ESL Book Review – A Place for Everyone

A Place for Everyone is a simple story that will resonate with adults learning literacy or English as a second language. It explores a woman’s desire for a better life and her frustration at lacking a necessary skill. Its language makes it accessible to those who can most identify with the heroine.

Dot is a fortyish garment worker, living with her mother. Though functionally illiterate, she’s a talented seamstress whose work is in demand both on the job and in her neighborhood. Dot’s contented enough, but she knows something is missing from her life. She starts taking an adult literacy class and, with the help of comic books, takes the first steps toward real reading.

But Dot is not rewarded with clear sailing. This is a simple story, not a simplistic one. As sometimes happens in real life, Dot is suddenly faced with problems that seem overwhelming: her workplace goes out of business and her mother becomes an invalid. Can she find work and take care of her mother at the same time? She’s still getting orders for custom sewing from the neighbors, but can she turn this sideline into a means of making a living? Is a home business, with all the paperwork it involves, beyond the reach of someone who’s just learning to read? The story holds out hope, but makes it clear things aren’t easy for Dot.

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Book Review – Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents

Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents is an indispensable tool for parents and professionals who want to have important knowledge to make wise decisions about video game use in the lives of children and teens. One of the most exasperating challenges about trying to communicate about the negative effects of violent video games is that well-intentioned adults often say: But the verdict is not in yet on whether violent video game play is all that harmful. Video games are too new to have acquired any compelling data. Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley comprehensively slice through this, and other inaccurate and misleading arguments, that have been used to prevent parents, professionals, and policy-makers to deal productively with this critical issue.

Divided into three parts, the book can be picked up at any juncture to enlighten the reader on the complexities of interpreting the research and in understanding violent video game play in the context of bio-social and developmental factors. Part 1, The Introduction, provides a background on the history of violent video games; a well-documented summary of the effects of exposure to violent media entertainment, with clear definitions of physical, verbal and relational aggression, and important considerations of three types of research methodologies. This section also describes The General Aggression Model-a model developed by Anderson, Bushman, Carnagey, and Huesmann (p. 40) to integrate ideas from earlier models and to help distinguish between variables and processes that operate in immediate contexts and those that operate over a long-term. Part 2 explains and discuses three new studies that “were designed to address knowledge gaps in the video game research literature.” (p. 59) Part 3, General Discussion (What Does it All Mean?) provides critical links between theory, practice, and public policy, providing even more reasons for urgent action at both micro and macro levels.

The authors begin with, and consistently keep, a refreshingly honest and clear approach. For instance, Anderson and his colleagues call “a duck a duck” and discuss the c-word-causality-with academic rigor grounded in common sense.

Critics of violent media research like to remind us that we can never establish causality. But the authors refute this argument eloquently by helping us understand the probabilistic nature of causality:

“The old Logic 101 principles regarding the establishment of a factor as being necessary and sufficient cause of an effect simply don’t apply to most modern science (Anderson & Bushman, 2002c). We know that smoking tobacco causes an increase in the likelihood that one will contract lung cancer, but not everyone who smokes gets cancer, and some who don’t smoke get lung cancer. The probabilistic nature of modern science is largely due to the fact that multiple causal factors are involved in most medical, psychological, and behavioral phenomena. And for this reason, the old necessary and sufficient rules simply do not apply. Thus every time people argue that violent video games can’t be considered causes of aggression because they have played such games and haven’t killed anyone is committing a major reasoning error, applying the ‘sufficient’ rule to a multiple cause phenomenon.” (p. 21)

The authors go on to systematically explain aggression in terms of contextual factors over time, heightening this reader’s awareness of the profound contribution violent video games are making to increased aggression. Reading about the General Aggression model, in particular, brought me several ‘a-has.’ The model is based “on the assumption that human memory, thought, and decision processes can be represented as a complex associative network of nodes representing cognitive concepts and emotions.” (p. 41)

The General Aggression Model is a powerful tool because, like our work at the PCI, it takes into account multiple environmental factors when attempting to determine causality. I am drawn to the elegance by which it clearly addresses the complexities of living systems. In fact, the authors point out the General Aggression Model can be used to incorporate variables within what we call at the PCI, The Child’s and the Parent’s Growth Sphere. The authors cite the work of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological levels (p.45), providing a comprehensive framework for understanding the impact of violent entertainment that many parent educators, and certainly PCI Certified Parent Coaches, will immediately grasp, helping them to better explain to parents the inherent risks of children and teens playing violent video games.

