Cory & Cory

Isn’t it great when one of your heroes turns out to be a simply wonderful human being?

By now everyone who reads this blog must have heard my pleas about voting for Cory & The Tigermen who are semi-finalists in the SchoolJamUSA competition sponsored by NAMM. I’m very hopeful she’ll make it to the finals, but that depends on votes from all the good folks out there – every day for the month of November. It’s a pretty tall order for a 15-year-old to galvanize that kind of support, but she sure is trying!

And anyone who has visited Cory’s website knows that her next album (due out in December) is titled Reading in the Dark – every song was inspired by a book. As a parent (and shameless promoter), I am thrilled that she has undertaken such a creative challenge. As an educator, I am even more thrilled that she has chosen to build on her experiences reading literature ranging from Shakespeare sonnets to young adult novels that deal with issues of struggling identity.

One of the novels Cory read last year is Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Sharing the same name is certainly a hook, but beyond that, the story is just dynamite and engaged my daughter Cory immediately. She also had the privilege of hearing him read from the book at a Philadelphia Free Library event – and she went home that night to write a song, she was so inspired.

Cory Doctorow published Little Brother under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can download and read the book for free, and even use it to some extent. My Cory got very excited about that, and decided to use language from the book in a song. All her other songs have been written in her own words, drawing on inspiration after reading the authors’ works. In her Little Brother song, however, Cory Hite was able to use Cory Doctorow’s text in her lyrics. Due to some restrictions on the Creative Commons license, Cory contacted the author for explicit permission. It’s no surprise that he immediately granted her permission and wrote a very encouraging response.

It’s just so gratifying when one of your idols becomes a “real” person after you have some contact with them – and they turn out to be supportive, generous, and just plain nice. What an inspiration for a teenager struggling to find her own creative voice as a songwriter! Do yourself a favor and check out Little Brother, as well as Cory Doctorow’s other books. Yes, you can download them for free – but if you’re like us, you’ll love the books so much that you’ll be buying multiple copies to give as gifts.

And visit Cory’s website to hear the Little Brother song in its entirety; however, it will be much more meaningful if you’ve read the book.

Oh, and don’t forget to vote!

A New Halloween Tradition?

Neil Gaiman (one of my all-time favorite authors) made a wonderful suggestion a few days ago:

You know, there aren’t enough traditions that involve giving books.

There’s World Book Day, which grew out of Don Quixote Day/Cervantes Birthday/St George’s Day in Spain, where roses and books are given, but really, we need some more instant traditions that involve the giving of books, the kind that spread all over the world.

And then I thought, Hallowe’en’s next weekend…

So: I propose that, on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books. Give children scary books they’ll like and can handle. Give adults scary books they’ll enjoy.

I think that’s great! So I want to pass that idea on …

Here’s Neil’s entire post.

Post Office Bay – Galapagos Islands

We had just completed a zodiac ride along the coast of South Isabela Island, searching for rays in mangrove-encircled lagoons. We had lucked out, finding large groups of spotted eagle and golden rays. As we sailed past the flightless cormorants drying their wings for the evening, the sun set majestically into the Pacific Ocean. We were welcomed back on board the Islander by our expedition leader, Carlos.

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“Welcome back friends, the bar is open and we can watch the sunset!” We climbed to the boat’s upper deck and sipped tropical cocktails as the sun turned from red and orange, to gold and blue.

“Tomorrow morning, we have a special excursion for you early risers. We will stop in Post office Bay,” Carlos informed us.

We had clearly seen Post Office Bay marked on the map of the small southern island of Floreana in the Galapagos Archipelago. Until that night, I hadn’t thought to question whether or not there was an actual Post Office there. I assumed that the main Galapagos post office was on the island of Santa Cruz, the most inhabited isle in the archipelago.

Carlos explained that Post Office Bay was very special. Floreana’s position made it very popular with buccaneers, whalers, and colonists. In the 1790’s, British whalers established a post office to leave letters for other ships to retrieve and deliver to England. These postage-free missives were left for newly arriving sailors, who gladly selected letters addressed close to their home and hand delivered them – in exchange for someone doing the same for them in the future. This tradition has continued … visitors to Post Office Bay may leave their postcards and letters, with the understanding that they should search through the Post Office for anything addressed close to home, so they can deliver it when possible. The story sounded so intriguing, we agreed to the early morning wake up call, and found a few postcards to address.

