Tag Archives: reading

Searching for Reading Material: A Little Murder, a Little Mystery

Dr. Tamara Fudge

Purdue University Global Professor, Business and Information Technology


It’s pretty easy to go to a bookstore at the local mall or search online and find all sorts of reading material by famous authors. It is not possible to have read all the classics, so you should be able to find something that seems familiar – something that makes you think now, why haven’t I read this yet?

But this blog entry is not about the famous Charles Dickenses, the George Orwells, or the Maya Angelous. It’s about finding works by new authors. Fresh pickings!  The following items were written by authors I know personally.  All of these authors are still alive – but not all of the characters in their books stay that way!


L. Phillips Carlson

First, a prized butterfly collection is stolen. Then what looks like a car accident might actually have been murder. On the surface, these events don’t seem to be related, but a private investigator who is trying to restart his sagging career starts to find some odd connections. Throw in some ghostly possession and it gets even more complicated – and personal. Just when you think you know what will happen next, there is a new twist!  This book won the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Fiction in the Science Fiction-Fantasy category.

Linnea Hall

Think just for a minute about this tagline: “When Collin Sykes dies in an automobile accident, his life changes forever.”  An emergency room nurse, time-travel back to the Knights Templar, a kidnapping, and the plan for a heroic rescue – plus some science! – all set up a lot of great action. While it may have been meant for the young reader, this book is definitely also fun for adult reading. The characters make you want to care about them, and you won’t want to put the book down until the last word.

Leslie Langtry

This is the first book of four in Langtry’s “Merry Wrath Mysteries” series. The protagonist is an ex-CIA operative turned Girl Scout co-leader (really!). Despite ineptitude at “normal living,” Merry tries to fit in as a regular civilian but keeps getting pulled back into the world of espionage and, well, really weird situations.  Skillful sarcasm, some well-placed dead bodies, secrets, and plot twists in each book will make you want to read the full series and beg for more.  I have already begged and found #5 is coming in the spring!

Another excellent reason to read these books is that you help inspire living authors to continue their craft, and that in turn enriches the world of literature. Have fun and unwind with these murderous and mysterious novels!



Read and Write Outside the Classroom, Too.

Sara Wink, Purdue University Global Composition Faculty

For months, my daughter asked—not quite begging, but close—for a “real bike.” Her Radio Flyer big wheel just barely contained her lanky frame, so it wasn’t an unreasonable request…except she couldn’t pedal.

“It’s hard.” Those words came every time I stopped pushing. By five-year-old logic, something hard equals something not worth doing. Far better to go back to what is easy: forming words, over, and over, and over again: “Can I have a bike? I’m big enough. Can we look at bikes? Look, that kid has a bike. It only has two wheels. Mine has three, and that’s okay, but I really only need two, Mom…” It took weeks of (mostly) gentle prodding to drive her to move her feet, fall into the rhythm of the wheels, and—HOORAY! Pedaling!

Nowadays she still asks for a real bike, but not nearly so often. She knows a “real” bike will require more energy on her part. She knows she has to build up her leg muscles and balance to get there. She knows she needs to keep it up.

Why aren’t we all like that about the skills that count?

Writing, blogging https://purdueglobalwritingcenter.wordpress.com/

Teachers should set an example for students to follow. By showing them that regular reading and writing do help build one’s skills, they’ll be more motivated to try both. We need that connection of experience for the sake of understanding. My students always feel badly when they have to deal with their kids during seminar. When I tell them I’ve handled class discussions within 24 hours of giving birth to twins, they KNOW I’m one to turn to when things get overwhelming.

So how can we ask them to do all this reading and writing when we only do it when we absolutely have to? We’ve all read some faculty emails that really could have used an editor. We’ve also been guilty of writing such emails ourselves. And yet here we are, demanding students step up with their written work.

Let’s set a good example. Let’s make reading and writing count in our daily professional lives. I’m not just talking emails. I’m talking some critical and/or creative work. Be it novels or professional books, give yourself something to read every day.