Extreme acts of violence such as the Columbine shootings are never isolated from past and present bio-social interactions. The authors point out that habitual aggressive tendencies are most likely to develop in children who grow up in environments that reinforce aggression, provide aggressive models, frustrate and victimize them, and teach them that aggression is acceptable and successful. (p. 47) As our society becomes more violent, as more children are bullied, as more are victimized, as the news keeps amplifying these incidents, it only stands to reason that increases in aggression will continue as the world “mirrors back” violent mental models. Fortunately there are many ways to intervene so as to disrupt this cycle, but they all require a focused intent and an open willingness to make consistent choices that many parents can’t make because they don’t have the necessary information and that many professional don’t make because it is too difficult to help parents to make choices that are considered “weird” or “different” from the mainstream.

After finishing the Introduction section most readers will sit back and say to themselves: What in the world are we doing to our children? How can we stop this madness?

Luckily the book answers these questions.

The next section discusses three important studies. If the language is too technical, the authors have provided an “in a nutshell” explanation of each study. By reading the one-two page brief, readers can understand what happened and consider the implications. I love the questions that the authors include: “What worries us? What gives us hope?” For instance in one study, what worries us is that no one is immune to media violence. Yet, what gives us hope is that Again, parents are in a powerful position. Setting limits on the amount and content of screen media appears to be a protective factor for children. Truly, our work with families can be the most transformative work we do. For every child who grows up not playing violent video games means that the larger social structure is impacted by more peace and sanity and that the next generation will have greater possibilities for bringer even more peace and sanity to the family, the community, and the world.

Reading Section 3 helps to think about important consideration and once again, the urgent need for action. After all, the authors are first and foremost researchers and have at their fingertips it seems ways to connect the dots so that the reader cannot but help to be motivated to do something! For instance, they distinguish between old and new violent media. I did this as well in my book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. However, since 1999 when that book was published, violent video game entertainment has gotten much more sophisticated and certainly more available to younger children. The questions and points raised by Anderson and his colleagues in considering the differences and issues between older and the newer forms can help the reader understand the processes involved, in the challenges, as well as in the solutions. This entire section, to me, is like taking a retreat and reflecting on important issues in order to determine one’s priorities. One can get renewed commitment and feelings of energy for the issue by contemplating the compelling ideas the authors discuss.

I am very grateful that they refute the catharsis argument-that playing violent video games can help youngster “get out” their aggression. Nothing could be further from the truth. Citing brain research-we do know that repeating experiences is one effective way to learn them-the authors squelch this myth. They also point out that aggression is not a drive, but learned behavior, and that violent video games cannot help “vent” because catharsis carries with it feelings of pity and fear. In other words, the player must also identify with the victim and understand the entire narrative. Players are identifying with the murder. With such a reinforcing metacognitive script, there is no catharsis.

It takes a book to explain this issue. It takes long sentences, technical ideas, and complex ideas. It takes well-thought out, impeccably conducted research studies. Therefore, the suggestions given at the end of the book are sound and good ones. But they are the “what” of the situation, not the “how.” These suggestions have been given for over fifty years now and so few can make them a part of their lives. For instance, telling parents and grandparents: Don’t allow access to violent video games, is absolutely important. Yet, in our work with thousands of parents as educators and parent coaches, we know that most moms, dads, grandparents, and care-givers are not doing this even though they are well-intentioned and love the children. The reasons for this are as complex as the effects of violent video games. I would encourage these researchers to begin here with the next research imperative: Since we know violent entertainment is harmful, what works to assist parents, grandparents, and care-givers to make the daily, tough secondary choices that align with their fundamental choice to limit the harmful effective of violent media entertainment?

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Children’s Books: Top Ten Chapter Books (Ages 7-9)

Unlike picture books for younger readers, a chapter book tells the story more by use of prose than just illustrations. Unlike books for older readers, chapter books usually contain a varied number of pictures but also more words than a standard picture book. The name refers to the fact that the stories are often divided into brief chapters. This offers children opportunity to stop and then continue reading if there’s an interruption or their attention span is not long enough to finish the book in one sitting. Chapter books are usually works of fiction but also extend to non-fiction. Page numbers vary but are lengthier than the typical 32-page picture book.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg: Claudia lives a typical life in the suburbs, but she despises it. She doesn’t feel that her parents truly appreciate her for who she is or could be. She dreams of departing to somewhere breath-taking and elegant. She finally chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and drags along her younger brother, Jamie. Living in the museum they get wrapped up in a mystery surrounding a statue that was conceivably created by Michelangelo. In their quest to discover more about the sculpture, Claudia meets the unbelievable Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -the woman who first gave the statue to the museum. Through this experience, Claudia discovers more about the statue, but, much more important, she learns more about herself.

