Of Mongooses And Golden Retrievers (or, Adventures in School Reading Workshop Applications)


So they can read......but can they read....?

By now Rockstar's wrapping up Y5 at Kennedy, and Queen E will be going through all the freshie briefings for early readers next academic year onwards. I was especially interested in hearing about what reading looks like for kids who supposedly can already read f-airly proficiently.

We are told comprehension is king, and while lotsa kids can read the words, the teachers have to check whether the kids can understand what they're reading. We're also reminded that it's very important the kids, especially the younger ones, see us reading actual physical books (so not many flashy screens here, a lot of it is on good ole' traditional printed paper).

To illustrate during the talk, teachers walk through reading exercises and assessment questions with parents.

Sound easy? Here's one:

Here's a reading passage e.g.

Here's a reading passage

Still easy? Know all the words? Now try the questions.

school slide

Question 1 you can get straight off the text, m-aybe 2 and 3... but what about 5?

Now try this one (mercifully, the teachers read this aloud for us because otherwise there is literally one parent in the audience who can do this) on The Very Hungry Caterpillar....

This is a passage from The Very Hungry Caterpillar.... in Italian

...in Italian. (gelato! I understood gelato!)

(The point being, you can sound fairly convincing reading, without having any idea at all what the text is saying. Realising that comprehension is the goal, not difficult words per se, made me stop worrying over whether Rockstar was reading enough encyclopaedias. Insect Larvae With Eating Disorder still pretty trippy.

Couldn't resist. This is off WTFEvolution.com who is a science writer and who says this thing should run for POTUS

Couldn't resist. This is another caterpillar off WTFEvolution.com who is a science writer and who says this thing should run for POTUS

I thought reading comprehension made post because there seem to be all these little Learn To Read English tuition places and tutor groups that randomly pop up all over the island just like the proverbial Whack-A-Mole and some of em can boast "results" via being able to read the text of higher reading levels....But yeah it's hard to not look at an actual reading level number and think How Far Or Close Is This To 30?)

Then I also found this excerpt about Reading With Comprehension from a blog post by Queen American Mummy Blogger Heather Armstrong:

"...Leta bought a few books whose titles only someone with a Ph.D. from Harvard could decipher, and she probably finished them in the span of minutes, maybe seven. Seven minutes tops. ... her sixth grade teacher pulled me aside... to tell me that there was no way Leta was comprehending what she was reading at the speed she was reading things. And she urged me to slow her down a little bit. Okay, lemme try that. ...In the meantime, you go get a Golden Retriever... to stop freaking out about Squirrels."

(Her older daughter Leta loves reading and inhales books at the speed of light, and if you think "squirrels" is intimidating, wait'll you hear urban legend about Tina Fey's daughter :D) Wonder if Dooce also does Battle of the Books, which Rockstar's school has participated in for awhile and which I would've liked him to look at since he's quite a voracious reader (except I then got the answer that the "cost" is too high - two lunch play times a week! 😀 So instead he chases down the books in the school library - this week he came back with one of the past B of B books which was being read in class... because he wanted to know the ending. SO I can't ever underestimate the power of an extensive library collection either.)

Now, the Mongoose and the Cobra of the first slide was one of my favourite childhood stories, and I never figured why mongooses attack King Cobras back then. After reading the link, I still don't completely understand why anything would go through the relative trouble of eating one (King Cobras apparently eat other snakes and prey on notably larger animals than mongooses). I did however learn that it's "not that much trouble" for a mongoose, which has some immunity to King Cobra venom, and when consuming the entire thing the mongoose doesn't even stop at the poison sacs because the venom is only activated by cobra saliva. ("Support your child's research," "Read to find out more information about a topic.")

We get an extensive list of ideas, including having your child read the instructions on electrical appliances, reading community newspapers, biographies (Rockstar briefly checked out Markus "Notch" Persson, the Swedish inventor who created Minecraft, but has most recently been interested in Nick Vujicic who writes how helping others can build your own resilience to various stuff that can get you down, "Attitude is Altitude"), street directory navigation, discussing the differences between movie adaptations and the original novel (still working on Lord of the Rings trilogy, but honestly Rockstar first went to check out the books after Lego Sauron featured in Lego Batman :D)   

This is Notch (pic off Wikipedia.com); I don't consider him a sellout because he famously tweeted he would endorse Windows 8 for $2bio. Microsoft really gave him the $2bio.

This is Notch (pic off Wikipedia.com); I don't consider him a sellout because he famously tweeted he would endorse Win 8 for $2bio. Microsoft really gave him the $2bio. Well Forbes says $2.5bio.

