By Ken Myers
It is well-known that children who read well experience greater progress in their academic studies. However, literature also is a valuable tool for teaching and reinforcing positive social skills that can help keep children on the right track when it comes to behavior. In fact, the power of literature is so strong, that many juvenile correction systems are implementing the use of required reading as an alternative to other types of punishment. Because literature has the potential to inspire positive change in children, parents and other adults who work with youths may want to try a few of the following ideas in order to begin seeing the effects of literature on a child’s social and emotional development.
1. Create a ritual. Children thrive on routine. This is especially true for children who come from rough backgrounds or who have been forced to overcome significant challenges. Younger children may benefit from having a set bedtime story ritual, while older children can find a regular reading schedule calming. This way, there is a portion of the day set aside that they can depend upon always being the same.
2. Use a book to approach a difficult issue. Working with children can lead to a need for some difficult conversations. Often, adults and children may struggle with ways to bring up particularly challenging topics. For this reason, books are often the perfect way to introduce specific topics for conversation. Through literature, you can seamlessly ease into topics such as divorce, death, and abuse.
3. Explore a common interest. For many children, bonding is a difficult process. However, when a child shares a common interest with an adult, the child is more likely to trust the adult for advice. This can be especially vital for juveniles to make progress towards their goals for better behavior. For this reason, try finding a common interest that you and your child can explore through reading specific literature and books.
4. Make a memory book. When children attempt to learn how to make better decisions, you can help them learn how to focus on the positive aspects of their lives. In these instances, encourage children to create their own literature. By making memory books, children develop powerful resources to track the positive changes occurring in their lives. In a group setting, each member can choose to create a page that everyone can read.
5. Extend reading through activities. Children learn best when they actively participate in an experience. For this reason, extend a literary assignment to include a physical activity. For example, a child who reads a sports-themed book may then enjoy taking part in a real-life game. This can reinforce the concepts the child learned in the story, such as the importance of teamwork.
When children read books, they are able to enter into a world where learning can take place regarding a variety of subjects. Not only is literature an excellent tool for teaching academics, but it is also a valuable resource for helping children learn positive social skills that will enable them to make better decisions. This is especially true for children who may not have had positive role models in the past. Literature should be an important part of any child’s life and supported through the efforts of adults who are dedicated to ensuring the child will have the best opportunities for success.
Ken Myers is the editor in chief and frequent contributor of http://www.gonannies.com/. Ken helps acquire knowledge on the duties & responsibilities of nannies to society. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Image: Frederick Noronha on flickr.com
By Mary Bell
Reading is definitely an escape from stress. It provides readers with an alternative world and imagination beyond recognition. It also provides information and different insights regarding recent and past issues that affect people of different statures. A relationship between readers and writers provide an ongoing cycle of demand and supply yet some are not aware of their rights as a producer and consumer.
Being a reader also has rights. Whether big or small, a bookworm can always be harassed into reading materials that he or she might not really want to entertain or acknowledge. Below is the list of rights of an avid reader. Knowing this might not only help them choose what to read, but also help them why and how to read. These may be obvious guidelines, but it will still help those who are still not aware of their rights.
1. The right to not read.
Like any other consumers, readers can choose what to and what not to read. You are not obliged to view materials that may be offensive or does notpertain to your field of interest.
2. The right to skip pages.
A reader may skip the pages of any book, magazine, leaflet, or handbook he/she buys. This exemplifies that the reader may not be entertained or satisfied with the contents of the page or the reader might have already read the contents of the pages already.
3. The right to not finish.
Whether it’s due to boredom or lack of interest, a reader may choose not to finish a certain reading material. He/she can always replace or put a book in the shelf if it does not satisfy his/her interest anymore.
4. The right to reread.
Obviously, readers have the right to read a book over and over again. May it be for research or just pure entertainment, the bookworm has the right to read his/her books any number of times he/she wants.
5. The right to escapism
The reader has the right to turn the book into an escape from reality. Whatever topic it may be, he/she is privileged to venture into another world through the pages of a book.
6. The right to read anywhere.
Readers need not to worry about the place they read their favorite books, as long as they are not offending anyone.
7. The right to browse.
Readers have the right to browse through a book before purchasing it. This enables them to get a preview of what content the book holds and may help them in being interested about a certain topic.
8. The right to read out loud.
A person is entitled to read out loud unless an area or institution prohibits noise. Try reading out loud in your room, kitchen, bathroom or wherever you want. It helps to bring out the emotions of the material you are reading.
9. The right to write about what you read.
Book lovers are entitled to be writers too. They can write anything about the books they are reading as well as give reviews and insights on its content.
On a writer’s point of view, creating a masterpiece takes a lot of time and effort. They are usually criticized on how they write the storylines and what content they put into their hard bounded memoirs. If you are interested in becoming a writer, you should know your rights and should not be afraid to emphasize them while doing your work. Below are the rights of writers and journalists. May these lines be helpful to you and your work.
1. The right to be reflective. Every writer has the right to reflect on what he/she is experiencing at the time. Whether it is a happy or painful experience, writers have the right to stop and reflect on the issues they are interested in writing about.
2. The right to choose a personally important topic.
A writer is has every right to write about an issue that affects him or her mostly. Giving insights on a certain topic, writers may express their feelings and insights whether it is favorable or not to a certain issue.
3. The right to go “off topic.”
Writers may choose to explore other topics that may still be related to the issue they are writing about. This gives new ideas and insights to the readers as well as aspiring bloggers and writers.
