Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pam Withers’ 18th adventure novel – for free!

Book me for a presentation at your school or library this spring and get an autographed copy of my forthcoming book, Bungee Jump (Orca Currents, not yet available for order, but soon)!

For those in ONTARIO, here's a brand-new announcement at Authors' Booking Service!  
Greater Toronto Area schools: May 9 through 13. Ottawa schools: May 16-17. Full days of four sessions $950 + HST (travel included). Day can be shared by two nearby schools. Grades 4 to 12.
[The rest of the announcement is here:]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Escaping the Paris crisis

Our vacation: Birds flying high overhead. Pink sunset glowing through wind-tossed surf waves. A mountain-meadow chorus of sheep bells as the flock grazes its way through rich grass, unaware of the drop-away view to ancient valleys below, or the medley they're creating that sounds like a hundred wind chimes.

We've just returned to Toulouse, France (where we're living temporarily) from three relaxing days along the French and Spanish Atlantic coast and into the Pyrenees. I left my manuscript-in-progress at my desk, stalled on Chapter Thirteen (of twenty). Closing in on the crisis, climax and resolution, but in need of a break.

The night before we left, all hell broke loose in Paris, and the president closed the borders. We figured we'd get turned away from entering Spain, but that we'd give it a try. The closure was lifted hours before we arrived; our rental car moved slowly past machine-gun toting border guards. We entered Spain's Basque country and breathed easy, trying not to let the devastating pictures of the morning newscasts roll through our heads.

We've returned from our vacation refreshed, and I'm back into the flow.

But in Paris? What follows the crisis? Where's the climax and resolution? Where's the badly needed break that allows sun and music to pour in? Who's in charge of this sick, unfolding story? Are tears and mountains of flowers and a moment of silence enough? My heart pours out to the families who've lost loved ones. May they, and France, find some semblance of peace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Setting high standards for kids with learning disabilities

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.
by Samantha Turner
(Reprinted, with permission, from the Smart Kids with LD website at www.SmartKidswithLD.org; copyright by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities®.)

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some parents are reluctant to set tough academic standards for their children with learning disabilities (LD). They fear that setting the bar high will cause their kids to become overwhelmed and filled with anxiety.

In reality, that attitude does more harm than good. Their insecurity comes across as a lack of confidence in their child’s ability to do well in school. Truthfully, many students with LD want to be challenged!

Every day, students with LD are reminded that they learn differently. From the support they receive to the accommodations they’re given, the message is loud and clear: "You don’t learn like everyone else, and because of that you need special treatment."

Parents have an opportunity to counter the message kids get at school. By maintaining high academic standards and holding their children accountable for their schoolwork, they telegraph their belief that their kids can achieve at levels equal to if not better than their peers.

For students with LD, school is often not a safe zone. They may spend a large part of the day feeling out of place and discouraged. Home, on the other hand, is a safe haven. It’s an environment where the pressure is off, and they’re free to explore who they are and gain self-awareness along the way.

Parents should take advantage of that comfort level and push their child academically, helping her to gain confidence and develop the determination to succeed. With consistent encouragement and accountability, students will internalize the belief that they can meet any academic challenge that comes their way.

I learned that lesson early on, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. When I was in fifth grade, one unit of my history class was dedicated to the Colonial era. My father, a history major, helped me through this class, explaining topics I didn’t understand. But as a student with LD, tests were hard for me! On the first test my grade was thirty-two percent. I was pretty disappointed and nervous about
showing my father, even though I was sure he would tell me it was okay. Instead he responded with the most motivating words I have ever heard: "I don’t ever want to see a grade like that again."

Harsh, yes for a ten-year-old, but empowering! I knew exactly what he meant: He had confidence in me, knowing full well I could do better. On the next exam I studied with what holds smart kids back?
determination and got a 100 percent! I couldn’t have been prouder to show him that grade!”


Counter opinion:
 “I disagree with recommending pushing one’s child academically,” says Philippa Slater, director of the Learning Disabilities Association of British Columbia, Canada. “Each child, according to their make-up, reacts differently to their LD. Some are far more resilient than others. Some are very fragile. Any pressure has to come with a great deal of homework support and informed sensitivity to how much harder these kids have to study. As LD expert Richard Lavoie says, 'They have to work twice as hard to get half as far.’” (www.ricklavoie.com)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Do you read in the bathroom?

Do you read in the bathroom? Well, 11% of females and 17% of males do. So, stock up the bathroom with reading material; it's whatever keeps us all reading, right? According to the same poll (of Germans by Lufthansa Magazine October 2015, p. 31), 13% of us often read several books simultaneously, 71% of females and 31% of males sometimes cry over a book, and 69% believe in aliens. (Fantasy authors should welcome the latter item.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Jay's story: A mother and her ADHD son

This moving story of a mother and her ADHD son involves my sister Cynthia Gill and her son Jay. Cynthia is co-author with me of Jump-Starting Boys, from which this is excerpted.

