Category Archives: Education Strategy

Teacher Insights- YA Book Review of Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Feel free to chime in if you read Graceling or if you’re considering reading it.

Snapshot of Max, A Teen You Might Recognize

He struggles to finish an essay on Notability this morning before school, but with help from Siri, Max doesn’t have to hear his mother say, “Look up the word in the Dictionary,” as her mother used to cajole. creates his Works Cited entry for him. Whew. Done. Why do they teach this stuff anyway? He checks his “Here Comes the Bus” app and packs up as soon as his bus enters the target zone in Maps. “Bye Mom!”

Max’s classroom instruction is a mix of lecture, group discussion, and self-guided work via his iPad. When the teacher isn’t looking, he and the others sneak silly pictures of each other and filter them through face-squeezing, picture editing apps or they surf the web, all with earbuds in their ears listening to rap. It’s too bad the school filters out certain websites, but there’s always a work around and he knows the kid in the class that knows all of them. Max nonchalantly touches the screen he’s supposed to be reading when the teacher turns around and stares.

After cross country practice, Max delays doing his work on Canvas to check sales on his Ebay account. Fantastic! It looks like someone finally bid on that skateboard he got for his birthday two years ago. Now, he’ll have money for a better skateboard he wants to buy. Max then checks his stream and likes on Twitter and Instagram. Who’s the bare butt following him on Twitter? Block. He’s not one of those kids. Max takes a moment to Skype one of his 1000 Subscribers to his hobbyist YouTube account. These guys are his best friends and they live all over the country—in Michigan, North Carolina, and California. He knows the friend in California is still at school, so he leaves a note for him on a forum to be read later. He notices that an older teen who posted a YouTube video degrading an eight-year-old’s video already has twenty-five nasty comments deriding the youngster in support of the older teen. Should Max post a comment in defense of the kid being bullied or say nothing? It reminds him of his bus ride home only worse. He decides to play a few rounds of Minecraft, while munching on graham crackers and milk. Then, he opens his lap top and starts to read tonight’s homework and to watch the teacher’s instructional videos.

Does Max sound like a teenager you know? Max lives at home and virtually everywhere else.


He pulls Graceling by Kristen Cashore out of his backpack. He chose to read Graceling for his independent book project due in a couple weeks. He thought it might be cool because of the sword on the front cover and a woman’s eye staring at him. But, it’s thick and he hopes it doesn’t turn out to be a stupid girl book. The print seems big enough. He probably would have chosen another novel, but the other kids were faster to the teacher’s book shelf.

Questions to Probe in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling 

In “Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century; Moving Beyond Traditional Constraints and Conventions” Jeffrey S. Kaplan notices that “The authors of many articles say, the world of young adult literature is being transformed by topics and themes that years ago would have never been conceived” (11). His and other writers’ observations suggest new questions that critical analysis discussions might address today.


  1. Science Fiction in the Post-human Age: Do human values and human nature prevail no matter what the human body endures? (14)


  1. Stretching the Boundaries and Blurring the Lines of Young Adult Genre: Are there identifiable markers that identify a novel as a particular genre or as fiction or fact? (16)


  1. Identity: What choices have been made in the creation of today’s novels that influence how teenagers are being constructed as adolescents and how do such constructions compare with each teen’s own attempts to form his or her own identity? (16) How do young people find who they are if they live in a seemingly rootless social world? (17)


The Appeal of Fantasy to Teens

Fantasy Island was a television show that entranced viewers in the 1970s. Pay $50,000 and you too can stay on an island for three days to have your fantasy come true.

The appeal was as obvious then as it is today. Escape the chaos. Be whoever you want to be. Make your world right again. Live in a fantasy—if only until you finish the book. The danger of the fantasy novel arrives the day a parent discovers that her teenage daughter crawled out of a second-story window to sit on the roof to gaze at the sky willing that vampires exist— clearly influenced by a scene from the tween’s favorite vampire series.

If that same teenage girl had read Graceling, she instead might sign up for judo or fencing. She might kick the kickball a little harder in P.E. or stand up to a bully at the lunch table. In Graceling, the protagonist, Katsa, is gifted with the grace of killing (actually survival) and is capable of outlasting very formidable male characters on her journey to save seven kingdoms. Do any men sweep in to save Katsa? No, but she does fall in love with a man who helps her to identify and to accept who she is. She does the same for him. The relationship is balanced and equal, which is refreshing and a healthy example for both females and males.