4. The right to personalize the writing process.
Every writer has the right to be recognized for his/her writing style. Remember, no two writers have the same style in writing. If so, that would be plagiarism.
5. The right to write badly.
Being an imperfect being, writers are also allowed to commit mistakes. That’s why they have a draft of their works so that they can edit it before publishing.
6. The right to “see” others write.
A writer has the right to observe other writers. This is essential for their work and may help them finish a book or article that they are currently working on.
7. The right to be assessed well.
Writers have the right to choose their review panel in order to have a feeling of fairness.
8. The right to go beyond formula.
Writers have the right to go beyond the traditional style of writing in order to create interesting and unique topics and storylines that capture the eyes and hearts of readers.
9. The right to find your own voice.
Writers have the right to find their own unique writing style in order to catch reader’s attention. Nothing prohibits a writer from becoming unique and creating his/her own voice.
These are but just simple and obvious privileges of writers and readers. We should be aware of every right and make sure to apply them whenever we feel violated and offended.
Mary Bell is a law and business blogger. She is a freelance lawyer and a full time mother of two wonderful kids. You may likely find her writing about related subjects and/or writing for companies like BailBondsDirect.com that has been in the bail bond industry since 1999. She has recently blogged about Bail Bonds.
By Jeffrey Roe
Most people intending to become librarians often have strong memories associated with their school libraries and the people who worked in them. Those memories are likely what draws some librarians back to primary school, where they work to foster and promote literacy, learning, and, simply, a love of books. Others opt to go into research, working in high profile special collections with fragile documents full of unique information or of particular significance to history.
Few library students probably envision working in a prison library as their ideal place of employment. Contrary to what you might think, working as a prison librarian isn’t a maligned path so much as an overlooked one; it’s simply not a job on most people’s radar. This is unfortunate, as working in a prison library offers librarians a unique environment, one that is proactive in promoting education, literacy, and civic engagement, among other ideals closely related to the mission of libraries everywhere.
Becoming a prison librarian isn’t particularly difficult. As with all professional libraries, prison librarians must have a degree in library science, generally at the master’s level (MLS). Experience working in a civilian library (such as a school or public library) is also generally required. Some experience working in corrections is also ideal, but not required; it’s simply a good idea to understand the constraints that prison puts upon both the incarcerated and those who serve them. You could accomplish this by volunteering at a prison.
It’s important to understand what a library is to someone who’s been incarcerated: It is a place where inmates escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life, where they learn to improve their literacy, write letters, watch instructional videos and so much more. Prison libraries don’t differ much from public libraries in terms of content, though some do have dedicated legal sections. Prison libraries even sometimes host book clubs! Library services can be integrated with other services for the incarcerated, like visitation.
Prison libraries, like public libraries, suffer at the whims of state finances, but differ from their public counterparts in other significant ways. Internet is often unavailable to inmates or librarians; when it is available to librarians, it is only during hours when inmates are not present. Prison librarians also act as corrections officers, taking on the responsibility of supervising both the inmates working in the library and those using its services. Generally, inmates tend to treat librarians with a degree of respect since the services the library provides offer prisoners a respite from prison life and a way to better themselves and their situation. Prisoners who engage in educational programs, such as library services, tend to stay out of prison upon release at higher rate than those without access to such programs. Just another reason to consider becoming a prison librarian.
Jeffrey Roe is the community manager for the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. USC Rossier Online provides current teachers and those working on becoming a teacher with the opportunity to earn a masters in education completely online. In his free time, Jeff enjoys attending concerts and developing his talents as a videomaker.
By Colin Ollson
If you decided to sit your child down and announced that today you were going to give little Jacob or Emma a lesson in compassion, what do you think his or her reaction would be? More than likely, it would not be squeals of delight and a question about whether there would be a quiz at the end. Whether children realize it or not, learning how to be compassionate toward others is something they can start developing when they are quite young. The five books that make kids more compassionate listed here are great choices to help them learn that lesson without making them feel as if they are in school.
Milton’s Secret by Eckhart Tolle
This book, which is written for 4-8 year-olds, focuses on a young boy who is worried about the possibility of encountering a bully at school. Children learn compassion for the child who may be a target and through discovering this book with their parents can start a discussion about the bigger issue of bullying, why some children (and adults) behave that way, and how it makes the target of this type of behavior feel.
Another theme of this book is that we must learn to take each moment as it comes, without worrying about the future. This idea of being fully present in the here and now is one which will benefit a youngster as he or she grows into adulthood.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The idea behind this beloved story is a very simple one. The main character is a tree which simply gave everything it had to a boy out of love, including simple things like shade to help keep him cool in hot weather or a larger request like a place to build a tree house. Children aged 4-8 will learn that giving out of love is the right thing to do.
Unexpected Treasures by Victoria Osteen
Author Victoria Osteen explores the theme that being kind to other people is the right thing to do, even when circumstances are difficult. In this story, Pirate Fred and Curly Beard are rescued from a sinking ship by Captain Jon and First Mate Sue. The rescued pirates are grumpy at first, but learn about friendship and sharing as the story moves on. This story is a good choice for children between the ages of 3-7.
The Ant Bully by John Nickle
The Ant Bully is a story about a bully having the tables turned on him by finding out how his actions affect others. This story, which is a good choice for children aged four and up, focuses on Lucas, a kid who is taunted by another child who turns on his bully with a squirt gun and uses it on an ant colony as well.