No, not student projects. Something fun. I recently finished Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a medieval mystery filled with Latin. I enjoyed the story, and I was also challenged by the translation work as well as the dense prose. Now I’m going to read Agatha Christie. Maybe you like romance, or an epic, or a historical biography. Great! READ IT. One chapter at a time won’t bite too much out of your day. As we so often tell students: the more you read, the better you write. This applies to teachers, too.

Writing skills need practice outside of discussion boards and announcements. Blogging can be a great way to exercise those skills. Like my colleague, Lisa Gerardy, I have a website where I write under a different name. I write about my studies in fiction, influential music, observations captured in photography, etc. It has absolutely nothing to do with Purdue Global; it has everything to do with what interests me. That interest motivates me to write every week.

The more I write, the better I feel about reading—and critiquing—what others write. The more I write longer pieces, the easier it is to write those discussion board responses. Yes, the extra reading and writing take time, but we owe it to the students as well as to ourselves to show what a good reading and writing regimen can do.

If not, we should stop telling them to ride the two-wheeler until we are fit to pedal it ourselves.




Weighing the Books

By Chrissine Rios, MA, Purdue University Global Writing Center

My home office-by-day/studio-at-heart is one of my favorite places for many reasons, and about 200 of them are books.

My Bookcase Before

My Bookcase Before

Some have literally saved my life; others have just stuck to my bones.  Each shelf holds a genre, and each genre holds a part of my story.  On my shelf of children’s classics, for instance, I have The Little Prince.  It was my mom’s when she was a girl, and folded inside is the book report I wrote on it in 7th grade; I can still remember crumpling up the rough drafts of lined paper, and there was a dozen.  Back then good writing had a lot to do with good hand writing, I thought, and I wanted mine to be good.

The Little Prince Book Report

The Little Prince Book Report

Another special shelf holds my reference books including Simon and Schuster’s International Dictionary: English/Spanish, Spanish/English, a 1,597-page hardcover that weighs a ton and a half.  I majored in Spanish in college, studied for a semester at the Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica, and for a year at the University of Puerto Rico—I still have my Antología de Textos Literarios from UPR and a soulful collection of postcolonial literature by Caribbean authors.  I bought the big dictionary when I was waist deep in Spanish classes.  I needed it for survival.  And in the eight times I’ve moved since finishing college, I’ve had to decide if I would again pack it up and take it with me, even though the only times I’ve cracked it open have been almost exactly those same eight times I moved, just to weigh my need for it.

I also have a paperback English/Spanish dictionary, a thick book as well but with the same words and not big and heavy.  And when I opened that one to weigh its importance, my initial thought was I don’t need this one if I keep the big one, but then I saw my mom’s name printed inside the cover and remembered how she kept up with her Spanish all those years I was studying it.  So my decision was made: The mammoth dictionary would go to Goodwill, and my mom’s paperback would stick with me.

In a blogging course I took a few years ago, a woman in my breakout group said she gave all of her books away, all of them.  She could no longer look at the stack looming on her nightstand.  She said she reads e-books now—no clutter, no guilt.  And she loves books.  She was finishing her now published novel at the time, which I read, reviewed, and gifted to my mother.  I loved it.  My shelves may be full and my nightstand too, but I have a living library.  Books come and go.  I don’t keep all I read or even read all I keep.  But there’s no way I could let go of my copy of Running with Scissors that Augusten Burroughs signed for me after his talk at the Florida Suncoast Writers’ Conference in 05.  That book was powerful.

Running With Scissors, Signed Copy

Running With Scissors, Signed Copy

Yet I read e-books too, and when Burroughs’s memoir Lust and Wonder came out earlier this year, I decided I would download it from Amazon.  His books have been filling up my memoir shelf for years, and that’s my favorite shelf! When it came to weighing their worth to me, they were heavy with great love, but also, just heavy, and for about a day, or at least an hour as I pulled those and about 40 more from my shelves to lighten my load, I considered donating every single one of my books to Goodwill or the local library.  I don’t “need” them, after all.  I could get most (but not all) as e-books; I could take pictures of the inscriptions.  Books are heavy to move and expensive to transport across multiple states as I will be doing very soon.