Measuring Graceling to the Questions posed by Kaplan’s Article

Graceling does rub shoulders with post-human age literature. However, the setting, like a fantasy video game, is held in a Renaissance-like world with horses; campfires; hot baths poured by hand; and hunting with daggers or bows and arrows. Because Katsa and anyone, who has eyes with two different colors, is “graced” with an almost super-human skill, in the kingdom of Randa, where Katsa grows up, she is ostracized and feared. She does have a handful of friends, but her skill puts her at odds with most citizens. Her skill makes her valuable. Power-hungry, egotistical kings (Randa and Leck) desire to use Katsa as their thug killer. They employ psychological entrapment to try to manipulate Katsa. Through her interactions with her friends, she learns that she has the power, the will, inside voice, and the choice to be who she wants to be. She learns to accept herself. In Graceling, yes, human values and human nature prevail no matter what the human body endures.

Students will be able to recognize that this is a fantasy novel, however, the idea of embracing and developing special talents might heighten after reading the work. The novel realistically addresses mastering a temper or overcoming a stronger opponent and the fact that most girls are physically weaker than boys. Katsa makes the argument that weaker beings should therefore be trained to become stronger to defend themselves.

Asking students how and why this novel was constructed will provide insight into the lack of novels like it on the market– where a woman saves a man. Graceling was constructed to fill the void of strong and capable female characters who don’t need to be saved. Katsa evolves with help from others, but she is not saved by them. Boys will find capable men who help and are helped by Katsa. Like a journey into a video game, the paths of Katsa and Po – are explored with curiosity about what’s around the next bend.

One Teacher’s Suggestions for Using Graceling with Students

As a teacher, I wouldn’t spend instructional time on Graceling in a middle school or high school setting, however I would use it as supplementary or independent reading or to deconstruct writing with certain students or populations. I love the play of the characters, but would shy away from the descriptions of torture, romantic sex scenes, incest, sadomasochism, cutting, and animal mutilation. Sadly, these are topics that kids today are exposed to and are dealing with, but in a general classroom setting a read like this could spell trouble. I’d be very selective with the book. I think it would be an uplifting read for students who like fantasy, but have a good grip on reality; who could use a self-esteem boost; who are struggling with anger; who are the youngest in their families; who are bullied by peers or adults; who are exceptionally bright but searching for their special talents, career, or direction in life; or those who want to become better writers to learn technique from Cashore’s debut novel.

What Would Max Say?

“For my book report, I chose Graceling, by Kristin Cashore,”

Max mutters while fumbling and looking down at his notecards. It took forever for Max to get half-way through his book pick that has 471 pages. He won’t mention that, of course, because he doesn’t want to disappoint the teacher or get a bad grade. He didn’t finish the book in two weeks because he’s a slow reader and there were cross country practices, meets, and a boatload of homework given by teachers the week after NWEA testing. So, he turned to Cliff Notes to get through the rest of his report.

“My favorite characters in the book are Katsa and Raffin, but Po is cool, too.” He does like Katsa. She’s strong and able to waste entire armies. She reminds him of a few girls on his school’s soccer team. He’d like to meet a girl like that, but not get into a fight with her. He could relate to Katsa. Because of Max’s strength– compared to his little brother’s—his dad told Max to defend his little brother if other boys teased. Once he shoved a kid to the ground for taking his little brother’s books.

“Giddon, a noble, likes Katsa but she doesn’t want to get married. She has a bad temper about it.” He could relate to a girl with a bad temper. Sometimes Max’s older sister was crabby like that and would throw a punch when their parents weren’t looking.

“Katsa and Po fall in love, though Katsa doesn’t want to get married.” Max can’t understand why Katsa wouldn’t want to marry a guy like Po. If she doesn’t want to marry someone who is strong, handsome, kind, and smart then who would she want to marry? Girls are so confusing. He wouldn’t want to fall for a girl who’d push him away. He wouldn’t act like Po. He’d probably find a different girl, though if he really thought the girl was cool, maybe he’d stick around. Maybe. Typical girl story…

“This is a fantasy book. What I would change is to make Raffin heal Po’s eyes in the end. I liked the book and would recommend it…especially to girls.” <Class laughter> He bobs his head and fist pumps as he sits down.