The ants use a magical green potion to shrink Lucas down to their size and sentence him to hard labor. He learns his lesson while living among the ants and children will learn the lesson that treating someone else badly because of the actions of a bully is not a way to show compassion for others.
The Recess Queen by Laura Huliska-Beith
This is another story which would be appropriate for children ages four and up. Its plot focuses on Mean Jean, who simply was the Recess Queen. No one on the playground did anything unless Jean told them it was all right to do it. She ruled the roost, until one day a new girl came to school and everything changed.
Katie Sue was not intimidated by Mean Jean. She asked Mean Jean to jump rope with her instead. This simple act of friendship (and compassion) made the difference in the story and it is an effective way to teach children that reaching out to others can be a way to diffuse a situation.
When you are exploring these five books that make kids more compassionate with the young people who mean the most to you, don’t forget to ask questions about their experiences as you read the story. The book can be a wonderful starting point for this ongoing life lesson.
Colin is an in-house copywriter at http://www.essaypedia.com/. He specializes in writing of custom research papers and essays on history and arts.
By Tam Neville
After lunch the group heard a presentation on “Research: Does it work?” led by Ron P. Corbett Jr. He began by saying that evidence-based practices are used in many settings.
Is there empirical support for what you do?
Is it having the effects you want on the people you work with?
All in Changing Lives Through Literature believe that it does change lives. A recidivism study has recently been done at UMass/Boston by retired professor Taylor Stoehr, Professor of Sociology, Russell Schutt, and Associate Professor, faculty member of the Criminal Justice Program, Xiaogang Deng. The study showed a reduction in offending for CLTL graduates.
Do we have the ability to help people reduce offending sometimes or altogether?
There was an experimental group and a control group. We looked at behavior 18 months before CLTL and 18 months after CLTL. There were 600 participants in the study. There was a 60 % drop for CLTL participants and 16% for others. Both the number and severity of incidents were reduced. Also the participants worked with a parole officer and took one other program (such as substance abuse, batterers, etc.).
What is it about Changing Lives that leads to a reduction in offending? What is the link between graduates of the program and those who offend less? Stoehr reports on this study:
“This group was larger than the Jarjoura/Rogers study and ran for a longer time. We had five jurisdictions: New Bedford, Lynn/Lowell, Dorchester, and two smaller courts. We had a larger range of information.
For the probationers, someone was paying attention to them. This is what was missing from their lives. In the Dorchester men’s class we have big groups so we break them up into smaller groups. Once in a class discussion, we had five guys who were great talkers, all talking at once. Then one held up his hand and said, “This is what our problem is, we don’t listen, we just talk.” Moments like this begin to happen in the third class. The process is unpredictable. You let go of controls. In Dorchester we don’t stick so hard to the text. The main thing is what happens in the classroom.
In the Dorchester program, we have a set of questions that we work with that go in a sequence. For example: What does it take to grow up? Does anybody ever learn things in school? And towards the end of the semester – What does it take to hit bottom? The questions get bigger and bigger.
In mid-semester we ask, “What is your evaluation of street smarts?” By this time there is trust. On street smarts – almost all are proud of their street smarts. The staff has a different view: street smarts prevent you from learning anything new. Many students cling to street smarts. The most important thing about Changing Lives is that people belong to a community that has the same concerns that they have. We have so little of that in America – where does that happen in your life? That makes a huge difference in what you do with your life.”
Books bring universality. A student realized, “I’m not the only one with this problem.” Through books students learn how to fight with words, not fists. They build a community together.
Reading is a cognitive behavior intervention – it makes thinking more flexible and more expansive, more empathetic.
The program boosts self-esteem too. To have a conversation with a judge can boost a student’s confidence. A student completes an assignment, voices an opinion, and is listened to.
Judge Kane said, “We’ve had the program for 20 years and there has never been a scary incident in these years. We get gratitude from our students.”
Judge Dever said, “People come into the program looking at life subjectively. In this program, through literature, they start looking at life objectively. This changes their ability to communicate. This then may help them with job interviews, things they thought were unattainable.
Reading slows you down – you have to find a quiet place and be by yourself. This is new for them – it leads to self-reflection.”
Stoehr talked about juveniles saying, “They don’t’ have a place to go with no noise and they’re full of hormones. Think of something you can do at the meeting, very short things (maybe rap), something that gives them a little challenge at the moment.”
Teresa Owens (PO, Taunton Division) said, “CLTL gives them a safe setting. One thing that always came out of the Dorchester women’s class was the question of choices. Were there other choices I could have made? Or, you can go to someone else to ask and say ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Also, people in class were accountable to each other in terms of doing the reading, homework, etc.”
CLTL is a team experience. When people have a chance to reflect on choices, this is their time, a time they can actually think. They don’t have that luxury in their lives. In CLTL they learn that there are more options, more choices.
Professor Waxler said, “We collectively make a community. The activity is primarily verbal. Reading brings engagement with narrative – you see that you are connected to other people. The story that I just read is my story too. Then discussion with everyone sitting around a table, there’s an open relationship between our experience and narrative. Story gives us meaning and helps us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”
To begin the final session, a probation officer new to the program spoke using herself as an example. She said, “Say I want to start a program. How do I get a judge involved, a facilitator, and probation officers?”
Judge Kane answered her on the matter of judicial involvement. “At least have someone who will let you run the program. You will need a judge’s support to get POs behind it. Having a judge is very important.”
