Conference, Pedagogy, and Being Busy

Dear Ben,

I know I have not written recently.

Some exciting opportunities have come my way.

I have been off chasing them.

I hope you are doing well. How did that boat trip go in April?

I just love boats and the water.

I could not think about you without a tinge of covetousness.

Let me go ahead and tell you what has been filling my time and thoughts recently.

International Congress on Medieval Studies

Academia is about taking the raw materials of facts and data and turning them into the brilliant sculpture of argument and conviction. Click To Tweet

I went to a conference in Medieval Studies!

My background is in Early Christian literature, as you know.

I went on behalf of the publisher I work for.

Conferences are such a marvelous environment.

Being surrounded by learning ad scholars is empowering and inspirational.

I love to cut deep into topics while respecting their general value.

All learning needs the safe environment of the conference to try out new ideas and say “unpublishable” things.

Academia is not just learning, but speaking.

It is about taking the raw materials of facts and data and turning them into the brilliant sculpture of argument and conviction.

I really felt that I re-found my voice while I was there.

I also got some interesting books.

  1. Commentary on the Psalms by Jerome (Latin)
  2. Life of Saint Alexis (Old French)
  3. A Roman Women Reader (Latin)
  4. Life of Simeon Stylites
  5. Early Christian Hagiography
  6. Giving Reason
  7. A Rulebook for Arguments
  8. The Annotated Hobbit

Pedagogy of Going Deep

When he comes to me with his questions and concerns, the knowledge he acquires from my feedback will be twice as valuable and connect with him. Click To Tweet

I am going to be teaching a few courses this summer! I am so excited and cannot wait to tell you more about it!

Right now, however, I am in a course for teachers.

This has really gotten me thinking about how to teach.

Going deep is so vital, especially to avoid boredom or shallow knowledge.

I believe the best way to create depth is by making the topic the student’s own.

In a class, you learn about a topic and you get the general overview.

Then comes the magic.

Now the student can work within that new enlarged world of knowledge.

He can discover new things and use new pieces of knowledge within this world.

For example, if I were to teach about the rise of sensibility in the 18th century, I would then offer my students the opportunity to write in the style or show me how to enliven an existing texts with the hallmark tropes of sensibility.

The student is now using the knowledge he just acquired.

In so doing, he will come up with questions and problems.

When he comes to me with his questions and concerns, the knowledge he acquires from my feedback will be twice as valuable and connect with him.

I would rather go deep through questions and problems than just by me talking more.

“I’m busy”

In reading and absorbing myself in historical literature, I have remembered that life did not always run at hypersonic speed. Click To Tweet

So may people have noticed that this seems to be the busiest generation that has ever been.

Hustling and rushing is the norm.

Working for hours on end is expected.

In reading and absorbing myself in historical literature, I have remembered that life did not always run at hypersonic speed.

A desire to regain the peace and quality of this “simpler” life welled up in me.

I am going about this from two perspectives.

1) The sound of silence. A few weeks ago I did a “Dana Girls Week.”

I stopped watching TV, though I allowed myself “radio” in the form of podcasts.

Neil Gaiman gave a great nugget of advice in his Tim Ferriss interview: “write or do nothing.”

This is how my week went.

I wrote or did nothing.

I could hear myself think and found myself less pressured to perform.

Since then I have greatly reduced time on Youtube and have regained much of the peace gained from the experience.

2) Instead of just saying “I’m busy,” I try to define exactly what I am doing.

When I put into words what I am doing, it gives me perspective.

Maybe I am not as busy as I think, or maybe my list is too long and I need to cut down.

Either way it gives me something profitable to say instead of just “busy,” like that is an achievement in and of itself.

I have only scratched the surface.

I do hope to renew our regular conversations as to not let too much time elapse again.

Thank you,


What This Week Taught Me

I am excited to share with you my findings this week on Latin and Greek roots, Big Magic, and using the human voice in our writing.

1. Roots

Photo Source

So many people ask themselves whether it is worth it to learn Latin.