“Did I get a good grade?”

Of course, not every teenage boy or girl will see Graceling this way. Setting up students with plenty of time to read the entire book, thoughtful focus questions, and subsequent discussions will make the read more meaningful.



Works Cited


Cashore, Kristin, Jeffery C. Mathison, and Cathy Riggs. Graceling. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2008. Print.


Kaplan, Jeffrey. “The Research Connection- Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century: Moving Beyond

Traditional Constraints and Conventions.” The ALAN Review ALAN 32.2 (2005): n. pag. The Alan

Review. The Alan Review, Winter 2005. Web. 26 Aug. 2016.



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Filed under Education Strategy, Women Writers, YA Book Reviews & Teacher Insights

#ThankATeacher for Teacher Appreciation Week

The caterpillar is a curious little bug. It eats and eats and then wraps into a cocoon– slowly transforming into a butterfly.

This week is teacher appreciation week. Who should you thank for transforming your raw talent into professional genius? Slowly, you grew into your best self—flying like a butterfly. #ThankATeacher!

He or she saw a spark in your eye and fueled it. You smiled more, stayed awake, and loved learning. Where would you be without certain teachers at particular intersections in your life?

Sadly though, some of our best teachers aren’t staying in the profession. They’re born to teach, but they choose other careers.


NBC explored teacher shortages at the start of the 2015 school year.

Educators stay out of or leave teaching for many reasons. They lack support, are dissuaded by excessive paperwork, or low pay. The average educator spends thousands of dollars on college tuition, tests, certification expenses, and supplies. Conversely, the income earned by teachers limps along at $30,000 – $50,000 per year. A substitute teacher makes even less at $65 – $75 per day.


Teacher Appreciation Week Ideas

How can you show appreciation to a teacher this week?

  • Write a grateful note to those teachers you remember (and even those you’d like to forget.)
  • Volunteer at your child’s school.
  • Give back financially to pay for supplies.
  • Visit a retired teacher in a nursing home.
  • Participate in these five other ways to give back to teachers.

Your flight wouldn’t be the same without inspiration from those special teachers who shaped you along the way. Take a moment to demonstrate gratitude during teacher appreciation week.

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Filed under Colleges, Education Strategy, Uncategorized

CBS Films’ #theDuff Targets Teens in Marketing Campaign

Invite Student Reporters to a Free Pre-Screening

It’s a clever way of marketing, but especially, it’s an effective way to reach teens.  CBS Films began promoting their latest movie, The Duff, by contacting teachers in charge of their schools’ publications. Feeling like royalty, the teachers’ students received free tickets to private pre-screenings of the film. The final cut releases to theaters February 20, 2015.  Think of it, SEOs.  Those students will write free articles about the movie for CBS and much of that content will end up on educational sites- just the kind you want for digital back-linking power.  Wow.

Create Your Digital Keyword and its Definition to Dominate Searches

What is The Duff, you may ask? As the mother of a teen that received a free ticket to one of those private, pre-release screenings, I joined her for “girls’ night” on a school night and found out that it stands for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Lovely. But, smart. The movie can now add its name to duff’s Wikipedia entry to dominate Google searches for the term’s origins and meanings.

The start of the movie did not make me happy.  “Great, that’s all these kids need,” I thought, “another label that makes everyone in the room self-conscious about their social standing and value.”  The movie did come around to join hands and say, “We’re all duffs to someone, so be yourself and embrace it,” but eh, what I’m most interested in is how the movie is being marketed.  I reached out to CBS Films for comment, but they did not respond.

Include Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook Handles to Promote Interaction

We are truly in the age of social media.  The hashtag, #theDuff, is on the big screen and on the movie’s website, while the ending credits give the Instagram or Twitter handles for each of the actors.  The call to action is clear. Teens, whip out your phones, start following, and tell your friends. The Duff is on a mission to build an audience and earn revenues.