Jean Trounstine added, “Get a judge talking to a judge. This will increase the chance of their going to class. You then have to go out and find facilitators.”
Someone else commented, “You have to get the judge to commit to an incentive if CLTL is not a condition of probation.”
The question of incentive: Outcomes are more positive where a court can create incentives such as six months off probation period, discount on supervision fees, etc. This information is in the literature and on the website. Dee Kennedy pointed out that, “Many students start off by saying, ‘I never would have taken this without the time off’ but by graduation, their attitude has changed.”
To find a facilitator ask Jean Flanagan. Jean Trounstine added, “Try to find a facilitator who has a connection with a school. It’s good to have a school as a place to meet. Call an English department. We can help you – you don’t need to do this in a vacuum.”
Ideally, a university campus is the best place to hold a class. The students get a taste of college life and it makes them proud to go to a college campus. This is especially important with juveniles.
To start a class, ask probation officers to recruit students from among their probationers. Myrna Thornquist (PO, Waltham District Court) advised, “I check a person out – do they like to read? What is their education? In the beginning I don’t tell them what I’m thinking – that they would be a good candidate. I do a little research on a person. Then, are they interested? Sometimes it takes 6-12 months to be sure of someone as a candidate.”
On books, Jean Trounstine said, “We give the students the books, they don’t buy them and the facilitator is reimbursed for these. We also encourage every student to get a library card.”
How many students should be in a class? We have had classes with 5 or with 13. Taylor Stoehr said, “One day we had 50. We split into two groups, then used small groups of 4 to 5.”
Any staff has to be regular. It’s important that all the staff agrees on the class ground rules. If we have an issue sometimes we talk about it afterwards. For the most part we tell the students, be sober and straight, do your homework and be on time.”
For the graduation ceremony, the Lynn/Lowell programs hold graduation in the court house during the first session. Those in the dock witness graduation. The graduates receive books and a certificate. It’s a day for celebration.
This meeting was a very successful one and we now have several courts who are interested in starting a program. We need facilitators. If you, or anyone you know, would like to facilitate a Changing Lives Program please get in touch with Jean Trounstiine at: TROUNSTINEJ@middlesex.mass.edu
By Tam Neville
This program is a great experiment about what democracy can mean. All masks, roles, hierarchies, fall away. There is a moment of beauty. In a class we have the voice, the breath of human beings, the flow of the human heart.
Dr. Robert P. Waxler
On May 10, 2012, Judges, probation officers, and facilitators of the Changing Lives Through Literature program met at the Worcester Law Library. The purpose of the meeting was to assist potential participants in starting new programs. There were many new faces in the room and familiar faces too. Despite losing our funding in 2008, we are still going strong with ten programs running in Massachusetts and hopefully, with gatherings like this one, more will follow.
The day began with a presentation of the history of the Changing Lives Through Literature Program led by Hon. Robert J. Kane and Dr. Robert P. Waxler. Judge Kane talked briefly about the first CLTL class that took place in New Bedford with a group of men, all of whom had serious convictions. The idea was to try the new program on the toughest candidates. If it worked on them, that meant the program was sound.
Judge Kane said the program works because “the act of reading and writing allows people to learn, to learn to listen instead of just reacting.”
All programs have autonomy. Dorchester may use just one text, supplemented with stories, Roxbury may use poems, and another program may use film.
Classes democratically respond to works of literature and this dialogue leaves a deposit in everyone. Judge Kane said, “This was dramatically illustrated by a man with a rough history that we had as a student. He was scared and wanted to stir something up. We gave this turbulent student a different point of view that gave him the chance to reflect. I saw him the other day – he gave me a smile and handshake. This student got a different view of a judge. We, in turn, learn to drop any facile notion of what brings an offender into court. Changing Lives brings me energy and a sense of curiosity. CLTL is a vocation. I’d like to thank Ron Corbett whose great support gives us renewed spirit for the future of the program.”
Next Prof. Waxler spoke about the programs history and its implications.
“The center of the program is literature. Literature is one tool we have that can keep people human. Every time we walk into a class we have that possibility. Our program has a different effect than an anger management or a job-hunting class. The program began in l991 with those who had a major offence. We saw how the men in this first class changed. Watching them walk on campus – after 6-7 weeks they looked different, they looked much more like the other students.”
An independent study (the Jarjoura/Rogers study) was done and was helpful in the beginning of the program. It demonstrated that CLTL graduates had a lower rate of recidivism. 45% re-offended in the control group and of the CLTL group only 18% re-offended.
Not only do the students change but probation officers and judges change as well. Judge Dever said, ‘It has been the joy of my judgeship.’”
Waxler continued, “CLTL is a movement, not an organization or institution. We have 12 states that are involved: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, California, and one program in great Britain. The goal is to have a program in every state, every court. We have three books written about the program, a website, and a blog.
I think the program works because people get excited about reading. Thinking and self-reflection (through the process of reading) can be more exciting than dealing drugs. After the third session one of our roughest students said ‘I never thought I would find anything as exciting as being out on the street selling drugs – but I have.’ Reading and being able to come in and engage in discussion with PO’s, other students, and a judge, was inspirational for him.
This program is a great experiment about what democracy can mean. All masks, roles, hierarchies, fall away. There is a moment of beauty. In a class we have the voice, the breath of human beings, the flow of the human heart. People find their own voice and also participate in a communal voice. Many people are stuck in a perpetual present, repeating the same behavior. As Franz Kafka said, literature can break through that frozen sea within us. When that happens through narrative you feel a stirring of desire. You see the future and remember parts of the past and break out of the prison of present moment.
