Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Montego Bay High School Book Club

While at Bookland on October 6, I met the President of the Book Club of Montego Bay High School. Since not many club members had come to my book reading and signing, she invited me to a meeting at her school. On Monday, October 24, I was warmly welcomed by an enthusiastic group of girls. They told me that their favourite books are romance novels and Stephanie Meyers’ titles.

Book signing.
Because of time constraints, I gave them a shortened version of my usual reading from Delroy in the Marog Kingdom, but they heard enough to know that they want to read the book! I signed the copy which they had purchased for members to read, after which they will donate it to the school library. I took the opportunity for a photo with the group.
Book Club members pose with the frog and the pot!
We had very little time for discussion, so I have accepted and invitation to attend another meeting, next term, when we will talk more about the writing process.
In the meantime, girls, please put your comments and questions on my blog. Click where it says ‘comments’ and a box should pop up for you to write in. You will need to identify yourself with an email address. You will also need to copy the strange sequence of letters which comes up. If it doesn’t work, it’s the system’s fault, not yours. Try again the next day! I’d also like to know what you’d like to see on my blog. Would you like competitions, puzzles or writing tips? Or would you like a forum for discussion with other students, in Jamaica and abroad?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Books for boys at Bookland will continue in my next post.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Books for Boys at Bookland, Part 1 - Caribbean Books

Reading at Bookland

Bookland is well-stocked with ‘reading books’ for children, teenagers and adults. They do not sell school text-books. Bookland is located at 34 Union Street, Montego Bay, on the right between the intersections with East Street and King Street. There is extra parking at the rear.

After my book reading and signing there on October 6, 2011, I browsed the shelves in search of books which would appeal to boys.

Caribbean books

I have to start with the Island Fiction Series, a mix of fantasy, folklore and science fiction, set in the Caribbean, written for 10-15 year-olds, but appeal to children as young as 9. The stories move at a fast pace and are easy to read. The series includes my book Delroy in the Marog Kingdom, which is set in an imaginary village in Jamaica, and features River Mumma.

Other books in the series are:

1. The Legend of the Swan Children by Maureen Marks-Mendonca, set in Guyana.

2. The Chalice Project by Lisa Allen-Agostini—science fiction set in Trinidad.

3. Escape from Silk Cotton Forest by Francis Escayg—fantasy and folklore set in Trinidad.

4. Time Swimmer by Gerald Hausman—a boy travels through time on the back of a turtle, throughout the Caribbean.

5. Night of the Indigo by Michael Holgate—science fiction set in Jamaica. This book appeals to older readers who are lovers of science fiction.

Other Caribbean Books

For 9-12 year-olds

6. The Cay by Theodore Taylor—an adventure story set in Curacao and a small island in the Caribbean in 1942, but still relevant today.

7. Blue Mountain Trouble by Martin Mordecai—an adventure story set in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

8. The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne Hillhouse.

9. Hurricane and Earthquake by Andrew Salkey. Both these books were written in the 1960’s but are still popular.

10. A Cow Called Boy and other books by Everard Palmer. Most Jamaican readers are familiar with these books, set in rural Jamaica.

For younger children, suitable for reading aloud or for them to read by themselves.

11. Mauby’s Big Adventure by Peter Laurie

12. Mauby and the Hurricane by Peter Laurie (I didn’t see this on the shelves but it was used by the Jamaica Library Service in their reading competition so should be available.)

13. Tales of Immortelles—A Collection of Caribbean Folk Tales by Norma McCartney

14. A Goat Boy Never Cries by Hazel Campbell. Her book Bernie and the Captain's Ghost won the Book Industry Association of Jamaica’s Best Children's Chapter Book Award for 2011. (I didn’t see this book on the shelves, but it should be available.)

Part 2 will focus on non-Caribbean books.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Do you do your children's homework?

   I've edited my original post, in which I confessed to doing an assignment for a seven-year-old 2nd grader, I help from time to time with homework. The assignment was to draw a skeleton. Being given no other information, I assumed this to be a human skeleton. In my thirty plus years of teaching biology, I never attempted to draw a human skeleton, nor did I ask my students up to and including 6th formers to do so. Individual bones, yes. A whole skeleton, no. Drawings and charts of skeletons, seen from different angles sufficed to understand the working of the skeleton. To my shame, I drew one, so the child would get a grade.

However, it turned out that the homework was not to draw a skeleton but to make a model of a skeleton. Experimenting with a ping-pong ball and some straws, I realised that the child could cut the straws, and staple them at the joints and to the rest of the skeleton, so they can move.

I gave 'drawing a skeleton' as an example unmanageable assignments which are given every day. Why did I condone cheating, which is what it is? The assignment was non-negotiable. Teacher set it and it had to be done. The teacher had set it because skeleton is on the syllabus for grade 2 term 1, specifically, the student should draw or make a model of bones… using the material provided. Fortunately, in this case, the assignment was not unmanageable and I was able to provide materials from which the child could make the model. I have also learnt that assignments can be negotiable.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that homework shouldn’t be given. I think it’s important for parents to be involved with children’s school work, and for them to supervise homework is one of the ways this can be achieved. Appropriate homework for parents to supervise include

• committing to memory such things as spellings, definitions, and multiplication tables.

• Doing practice exercises to consolidate what has been taught in the classroom.

• Listening to the child reading.

• Age-appropriate research.

All of these can be supervised by a parent or caregiver who has little or no knowledge of the subject matter. What is important is the interest they show and the attention they give to the child. The homework routine is an opportunity to teach self-discipline. Ideally, homework should be done at the same time every day, in a quiet place, free of distractions. (Certainly no TV on). There is a danger of homework becoming a battleground, so it may be necessary to offer some incentive, such as allowing the child to watch some TV programmes when the homework is satisfactorily completed.

The length of time children spend on homework is another bone of contention. Recommended times are

20 minutes for grades 1and 2;

30 minutes for grades 3 and 4;

a maximum of one hour for grades 5 and 6.

Of course these times will vary, as some children work more quickly than others. The top homework scholar in the U.S.A., Harris Cooper of Duke University, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for children in grades 1 to 5. He also found that children in grades 6-8 who do up to 90 minutes, and from 9-11 who do up to 2 hours do better on standardized tests than those who do more.

I put out a call for teachers to give manageable homework assignments, with clear, unambiguous instructions. When somebody other than the child does the homework, it’s sending the wrong message, i.e. that it’s okay to cheat. We have to remember also that unmanageable homework penalizes the many children who are already at a disadvantage because they have nobody to help them.