Good Will Books

Goodwill Books

But here’s the thing: I do need them.  I need them in the way a musician needs music and a painter needs paintings and a lover needs love.  Books are my reason for writing and loving language; they are my reward, my inspiration, and they have shaped the life I live, and in my work as a writing tutor and a writer, I use them all the time.  I’ve reopened a box a day it seems looking for one and then another.  It’s terribly inconvenient having them in boxes, but I must pack to move.  And where I’m going, I’ll make a new studio-office, and I’ll shelve my books on a new bookcase (since mine was too heavy to keep), and I will be home again.

Books Worth the Weight

Books Worth the Weight


Better Readers = Better Writers and Thinkers

Amy Sexton, Purdue University Global Writing Center Tutor


https://purdueglobalwritingcenter.wordpress.com/As a writing tutor, I often tutor reading.  Those who understand the inextricable connections between reading and writing will realize that this is not a contradictory statement.  College students often face what may be a daunting task of making meaning from complex texts and other materials and then writing about what they have learned.  For example, an English education major taking a required general education science course may find the more scientific course material very difficult to understand. Even students completing courses in their major may find comprehending the formal language used in academic texts a challenge.  How can tutors and teachers assist students in their reading efforts?   Here are three suggestions based on my work with students:

  1. Help students realize that reading for understanding takes time and effort.  When students tell me in live tutoring that they are having trouble understanding a reading, I always ask them how many times they have read it.  Typically, the answer is once, sometimes twice; rarely do I hear they have read it more than twice.  I often tell students that, depending on the complexity of the material and their familiarity with the topic, they may need to read some pieces five or six times.  Students are usually surprised to hear this number, which indicates that most of them are probably not reading difficult material as many times as they need to be.  Think about your own experiences reading new, complex information.  Do you immediately comprehend the material after one or two readings?  Or, are you like me, and find that you only fully understand after several readings?    Along the same lines, I also talk to students about what it means to read actively.  I ask them what note-taking strategies they are using to help aid in their comprehension.  Often students do not realize that simply taking notes or annotating texts can be very effective reading strategies!
  2.   Demonstrate close reading. One of my most rewarding tutorial sessions occurred when I was working with a student who was having trouble finding and summarizing an article for a course assignment.  He said that he had found a couple articles, but that he did not understand them.   We selected one article, and then, as he listened, I verbalized my own thought processes as I read the first paragraph.  As I read each sentence aloud, I vocalized my metacognition by saying things like “This sentence is about….”  And “I think the rest of the article will be about ….”.  After around five minutes of my modeling close reading, the student experienced a light bulb moment:  “Well, I hadn’t been reading it like that”, he exclaimed.  In my experiences teaching and tutoring students reading skills, many of them are not aware that effective reading involves actively thinking about the material they are reading.
  3. Introduce them to online study aids like Wikipedia and YouTube.  Internet sources, especially sources like Wikipedia, often receive a bad rap in academia, but they can be valuable study aids for students who are struggling to read more traditional course materials like textbooks and lectures.  While students should be aware that internet sources, especially collaborative wikis might not always be accurate, they should not be afraid to use them as auxiliary aids to help them comprehend complex texts and process complicated information.  Teachers can also select and curate these types of study materials for students in their courses.   While students will still need to read and understand their required course materials, exposing them to less difficult readings, study aids, and videos   may give them a starting point for doing so.  Having a starting point for understanding can make any task seem less overwhelming.

Teachers and tutors can easily share these strategies with students in tutorial sessions, writing conferences, course discussions, seminars, and workshops.  By helping students improve and develop their reading comprehension skills, we also empower them to begin writing about what they are reading, and in the process, become better students and thinkers.





Mindful Reading and Living: A Book Review

Jan Chozen Bays’ How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (229 pages)

Reviewed by Kathleen Bishop, Adjunct Faculty, Kaplan University Health Sciences Dept.

Who should read this book? Anyone who is interested in learning how to be fully present in life, at work, at home, driving in traffic, surfing the net, or cooking dinner. Most of us walk through life totally unconscious of the world around us. This book will help you live a more “conscious life.” Doing so will increase your happiness and your productivity. It will improve your relationships with the people in your life by letting them know you are really listening, really paying attention, and really focusing on them.