6:30 dawned faster than we thought possible – perhaps due to the imbibing of tropical cocktails, perhaps due to the turbulent journey through open seas from Isabela to Floreana. Nevertheless, we sleepily dressed, gulped some coffee, donned our life vests and climbed into zodiacs for the trip to Post Office Bay. We were told it was a short walk from the beach, so we grabbed our water shoes and prepared for a wet landing.

In the early morning light, we sailed to Floreana and then clambered off the zodiac into the icy cold Pacific waters – too early for any sunshine to have warmed them. We scrambled up the beach and waited for our guide to point the way to the Post Office. I envisioned a small house, or maybe even a hut – considering that the Galapagos airport isn’t much more than a tin roof held up by some wooden beams.397637600903

We trudged up the sandy hill and turned the bend to behold the Post Office … and burst out laughing. It’s really not much more than a barrel surrounded by a few weather-beaten crates. There are a few graffiti messages from some intrepid explorers, but other than that, it’s simply a barrel full of cards and letters.

Handfuls of postcards were passed through our group and folks began calling out locales: Hong Kong, Germany, California, Australia! We finally honed in on the locations that were most likely to match our homes and people started grabbing cards. We found one addressed to Philadelphia and we snatched it up, curious to know someone else from our region who had visited the islands.

Finally it was time to leave our own cards. We placed them in the Post Office barrel and then turned back to the beach. We laughed at the activity and climbed aboard our zodiacs. Soon we were racing across the waves, back to the boat, some breakfast, and another day’s adventure.

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Effectiveness of Reading Comprehension Programs

“To help close this research gap, Mathematica Policy Research conducted a study supported by the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education over the course of two school years evaluating the effectiveness of four supplemental reading comprehension programs in helping disadvantaged fifth graders improve their reading comprehension. The study used an experimental design, in which schools were randomly assigned to use an intervention or not …

The study found positive impacts for one of the four curricula. In particular, when teachers had one prior year of experience using the ReadAbout curriculum, students scored higher on a reading comprehension assessment. The score improvement is equivalent to moving from the 50th to the 59th percentile on a standardized test. The study found no improvement in reading comprehension scores for students using the other three curricula.”

Read the summary here.

Google Search Stories

By now, everyone’s probably seen this charming video:

Of course, Google now makes it unbelievably easy to create search stories by plugging in some search terms, selecting music, and voilá! What a great project to do with kids – quick and simple story-telling, 21st century style (and a great way to teach inference!)

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Book Publishers Fight the Inevitable

From the New York Times:

Last week, a host of book publishers, led by Simon & Schuster, said they will delay publication of e-reader versions of many books because they were afraid the electronic copies were cannibalizing sales of more expensive hardcover editions …

Publishers are understandably worried about their changing business model, as they face new pressures from authors as well as readers. But do they really believe that they will boost their bottom lines by making it harder for these devoted readers to buy books?

The consumer understands that digital means immediate and infinite, and the limits imposed by paper no longer exist. As Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey Bezos, noted in a recent interview with The New York Times, “For every 100 copies of a physical book we sell, where we have the Kindle edition, we will sell 48 copies of the Kindle edition. It won’t be too long before we’re selling more electronic books than we are physical books.”

Yet some publishers are trying to do everything they can to look the other way and pretend the new products and delivery pathways haven’t changed old business models.

Read the entire article.

The role of technology in writing

New report on the role of technology and its impact on young people’s writing … from the UK National Literacy Trust:

Most young people write regularly and young people write technology-based
materials, such as text and instant messages, most frequently. While owning a mobile phone
does not appear to alter young people’s writing behaviour, having a profile on a social
networking site or having a blog is connected to enjoyment of writing and confidence in writing.
Young people today use computers regularly and believe that computers are beneficial to their
writing.

We believe it is paramount that the school curriculum reflects and utilises writing forms that
young people enjoy and engage with, in order to demonstrate that writing is more than a
compulsory task: it is an essential life skill.

Full report (pdf): Young people and writing: Attitudes, behavior and the role of technology
Executive summary (pdf): Young people and writing: Executive summary

Annual National Day of Listening

On the day after Thanksgiving, set aside one hour to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or someone from the neighborhood.

You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as cell phones, tape recorders, computers, or even pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which recording method you choose.

Make a yearly tradition of listening to and preserving a loved one’s story. The stories you collect will become treasured keepsakes that grow more valuable with each passing generation.

StoryCorps site.