What we're reading (October edition)...

We are almost a month into the new school year, and it is a delight to watch students and teachers settling into the joyful rhythms of learning. As we hear music and chants, jingles and poems, laughter and amazement filling our classrooms and our hallways, it is a wonderful reminder of the privilege and honor it is to partner with our families in the important and challenging work of teaching and nurturing children.

As we do each month, we’ve compiled a new edition of "What we're reading..." This is just a short collection of the many articles that our faculty and staff have read recently and found to be interesting, intriguing or otherwise thought-provoking, and that we hope our families will likewise enjoy reading.

This month, we a great line-up of articles, including pieces on artists and map making, encouraging reading through dinner time storytelling (as well as a few other great pieces on reading), human invisibility in the digital age, another look at the powerful benefits of learning to write in cursive, and more! We hope you enjoy this selection!

Have you read something lately that you think we, or other ILS families, may enjoy? As always, we love to discover new things to read and chances to learn!

Today when we open an app to try to figure out where we are, or where on earth our driver is, we’re usually not thinking about the time and care that went into creating the map before us on the screen. Human beings have been charting the sea, land, and skies for millennia, but apart from those who work in fields like geography, astronomy, and cartography, most of us don’t give a passing thought as to how and why our maps look the way that they do.

Yet some very famous artists used their artistic skills to create maps, and in two interesting examples from the 16th century, we’ll see that the maps created by these artists had important effects, not just on art history, but on a host of other areas, from military strategy to science, politics to private life.
— William Newton, "How Two of History's Greatest Artists Reimagined the Earth as Map Makers"

As a young child, I loved to imagine myself as a pioneer girl in Little House in the Big Woods, eating fresh snow drizzled with maple syrup. I even pestered my mother to make this treat with the dirty snow that fell on our Manhattan sidewalk. Not a chance.

Years later, I honored my young sons’ request to try a coconut after reading the adventures of Babar. Who knew that even a hammer and chisel won’t crack these nuts? I resorted to clearing out the sidewalk below and then pitching the fruit out a third-floor window.

It worked, but thankfully there are many easier ways to bring food and reading together than hurling coconuts or eating dirty snow.

Here are some of the connections I researched while working on my book, Home for Dinner. And remember, none of these requires a gourmet meal or a trip to the bookstore. Library books and a takeout pizza are just as good.
— Anne Fishel, "Dinnertime Storytelling Makes Kids Voracious Readers"

No one wants to be unseen to others. No one.

Sure, someone might say that he or she wants some alone time—a time to be invisible to the world. I get that. I feel that way sometimes. But that feeling comes and goes for various reasons, and some of those reasons, I’d guess, probably do emerge from the invisibility factor—the fact that so much of what we do and say and labor to accomplish is seen a certain way, and the rest of who we are is completely invisible to the ones standing right in front of us. Sometimes I need to get away from that.

From a different perspective, watching this video and admitting the shackles of a digital age—one full of smart phones and laptop computers and tablets—I wonder if we’re actually training ourselves to be so isolated from human contact that the only possible outcome is human invisibility.
— Rev. Christopher I. Thoma, "Invisibility"

A few of the benefits of learning cursive may happen with learning to hand print, but here is my summary of the special benefits of cursive:

Hand-eye coordination is a major developmental feature. If you Google “developmental benefits of learning cursive” you will find numerous blog and news posts that emphasize the developmental benefits of learning cursive.

Whatever inherited level of sensory-motor coordination people may have, they can always improve on it with practice. Most parents observe this when teaching a child to throw and catch a ball. Think about what is going on in the brain as such learning progresses. The brain is creating new circuitry to evaluate what is seen, the speed of what is seen, the movements required, and the speed and timing of movements. This circuitry becomes a lasting part of the brain. This circuitry can be recruited for use in other hand-eye coordination tasks. That helps to explain why so many student athletes can play more than one sport.

Learning to write by hand has these same features, plus of course there is a thinking element involved that does not occur with simple throw and catch movements. The thinking level is magnified in cursive because the specific hand-eye coordination requirements are different for every letter in the alphabet. Moreover, in handwriting the movements are continuously variable, which is much more mentally demanding than making single strokes, as in printing A, E, F, H, and so on. Even so, because cursive letters are more distinct than printed letters, children may learn to read more easily, especially dyslexics.

Handwriting dynamically engages widespread areas of both cerebral hemispheres. Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says that brain scans during handwriting show activation of massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.
— William R. Klemm Ph.D., "Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive"

What does it mean to cultivate virtue? What does virtue have to do with education? And what does virtue have to do with the books we read? These are some of the questions that Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs contemplate in their new books, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books and How to Be Unlucky: Reflections on the Pursuit of Virtue.

Neither Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University, nor Gibbs, a teacher and education blogger from Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia, offers trite, simplistic answers to these questions. Their views of virtue are rooted in the difficult work of acquiring it, a process that involves imitation, repentance, and good habits. Literature, they claim, provides soil in which virtue can grow. I recently chatted with them about what this conception of virtue—and of reading—means for teachers today.
— David Kern, "Reading for Virtue’s Sake: A Conversation with Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs"

Four chapters into our latest read-aloud, The Scarlet Pimpernel, the ninth-grade student whom I was tutoring spontaneously commented, “This is a really good story . . . it keeps you wondering what’s about to happen!” Heartily assenting, I turned the page to begin the next chapter of mounting mystery. But hours later, having left behind the novel’s Parisian streets and English inns, that comment echoed within the very different setting of my twenty-first century suburban preoccupations and pronounced an epiphany to my hard-hearing ears.

Hardly had I stepped out of the world of the novel—hardly had its delightful captivity of my attention been broken—before the drone of daily anxieties reinstated itself in the back of my mind. Can I stop for groceries quickly enough to get dinner on the table in time? Do we have to sign any more paperwork tonight? When will we hear back about the offer on that house? In what order should we tackle the projects if we do move? How much can we do before the baby comes? . . .

Though those questions pertain to my particular life in this particular week, they’re interchangeable with different sets of questions that have run through my mind in weeks past or will appear in weeks to come, and I’d wager every one of us can hear, if we listen, the incessant hum of our own what-ifs.

But now, the echo of my student’s voice interrupted that hum. It keeps you wondering . . . really good story . . . Here I was, fresh from savoring an author’s skill in building suspense for her novel, and already pursing my lips in dull distaste at the suspense in my own life.

Literature does not only provide an escape from life; it also teaches us to live. Its characters, when they parallel our own acquaintances, provide the bit of critical distance needful for loving and understanding people with whom we don’t easily relate; its heroes set us models to aspire after in imitation; its settings refine the prescription for the lenses through which we observe our own places; its archetypes establish touchstones by which we recognize our positions in a greater Story; its words bestow the supreme human dignity and delight of naming our experiences, sons of Adam as we are all. And, as I had now to realize afresh, the structures of its plots train us to live in story rather than overwrite it, as the idolatrous tendencies of our hearts too often lead us to do.
— Lindsey Brigham Knott, "Suspense, Anxiety, and the Life of the Good Reader"