Wildelephant Summary: This book is written by Jan Chosen Bays, MD who is a pediatrician, a meditation teacher, wife, mother, grandmother, and yes, the abbess of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. If you are wondering how she does it all you can find some of her secrets shared in this book. The book is based around short practices that you can do in only a few minutes or even a few seconds that bring you into the present moment and help you stay there. She defines the concept of “mindfulness” and then shares 53 exercises with you each designed to help you gain the benefits of mindfulness: mental and physical health. And I will add improved relationships with self and others.

Why I picked this book? This book was recommended to me by a member of my Zen group and a former teacher. She knew I was looking for some simple exercises to use in my classes and workshops to help teach the principles of mindfulness, to help my students concentrate, and get settled before the class begins. She was right! It is a great resource. I have used it in my life, in my classes on line, and in my face-to-face trainings and it has made a big difference. I have received the most wonderful feedback from my students and participants on how these techniques and this principle of mindfulness has helped them relax, stay focused, and get more accomplished.

Favorite quote from the book: “Mindfulness is a potent tool for training the mind, allowing us to access and use the mind’s true potential for insight, kindness, and creativity.”


Using Metacognition and Schema Theory to Teach Reading Skills

Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

©2014 Clipart.com

© 2014 Clipart.com

As educators, we realize the many positive outcomes for students who read recreationally (see The Reading and Writing Connection and The Forget Kale or Chipotle Peppers-the Best Way to Learn English Quickly is Reading Method), but what happens when students cannot read well at a college level?  ACT’s most recent annual report, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013, found that 44% of students tested were prepared to meet the demands of college reading.   This number may mean that over half of students, or 56%, enrolled in our classes are not able to effectively read and understand their college texts, assignment directions, and academic research materials.  Understanding complex research methodologies and study designs, compiling literature reviews, and processing scholarly research articles are tasks that they may find too challenging.  Low reading levels negatively impacts their writing as they cannot use outside sources in their own writing if they do not understand them.   They are not able to adequately process their texts and source materials, so they cannot see how they fit in with their own ideas. This often leads to unsuccessful paraphrases, lack of integration of source material, and plagiarism.

As educators, it is up to all of us to help students improve their literacy skills. As the United States Department of Education (2006) noted, “If students cannot read close to grade level, the biology textbook, the math problems, the history documents, the novel—all will be beyond them.”  Early in my career as a college educator, I taught  developmental reading courses, and while I taught many techniques and strategies for reading and comprehending college texts and academic materials, I found that two fairly simple strategies worked extremely well for my students.

First, I encouraged students to take charge of their reading experiences. I reminded them that reading is an active meaning-making experience.  I talked to them early and often about metacognition and demonstrated it by monitoring my own reading comprehension out loud.  I also discussed setting aside enough time for reading and gave them the general formula of multiplying the number of credit hours of each of their courses by 2-3 to figure out how many hours they should be reading course materials per class each week.  This helped them set realistic expectations and actually allot the necessary amount of time to adequately comprehend course materials.  I also talked to them about minimizing the distractions around them, reminding them that if they tried to read in a room where children were playing loudly, or the television was blaring, these distractions would likely demand their attention, leaving their ability to concentrate on their reading compromised.

Secondly, I talked to students about prior knowledge and schema theory in reading.  I taught them that schema theorists suggest that we process new information by considering how it fits in with our prior knowledge on a topic. We talked about how, when we encounter new information, either through reading or other learning experiences, we examine how the new information meshes with our existing schemata on the topic, and we rearrange or reconstruct our schemata to accommodate the new information.  I demonstrated schema theory in reading comprehension by having students complete KWL (What I Know, What I Want to Know, and What I Learned) charts in class. I also helped them to understand that, if their schemata on a topic were limited, extra processing time may be needed and encouraged them to expand and build on their prior knowledge by reading vicariously and seeking out other learning experiences.

These strategies worked well for my developmental reading students, and, along with other techniques we reviewed in class, helped them improve their reading skills. What methods have you found successful in improving students’ abilities to read and comprehend their texts in order to write about them?