Provide Attractive Content

As a side note, the actors get “As” for chemistry. Light-hearted joking between the characters make this film a movie night pick. Girls, I just want to point out that Robbie Amell, who plays Wes and looks like a young Tom Cruise (one way to pull in your Moms), was born in 1988, which would make him a very old, high school senior at age 27! The same is true for Mae Whitman, who portrays the funny and down-to-earth, Bianca.  However, Bella Thorne- mean girl, Madison, was born in October 1997, and is a real high school junior this year.

Ask Your Audience to Promote After They Consume

The story line includes moments when the main character endures cyber-bullying after a video that was created about her goes viral.  The marketing off-screen is all about harnessing the power of viral because after the teen reporters watched the movie, they were invited to submit questions the next day to interview the actors in real time.

My daughter thought the interview was going to involve just the students in her publications class and the actors themselves, which was not exactly accurate. Her class stayed after school to wait for the late start of a webinar experience that included about 300 schools throughout North America.  All of these students submitted their questions, but only a few of those questions were selected.  Students took notes and then wrote articles for their schools’ newspapers, magazines, and classes.  These stories should be hitting the presses between now and the movie’s release in February 2015.

Smart idea, isn’t it? Why pay for your content when you can give out some free tickets to kids who have the power to reach other kids with their words? The Duff will reach its teen and tween niche in no time.

Jack pot, CBS Films, you even captured a mother who writes content for a living.  You get a little publicity as a thank you for the great experience she had covering your story and I get mother-daughter time to point out how companies influence the choices we make about the goods and services we consume.

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Filed under Audience, Branding, Business Strategy, Capturing Audience, Content, Content Marketing, Marketing, Persuasive Essay, School Websites, Writing for Children

Do You Trust the Internet?

We enjoy so many benefits from the advancements in search and mobile technology, but with the good, comes the corrupt.  If you haven’t checked in on the digital industry lately, fasten your seat belt.  Here’s a glimpse into a world that is collecting your data and your children’s data and making intelligent connections to predict your feelings, stances, tendencies, and more. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Why Privacy Is a Big Deal251_5117

Based on a survey of 2012 consumers, Accenture, a digital marketing company, reports that “The vast majority (80 percent) of consumers aged 20-40 in the United States and the United Kingdom believe total privacy in the digital world is a thing of the past, and nearly half (49 percent) said they would not object to having their buying behavior tracked if it would result in relevant offers from brands and suppliers.”  You might not see it or understand it, but collection of your family’s Internet history, face profiles, store behaviors, and even school test results are regularly recorded through Internet, video, and audio monitoring.  You don’t know who sees this information, how they react when they see it, and what conclusions they draw.

It’s true that many good people use data to keep society safe, bring better search results, find medical cures, or improve shopping experiences. It’s equally true that evil can corrupt good intent.

We can look back in history and find many examples of governments, leaders, and companies that became powerful and rich and were willing to step over and hurt many people to achieve their goals. In fact, we can see these behaviors today.

On the other hand, sharing data is a way to move our society forward a little faster.  After all, any tool or device has potential for good or evil. What comes of your data depends on the persons using it.  But, do you know those people? Not so much.

How is your information collected?  Here are a few of the most common places and what you can do to minimize how much is shared.

Through Search Engines

Search engines like Google, Bing, and even Facebook and Twitter track what you visit on the Internet, how long you stay on each website, and how often you go back to certain websites.  This information helps search engines determine how to sell what you’re interested in seeing or anticipate what you’ll want next.

Many leaders in digital technology believe that access to your actions, patterns, and thoughts is necessary to better deliver accurate search results. People, communities, and even the computers themselves can learn from data to better society.

Website owners know how many people visit their websites, what links they click, the time of day they visit, the city they visit from, their default language, and what keywords people typed into search engines to get there. While the website owners don’t see exact names and addresses from Bing, Google, or Duck Duck Go, search companies do know who you are by your computer’s IP address or cookies.  An IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is your computer’s personal address and is a series of unique numbers separated by periods. Cookies are pieces of data left behind in your computer that track what you do online.

Search engines also charge your favorite stores fees to advertise to you.  Google knows a lot about what you like and dislike, the type of person you are (based on what you do or don’t search), your age, and how you might react to certain ads based on all of the data it has collected through the years from your Google searches, You Tube views, cloud storage, map and location data, use of Google Chrome, and sent or received email content.  Yes, that’s right.  Email content. If you own a Gmail account, Google scans the content of your emails and shows ads related to what you wrote or opened, so that you’ll click on those ads and buy products or services.