It is hard for me to say the truth as a Latin teacher, but…no, it is not always…

We don’t all need chemistry (I never learned it) nor do we equally all need Latin.

That said, the Latin language offers immense value.

I recently had a student ask me to help her learn Latin.

After talking with her, I quickly realized that she did not need to learn the language.

Tables of verbs and vocabulary lists were not going to get her any closer to her goals.

What do you do then?

You want the benefits of Latin, but you don’t need the language.

The answer is roots!

I am teaching her Latin (and Greek) roots systematically.

Through learning roots, young students’ English vocabulary will double!

70% of English words come from Latin and Greek.

“Hydr” is the Greek root for water. We have words in English that come from this: hydrophobia, hydraulic, hydrogen, hydroponics, hydrodynamics, hydrometer, hydrant.

Now, you cannot take the Latin out of the Latin teacher.

So, I am certainly adding in some information about how Latin works and what makes it special.

Without any memorization, the awareness of how this unique language works is beneficial enough for most students.

If you are debating learning Latin, consider roots.

Also, if you would like to learn roots with me, book a free mini-lesson today!

2. Big Magic

Big Magic sits you down with a cup of tea and talks with you about creativity — fear, trust, courage, and stamina. Click To Tweet

I am on such a big reading kick right now!

It excites me to share my discoveries with you all.

I read this book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I would definitely suggest this for a senior in High School and above.

This book sits you down with a cup of tea and talks with you about creativity — fear, trust, courage, and stamina.

So many lessons to be learned within the pages of this book!

How can I restrict myself.

Let me try here.

a. Setting the right goals.

Gilbert actually made “writing vows” when she was 16 years old.

They were sacred to her, at least.

These vows were very well formed.

Gilbert was clear and concise.

She would dedicate herself to writing, but writing would not financially support her.

Writing was the goal.

Not success and not wealth.

When we come to our task, we want it to reward us.

“If I do this, then something good will happen.”

In actuality, the task itself is its own reward.

At this point very few people read my blog, but that is ok.

I write to help people and not to gain views.

b. The process is the reward.

The writing process is the magic and the joy. Click To Tweet

Gilbert talks about a short story she wrote.

A magazine accepted it!

Then they told her to cut half of it due to size limitations.

Gilbert shortened the piece.

She took out the perfect analogies and the stunning transitions to create something that read completely differently, though still conveyed the same message.

She understood that the process was the benefit.

Her soul was not transformed by the finished product, but by the writing process.

Hammering out pieces and fighting to say things is how writers grow.

Big Magic shows that the process is the magic and the joy.

Success and appreciation are important, but they do not fill you.

The process is the true joy for the soul of a writer.

c. Create for yourself.

Through writing for yourself, you actually lose your ego. Click To Tweet

At the heart of Gilbert’s message she writes that you need to create for yourself.

I do not mean this in a selfish way; in fact, it is a very selfless message indeed.

After all the success of Eat Pray Love, she struggled to write a new book.


She was trying to write a book for millions of people.

It is impossible.

Then she regrouped. Instead of writing the next best seller, she wrote a book for her 10 closest girlfriends.

The words flowed effortlessly.

In a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss, Jim Collins shared what Bill Allen taught him.

He said that we should not aim for success, but to be useful.

Through writing for yourself, you actually lose your ego.

3. Writing like a Google Search Result

If we write just what anyone else can find through a simple search, then the writing is not meaningful or useful outside an academic setting. The beauty of writing is adding in the human touch. Click To Tweet

So often my young students write like a google search result.

By that I mean they write things that can be found in other places.

Their writing is very descriptive.

When done well and at the right time, this is wonderful and praiseworthy!

This week, though, I found the words to articulate what was missing in so many of these writings.

The human touch.

Google is very powerful.

However, if we write just what anyone else can find through a simple search, then the writing is not meaningful or useful outside an academic setting.

The beauty of writing is adding in the human touch.

We are able to infer and synthesize those facts we collect.

A computer can tell you how many people died because of smoking. Only a human, however, can tell you that you should stop smoking because it will prolong your life.