Cynthia noticed something different about her third son, Jay, long before he reached kindergarten.

During family reading time, he would restlessly color or fiddle with books while his older brothers listened attentively. She knew enough to allow him to be restless because she knew he was still listening, and how else would she get any books into him? But her instincts told her that his inability to sit still or focus was not typical boy stuff.

His first-grade teacher noticed the same issues and worked with Cynthia and her husband to get Jay diagnosed as having ADHD. They noticed Jay’s reading increase and improve immediately after he started taking Ritalin. But it wasn’t enough to restore what Cynthia refers to as his lack of a social antenna and his dwindling self-confidence.

By the time Jay was old enough to ride the bus to school, he was trying out impulsive, attention-getting behavior that worked against making friends, like insulting children five years older and then feeling mystified when they were mean back. And although he was very intelligent, his schoolwork and other  activities suffered from his hyperactivity.

“He would get singled out for discipline in almost every activity, even drama and Sunday school,” Cynthia recalls. “He began to see himself as a loser very young. Even though you can medicate them
and help them read well, it doesn’t always help self-esteem unless they get more help. Plus, teachers and authorities don’t always know how to deal with ADHD kids. In retrospect, I think we put
too much stock in Ritalin.”

In grade three, Jay was nearly kicked out of school for ongoing attention-getting behavior like declaring he intended to commit suicide. His parents, unaware of an ADHD child’s needs, reacted like many parents, using punitive methods such as labeling, shaming, and punishments. Jay’s father had less tolerance for his youngest son’s antics than Cynthia, and he and Jay had a difficult relationship for some of Jay’s formative years. However, they have an amicable, even close relationship today—evidence of children’s resilience and what a parent’s perseverance can accomplish.

Here is how Jay, now age twenty-seven, recalls his childhood: “I was above the norm at reading and writing and I was in an advanced math class. But I was bad at doing my schoolwork. I was lazy and have a hard time keeping my mind on something I’m not interested in at that moment. I’m kind of scatterbrained. And getting myself to study for a test took more effort than normal; I was strong-willed in not wanting to do that.”

He recalls hiding his actual reading level from friends. “That’s pretty classic with most boys. The more aggressive guys are often the more unintelligent.”

Cynthia has some regrets about her own handling of Jay: “I was too easy on him. I tried to make up for his problems by being too coddling, yet in so doing, I ended up spoiling him. In my own confusion, I vacillated between being too easy and too harsh.”

Despite the challenges, Jay tried hard to succeed at school until he hit ninth grade, when he all but gave up. His parents enrolled him in an alternative school at that point, which Jay acknowledges helped him for a while, even though he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with his fellow classmates. “The majority of kids in there were kids others were scared of. People started to look at me more like I was a criminal than a dork, and at the time, I kind of liked that. At sixteen, you have to find a group of people you fit in with.”

Before his senior year, Jay dropped out, experimented with drugs, and ran away from home. Even so, he knew he wanted that high school degree. When he entered a General Education Development program to achieve it through taking tests (typically a year’s process), he blew administrators away by attending only two classes, then passing all five tests on the first try.

Today, Jay maintains a close relationship with both of his parents. He’s training to be an actor, and proudly names reading as one of his hobbies. Looking back, he particularly appreciates that his parents had a house well stocked with books, and emphasized the importance of reading with their kids:

“Unlike television and music, books build your own imagination. They help you create rather than just consume and watch. Reading is good, school is important; knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have, the happier you'll be."

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Confession: Je suis à Toulouse, France (I am in Toulouse)

And another confession: Je ne parle pas français. (I don't speak French.) Well, let's just say that phrase pretty much exhausts my French.
Luckily, my husband is fluent, because we are in Toulouse, France for eight weeks for his work (teaching and research).
And contrary to your suspicion that I'm gallivanting about exploring this charming city, eating almond croissants and poking my nose into the dozens of red brick cathedrals here, I am finishing a novel.
Well, okay, I'm writing in between eating almond croissants and exploring this charming city. I'll be back at my usual desk in Canada (hopefully with my novel finished) in December.

Photo montage credit: "Montage Toulouse 2" by User:En-bateau (compilation) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montage_Toulouse_2.jpg#/media/File:Montage_Toulouse_2.jpg

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dad, 1927 - 2015

Top: me, my dad Richard Miller and my son Jeremy
Second, me and Dad in Hawaii 2013
Third: Jeremy and Dad viewing the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbour in Honolulu
Bottom: Jeremy, me and Dad in his nursing home

He taught me much of what I know in life, especially right from wrong. He role-modeled unselfish and steadfast love, good parenting, good grand-parenting, fun, optimism, open-mindedness, being adventurous, and caring for others. His memorial service last week was packed with people he'd touched in his 88 years. He was always a bigger-than-life person. Everyone loved him. He lived a very full life, but even so, his passing puts an enormous hole in my heart.