Data for the Government

Police and investigators used information from mobile phones, license plate recognition technology, cell phone towers, and surveillance cameras to track down the Boston bombers in 2013.  Government authorities monitor citizen Internet activity- even the activity of those who aren’t known criminals.

Frontline produced The United States of Secrets, in which it explains how the government changed its privacy policy after September 11, 2001 to get around Google’s filters, in order to learn a lot about each and every citizen. The government argues that it has a right to see everyone’s data in order to keep the United States a safer place to live.  Edward Snowden, a former intelligence analyst for the government, didn’t think it was right that the government monitored citizens without their knowledge, so he gave secret documents to a couple newspapers.  Some consider Snowden a hero, while others think he’s a traitor.

Through Retailers

When you submit personal or financial information to a company, the company will connect a lot of the data about what you do to your account. They might even give or sell that information to other companies.

When you scan a “loyalty card” or download coupons online, you might receive savings, but grocery stores are really interested in what you buy, how often you buy, and how to sell more items to you. Retailers often have security systems in stores that recognize faces to make sure you don’t steal.  These same security systems can also analyze how customers shop through the store and compile traffic patterns into heat maps. Stores and malls are now using beacons and geo-fencing. Both forms of technology know when your phone is nearby down to the inch. Retailers want to know this information in order to offer you incentives to buy products on the spot.

At a leading, 2014 Internet retailing conference, a sales person for a data collection company shared some insights about her company’s work with a top children’s book publisher.  You might even have an account set up online with this company.  The sales person said that this publisher “wanted to create a master profile across all of their different business units.  They have e-books. They have printables and they send flyers home to schools.”  The publisher uses software with a special algorithm that can tell when parents are shopping for all of their children verses when each child is shopping for himself or herself- even when multiple children are sharing one account with their parents.  The software gathers information about specific behaviors and shows books based on what it knows about who is probably using the account.

The algorithm knows who you are based on your mouse movements and quickness. For example, an adult’s eyes usually first look at the top left of a new web page, while children first tend to look at the bottom right. Where you hover your mouse and where you first enter the publisher’s website are also monitored. Kids tend to use wish lists and ask for every book in a series more than adults do.  Kids click on icons like hearts more than they click on words like, “I like this.”  The publisher has worked with this data collection company for five years to learn customers’ behaviors on its site and create special algorithms that increase sales from this data.

The sales person said, “We track everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child. The thing is exposure. How do you expose our data and what, from a privacy standpoint, is okay to expose about a child and what is okay to expose about an adult?”

So what is okay?

“For this particular publisher, they will not do marketing for people under the age of 13.” So if children visit different websites after visiting the publisher, remarketing isn’t used.  Remarketing, is tracking your behavior as you visit other websites and then serving up ads about, say, about certain books you like from the publisher’s website. If you’re over 13, this top publisher will try to get you to buy books, even when you’re not thinking about buying books, by serving you ads when you’re browsing other websites.  Keep in mind that this is one publisher’s guidelines.  Another company might track and retarget with ads at much younger ages and be okay about it.  Any company that stores all of this information about you and your patterns, might use it or release it to others- anyone they choose- when you or your kids are older.

This technology exists across all the websites you visit.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media Websites

What do the thumbs up signs mean?  It’s not only a way of connecting with your friends, it’s a way to see who your good friends and family members really are and the areas, hobbies, or activities you like.  This information, along with sharing your image or commenting on a friend’s photo can again be collected to create profiles about you and to create great products you like or shape the nature of search information provided to you.

Earlier this year, Facebook allowed researchers to make it hard for some users to log in by accusing them of being hackers.  The researchers wanted to test how people would react to negative events.  Many people feel that allowing researchers to frustrate Facebook customers went too far and was wrong.  Who were the researchers and why were they given access to these accounts?

Facebook has since clarified its privacy policy and is even working on a way of helping you to police yourself before you post damaging photos.

Privacy Boundaries

There are many different opinions about privacy and data protection.