Inferences and synthesis aside, humans also provide the emotional touch.

Only humans can articulate how books connect with us emotionally.

Only people can put into words how it feels inside when you are put in front of a moving piece of art.

The human touch can best be seen in arguments.

By argument, I mean simply an opinion combined with reasons for it.

The thesis of an essay spurs on that human voice to rise above the waves of repeated information!

The thesis of an essay spurs on that human voice to rise above the waves of repeated information! Click To Tweet

For my students, I like to highlight in a different color all the sentences that reflect their own voice.

It is always surprising to see how much is in black and how little is in green.

We tell the world’s stories and facts, but forget to add our own human touch.

Next time you write or read your child’s writing, remember to put it through the google search test. 😉

Until next week! Comment whether you have read Big Magic.

What This Week Taught Me

Another week has passed. I am keeping it short this week. I will discuss rediscovering some old books, The Dana Girl Mysteries, and more on critical thinking in reading comprehension.

The Dana Girls

Mysteries are fantastic tools in developing critical thinking in children! Click To Tweet

I love a good mystery.

I’m an avid Murder She Wrote watcher and a total Psych-O (from the show Psych).

When I was a young girl, I enjoyed a book series called the Dana Girls Mysteries.

They were written by the same team of authors as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries.

The Dana Girls are now out of print and won’t make it to the silver screen anytime soon, but a worthy read nonetheless.

Written in the 1930s, they have a different style than our modern children books.

The vocabulary is better and the turn of phrase more astute. A small example:

“On the still December air floated the notes of a plaintive whistling in a minor strain. It was not the warbling of a bird, nor did it seem like that of a human being.”

In the Shadow of the Tower, p. 1

Good literature is easy to find; I am not in doubt.

These are just so accessible and short.

You get all the eloquence of a bygone era in an action-packed mystery for children.

Why am I telling you?

Well I went to a used bookstore the other day.

Whenever I go to one, I always ask if they have The Dana Girls.

This time they actually said yes. I was dumbfounded.

We bought a whole bunch. I’ve been reading through them with great pleasure.

The Dana Girls, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys (original books, not modern ones) are great reads for Middle Schoolers and early High School kids.

They are very easy to read, but also introduce the student to uncommon vocabulary and an older style of talking.

Not to mention, mysteries are fantastic tools in developing critical thinking in children!

Fact vs. Opinion

This deeper thinking about how people say things and not just what they say plays a big role in comprehension. Click To Tweet

I want to continue to discuss with you my thoughts about critical thinking in reading comprehension.

Read the first part of the discussion here!

This week I turned my attention to fact versus opinion.

I am a huge fan of The Thinking Toolbox by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn

They have very fun dialogs and exercises to help you get thinking about thinking! 😉

There is not just fact and opinion but also inference.

I found this middle step was the hardest.

A statement of fact is any statement about something which can be directly observed by others or checked for accuracy.

Inferring is a logical conclusion made from verifiable fact.

Opinion is a statement of inference that is not entirely facts.

The Thinking Toolbox, Lesson 4

We went through the different exercises and examples.

I realized often it came down to the tone of the words.

Did the writer sound authoritative?

Did he add something extra, using such language as “must have,” “inevitably,” “probably?”

You can say the same thing but in completely different ways.

That colors the meaning.

This deeper thinking about how people say things and not just what they say plays a big role in comprehension.

This week’s post is shorter.

I have a secret project I am working on that I am excited to share with you soon.

Stay tuned and subscribe in order not to miss anything!

What This Week Taught Me

Another week has passed! March is over! Here I will discuss visiting my student, reviewing the book Excellent Sheep, and thinking about reading comprehension and critical thinking.

I appreciate your patience as I have been away much longer than planned.

I got sick again and did some traveling.

Those are not excuses.

Overcoming circumstances has been a major goal for me this year.

I want to be able to get things done regardless of the unexpected occurrences that come up.

Thomas Frank mentioned even putting money on the line to force yourself, but I am not ready to do that yet (link).