I will tell you about one night in class, we were reading Sea Wolf by Jack London. The hero is a tough guy, but with some narcissist elements. He believes that might makes right and is stuck in this, can’t move off his own center. In the midst of discussion – one student said, ‘I used to be just like Wolf Larsen.’ He recognized himself but was also saying ‘I am now free of that personality.’ Stories can open things up. People are always more extraordinary than the stereotypes. People in the program feel they are not good people. They are down-and-out and believe others see them this way. As we read we see something different – complex human beings – and the students realize that they have that complexity.”
The second session of the day, led by Jean Trounstine, was on program modeling, or how to teach a particular book or story. The discussion was based on Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson.”
Trounstine began by asking, “What’s the lesson and who learns it?”
One participant said that Miss Moore exposed kids from a poor neighborhood to the outside world. She took them to F.A.O. Schwartz and here they began to learn about a larger world. Here there were new toys with high prices. The children learned that such things existed and about the inequality in the world.
Sylvia was one of the strongest characters of the story. She learns what she didn’t want to see and she says – “Why am I feeling ashamed when I walk into this store?” She didn’t fit in – she felt, “They are better than I am.” In her own world she ruled the roost. The story shows the limitations of poverty and how it’s difficult for people to see beyond it. Sugar expresses the inequality, “You know Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here eat as much in one year as that sailboat costs.” Miss Moore is a radical in her own way. She was trying to show children that these inequalities exist and that you can work with them.
What was Sylvia’s world view before she goes to F.A.O. Shwartz? Sylvia’s view is, “My world’s ok, don’t rock the boat,” a predicable response. Now she has to look at a bigger picture and this “rocks Sylvia’s boat.”
Sylvia is angry because of her background. This is connected to our own classes and the question of how to draw students out of anger.
When they first go into the store, the children feel, “White people, crazy, wearing fur coats in the summer. But if everything you see glorifies a certain standard of living . . .” The children are frustrated by Miss Moore who says “Where we are is who we are.” She challenges them with the question of how to change this.
Do you like or dislike Miss Moore? She challenges them not with words or morals but by letting them have their own experience. Miss Moore doesn’t care if the children like her. The kids have a grudging respect for her. She is confrontational and persistent.
Taylor Stoehr asked, “What do you do with that anger? You have to learn this yourself. The lesson for us in this story is that the best you can do is open up the world. There is an analogy between Miss Moore and what we do in this program. In CLTL students are self-obsessed but without any self-esteem.”
Jean Trounstine said, “Let’s focus on what I would do with this in a CLTL class. You’re in a room with chairs in a circle. This is a good story to use at the beginning of semester. No one knows anyone. I have everyone read the story together. The students get over any fear of not understanding. Then I ask, ‘What did you get out of the story?’ Then we would start a discussion. It’s important not to instruct, but to choose a story good enough to make them think.”
Waxler added, “I’ve used this in a regular college classroom. Why does Miss Moore have to put it right in their faces – that they are poor? We are left with questions. Unlike other disciplines, literature doesn’t work for solutions.”
Ron Corbett asked, “Is it important that the characters have some characteristics that students have?” Trounstine answered, “I always pick things I think students will relate to. We used Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Once they come to class, they see the book differently.”
By Brittany Allcorn
When I was younger all of the children from my neighborhood would normally gather together to play outside, but on one particular day my friends were too busy (having more fun than me!) to come outside. As I was sitting outside on the sidewalk, playing with a twig, or some other earthly thing I had made into a “toy,” a woman came up to me and asked me if I liked to read. At that time, I really hadn’t thought about whether or not I liked to read, but I hesitantly said yes anyway. This kind woman, someone who I had never met before, asked me if I would like to borrow a book. Of course I said yes. I was so bored that I would accept anything to get me away from the boredom of the sweltering, friendless day. The book she leant me was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
It was fantastic! After immersing myself in the world of the endearing characters of the novel, I could answer the question “Do you like to read” with an affirmative yes. Through this book I learned that I don’t have to be sitting on the sidewalk on a sweltering day playing with a stick, I could be sitting in a horse drawn carriage on a bone chilling day with the White Witch. I learned that I could experience whole other worlds and whole other lives. I could be anyone and anywhere I wanted to be. Not only did reading offer me new experiences, but it also offered me new friends. For me, characters aren’t just words on a page. They are real people with desires and emotions. They are people with whom I can sympathize with and develop a connection to.
Having taken a course on literacy in the classroom with Maureen Hall, I have learned that the experiences I felt from reading are greatly embedded in the deep reading process. Deep reading involves readers making a connection to the text in both an imaginative and emotional way. Readers who go beyond the literal meaning of literature and “map” their experiences on to the text are experiencing deep reading.
Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall in their book, Transforming Literacy: Changing Lives through Reading and Writing, explain that, “literature, filled with ambiguity, always opens itself to the reader, calls to the reader, encouraging and demanding that the reader participate in the making of its ongoing meaning.” Narratives have a literal meaning that all readers can understand, but they can also be manipulated by individual readers who develop their own meaning and interpretation of a text based on their own experiences. The meaning readers develop from a text is important because it leads to a better understanding of the self.
