Wednesday, April 28, 2021


More and more in the world of education, particularly in the K-12 realm, the subject of self-advocacy is coming up in discussions. We may hear our teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors using this term in conversations with us from time to time, and rightfully so. Developing self-advocacy skills are critical for success in life and career.
But just what is self-advocacy? What do we mean by this term, and how will developing skills in this area help us in life and career? Let's explore this concept further, because this is a very important and meaningful subject to spend some time on.

Simply put, self-advocacy (also referred to as advocacy, advocating for yourself, or advocating for one's self) means to not be afraid to ask for help or for clarification when the need arises. It means having the courage to speak up for yourself when something doesn't make sense or feel right, or when you need some kind of assistance.

These are necessary skills to develop, and you'll need them all throughout life to be successful in all kinds of situations, life stages, and settings - in school and college, in the workplace, with family and friends, etc.

You should never be afraid to seek help when you need it, and we all do from time to time in a variety of contexts.

A few practical, everyday examples include seeking clarification on a concept, assignment, or task from a teacher, coach, professor, or supervisor / manager; going to, and talking with, your doctor or dentist when something doesn't feel right; communicating with family and close friends when something's been bugging you and you'd like advice and counsel; asking for help with directions because you're lost; or getting ready to make a big purchase, like a car or home, and needing clarification and advice on a few matters before you feel comfortable and informed enough making that big purchase decision.

The key takeaway here is that you should never be afraid to seek help or clarification when you feel you need it. There are plenty of caring people, professionals, and other resources (credible online sources, books, etc.) at your disposal to help you understand options, decisions, assignments and tasks, your health, and so on. Self-advocacy - start practicing this valuable life skill today.

Christian Picciolini on racism and hate

Recently, in a 10th grade World Studies class that I assist in, the classroom teacher shared this video with the class. I found it to be very insightful and thought-provoking, and so I'd like to share it with you here.

Christian Picciolini, a Chicago native who grew up the son of hard-working Italian immigrants, shares his incredible journey of how he left the skinhead movement he helped create and build during the 1980s and 90s.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Raisin in the Sun study guide

Brief overview: A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. It was the subject of a major motion picture in 1961 starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Roy Glenn, and Louis Gossett Jr.; and a 1989 made-for-television film starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle. 

The general gist of the story is that the Younger family, a working-class black family living in Chicago in the late 1950s, receives a $10,000 life insurance check after the family's patriarch (father) dies. While that may seem like a nice little pile of cash to do something with, especially in terms of 1950s dollars, reality quickly sets in once several surviving family members reveal their competing hopes, dreams, and goals for how the money should be spent.

Lena (Mama) wants to use the money toward a new home that the family can truly call its own. Currently, the family resides in a cramped, run-down apartment. Walter, Mama's son, wants to invest a good portion of the money in a liquor store with a couple buddies, convinced that such an investment will relieve the family's financial woes. Beneatha, Mama's daughter, wants some of the money to go toward her education. She's currently a college student with ambitions of going off to medical school and becoming a doctor.

As the story goes on, we learn that Mama makes a down payment on a home in an all-white neighborhood. The decision to purchase a home in this neighborhood is a practical financial one, as homes in the all-white neighborhood are far cheaper. She gives the remainder of what's left of the money to Walter, on the condition that he set aside $3,000 for his sister's (Beneatha) education. Walter ends up losing all the money, leaving both he and Beneatha with nothing. One of his connections in the liquor store investment ran off with the money. Meanwhile, the family encounters racial tension and harassment when the neighborhood association of the all-white neighborhood sends its representative, Karl Lindner, to try to persuade the family to accept a buy-out in exchange for not moving into the home. 

In the end, the Younger family rejects Lindner's pressure and ultimately moves into the home. The family's future is uncertain, and the family never seemed to resolve its other conflicts, leaving the audience somewhat hanging and forced to speculate. But the family, despite all its troubles and the harsh realities it's been forced to face, has in the end its pride, dignity, and a home to call their own.

Themes: SparkNotes identifies three main themes in A Raisin in the Sun, including the purpose and value that dreams play in our lives, the importance and value of family life, and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination.

Throughout the play, dreams have a major role, and they're easy for any of us to relate to and connect with. Beneatha wants to realize her dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. While owning a piece of a liquor store isn't necessarily the dream in and of itself for Walter, he sees it as a means for making his real dream possible - Walter simply wants to be able to adequately provide for his family and give them a good life. He's lived in poverty, and he sees the liquor store as a viable vehicle for achieving this dream of his. Mama simply wants to own a home, a place that she and her family can truly call their own and make memories in.

Family life and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination play a prominent role in the story, as well. In the end, despite their different and often competing goals and aspirations, the family members come together as a cohesive unit to make the dream of home ownership for the family happen. The family, led by Walter, stands up to the racial discrimination that Karl Lindner represents by his pressure to try to get the family to accept a bribe / buyout in exchange for not moving into the home in the all-white neighborhood. The family asserts its dignity and its fundamental right to realize its dream and plot its future.

Perhaps another universal theme that can be discussed, one that isn't identified in the SparkNotes themes, are the two sides money can represent. On the one hand, money provides opportunity to realize many kinds of goals and dreams, and can therefore be a wonderful thing. On the other, though, we know that money can also cause divisions and greed. It has the potential to bring out the worst in people.