Visiting a Student

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a student of mine!

A long time ago, I actually did in-person tutoring, but since then I have remained physically distant from the lovely students I get to teach.

The experience was wonderful!

It is such a privilege to be welcomed into someone’s home.

All teachers see their students in their lessons, but to cross that threshold into the home is not to be taken for granted.

My student’s personality shined in many settings and scenarios within the comfort of her own day-to-day life.

Those moments that either reminded me of a lesson or taught me something new about her were so enlightening and enjoyable.

We went to several places.

Those experiences were educational because I found all these little teachable moments.

However, I also learned more about her and how my teachings were fitting into her thinking and life.

Some can say that a big disadvantage to working online is the lack of human contact and “living behind a screen.”

I won’t debate that here.

I can say that connecting with my student was a joy, and I came home refreshed and more passionate than I have been in a long while.

Thank you to her and her family for that!

Excellent Sheep

During my visit, I was introduced to a few new books.

The book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz stood out to me.

I want to share some of my thoughts and findings about it.

Now, at face value, this not a book for an English tutor of Middle and High School students.

However, I am always thinking about the future for my students and how they can prepare now.

a. The Role of the University

I agree with his thesis that Ivy league schools are not serving us today and are not the answer to success.

He correctly asserts that it is more beneficial to learn how to learn than to gain a diploma.

He lays out the role of the university in the process of learning and growing as a person:

“To put it in the language of computers, you can download all the data you want, but it won’t be any good to you unless you have the software to make use of it. That software, the ability to operate on information—to understand it, to synthesize it into new combinations, to discover and create with it—is what college is meant to ‘install.'”

(p. 174)

b. Student burnout

I found his description of student burnout and overwhelm to be particularly moving.

He painted this picture of the student who does everything asked of him but has no inner voice or life path.

Students were encouraged to rise above the white noise of “what you must do” to find what your own voice is saying to you.

He writes:

“To find yourself, you first must free yourself. You won’t be able to recognize the things you really care about until you have released your grip on all the things that you’ve been taught to care about. And we already know, in the case of today’s young high achievers, what those are.”

(p. 90)

On the other hand, he had the difficult job of telling the reader that not every student is equally worthy to be in college.

More importantly, their perceived worth does not equate with reality.

In a marvelous anecdote about the old days at Yale, he quotes a man who mapped the change in the welcome speeches given to the freshmen.

In 1957, the speech encouraged the student to try because he was chosen among a very few:

“It was the duty of each of us over the next four years to prove that Yale had made the right choice by picking us instead of giving our place to someone else.”

(p. 213)

By 1969, the speech turned into a laudation of each student before they had even done anything.

Wouldn’t we be the wiser for humbling our students before they set out so they can feel a sense of deserving their achievements?

c. Teachers Transform

Lastly, he answers what is the difference between colleges and just on your own book-learning: the teacher.

Teachers need to be truly present — adding in their own experiences and stories into the content (p. 179).

A real teacher is a real person. We can read, but a teacher transforms.

This was a poignant reminder for me.

Crossroads Between Comprehension and Critical Thinking

I have been thinking about the crossroads between reading comprehension and critical thinking.

Now, let me say, I am writing to you at the beginning of my search to articulate this and not at the end.

Stay tuned for something more concrete; in the meantime, just enjoy the ride.

As adults, we take so much of reading comprehension for granted.

Holding all the details in our mind and picking up on subtleties is second nature.

For young students, though, this can often be so hard.

Reading is the cornerstone of writing so this is very important to me.

I want to get to the bottom of it.

I found, when I read with my students, the questions would be part of the problem.

“Who?” or “what?” was a no brainer, but taking it a step further resulted in confusion or shallow answers.

Thinking and reading go hand and hand.

Not just any kind of thinking, but critical thinking.

When I was in college, we did a lot of analyzing of texts.

We found patterns and arguments like prizes inside cereal boxes.

It was the hunt and we were equipped with the tools.

Now I am bringing this into all my lessons.