This is Nick Vujicic (pic from likesharetweet.com); limbless, he swims, surfs, and has been known to have his friends hide him in the overhead compartment of planes as a practical joke (trying doing THAT with limbs y'all)

This is Nick Vujicic (pic from likesharetweet.com); limbless, he swims, surfs, and has been known to have his friends hide him in the overhead compartment of planes as a practical joke (try doing THAT with limbs, y'all)

This is Lego Sauron (pic off Youtube); this thing is sick, when is it hitting toy stores in HK?

This is Lego Sauron (pic off Youtube); this thing is sick, when is it hitting toy stores in HK?

There are at least a few ideas that appear counter-intuitive, like "support spelling inventions," and "If a child makes a mistake when reading aloud, don't interrupt the reading, allow time for self-correction. If the mistake doesn't alter the meaning, let it go." (Thank you because without this I will likely be doing the opposite)

Therein lies the real lesson (not just to the kids, to me too :P) - kids pick up a lot more as they find their way there, and if it's via the scenic route, they learn way more about that route, thereby bringing them to countless other destinations as well.

Anyway. Here's how The Cosby Show's Theo and his friend Cockroach illustrated their understanding of "Doctor J" (that's Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, y'all) in Mark Antony's Friends, Romans, Countrymen ;

This is the text:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

(This is the full one)

This is what Theo and Cockroach did to part of it (note faces of screen parents haha):

"..But the man so chill when they handed him the crown Caesar said 'No, Baby' and turned the crown down..."

Well if Mark Antony sidelined in gangsta rap I guess he would say it that way <cough>. But there's more:

"Brutus is an honourable man," in slightly differing contexts over the course of the speech gradually comes to mean the opposite. Which other lofty literary figure most recently used the same words to mean the exact opposite?

-pic from comicbook.com

Yeah, it was the Talking Raccoon -pic from comicbook.com

Mark Antony's, "Brutus is an honourable man," is Rocket Raccoon's, "they told me you people were conceited ..but that isn't true at all."

Human nature and the stories that revolve around them never changed, just the language with which we tell the same stories. It's the same insecurities within the same protagonists, except maybe now they wield electronics (thank you, Lego Batman), wands, have mutant superpowers or have blog fights (Gossip Girl is both old and new that way).

What has changed infinitely by leaps and bounds is how the stories are told.... and therefore read. Going to school today, you would probably have very different ways you can answer the same context and comprehension questions. It's what we rely on the school for pointers for - because they monitor such changes and developments, and they find new ways to nurture that better...

Epilogue:

Then one day, this came back. 

Hello? What's this?

Hello? What's this?

Through the school, Rockstar has a penpal out of a primary school in China

Through the school, Rockstar has a penpal out of a primary school in China

I can't read this, but my kid can. Apparently this is a reply letter, Rockstar says they've been writing to these kids in class (vetted by the school, I guess). How freaking awesome is that? 
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Sarcasm Central: A Story Of My Love-Hate Relationship With The Kids’ Snarkiness

The time has come, my little fiends, to talk of when you look at your kids and think Omg They Are Such Monsters... 😀

Me: Shush! We're not the only ones eating here. Even I find you annoying and you're my kids.

Rockstar: <raises an eyebrow> Ruh-eally? 

Queen E: <echoes Rockstar> Ruh-eally, really?

Me: Yes, r -

Queen E: <accusingly> You. Stole usssss! <both kids roar with laughter>

Me: <laughs> Now shutup please.

<Satisfied silence all around>

It doesn't always end that happily. Eyerolls, Queen E shrieking indignantly (when she thinks we're mocking her when we are so not), and yes - the dreaded overstepping of boundaries - are all par for the course...

This is a post about the slippery slope of sarcasm, particularly with our kids, and why if we feel like looking for more headaches we might want to Go There. See, many parenting articles will tell you sarcasm is "not for children". They say things like "Little kids can't understand you mean the opposite," (for e.g. when they cover the floor with cornflakes and you say "Gee, thanks." (Well yeah, when you put it that way. But I really think that's only for very young kids..)) Also, we weren't brought up that way. More like Don't Be Snarky Ah Boy, Or You Will Grow Up To Pop Over Seven Elevens And Spend Your Life In Jail As A Repeat Offender Of Petty Crimez.

BUT.

The stuff for grownups that in a nutshell tells you how to hack your brain for better productivity will also tell you that aside from a messy desk and doing things backwards (well, doing things in a different way), to give and receive sarcasm is one of the best ways to promote creativity. (Caveat: Negative sarcasm however is to be avoided at all costs. The negative effects of giving as well as receiving a snarky put-down far outweigh any benefits, even for adults).

(I like. Safe is not only boring, it's uninspired. You can give a sharp knife to a monkey or a sushi chef trained in the preparation of fugu, and the results can be so tragically different as to be inconceivably of the very same tool. How freaking exciting is THAT? Risk-taking with a few boundaries (oxymoron alert) are soooo much fun. Besides - if you really think about it, very few things in life are well and truly "safe" if people don't know how to use them...)

