A Guide to Critical Reading: Before You Read

June 29th, 2014 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack?”  In today’s information saturated world, doing research often feels like this.  Overwhelming!  Where do  you begin?

Many students simply give up looking and choose the first thing they see:  the first website on a Google results list, the first article to present itself in a database search, the first book they find in the library.   Does this practice promise good information?  Not always.  But, for sure, you can’t read it all!

But let’s look at it in another way.  With so many sources to choose from, why waste your time reading one if it’s not a good source.  Pre-evaluating your sources can save you time! Start by asking yourself…

Does this source provide new information or insights?
Does it offer anything I don’t already know?

  • Read a summary!  Look for it on the back of a book or inside the front cover.  Locate an abstract of a journal article you find online.  Read an online review of a reference  source.
  • Scan the table of contents.  What does it reveal about the topics covered in the source?  Does it highlight the direction the author is going?

Are the author and publisher credible?

Google the author, editor, and publishers names (one at a time, in quotes).  Look for indications of expertise (education, employer, professional affiliation).  Do you see references to this or other works by the author.  What criticisms or endorsements are made?  Whose making them?

Is the source current?

  • Check out the copyright date (inside title page) and ask yourself:  Is information published on this date likely to be accurate or relevant  today?  Historical facts and literary texts generally remain reliable for long periods of time, while scientific and technical information , as well as social commentary become quickly dated.
  • Check the title for time limiting words like “recent,” “future,” “modern.”  Does that title make sense when considering  the copyright date?  Do you really want to use that 1999 article about the “recent” advances in stem-cell research for a paper you’re writing in 2013?

Does the source have a bibliography?
If it’s a book, is there an index?

A bibliography indicates research (which you can cross-check), while an index provides usability (a feature often included in well-researched titles).

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Why annotate?

September 11th, 2013 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

Do your students simply consume media?  Or, do they engage the media–the television, the movies, the radio, the magazines, the books–they encounter?  Do they question it?  Do they add their own knowledge base and understanding to it?  Do they take time to have a conversation with the media?

an·no·ta·tion n.
1. The act or process of furnishing critical commentary or explanatory notes.
2. A critical or explanatory note; a commentary.

Annotation allows a reader or viewer to engage with a media text in an active way.  As a learner, you can improve both your understanding of new knowledge and your critical thinking skills by annotating instead of simply taking notes.

You should annotate whenever you need to know the information that is presented well or you need to provide supporting details for your own ideas. Whether you annotate while taking notes while listening or viewing audio-visual resources, or you write comments alongside highlighted text you have read, annotating will engage you in a conversation about what you are learning. Annotating will:

  • gather notes and your own ideas together.
  • stimulate thinking as you focus on asking questions, addingideas and even engaging in a debate around the existing information.
  • create an individualized study tool that helps you to recall key information in a short period of time by highlighting your personal connections to the material.

Check out this libguide!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

2010 Gatsby Celebration in the Library

February 3rd, 2011 llcowell Posted in just for fun, literacy, reading No Comments »

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Digital Dream Books

December 15th, 2010 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

I’m entranced with the new genre of digital medium that seeks to enhance rather than simply reproduce the book .  While I am not ready to admit that this new experience could (or should ) replace text (print or digital), it’s going to be difficult for authors and librarians to ignore such a compelling medium. There is, afterall, a unique appeal to a format that can draw in those who DON’T regularly read for pleasure…a whole new market of consumers/patrons.

Obviously, much of the success of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code can be attributed to the interactive nature of the text itself (who didn’t read this and try to figure out the clues for themselves?).  And yet, there was that added feature…wherein readers could interact online.  A publishing ploy?  Perhaps.  But also the dawn of a new form of reading…one that meets the needs of a culture that EXPECTS global interaction.  Like YouTube and fan fiction, the interactive text shifts the medium in which it is rooted to be something more.

Take or leave the iPad’s new iBooks application if you are reading a text.  In my opinion, a Kindle, Nook, or other e-ink reader is a more pleasant experience when considering the glare.  But then…experience the interactive book applications or enhanced iBook editions (not to mention the magazine apps) and it’s hard to resist reading on…gloss and glare be dammed.

Don’t have an iPad?  Check out Dreaming Methods, a self-proclaimed “fusion of writing and new media” that showcases interactive multi-modal book projects across the web.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Opening up ‘The World is Open’

May 4th, 2010 llcowell Posted in reading, reviews, teaching & learning No Comments »

Curtis Bonk’s book, The World is Open in print or for your Kindle takes Friedman’s ideas in the World is Flat and transposes them into a theory of learning that is inspiring, to say the least.  Bonk explores a number of emerging concepts in education and applies them to a scenerio of lifelong learning…and in doing so, speaks to the heart of what libraries are all about. Consider some the the key ideas he lays out in light of the existing and developing role and function of libraries in our schools and in society:

  • Professional educators will serve as “e-mentors” or “e-coaches,” their expertise focused more on helping learners to navigate the multiple pathways available to them via technology, rather than on subject area content.  The number of teachers will actually increase, rather than decrease, as more 1-to-1 support is demanded.  Pay structures will alter significantly.  As library professionals, we stand at the forefront of this movement, already trained to facilitate the individual learner through reader advisory, broad-application research skills and technology integration.
  • Formalized learning will last longer, but be a less structured experience. Learners will self-determine and customize the  learning experience, making  it more exciting and more relevant to the individual learner.  Learners will have access to information from anywhere, anytime via mobile devices.  They will be connected to and collaborate with others across disciplines, across classrooms, across schools, and across cultures.  Learning spaces will become less contained and more free (both intellectually and economically). This will lead to a greater openness between people.Libraries, of course, have represented this type of “life-long” learning since before formal universities first emerged.  In this new world of learning, libraries should not only maintain, but magnify their role as “idea labs,” where learners meet, discuss, collaborate and customize their knowledge, both physically and virtually.
  • Authentic learning experiences will emerge in the form of simulation, gaming, virtual worlds, and real-time activities. These “super blends” of learning, which mix learning content and learning contexts via technology will make categorization of media, delivery platforms, and even subjects less likely. This is where a challenge lies for many library professionals.  Trained to categorize and standardize, we must seek new paradigms by which to recognize, organize and access information that are in keeping with the blended nature of today’s emerging media.

Take time to familiarize yourselves with Bonk’s ideas.  They offer us insight into the roles we will continue to play in a learning society.  You can listen to an interview with Bonk on the podcast Mission to Learn (Episode 5) and follow Bonk’s Blog at http://worldisopen.com.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

A look at “the Future of Publishing.”

March 24th, 2010 llcowell Posted in digital publishing, literacy, reading No Comments »

Be sure to watch this all the way through.  It certainly illustrates how we need to turn our thinking around to re-imagine the future, rather than simply toss aside the past.   

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


September 15th, 2009 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

Novels-in-Verse have proved to be popular with YA readers.  The emergence of this new genre for youth should be no surprise.

First of all, the novels are presented in short segments.  For the struggling or reluctant reader, this is key to a positive reading experience.  I remember how my second daughter struggled with her reading disability.  Reading a complete chapter was such as laborious and time consuming affair, she seldom made it past that initial “scene setting” introduction (if she, in fact finished it).  More often than not, she read and re-read the first few pages…”trying to get into the book.”  Novels-in-verse offer bite-size ideas that can be consumed in their entirety, at any pace, in a short amount of time.

Secondly, I think the lyrical nature of the verse reaches out to young people in a way that respects their own literacy strengths…music.  Teens who can’t reiterate what they learned last week in school can recite (or sing) music lyrics word for word.  They are immersed in the culture and in the genre.  The music lyrics speak  to them of the angst that is part of adolescent life.  It aptly allows them to express their own fears and pains, hopes and desires.  For sure, the tunes make the memorization of the lyrics easier…but the lyrics themselves, hold a rhythm…a cadence…of their own that bypasses short-term memory and embed themselves into the heart of us.

For educators and parents, listed below are a number of books in the genre worth the short time it will take you to read them.

  • After the Death of Anna Gonzales by  Terri Fields
  • Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse
  • Braid by Helen Frost
  • Brimstone Journals by Ronald Koertge
  • Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
  • Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • CrrashBoomLove by Juan Felipe Herrara
  • Fattening Hut by Pat Lowery Collins
  • Geography of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith
  • God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant
  • Hard Hit by Ann Turner
  • Heaven Looks a Lot Like a Mall by Wendy Mass
  • Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown
  • Keesha’s House by Helen Frost
  • Learning to Swim: A Memoir by Ann Turner
  • Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
  • One Night by Margaret Wild
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block
  • Realm of Possibility by David Levithan
  • Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans
  • Running Back to Ludie by Angela Johnson
  • Secret of Me by Meg Kearney
  • Seventeen by Liz Rosenberg
  • Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge
  • Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
  • Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Roadtrip by Linda Oatman High
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
  • Splintering by Eireann Corrigan
  • Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones
  • Street Love by Walter Dean Myers
  • Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell
  • Things Left Unsaid by Stephanie Hemphill
  • Walking on Glass by Alma Fullerton
  • Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems by Mel Glenn
  • Witness by Karen Hesse
  • Wolf by Steven Herrick
  • Your Own Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill
  • Zane’s Trace by Allan Wolf
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Back to School Teen Books for Teachers

August 26th, 2009 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

Heading back to school … exciting and stressful.  Take time for yourself AND get in touch with your students.  Pick up a YA novel!

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Every Crooked Pot: A novel by Renee Rosen
  • Deadline by Chris Crutcher
  • First Part Last by Angela Johnson
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going
  • The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
  • Teach Me by R.A. Nelson
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Upstate: A Novel by Kalisha Buckhanon
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Book Clubs for Big Kids…

April 8th, 2009 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

Hmmmm….a worthwhile thought, here: Teachers, Textbooks, Secondary Lit.  As Aronson notes:

…why are we laboring in the fields to create engaging nonfiction, while they are filling up schools with educational materials, and there is not the slightest communication between us?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Biography vs. Memoir

February 16th, 2009 llcowell Posted in reading No Comments »

In a traditional sense, there is some difference between biography (even autobiography) and memoir. In it’s purest form, a biography relates the “life story” of a person, generally of some note. On the other hand, a memoir relates an individual’s experience of a particular time or event. That person may be a well-known individual, but often is not.

In publication, personal accounts do not always fall neatly into one genre or another. It’s proven more practical, in my own experience, to house these two together (in the 920′s and 921′s) in the high school library. Purists will disagree with the practice, but I’ve found it renews interest in what has oft-times been viewed as “stodgy” old men, to have them housed “hand-in-hand” with the Kurt Cobains of the world.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button