In Julia Angwin’s article for the WSJ, she says that, “My children, whom I will call Woody and Harriet, are 6 and 9. They use fake names online—always. They use software to block online tracking, and instead of Googling homework assignments, they use a search engine that doesn’t store any data about their queries. They have stickers that cover their computer cameras. Harriet, my older child, uses an encryption program to scramble her calls and texts to my cellphone, using passwords that are 20 characters long. Why go to such extremes at such a young age? Because if I don’t do anything to help my children learn to protect themselves, all their data will be swept up into giant databases, and their identity will be forever shaped by that information… Even worse, if my children leave their data lying around, they will face all the risks of what I call our ‘dragnet nation,’ in which increased computing power and cheap data storage have fueled a new type of surveillance: suspicionless, computerized, impersonal and vast in scope. Criminals could use my kids’ data to impersonate them for financial fraud. Extortionists could seize control of their computers’ Web cameras and blackmail them with nude photos. And most terrifyingly, their innocent online inquiries would be forever stored in databases that could later place them under suspicion or be used to manipulate them financially.”

On the other hand, twelve-year-old Grant, started making You Tube videos about fire safety when he was eight years old.  He is serious about wanting a career in this area.  He candidly reviews fire safety products for his audience and is steadily building a following within the fire safety industry. The Internet has been instrumental in advancing his skills and interest at an early age. It has been a wonderful teacher and avenue for networking!

Different adults will look at this issue differently, so it’s important to talk about it with your own children. Review the below checklist of actions you can take to keep your data safer.

Privacy Checklist

  • Regularly clear your search history and cookies on phones, tablets, and desktop computers.
  • Pause before letting someone interview you, take your picture, or record your voice. Newspaper articles and television interviews are especially hard to remove from the Internet. Do you really want this event on your record?
  • Search your name on the Internet and ask sites to remove PDFs, articles, images, or quotes that make you feel uncomfortable. Some sites will honor your requests.
  • Use fake names and accounts when shopping. Don’t answer surveys.
  • Stop publishing selfies. Don’t share all of the details of your life in a blog or social media post.
  • Go back through all of your social media accounts and delete old posts, pictures, and videos.
  • Ask school leaders how your district is preventing data from being shared with online testing companies and their partners.
  • Search with alternative engines like Duck Duck Go or use Google’s Incognito mode, which reduces the amount of tracking of your data.
  • Avoid giving personal information about yourself to a stranger online- even if they appear to be a kid.
  • Kids, don’t download files, pictures, or songs or click on links without a parent’s approval.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
  • Consider encrypting all of your emails, calls, and texts. There are many apps and software programs out there.
  • Cover the cameras on your phones, iPads, and computers.
  • Watch what you say, what you do, and what you wear in public.  Most places- schools, stores, neighborhoods, and city streets videotape and monitor you.

Just remember, though, unless you’ve stayed off of the Internet over the last couple decades, much of your information is already known.  You also have to ask yourself, is extreme self-consciousness worth your peace?  With over 7.1 billion people on the planet, all of your data mixed with everyone else’s data is frankly, a lot of data for others – or even computers to dedicate time to dissecting.  Of course, if you’re Sony execs today, you’re sweating thinking about every single email that was ever sent and what was said in those emails. Trusting the Internet with your information is a very individual choice worth serious thought and reflection as you move forward into 2015.


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Filed under Business Strategy, Customer Profile, Education Strategy, Leadership, Reputation Management, School Websites, Social Media

Who was Lev Vygotsky and why is His Theory Important to Marketers?

Lev Vygotsky made great strides in educational theory.  Today, with so many data-driven and social media tools available to marketers, much can be learned from Vygotsky when thinking about how to better understand customers and influence purchasing choices.

Lev Vygotsky via Wikipedia

Lev was a Russian psychologist who developed Social Learning theory in the early 20th century.  He proposed that learning is a “continuous process focused on the connections between people and the cultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences.”  Developing the Zone of Proximal Development (which is the area in which the concepts are too difficult for the pupil to master on his own, but with guidance and encouragement from a knowledgeable person, are able to master), he developed the Social Development Theory of Learning.  This states that social influences greatly affect learning, and learning occurs when concepts are modeled.  That’s Lev Vygotsky and his theory in a nutshell.

What about its practical implications to marketers?  According to this theory, which places great importance on social influences of cognitive development, marketing can alter consumer behavior by modifying thought processes, namely through advertisements.  As marketers, we should try to understand what drives consumers to purchase products to increase revenues.