This line in Smashmouth's All Star is a favourite:

"The ice we skate is getting pretty thin The water's getting warm so you might as well swim" - I like to tell Rockstar that you can go skate on a little thin ice if you know how to swim (ice gets thin when it gets warmer, ever thought of that? Every investment opportunity requires an entry point. But if you buy low, it's when lotsa other people are selling...)

But anyway sarcasm. Irony. And all the joy of speaking to your kids in something that sounds like English - it has all these words that sound the same - but means something so different than what nature intended.

It's not really cute now, is it? (pic frm )

Is that really cute as we know it? (pic frm imgrum.org)

Some of the crap that kids watch entertainment our kids enjoy these days is pretty useful though:

pic from zimbio.com

Dis is art (and a great eg of a metaphor for the kids)- pic from zimbio.com

(This isn't sarcasm per se but I think it falls roughly in the same family. And it's hugely useful to help kids understand each other.) Drax is of an alien race who are "entirely literal," i.e. they do not understand metaphors (I am not kidding. Rocket the Racoon says as much in the first movie. "Nothing goes over my head" of course is a metaphor that oh look, is going right over his head now)

Then I found this - pic from weknowmemes.com

Then I found this - pic from weknowmemes.com (titled Drax Makes Positive Impact)

Speaking of Rocket:

pic from knowyourmemes.com

Rocket is a genetically engineered military strategist and weapons specialist with klepto tendencies and insecurity issues that overshadow his having the highest IQ in the team... AND IT'S STILL A FREAKING RACCOON! - pic from knowyourmemes.com

Talking Klepto Raccoon Gets "Issues" Dissected In Unlikely Headshrink Session On Board Space Pirate Ship. Despite being brilliant however, he's still a raccoon learning to be sarcastic (and illustrating it to kids along the way), ergo:

"Rocket: [about the Sovereign people] You know, they told me you people were conceited ... but that isn't true at all. [winks at Peter in front of the Sovereign leader, Ayesha] I'm using my wrong eye again, aren't I? I'm sorry, that was meant to be behind your back."

"Peter Quill: I was being sarcastic.

Rocket: Oh, no, you 're supposed to use a sarcastic voice. Now I look foolish."

..Y-up I have this theory that the people who write some of the material in comic books were supersmart kids... who grew up deciding to make lotsa money without the office job. I think this stuff doesn't receive enough erm, credit for its usefulness - kids enjoy watching it and it provides some openings for talking to them.

Here's another kids' movie character who explores some serious character issues:

 - giphy.com

- giphy.com

This is how Forbes (yes the American business magazine because when mega-budget movies - that includes kiddie movies - hit the box office, it affects how the companies trade) describes the Lego Batman character:

"LEGO Batman is brash, self-centered, obsessed with his own fame and reputation, self-delusional with regard to his influence on Gotham City... and the Justice League, incapable of expressing vulnerability and emotional connections to other people, rude, overall emotionally stunted..."

..which leads to him discovering (while trying to steal something from Lego Superman) that he's being left out of the Justice League's party

..which leads to him discovering (while trying to steal something from Lego Superman) that he's being left out of the Justice League's anniversary party - pic from Youtube.com

(Like, whatever sticks, right?)

'Puter (Lego Batman calls his computer "'Puter"): You do have beautiful abs..

Lego Batman: It's my cross to bear. 

Fan: Batman, we love you! Batman: Thank you. I'm blushing super hard under the mask. (Said with the most deadpan Batman voice ever.)

And -

We saw this kid reading "Batman's Guide To Being Cool" on the train out in Kowloon - the lady he was with, I assume his mum, is carrying an Hermes bag and speaking to him in putonghua... and he's reading this hugely ironic thing (which obviously Rockstar also has haha)

On the train in Kowloon we saw this kid - with this well-dressed lady, I assume his mum, who is carrying an Hermes bag and speaking in putonghua - reading "Batman's Guide To Being Cool"!!

This is from Rockstar's copy

This is from Rockstar's copy (Lego Batman's recommendation for being a cool crime fighting machine: carry Electronics!) Epiphany: I Know Real Men Who Do This (But Maybe Not The Crime-Fighting Bit)

They mess with 'rents a lot too; Lego Batman speaks like this in the movie: "Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Dark, edgy music that makes your parents nervous."  "Don't tell me how to parent my child I just met." S-o Commissioner Gordon retires and - guess what? His daughter takes over, and -
Take that, Harvard (pic from Business Insider)

Take that, Harvard (pic from Business Insider)

But you laugh, the kids laugh, and the message(s) gets across (Lego Batman even acknowledges Alfred as his foster father, after several struggles that include a talking brick in the Phantom Zone named Phyllis showing him how disrespectful he's been.)

