April 20, 2017

Read, Eat, Savour a Poem

The final days of April are fast approaching and I’m wondering if you’ve had your fill of poetry this month?  Since 1998 (the same year that Calgary Reads was ‘born’) National Poetry Month has been celebrated in Canada to increase awareness and appreciation of poets and poems.

I hope, not just this month but all year long, you read Shel Silverstein aloud as a family, chant the rhymes of Dennis Lee together in a classroom and rush to the Dewey Decimal 811 section in the library (which is just like 911) for a poetry emergency because you are starving to hear words that sing.

Nourish your soul this month by finding a quiet moment to gobble up a poem alone or in the delightful company of children.

How To Eat a Poem
by Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.

It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are. You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

Savour some Mary Oliver, a prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who writes in her latest book Upstream, about her friend and ‘shadow-companion’ Walt Whitman:

“First and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple – or a green field – a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing – an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness – wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak – to be company. It was everything that was needed when everything was needed.”

Read a poem, write a poem, recite a poem, eat a poem this month and remember what it feels like to be satisfied.


March 31, 2017

Math and Early Literacy

“Language proficiency, no matter how it is measured, is related to mathematics achievement.”  -Walter Secada, Northwestern University.

You may recall from your school days that classmates of yours who were at the top of the class in math were also often among the best at reading and English. That wasn’t a coincidence, as reading and math skills are closely linked together for numerous reasons.

The nonprofit Kids Come First published a report last month highlighting declining math scores in Calgary. According to the report, almost 20% fewer students in Calgary achieve “excellence” on the Grade 6 math provincial achievement test (PAT) than four years ago, while the Grade 9 math PAT failure rate is 28%. In addition, 35% of Calgary Grade 12 students don’t even take Math 30. Calgary Reads sees the spotlight on math scores as an opportunity to explore how math achievement is tied to reading.

Success at reading enables success in all subjects

Many studies have recognized the connection between reading ability and math achievement. Firstly, most math problems are word problems that often pack a lot of information into each sentence. Solving these requires a clear understanding of the language. Secondly, literacy and numeracy share many of the same thinking skills: deriving meaning from symbols (either letters or signs), word recognition, and comprehension. Alberta Education’s Ministerial Order on Student Learning recognizes the importance of literacy and numeracy in constructing and communicating meaning.

Reading helps improve math skills

Vocabulary knowledge and print knowledge are the strongest predictors of math performance, as the more words children know, the easier they are able to understand the problem. Reading aloud is a wonderful way to build vocabulary, as children’s books contain three times as many rare words as parent/child speech. Children’s literature has also been shown to improve math achievement and motivation in young children, even when there is no math content in the story.

By reading with their children for 15 minutes every day, parents are helping build not just language skills but math skills as well. Reading texts in everyday items like flyers, coupons, the sports pages, and recipes is another great way to combine words and numbers.

Every teacher should remember that he or she is a teacher of literacy, as students often don’t learn all the literacy skills they need in the language arts classroom alone. For all subjects, students must be able to read. Before we teach students skills in other subjects, we must ensure they can read. Literacy is key to success in school at every level.

Research & Resources

Reading and Math: What is the Connection? A Short Review of the Literature, Dr. Gene Fite

The Relationship Between Reading Comprehension and Conceptual Mathematics of Third Grade Students at a Selected Elementary School, Patrick N. Kariuki and Dustin A. Morris

Impacts of Authentic Children’s Literature and Literacy Strategies on Teaching Mathematical Comprehension In Elementary Grades, Elizabeth M. Sliwa


March 22, 2017

Micheline Maylor, Calgary’s Poet Laureate, shares her sHelfie:

What’s our Poet Laureate reading?

We guessed poetry. And we’re right. Calgary’s Poet Laureate, Micheline Maylor, shares her favourite poetry (and other) reads as part of her Calgary Reads’ My sHelfie.

“Reading for me was like a salvation and a passage into other worlds. I volunteered at the library in grade five and lovingly learned the Dewey Decimal System. I once had the goal of reading around the library, starting on the bottom shelf. Voracious reading is soul nourishing and essential. Vitamin R for Reading.” Micheline Maylor 

 These books are important to me:

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

“This is the book that made me fall in love with poetry, way back in Grade five. I still give it as a gift to all of my young child and child-hearted friends. Thanks Ms. McPherson wherever you are, for introducing me to this book in 1981.”

Short Talks by Anne Carson

“Poetry has been described as the feel between the words, the connection between image and sensation. This collection of prose/poem/essay generates fireworks every time I read it. It is consistently inspirational for its odd and lovely comparisons.”

Niche by Basma Kavanagh

“Kavanagh is a new/contemporary author and her meditation in poetry on the extinction of humanity is both dark and playful. She manages a very difficult topic without sentimentality or preaching. It is also an exquisitely lovely book to hold with its full illustrations. Niche is a worthy new discovery.”

Attack of the Copula Spiders: Essays on Writing by Douglas Glover

“The first three essays of this book taught me about literary style and editing. These essays are still invaluable in teaching and understanding why a passage of prose “works”. Often, we hear the words “it works” or “it doesn’t” work without the explanation. Glover’s essays explain in clear terms.”

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

“Despite its content, the structure and mastery of the sentence level craft is delicious and delightful. At last count I’ve read the book 36 times and still find new symbols and ways that Nabokov plays with language. It’s a heartbreak every time.”     

Micheline Maylor <> is a Canadian poetacademiccritic and editor. She was appointed Calgary’s Poet Laureate on April 25, 2016.