I also learned several great ways teachers can incorporate the deep reading process in their classrooms. My personal favorite technique is provoking discussions through questions. These questions should be open-ended, with no right or wrong answers, because these are the types of questions that really get students thinking. Questioning not only guides readers to meaning making, but it can also allow students to make more connections between the characters and their own lives. Questioning is a great practice because it can be done at any stage of the reading process and can lead to better understanding, development, and epiphany of the self.
As Waxler and Hall explain, questioning, or the act of conversation, can spark the desire for, “students [to] wrestle with the story… [and] struggle to make meaning out of their personal and collective experience.” Discussing the text develops a community of learners who are able to learn and grow with one another by sharing their ideas. Understanding the self leads to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness humans share and the vulnerability every individual has. This recognition allows for deeper discussions and thus a deeper understanding of a text and of the self.
Another important way for a teacher to accurately implement the deep reading process in his or her classroom is by experiencing deep reading firsthand. In order to better understand the experiences of deep reading, teachers should also have this experience. If a teacher has never experienced the process of deep reading he or she will not understand what his or her students are going through and will not know how to encourage students to participate in the process of meaning making that develops from deep reading. When appropriate, teachers can share some of their experiences with their students in order to make a stronger community of learners who feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas and feelings about the text with not only their peers, but also with the teacher.
Through gaining knowledge of the deep reading process I have learned that my experience as a child reading T. S. Eliot’s work really had an impact on me and that I can share this experience with my own future students. By taking the journey along with the characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and by participating in the experience of deep reading as a child, I learned that I disagreed with the White Witch’s methods of power and with Edmund’s original alliance with the witch and betrayal of his brothers and sisters, but more importantly I learned about the power of family and the strength of love and kindness. I was able to make connections between the events in the book and my own life. Without the experience of deep reading I wouldn’t have been able to make these connections and learn from the story. Deep reading has a powerful impact on the individual reading. It can start at any age and can blossom into a better understanding of not only the self, but also of all humanity.
By Tara Knoll
Alternative sentencing works to treat offenders as individuals. A crucial part of this function is the acknowledgment that female offenders are different in significant ways from their male counterparts. By observing both the predominantly male New Bedford CLTL program and the all-female Lynn-Lowell CLTL program, I found that, rather then equate male and female offenders, CLTL calls upon their different pathways to crime and gender-specific needs to structure programs that address the different issues they face. That isn’t to say that CLTL’s division of gender in these programs makes essentialist claims, but rather CLTL acknowledges that, realistically, male and female offenders often face different issues in prison and in reentry in terms of life circumstances and risk factors.
A recent report on programming needs for women offenders by the National Institute of Justice emphasizes, “Women offenders have needs different from those of men, stemming in part from their disproportionate victimization from sexual or physical abuse and their responsibility for children.” Further, according to the Center for Effective Public Policy’s 2010 “Reentry Considerations for Women,” it is critical to consider that “women [offenders] have different communication styles than men….” Robert Waxler and Jean Trounstine prefer to have all-male and all-female participants, respectively, in the classroom. While there are several co-ed CLTL groups, Waxler explained to me, “There are single gender groups primarily. For me, I find that it’s helpful to have an all male group in terms of picking which stories to use and anticipating lines of inquiry.”
When I observed the New Bedford session in which the participants discussed Russell Banks’ Affliction, I found that the session reflected the New Bedford program’s focus on male-centered issues. Affliction is in many ways a text about what it means to be male. Its time frame is deer-hunting season, “an ancient male right,” its male characters are rugged and violent, and most importantly, the protagonist, Wade, is “very good at being male in this world.” During the discussion, the participants considered what it means to be a father and a man, a discussion prompted in part by the protagonist’s own earnest question, “What do men do?” As the narrator reaches the conclusion of the story, he reflects, “[O]ur stories, Wade’s and mine, describe the lives of boys and men for thousands of years, boys who were beaten byt heir fathers, whose capacity for love and trust was crippled almost at birth….” The participants identified with the narrative in part because the narrator solicited their identification, encouraging them to realize that the issues they face—a troubled relationship with violence or a broken childhood—have been faced by men just like them throughout history. The narrator’s “I” because “we” as he observes the difficult nature of “how we absent ourselves from the tradition of male violence.”
But in order for the narrator’s “we” to include “boys and men for thousands of years,” he must exclude the girls and women who have been afflicted by the same violence, whose “capacity for love and trust” was also “crippled almost at birth.” In a male-dominated criminal justice system, female offenders are often overlooked in studies and in policy development. Although women represent a smaller proportion of the offending population than men, the increase in the female offender population in prisons is alarming. According to a report commissioned by the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice, female imprisonment increased 757 percent between 1977 and 2004, surpassing that of men in all 50 states. One-fifth of men are incarcerated for drug offenses, compared to one-third of women. According to the National Institute of Corrections, incarcerated women, on average, are survivors of physical and/or sexual abuse, have multiple physical and mental health problems, and are the single parents of children, accounting for nearly 250,000 children whose mothers are in prison.
“When people talk about offenders and even about this program, so many times it’s not discussed in terms of women,” Trounstine told me. “People imagine it’s more serious if we discuss these things in terms of men. Men are the ‘real’ offenders, the ‘serious’ ones. If a [female offender] is reading a book it’s just a way to appease her.” According to Trounstine, incorporating men into the all-female Lynn-Lowell sessions would certainly add diverse perspectives, but the women feel most comfortable communicating in a room of only women. That is, apart from Judge Dever, whose presence in the room seems to help the women gain confidence. I observed the sixth and penultimate session of the Lynn-Lowell program, and it was clear that the classroom at Middlesex Community College was a comfortable space. The women conversed playfully with Trounstine, whom they called Jean, and Judge Dever, or “Judge D.” “I want them to feel relaxed and safe in this room,” Trounstine explained to me. “At the same time, I want them to see me as a role model.”