Temporarily, I have stopped just reading and writing with my students.

We are learning how to think better.

It is going well.

More on this topic to come.

Here are some books I have been consulting or planning to read.

Thank you for reading! Until next week!

What This Week Taught Me

Another week has passed! It is now March! Here I will discuss effective questions, importance of a schedule, and confidence.

Always Know the Answer to the Question

Recently, I have been reminded of the power of asking questions when you already know the answer. Click To Tweet

There are many kinds of questions in this world.

Some are to learn more information in the first place — Where is he?! Why did you do that?

However, others are to further your understanding — Why did you come home at 5 instead of 6?

Lastly, yet other questions are largely rhetorical and aid the speaker in discussing more about the topic — Why should we care about the pollination process?

Recently, I have been reminded of the power of asking questions when you already know the answer or, at least, half of it.

I am writing an essay with a student.

He knows a lot about the topic, but cannot seem to get it onto the page.

I remind him that he needs to use questions to pull more information out.

These particular questions are deliberate.

He needs to practice the art of question asking and expending his thoughts at the same time.

Let us use an essay on Benjamin Franklin as an example.

The student has already written down all the basic details of Benjamin Franklin’s life.

He has a basic outline, putting special attention onto Franklin’s role in the Revolutionary War.

I know my student knows more and has read more. I want to pull that out of him.

This question is not so much out of curiosity as it is pushing the writer to write more about what he already knows. Click To Tweet

Here is what I will say to him:

Benjamin Franklin convinced the French to give money and support to America.

  • How and why did this negotiation initiate?
  • Why was Franklin more effective in this negotiation than John Adams?
  • In what ways did France’s aid help win America the war?
From Benjamin Franklin Historical Society

Reaching past the one-word response, I encourage him to craft a question that will result in a short answer.

Importantly, the question itself contains details and information from his reading.

This question is not so much out of curiosity as it is pushing the writer to write more about what he already knows.

This technique has proved effective.


We all need a plan and a schedule.

The better your schedule, the freer you are to focus on what matters and what you have yet even to discover. Click To Tweet

For most students, this is done for them by parents and teachers.

When students reach high school, they are encouraged to begin to take that task on for themselves.

A student of mine cannot stop using the words “work” and “hassle” whenever I discuss organizing his time.

He is right.

Organization is work and is a hassle.

I have found myself spending more time talking about the long term benefits of this way of life than even about the process itself.

Sure, right now everything is manageable, but later the demands will be heavier.

At the end of the day, though, I want students to stay organized so that they can see school as more than just homework.

School is where you learn skills and find your intellectual passions.

The more you worry over how and when you will get even the minimum done, the more you cannot appreciate the task and process itself.

If you want to do more than the minimum, such as competitions, camps, extra courses, and book reading, then improving your schedule is the place to start.

The better your schedule, the freer you are to focus on what matters and what you have yet even to discover.


What holds us back from reaching our desired heights of success is confidence. Click To Tweet

Putting words on the internet takes a lot of courage.

So does writing essays and excelling in math.

What holds us back from reaching our desired heights of success is confidence.

Even if you cannot feel the confidence running through you, you can still manufacture it in the meantime.

Project confidence. You will see how that transforms your work and your life.

I made a video on this topic, check it out.

I write these reflections so that you can take a look into my lessons.

Lessons take place every week and I learn new things from and for my students!

It is a thrill.

If you want to be a part of this process, why not book a free mini-lesson today?

What This Week Taught Me

I reflect on my week — resting, proofreading opportunities, and how to begin the research process with Wikipedia.


This week I was sick.

It was one of those colds that brewed under the surface for a year in order to give the biggest punch once it surfaced. My dramatic flare is warranted after how much it messed up my schedule.

That, however, was a blessing in disguise.

It gave me a chance to slow down and not jump the gun.

I am not the most patient of people, so it was a forced slowdown.


I truly believe having your work edited is the best form of writing education for anyone. Click To Tweet

I have been working on something behind the scenes, this week I was able to truly debut it.

I began to offer proofreading services.