In contrast, look at this one (sorry, CBeebies - we love some of your other shows, especially the one with the very tall dinosaur guy, but -)

WHO WANTS TO EAT VEGGIES WHEN THEY STARE AT YOU WITH BUGGED OUT EYES

Watch this and you will never look at a vegetable the same way again <thunder clap>

Umm... Getting kids to like veggies is not necessarily getting them to eat veggies? There is a ..squash(?) that dreams of being a superhero. And all these talking creepy cute veggies with human-relatable traits, which I guess the script writers think will make kids want to be friends with them (the veggies that is). Except... how are you ever going to eat one. Especially with those eyeballs.

The kids pointed this out. Mr Bloom's Nursery makes you feel like a cannibal. (What am I supposed to do with that..)

Epilogue:

Rockstar: (Some Snarky Sarcastic Thing Followed By -) Well? Well? So, Mum? You haven't heard a thing I said have you? 

Me: I'm trying to decide whether you're allowed to speak to me that way.

Rockstar: Oh, too far? 

Me: If you can check yourself and check with me then I guess we're good.

Rockstar: Oh phew. So you're not going to go all Crazy Mum on mah head.

Me: WHAT'S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?

Queen E: <smugly> Oh that was too far, Ko-ko. 

Me: You could try to sound less happy about that.

Queen E: I try, Mum-may. But.... I can't. It's too hard. 

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All Animals Go To Heaven… But First, They Stop By Our Apartment.

#75

Queen E <while walking around the apartment holding the sleeping hamster>: You know Mummy, I think Gemma likes it here. After she dies, she'll want to come back and live with us again. 

Me: As in Reincarnation, or as in Haunting Our Apartment? <Rockstar snorts from his laptop> D'you think maybe she'll enjoy Hamster Heaven more?

Queen E: What if they don't have bedding in Heaven? Our bedding is purple...

Me: They probably don't have cages in Heaven, she could maybe dig a hole in the wild and sleep in it, just like nature once intended.

Queen E: <frowns>

Me: And snakes go to a different heaven.

Queen E: Oh, alright then. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Queen E: Mum? 

Me: Yes darling?

Queen E: After JD goes to Heaven can we get a Pug?

Rockstar <not looking up from laptop>: I second that.

Me: ?! How come you don't think JD will want to come back here?

Rockstar: Probably had enough of her <nods at Queen E>. 

Queen E: Yah Mummy hamsters only live for like, 2 years, but JD's been around a long time.  

Note long-suffering expression of dog

Note long-suffering expression of dog.. And yet she continues to sit there...

Queen E: Oh yeah and after Gemma dies can we get a lizard? <mutters> Or snake... I want to try something with scales... but.. I don't know where they sell snakes...<trails off> 

What are they doing now?

What are they doing now?

That's the discarded exoskeleton of a spider - light as air, you can even see where it split open so the spider could pull itself out of its outgrown shell... She carried her prize for a good 2km before the wind took it, and she was so upset... Because a nature walk with the Queen often takes several long hours, she has to stop at every web and cocoon and seething mass of insects.

That's the discarded exoskeleton of a spider - light as air, and about 2inches long, you can even see where it split open so the spider could pull itself out of its outgrown shell... She carried her prize for a good 2km before the wind took it, and she was so upset... Because a nature walk with the Queen often takes several long hours, she has to stop at every web and cocoon and seething mass of insects.

Me: So what, we are just going to have an endless parade of animals going through this apartment?? We give them a good home on the way to Heaven and then go get something else? 

Both kids: Yeah! 

Me: We'll always be living with hair balls or seeds (Gemma has the charming habit of emptying her pouches everywhere Queen E takes her, so we find seeds among Legos, in dolls houses, in the sofa, among the Nerf guns, in the piano...) and maybe now also... molted skins? And Rockstar, you don't get to say much, you don't really entertain the animals that often. (But to be fair he didn't say anything when the hamster chewed off entire spines of 3 or 4 of his books after Queen E forgot to close the cage one night... and yes, Queen E still faithfully helps with every cage cleaning and water changing)..

Queen E: You have to take care of us anyway, Mum-may - did you know we are a kind of Great Ape? That's also an animal...

Holy pile of animal facts books

Holy pile of animal facts books

No kidding. Shissa monkey.

And no kidding. Shissa monkey.

Me: (To Rockstar) How come you didn't go all Stick Up Your Butt Big Brother at her about the Pug?

Rockstar: DanTDM has Pugs.

Figures. (pic from pinterest)

Holy fluffy unicorn. (pic from pinterest)

Epilogue:

Me: DanTDM also has multiple piercings and tattoos, did you want those too?

Rockstar: <not looking up from laptop> N-ope, just the pug is fine.

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