Develop Consumer Profiles

Using qualitative marketing research to create consumer profiles allows companies to more wisely spend marketing dollars.  One technique is to conduct marketing questionnaires.  Employing Vygotsky’s theory in this realm generates more genuine feedback from research, whereas direction questioning results in more superficial answers.

Modify Cognitive Behavior of Consumers

According to The Vygotskian Approach,

“He believed that just as physical tools extend our physical abilities, mental tools extend our mental abilities, enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the modern world. When applied to children, this means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind.

According to Vygotsky, until children learn to use mental tools, their learning is largely controlled by the environment; they attend only to the things that are brightest or loudest, and they can remember something only if has been repeated many times. AFTER children master mental tools, they become in charge of their own learning, by attending and remembering in an intentional and purposeful way. In the same way that using certain mental tools can transform children’s cognitive behaviors, using other mental tools can transform their physical, social, and emotional behaviors. From being ‘slaves to the environment,’ children become ‘masters of their own behavior.’”

Whether through advertising or direct sales, Vygotsky’s theory may be used as an effective tool for success.  By using a model to demonstrate the product being used or purchased, the advertisement can help the consumer develop a script, which is a group of small bits of information the consumer collects about a product, which are stored in memory, being called upon later.  Your marketing strategies should strive to develop the consumer’s script to the point that the consumer feels connected to the product or company, resulting in sales.

Create Consumers with Internalized Cues

Marketing aims not only to drive immediate sales, but also to create a throng of repeat sales.  You want your customers to possess brand loyalty.  This occurs when the consumer’s schemata, or packets of knowledge about your product, create cues that reinforce future sales.  There are important cognitive processes which occur between the input of information and the output of behavior.  As marketers, we should strive to instill into our consumers familiarity with our product or service.  The more experienced the consumer, the more developed the script concerning your company.  The more developed the script, the greater the sales.  This translates to successful marketing.

This sheds some light on the mental structures that stand in casual relationship to our customers’ actions.    ~Tricia

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Filed under Audience, Capturing Audience, Education Strategy, Social Media

Fifteen Dos and Don’ts when Writing for Children- Recap of Jesse Florea’s Session at Write-to-Publish 2014

Some have a heart for children- others a heart for writing.  Marry the two and the world will change.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Clubhouse Magazine’s editor, Jesse Florea, at Write-to-Publish in Wheaton, IL.  He was at the conference looking for great stories for Focus on the Family and he presented a session on how to write for children. He’s also the author of several books for kids and their parents.

Who Is Generation Z, The Homeland Generation?

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Copyright My Web Writers

Generation Z was born between 1995 and 2005.  They’re known as the “Silent Generation”, “Homeland Generation,” or the “Net Generation” because they’ve grown up with the Internet. They were born after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when many felt safer staying at home. William Strauss and Neil Howe describe this group as “highly connected” and media technology savvy because they are “digital natives.”  During a naming contest sponsored by Neil Howe’s company website, Homeland Generation was the name chosen by the site’s voters to represent this generation.

Florea says,

“They’re self-directed. Parents no longer over-schedule their children like they did five years ago.  There’s a little more free time for this generation, which is good because they have time to be creative, but the bad part is that they have this technology and when you have technology and time, they can get into trouble with the technology rather easily.”

According to NC State University:

“Such connectedness has a dark side, however, contributing to a sedentary lifestyle and skyrocketing rates of obesity. This generation may live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents despite the medical advances of the last twenty years. Of 100 Generation Z kids, 47 will be obese by the time they reach adulthood.”

Florea says,

“Basically, that’s because they don’t have to go outside to be entertained. All the entertainment they need is at their fingertips with a gaming console or they can talk to their friends through any different type of social media. They don’t need to get outside to get together.”

In 2011, Grail Research provided a fascinating look into this next generation by comparing the relationship of Boomer parents to their children verses Generation X parents to their Generation Z children.  Fundamentally the differences lie in the comfort with technology that Generation X shares with its children. There is an increasing overlap between Generations X, Y, and Z and their channels of entertainment, technology, brand experiences, and family values.