During the session, the participants discussed Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a mainstay of Trounstine’s syllabus. Trounstine launched the discussion with a question many participants had asked or hinted at during “the Go-Round,” a pre-discussion exercise in which each participant expresses her thoughts on a provided question: does Tea Cake, a young and charming suitor, really love the novel’s protagonist, Janie? The participants used this question as a lens to discuss romance, courtship, hardship, and physical abuse. One participant introduced a significant complication to Tea Cake’s alleged love for Janie. “If he loves her, why does he beat her?” she asked. Trounstine later explained to me, “The male-female relationship is huge for them, and they often talk about the men in their lives through the characters.” According to the Center for Effective Public Policy, “the criminal experiences of women are often best understood in the context of unhealthy relationships (e.g., a male partner who encourages substance abuse or prostitution).” The participants turned to a passage in which Tea Cake beats Janie and engaged in a difficult discussion that exposed the complexity of the relation between love and abuse. They struggled to reconcile Tea Cake’s charming behavior with his violence.
After the discussion had progressed, one participant expressed a striking claim: “Janie moves from object so subject of her own life.” Her transition is a remarkable one. The participants recognized that a love story can be a tool to talk about something else; at the same time, however, they explored the human qualities of this narrative device. One participant pointed out, “Janie shapes herself around Tea Cake.” By discussing Janie’s voice and her silence during her three marriages, the participants investigated what it means to shape oneself around a significant other, or a family member, or a source of addiction.
Toward the end of the discussion, one participant asserted, “I admired Janie in the end. For not settling, and standing up and being a strong person.” The desire for a transition from object to subject that the participants observed in the texts reflects the participants’ own positions in reentering society after their experience in prison or with the criminal justice system in general. Like Janie, CLTL participants struggle to be perceived as a person instead of as a project to be shaped or a failure to be scorned. Deep engagement with and discussion of literature provides a forum for former offenders to express and question this struggle. In CLTL, the text selection and discussion is structured in a way that recognizes the similarities inherent in offenders’ experiences with the criminal justice system while simultaneously acknowledging that gender matters.
Tara Knoll, a student at Princeton, is a regular contributor to the Changing Lives Through Literature blog and is currently working on her senior thesis. She can be reached for contact here.
by Sarah Fudin, c/o the University of Southern California
In celebration of National March Into Literacy Month, the MAT@USC has created a fun and informative infographic entitled, “The Most Loved Children’s Books”. In it, they have recounted their favorite books as a way to celebrate children’s literature throughout the years.
Changing Lives Through Literature is committed to promoting the access to literature, not just for children but for the world at large. We live in a society where social and economic inequality has become a norm. This disparity has unfortunately burdened with a vicious cycle of crime and incarceration that only we have the power to break. CLTL seeks to end this cycle by taking whatever means necessary to ensure that individuals in the prison system are making productive use of their time through literacy development. However, our efforts do not end there. Preventative measures must also be exhausted by taking the time to effectively communicate the power of reading to the youth of the nation.
Books can unlock a wealth of opportunities for individuals, and gaining access to literature at an early age allows us to tap into our youths’ potential as they grow up. Join us as we celebrate the value of books and how they contribute to changing lives!
(click image for to view the infographic in full-screen)
Sarah Fudin works for the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of education. She can be reached by e-mail here. For more information on becoming a teacher through USC Rossier Online, visit Become a Teacher.
by: Tara Knoll
When I participated in the last session of Professor Waxler’s fall-cycle ’11 Changing Lives Through Literature program, held at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth campus, the participants discussed Russell Banks’ Affliction before their graduation from the program.
Though I had observed Waxler’s program before, I was still surprised by the participants’ emphatic reactions to the text. One participant pointed to a moment in which a child suffers from his parent’s mistakes, explaining that the scene, “burns a hole in me.” Another expressed his frustration with one of the characters, for, “he had all the time in the world to help his brother, but he didn’t.” I was also still surprised to find my own reactions to the text both enforced and called into question by the discussion, as various participants introduced perspectives and questions that hadn’t occurred to me in my reading of the novel.
Affliction is a story about storytelling. Ostensibly the story of Wade Whitehouse, a troubled, middle-aged, part-time cop who lives in a small New Hampshire town who struggles with alcoholism, depression, and the loss of his family, Affliction is told from the perspective of Wade’s younger brother, Rolfe. Rolfe has long-since escaped the small town of Lawford and his dysfunctional family, while Wade remains. Rolfe tells the story of how Wade tries to reassemble his life one November; “all he really wanted” was “to be a good father,” and to be a “good man.”
Despite his good intentions, however, Wade gets caught up in an obsessive search for the truth regarding a hunting accident; a search that propels his internal and external dissolution and ends with his committing several tragic crimes and, subsequently, disappearing. Banks subverts our expectations when the pseudo-detective figure degenerates into the criminal whom he seeks. But this story isn’t all about Wade, and Rolfe concedes: “Oh, I know that in telling Wade’s story here I am telling my own as well….”