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster: One day, a listless young boy named Milo is given a magic tollbooth, through which he decides to drive in his toy car. The tollbooth then transports him to the Kingdom of Wisdom, where he experiences many fantastical adventures, including a quest to rescue two princesses, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason. The author includes loads of puns, and curious idioms (i.e. Milo literally jumps to the Island of Conclusions) that add a double layer of entertainment for readers.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan: A quiet, widowed farmer with two children–Anna and Caleb–advertises for a wife. When Sarah arrives she is homesick for Maine. The children fear that she will not stay, and when she goes off to town alone, young Caleb–whose mother died during childbirth–is fearful that she’s gone for good. But she returns with colored pencils to illustrate for them the beauty of Maine, and to explain that, though she misses her home, she would miss them more. The tale gently explores themes of abandonment, loss and love.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl: Charlie lives in the poorer part of town with his mother and both sets of grandparents. Their town is the kind in which you’re always caught wondering why it hasn’t collapsed already. Willy Wonka’s mysterious Chocolate Factory rises high above the village. It appears to have absolutely no personnel running it, yet it is still churning out scads of the most tempting chocolate candy. One day there is an announcement that buried in several chocolate bars there will be a golden ticket. This ticket will allow the fortunate recipient entry into Wonka’s factory. Inside the factory one finds the weirdest cast of characters and wacky inventions every witnessed by modern man. This is a top favorite.

Holes, Louis Sachar: Stanley Yelnats great-great grandfather was cursed, so his grandson, Stanley, has the worst luck imaginable. After being accused wrongfully of a crime, he is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility. At this sick facility, under the watch of a brutal warden, the boys are forced to dig holes in the dirt under the raging sun all day. Eventually the boys catch on to the fact that the warden is searching for something specific. As the plot develops, three different sub-plots intertwine as Stanley tries to figure out what the warden is searching for so desperately and why she wants it so badly.

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinolli: The parents of Jeffery Magee die in a trolley when a drunk driver collides with them. At only three years of age, Jeffery is trundled off to live with his strict Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan, who it seems are always arguing over something, even over the boy. When Jeffery is old enough, he runs away. Eventually he finds himself about two hundred miles away in a town that is divided based on race and color. It is here that he earns the nickname Maniac and you will soon find out why. His physical feats become legendary and he has not built ugly racial boundaries.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney: Greg is suddenly introduced to the perils of middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, nastier, and already shaving. His mom makes him start keeping a diary, and he does it in spite of misgivings.

Greg is a soul in conflict: he wants to do right, but the budding drive for status and girls seem to tempt him unduly. He wants to be a winner in the popularity race (where he thinks he’s ranked 52nd or 53rd), but there is always an obstacle that trips him up. Readers cheer Greg on because he is vulnerable and they identify with his struggles, even though he is oblivious to his gaping weaknesses.

Boxcar Children, Gertrude Warner: This book was written decades ago, but they story has stood the test of time. It’s amazing how many, now adults, tell how this book made them into avid readers. And they have passed the series on to their own children. The tale is of four children who travel in an empty boxcar without parental supervision, a captivating storyline for children constantly reined in and directed by adults. Somehow the children find ways to survive through happenstance or ingenuity.

Frindle, Andrew Clements:Nick Allen once again gets his teacher upset and she assigns him to do an extra report on how new words are added to the dictionary. Suddenly this triggers the best idea ever for Nick. He coins his own new word “frindle.” His new word annoys his teacher mightily. The war of words escalates–resulting in after-school detention, a home visit from the principal, national publicity, even money-making for local entrepreneurs, and, finally, the addition of frindle in the dictionary. Amazing!

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson: Jess Aarons dreams of being the fastest runner in fifth grade. He practices all summer running out in the country fields. Then a tomboy named Leslie Burke moves into the farmhouse next door and she can run. After getting over of being beaten by a girl, Jess begins to think Leslie might be okay. The two create a secret kingdom in the woods named Terabithia, where the only way to get into the castle is by swinging out over a gully on an enchanted rope. Here they are king and queen, fighting off imaginary giants and the walking dead, sharing dreams, and planning revenge on nasty kids. Jess and Leslie find solace in the sanctuary of Terabithia until a tragedy strikes and the two are separated forever. An important book about loss.

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