep enough that they start to write about how they really feel.

The thing I’ve discovered about poetry is that not everyone has had the same experiences. When a 16 year old guy reads a poem that describes being in love as being bathed in the warmth of sunlight, he shrugs and has solidified his belief that poetry is stupid.

However, when that same 16 year old watches a slam poem about love and OCD, the performance, emotion, word choice, and delivery show him how it feels to be in love, and how it feels to have that feeling shattered. He gets it. And that makes reading more intriguing. Reading to understand, not just reading because someone told them to.

Expressing emotion, being vulnerable, and daring to just write can produce amazing poetry. It takes encouragement. Anyone can do it. It also demands trust and respect. The students have to know that you’re on their side, and that what they write, and who they are is important.

So if your kiddo is struggling with reading, maybe take a break and try to write some poetry. Don’t make it rhyme. Don’t force it. Just write. Express feelings, use metaphors, similes, describe the details as if in slow motion. I think you’ll be surprised and amazed at what they write.

I know I am. Sometimes it gives me chills.

Until next week,

Write on, Read on.

-Dave

I’ve listed some slam poems that I love. Some I show in class. Some I can’t because of language. Some have cleaner versions that I do show in class.

Let me know what you think of poetry.

Neil Hilborn – “OCD” One *F* word. Makes me cry every time.

Neil Hilborn – Ted Talk – Agents of Changeand “OCD” Clean

Adam Gottlieb – “Poet Breathe Now” Inspiring

Miriam & Rhiannon – “Cat Poem” Hilarious 🙂

You’re reading more and you’re starting to enjoy it a little. Or maybe your child isn’t resisting the time you dedicate to reading, and is actually helping to choose books. How can I improve what I am doing?

This is an easy thing to talk about. Really. That’s it. Talk about it. If you’ve read a book or story, and your child or someone else has read the book or story, talk about it.

What do you think about the characters? Why do you think characters did what they did? Would you have done the same thing? What could have made the story better? What didn’t you like about it? What other stories have you read that were like this one?

Talk about it.

When someone else confirms your understanding you take a win. When someone else clarifies a misunderstood scene or character action, you refine the way you read. You refine the questions you ask. You are becoming a better reader! It takes practice.

It’s simple. Enjoy the progress. Praise your little reader for doing something difficult.