Although I believe most students and young professionals can benefit from it, I am most eager to help non-native speakers edit their English.

I learned English grammar through having my work edited.

I truly believe it is the best form of writing education for anyone.


Helping young students learn how to research is a great joy.

My background is in Medieval Studies, so plowing through bibliographies and keyword searches excites me.

We all have been warned not to cite Wikipedia as a source.

Helping young students learn how to research is a great joy. Click To Tweet

Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can write on there.

That said, I am a huge proponent of using Wikipedia at the beginning of the process. Just this week I discussed this with a student.

Wikipedia can provide you with a general overview of the topic, keywords, and helpful links.

If you know nothing about the topic, read the Wikipedia article on it. Learn the keywords attached to the topic.

Then, at the bottom, read the external links section to start out your search.

When you return to Google Search, you will be equipped with general knowledge and terminology that will speed up your search time.

Start with Wikipedia but end with reliable .edu/.org sources!

Start with Wikipedia but end with reliable .edu/.org sources! Click To Tweet

This week was a bit unusual but such a blessing.

See you next week!

What This Week Taught Me

This week (February 16 – 23, 2018) I am thinking about connecting phrases, reading in context, and passion. Join me!

I truly feel like starting this off by saying “I’m back.”

“Fell off the planet” is dramatic, but I did spend five months in Russia and focused on other projects.

Now I am back and ready to write.

I am starting a new series.

I want to take you along with me each week.

You can see what I discover and am thinking about.

If something sparks your interest, then don’t be shy!

Leave a comment or write me an email.

Here we go!

This week I thought about

1.Connecting phrases

Sometimes, we take things for granted.

Make that, we often take things for granted.

Since we tend to communicate through conversations, the essay style can be jarring.

When we talk in a conversation, the other person can follow our train of thought.

However, when my student faces the blank page, he is forced to play both sides and write understandably.

With my young students, I find they put two thoughts beside each other without any glue.

Consider, two best friends sit beside each other.

In the first scenario, they do not interact or even look at each other.

You know they are friends, but there is no visible proof.

In the second scenario, they laugh together and lean in on each other, blurring the line between them.

Which is better?

The same is true for thoughts.

We want to see their connection.

I have always known this, but I was encouraged to see the mechanics behind it this week.


I hate writing. I took a course, and I am now a writer.

Initially, I hated writing. After I took a course in it, I fell in love. Now, I am a writer.

Read about how to write descriptive scenes with your Middle Schooler here!

2. Context while reading

As a Latin teacher, I read with my students every session.

The reading always goes better the more they engage with the passage.

If they are following what Quintus is doing, then they read effortlessly.

They become superheroes and even read words they have never seen before.


They read in context.

When they reach a new word, they consider everything around it.

Cheesy example in 3…2…1…

I am so [apple] to see you today.

Wait, I think I put the wrong word in, but I am sure a student of mine could correct that. 😉

My students that actively consider cognates and context always read amazingly.

Remember this, if you find yourself reading in a foreign language this week.

For more on Latin for beginners read: How to Understand Latin Through the Eyes of English Speakers

3. Passion

You will soon learn that I am a huge fan of Mel Robbins and self-improvement books.

For this last slot, I wanted to put the spotlight on passion.

We all believe that “our passion” is a thing inside of us.

It is something we can lose or gain.

We could take it on a walk even.

However, Mel Robbins shatters that.

She recasts passion as energy and excitement.

Our greatest interests give us excitement.

When I sit down to write in Russian, I am energized.

Russian is my passion, but that passion is not a thing, it’s a force.

I cannot lose it.

If I get discouraged about Russian, for example, I feel I lost my “passion.”

In actuality, I lost my energy.

Energy can be refilled or repositioned.

My power is my passion.

However, my passion is formless energy projected onto what excites us most at the moment.

I offer you all my passion.

Not because I dreamed my entire life of doing this, but because I am energized.

I am eager to bring you new strategies and tips to help you or your child succeed.

If you enjoyed this and want more, be sure to subscribe!