Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Chicken Nugget Man Goes Nationwide! Get Ready, America!!

I've taken a look at a proof copy of Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure, and I'm very pleased with the quality. It's the end of a long battle, given the change in size to an 8.5 x 8.5 inch paperback, edited graphics, and the addition of TONS of new features, including 30 HILARIOUS test prep questions at the end of the book, open-ended writing activities, and drawing activities. The book includes National Common Core Standards for Grades 2-5 and features an updated plot. We took customer feedback from the 4 previous versions (NC, GA, CA, and NY) to make this national book the best version we've got.

The book is available for pre-ordering on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Borders.com. I need your help getting it into bookstores, though. Please ask for it at your local bookstore, and put in a special order request when they say it's out of stock. I anticipate it shipping to customers well ahead of the published March 1, 2011 release date.

If you would like an advance review copy of the book, limited quantities are available for those willing to post a review of the book. Please contact the publisher for details.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Rusty Start to My Return to Early Childhood Instruction

I've been on a working vacation for the past 42 days. In random restaurants in South India, buses in Bangalore, beaches in Bali, hotels in Penang, and riverside the Clarke Quaye in Singapore, I managed to use napkins, pocket memo pads, my laptop, an iPad, and an iPhone to write a new children's book. It's not a Chicken Nugget Man book, but I'm pretty impressed with it. Normally, I'm not satisfied at all with my first drafts, but this was an exception.

This week, I started my first session as a lead tutor for a local after school center. I go in twice a week and implement a curriculum program for 6 fourth-graders. It has been a few years since I was in charge of instruction for a group of kids, so I was concerned that I was a bit rusty. They finished up their activities quickly, and most of them didn't have enough homework for me to help them with. As a result, I had to improvise and make up activities to make use of the time we had left. As you can imagine, this didn't go as well as I had planned, and although the students were behaving, there was quite a bit of chatter and an understandable amount of complaining about the workload (especially with the long division problems).

Just when I started to wonder if I had lost my touch, I sat down and created a plan for the next session. At this particular center, the students earn points for demonstrating certain characteristics, such as hard work and integrity. Normally, tutors and volunteers just give all kids points in each category and give them an extra point here and there if they did exceptionally well. Filling out their points usually only takes a few seconds. But I decided to shake things up. I created a card for each student. The cards identified each characteristic and provided examples of how to earn points in each category, such as never complaining about the work that is given to you. I told them that in order to earn points for a category, they had to write down what they did to earn that point during the session. If they left a category blank, they wouldn't get a point. I also told them that they were allowed to write down what someone else did to earn a point if they notice another student demonstrating one of the special characteristics.

This, my friends, was a game-changer. The kids suddenly perked up and started using language such as, "it looks hard, but I'll give it a try," and "can I have another problem so I can make sure I understood what you taught me?" They were actually using the examples of hard work and high expectations that I had given them! Honestly, it didn't matter to me whether or not they were doing this just to earn points. They were working hard, speaking nicely to each other, and motivating each other to go beyond than the call of duty.We then did a little activity where they had to identify their favorite books and tell me whether or not they usually liked or disliked the books they read in class. Honest was one of the important categories on their cards, so they were all very honest in their responses, with some indicating that they were usually bored with the reading material they were given.

And then came the magic moment. I pulled out 6 stacks of reading material. I told them it was the first chapter of a book. What I didn't tell them was that I was the author. We took turns reading and I taught the kids not to just blurt out the word that another student was struggling to pronounce. Instead, we would sound out the first few letters just to give the person a hint. The kids were smiling and laughing during the story and they had quite a bit of fun answering the silly comprehension questions at the end of the chapter. I handed out a survey about the book and was too busy tallying up their points from their cards to view the results of the survey. So many kids wrote things like, "I didn't earn a point in this box today, but I tried." Since it was the first day and this way of awarding points was so different than what most of them were used to with other tutors, I gave all of them full points for the day and a few of them got double points.

I wasn't able to view the survey results until this morning when I got to work. Every single student indicated that the book was funnier than most books they've read. They all said they liked or loved it. Nobody said it was boring, and 5 out of 6 said the questions at the end of the chapters were REALLY funny. As I put the final touches on this book, I have no idea whether or not it will score a distribution contract or ever get published, but because of what happened with those kids yesterday, it really doesn't matter. I managed to see the direct results of my work on the population that I write for and I pulled off a very difficult task: making multiple-choice, standardized test-type comprehension questions funny and enjoyable for kids.

I'll keep you posted on the status of the book, and my plan is to wait until the kids are finished reading the book to announce that I was the one who wrote it.

-Kumar