Following are some additional helpful resources that may help you better understand A Raisin in the Sun:

SparkNotes themes: 

SparkNotes quiz (25 questions, multiple choice):

Wikipedia entry: 

If you type in "a raisin in the sun" in the YouTube search bar, this series of short videos come up that offer nice summaries of the acts/scenes. Dr. Kristen Over is the presenter. Dr. Over is an associate professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and she does a great job explaining the play in a relaxed tone and easy-to-understand manner.

To help you get started, here is the Act 1, Scene 1 video:

And here is the Act 1, Scene 2 video:

The rest of the series by Dr. Kristen Over should show up on the sidebar to the right on YouTube.

Here is a brief clip from PBS's American Masters series that offers insight into Lorraine Hansberry's inspiration for the play:

Finally, here is the 1989 made-for-TV movie based on the play:

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How to improve concentration

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Concentration While Studying

It's easy to become so distracted that you can't properly concentrate on your studies. To give yourself the best chance of being productive during your study sessions, you may need to actively work on improving your concentration. Here are three ways that you can improve your concentration, so your study sessions will be far more effective.

1. Drown out chatter with white noise.

If nearby chatter is ruining your concentration, grab a pair of headphones and drown out the voices by listening to white noise. White noise should be less distracting than any conversations going on around you, so listening to it should help you concentrate on your studies. If you find the sound of white noise to be more off-putting than helpful, try listening to some subdued instrumental music while you study instead.

2. Don't be in a rush.

Being in a rush can make it hard to concentrate on your studies - especially if you are rushing through your studies to finish early so you can move on to more enjoyable activities. To maximize your concentration, slow down while you're studying so you can devote your full and undivided attention to each aspect of the task.

3. Remove obvious distractions.

Take a moment to think about the types of things that distract you the most. If your social media is what often breaks your concentration, then turn off your notifications or mute your devices. If it's the television that is constantly pulling you away from your studies, then turn it off so you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Studying is hard when you are unable to concentrate. That's why it is important to find and implement strategies that will help improve your concentration. By using white noise to drown out nearby chatter, not being in a rush, and removing obvious distractions from your immediate vicinity, you should have a much easier time concentrating on the task at hand while participating in future study sessions.

Being a good neighbor on social media

How to Be a Good Neighbor on Social Media

Being neighborly isn't only about pleasant in-person interactions anymore. With more neighborhoods creating social media groups, it's also becoming important to show your neighborly side online. Here are two tips that can help you be a good neighbor while on social media. Be sure to keep them in mind when participating in any online community groups. These neighborhood social media groups can be a wonderful source for networking, making new friends, strengthening ties to your neighborhood / community, finding volunteer opportunities, and simply keeping up on local news and updates.

1. Always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media.

Though social media communications may feel rather anonymous at times, remember real people are reading your posts. Do your best to keep your online communications respectful and always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media. If you have a personal grievance with a fellow poster, bring it up with them privately, rather than in public for all to see.

2. Always respect your neighbors' online privacy.

Everyone has unique privacy preferences, both online and off. To stop yourself from accidentally revealing a neighbor's private data online, refrain from posting personal information or photos concerning your neighbors without their express consent.

If you have yet to join a community group online, they can be found in a couple of ways. One way to find online community groups is by checking the social media profiles of neighborhood friends to see if they belong to such a group. A second method for finding groups is utilizing the site's search function to look for specific groups focused on your neighborhood.

No-spend days will help you save money

Save Money by Designating No-Spend Days

No-spend days, or days when you actively avoid non-essential spending, can be a great tool for people looking to save some money. The idea is simple - each day you avoid making frivolous purchases is a day you save money. In fact, committing to a single no-spend day per week can help cut frivolous spending by around fifteen percent.

Here are a couple of tips to help keep you on track during your designated no-spend days:

1. Avoid window shopping.

Remove temptation by steering clear of shopping opportunities - both online and off. No-spend days are far easier to adhere to when you aren't confronted with things you want to buy.

2. Look for free activities to pass the time.

To make your no-spend days more enjoyable, find alternative ways to pass the time without spending money. For example, if you feel like going to the cinema, watch a movie at home instead.

Do remember this money-saving strategy can only be effective if you implement it in good faith. If most of your frivolous spending happens on weekdays, for example, then don't designate Saturday or Sunday as your no-spend day because it won't help you save any money.

It's also important to keep in mind that the spending restrictions should only apply to your wants and not your needs. Essential spending, like that for household bills, repairs, gas, and groceries, can and should continue as usual. It's your non-essential spending habits this strategy looks to address.

DIY small repair projects around home

Save Money by Doing Your Own Home Maintenance and Small Repair Projects

If your first instinct is to call a repair person when things aren't working quite as they should, then you could be spending more money than needed. To keep from needlessly spending money when you find yourself facing a home maintenance or repair project, step away from the phone and search for solutions to the problem on YouTube instead. By performing a simple YouTube search, you're likely to find several how-to videos explaining the step-by-step process for completing the task.

There are many reasons for doing home maintenance and small repair projects yourself. Not only can it save you money, but it can also help teach you new skills and make you more confident in your abilities should you face similar tasks in the future. Certain projects may even prove to be so simple that you'll later wonder why you ever thought of paying someone to do them for you.

While there's no shortage of home maintenance and repair tasks that can be safely attempted on your own, some jobs will undoubtedly be harder than others. If, after watching a few how-to videos on the subject, you feel that you don't possess the necessary tools, patience, or skills to safely complete the project, then definitely call a professional to ensure the job is done correctly. If you do feel up to the task, however, then give it your best shot and enjoy the savings.