Though I found myself identifying with Rolfe as the narratorial voice and the more distant character from the action taking place, many participants strongly identified with Wade and disliked Rolfe. “Wade’s just trying to be a good parent. I can feel for what that’s like,” one participant explained. Another elaborated, “Wade is a better person than Rolfe. At least he stayed to battle his problems, at least he tried to make things better.” Others admired Wade, in a sense, as “from the beginning he never wants to be part of someone else’s story,” while still others “feel bad for him” because “he wants so bad to be a good dad but doesn’t know how because of how he’s raised.” My initial view of Rolfe as a character was intensely complicated by our discussion. Did he break free from, or abandon his family? Was his leaving courageous, or cowardly? Now I’m not so sure.
The identification with, and sympathy for, Wade that marked the discussion provoked questions of inevitability. Professor Waxler asked, “Is Wade destined for a kind of victimage?” One participant pointed out that his impulsiveness predisposed him to certain problems: “Wade doesn’t think, he just reacts.”
What is the root of Wade’s dilemma? As Waxler observed, our discussion mimicked Wade’s obsession: the more we think about it, the more difficult it is to grasp the truth. Since the book is written from Rolfe’s hindsight perspective, it was tempting for me to view Wade’s downfall as unavoidable. Waxler’s prompts and the participants’ observations both took this issue up and caused me to question it.
A strikingly inescapable extension of the question of the origin of Wade falling apart connects Wade with his violent and alcoholic father. Several participants emphasized that Wade “is trying to be a good son to his father” even after he has become an adult, yet, he’s frighteningly, “becoming like his father.” In a powerful scene, Wade erupts in anger against his daughter. When the heat subsides and his daughter has left, Wade notices his father standing alongside the decrepit house—observing, grinning. Rolfe imagines his father’s thoughts: “the son finally had turned out to be a man just like the father.”
Waxler notes that this scene illustrates a disconcerting reformulation, even distortion, of the parental blessing. Is Banks suggesting that at some level a child still wants the acknowledgment and blessing of the parent, even if at the same time he hates everything that the parent represents? The question is a troubling one. While I found myself reflecting on my role as a daughter, many participants connected their roles as son or daughter with their roles as a parent.
Judge Kane argued against this suggestion of inevitability vis–à–vis generational inheritance. “A blood tie can be broken,” the judge asserted. “You can find your own place, be your own person—it wasn’t inevitable.” As we all struggled to pinpoint what caused Wade’s life to fall apart and whether or not his ultimate downfall could have been avoided, many participants called attention to the way language works in the novel to achieve this sense of spiraling out of control in tandem with Wade.
There is a pointed madness in Banks’ deliberateness, and several participants wondered if Wade was really losing his mind. I hadn’t considered this interpretation before, and the hints of it in the text underscore the richness of Banks’ language. One participant highlighted the effectiveness of the language: “I felt crazy after reading it.” Several others felt uneasy with “how long it took [Banks] to get to the point.” The lengthy paragraphs of description and the incisively illustrative quality of Banks’ writing frustrated some, pleased others, and seemed to engender in all of us a building sense that “things are going to be okay…but then something collapses.” Banks’ postmodern exploration of time and chaotic transitions between geographical and temporal locales added to the sense of confusion, inviting us to identify with Wade. “It can be difficult to follow,” one participant noted. “You’re always jumping to someplace else.”
At the heart of this jumping is Rolfe’s control as narrator. Throughout the discussion, each one of us either reflected on or voiced aloud the recurrent question—how do we really know any of this? Slightly defensive and earnest in his explanation as to his seeming omniscience, Rolfe responds to the hypothetical question of the reader by asserting, “I do not, in the conventional sense, know many of these things. I am not making them up, however. I am imagining them.” Rolfe establishes a new dimension of story telling, yet his narration implicitly wrests control away from Wade.
“Wade is pushing through and trying to make his own story, but he doesn’t have the power, and no one will let him,” one participant contended. I stopped writing as this observation was made. I was struck by how it really gets to the heart of the struggle faced by each participant who is working their way through the court system and trying to reassert and reformulate their place outside of their docket number designation or charges faced. As we all explored our relationship as readers to the story, it became clear that Rolfe used the narration of another’s story as a means to better understand his own.
Narration’s ability to channel self-awareness extends past the realm of writing, in Rolfe’s case, and applies to readers, too. Just as Rolfe narrates Wade’s story in order to comprehend his own, so too did everyone present at the Changing Lives discussion appropriate the stories in the novel as a means to approach broader issues of society and all of our roles within it. Whether the participants identified with aspects the story—the difficulties of the court system, of being a parent, of starting over—or recognized their distance from it, the power of narrative was universal. As one participant observed, “You can be rich, have a good life, whatever, and one thing could make it spiral out of control.” Both the novel and the discussion produced a humanizing, universalizing effect.
While some saw the conclusion of Affliction as hopeful, perhaps an indication of Rolfe’s ability to “exorcise” Wade’s story (which is his own “ghost life”) and move on, the language itself is unclear. Rolfe tells us that, unless Wade is caught, “The story will be over. Except that I continue.” We don’t know whether Rolfe continues in a brave sense, reasserting his agency and control over his own life, or in a despondently cyclical sense, obsessing over Wade’s past and his own culpability. In taking up the story of Affliction, we as readers ascribe our own meaning to Rolfe’s ambiguous declaration. In so doing, we realize Wade’s unfulfilled desire to assert, as stated by one participant, “It’s my story. I’ve got control.”