ACT. (2013).   The condition of college & career readiness 2013. Retrieved from https://www.act.org/research/policymakers/cccr13/pdf/CCCR13-NationalReadinessRpt.pdf

United States Department of Education. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/toolboxrevisit/toolbox.pdf

Hooking Your Readers with Some Help from Jaws

David Healey, Kaplan University Composition Faculty

© 2014 Clipart.com

© 2014 Clipart.com

Hooking your readers turns out to have a lot in common with pretending to be a shark. One of my favorite childhood memories is of being at the beach on Cape Cod and scaring my mom. My middle brother and I would swim underwater and grab mom’s legs, causing her to shriek and run for shore. What fun!

It was the summer that the paperback version of Jaws came out, and mom read it in her beach chair and evenings at the cottage. The result was that every ripple in the water and every kid grabbing her legs became a Great White in her imagination.

Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum!

I was thinking about Jaws and that long-ago summer because in class we recently focused on tips for hooking readers. Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel makes a great example of how to hook a reader, and I often read a few sentences to students. It’s an opening that’s as menacing as it is spellbinding:

“The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail. The mouth was open just enough to permit a rush of water over the gills. … The eyes were sightless in the black, and the other senses transmitted nothing extraodinary to the small, primitive brain” (Benchley, 1974, p. 3).

That’s not bad for a novel he banged out in a rented room above a garage (Wyatt, 2006). With the students, we also talk about the opening scene in Steven Spielberg’s movie where the shark gets the woman who goes for a midnight swim. This is not recommended viewing if you are thinking about a beach vacation!

A discussion of Jaws also touches on the issue of pre-writing strategies and revision. Originally, Benchley wrote the first four chapters as a comedy. His editor sent back those chapters and asked him to revise his work by writing a realistic thriller (Gilliam, 2002).

But with the opening lines and images from Jaws, what we’re focusing on in class is the narrative approach for hooking readers, which works just as well in nonfiction essays as it does in fiction.

Students sometimes have great success with this approach. For example, here’s an introduction written by CM220 student Elizabeth Buckhannon as part of her first draft or “blueprint for success” in Unit 6:

“Students with bipolar disorder have a hard time in class; they often need help from teachers and aides. All it takes is for the teacher to change their teaching method, so these students are getting the education they need. Teachers and other school staff need to be educated about the disorder and be trained on how to best help these students. They can help the bipolar student by being flexible, allowing extra time and frequent breaks, encouraging them, and staying in contact with their parents” (Buckhannon, 2013).

She did a great job with that introduction. But after our discussion of the narrative approach, here’s what the student wrote in her revised introduction, imagining an individual with bipolar disorder named Maddie:

“Maddie has a hard time in class because of her bipolar disorder. She has frequent mood changes throughout the day, which sometimes cause her to act out. She wishes her teachers would understand what she is going through and be more sympathetic. She wants to do well in school, but finds it difficult because of her teacher’s teaching method. Teachers and other school staff need to be educated about bipolar disorder and be trained on how to best help students like Maddie. They can help these students by being flexible, allowing extra time and frequent breaks, encouraging them, and staying in contact with their parents” (Buckhannon, 2013).

Clearly, this student embraced the narrative approach to create a stronger introduction (along with a great thesis statement!) in this revised effort.

Jaws isn’t the only example we can find of a narrative approach to a good hook. When asked, students often come up with other examples from books and movies. Hopefully, our classroom discussion inspires some good writing—even if we might think twice about taking that late night swim.

Oh, and thanks to mom for being a good sport and taking us kids to the beach. Who knew it would lend itself to the study of writing techniques for hooking your readers all these years later?


Benchley, P. (1975). Jaws. New York: Fawcett Crest Books.

Buckhannon, E. (2013). Teaching the bipolar student. Unpublished manuscript, Kaplan University.

Gilliam, B. (2002). Peter Benchley: The father of Jaws and other tales of the deep. Retrieved from http://www.peterbenchley.com/articles/peter-benchley-the-father-jaws-and-other-tales-the-deep

Wyatt, E. (2006, February 13). Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, dies at 65. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/books/13benchley.html