“Generation X is raising Generation Z with a high involvement parenting style. Generation X saw a social trend of divorces and is expected to instill stronger family values, along with ‘old’ notions such as work ethic, etiquette, and resilience. This, along with better education, will make Generation Z more tolerant, respectful, and responsible.”

The Homeland Generation might be more financially conservative, too. Florea says,

“Generation Z is saving their money.” Also, “This generation identifies itself more as individuals, than as a team…Sort of like Generation X…They believe in their own character and they believe they have their own persona.  Generation Z doesn’t believe in getting agreement or living by social norms.  Their society exists on the Internet where they speak out their minds and express their opinions.”


15 Dos and Don’ts When Writing for Kids

To kick off his session, Florea asked, “How would you describe children?”  Words like “rambunctious”, “messy”, “innocent”, and “smart” quickly filled the room from the audience.

Florea mentioned, “We want all of that in your writing. I’ve been at Focus on the Family for twenty-one years.  You know of Dr. Dobson.  He wrote a lot of books.  A lot of dos and don’ts.  Having boundaries, having parameters can really help, so that’s how this workshop started. I’m going to share about 15 or 16 dos and don’ts” when writing for kids.

  1. Don’t underestimate your audience. 

    “Kids are thinking, feeling and smart human beings.  They just lack life experience and the wisdom we can share with them as writers. Don’t doubt a child’s ability to understand concepts and accomplish great things. Generation Z is a smart generation because they have at their fingertips, all the information in the world.”

    Clubhouse Magazine particularly likes to feature ordinary kids performing extraordinary feats. Challenge kids with your writing. Kids know that things aren’t always perfect. You can’t shelter these kids, there’s just too much readily accessible information. Don’t shy away from writing stories about kids in single parent homes, with special needs, or whose families are in financial duress.

  1. Challenge kids spiritually. Years ago, Clubhouse Magazine received a letter saying that it was “boring.” Florea took the letter, published it, and asked, “Okay, readers are we boring?” He received close to 500 responses.  One of the common threads through all of them was that kids want to be spiritually challenged. They don’t just want to hear a Bible story.  They want to see its application.
  1. Do get into a child’s mind. Know their interests.  What makes them tick?  What do their parents want them to learn? This is important because parents are the ones buying the magazines.  Spend time with kids and know what they’re studying in school.
  1. Do work on a gripping opening. Capture their attention within the first three sentences.  You have to have a good hook.
  1. Do use vibrant, active verbs.  Kids need action.  The story needs to move. Show the action, don’t tell it. A Wheaton professor of Florea’s used to say, “There’s always a better way to start a story than with ‘it’ or ‘there’.” As soon as you start with it or there, you’re using passive voice. When editing copy, Florea seeks out and circles it, there, was, is, and were and reconsiders what these words add to each sentence.
  1.  Don’t go adjective crazy. “One well-chosen adjective is better than three adjectives strung together. Adjectives slow down your writing, while verbs keep up the pacing and make everything go faster.” Also, when using dialogue, just use said. “Said” is an invisible word that people read through.  If you go for fancier words like “chortle” or “mused”, you’ll stop the narrative. The person reading will stop and think, “Oh, why are they using that word?”
  1. Do use interesting and realistic dialogue.  Don’t try to use the cute catch phrases that the kids are using today because those words may be out of style by the time the article or book is published.  Florea looks for stories with active verbs, compelling dialogue, and believable characters.
  1. Show the action. 
  1. Do use humor. People retain 80% more when they’re laughing. To achieve humor you can use repetition, switches, exaggeration, extremes, and word plays.
  1. Don’t wrap up your story in a nice, little bow. Kids know that’s not how the world works. Be honest.  Former IU professor, Peter Jacobi, once said “The ending should leave the reader with satisfaction tinged with dissatisfaction.” Do leave readers with a nugget of truth. From age five on, children are able to relate to stories in characters just like adults. A value development specialist, who once visited Focus on the Family, said that “by age ten, right and wrong are locked in for a child.”
  1. Edit your copy.  Some professional writers work through up to thirty revisions before sending in a story. Cut the fat. Stay away from clichés.
  1. Do be creative. Don’t copy the world.
  1. Know industry trends. Go for “edu-tainment” (educate and entertain), which is like writing a chocolate bar packed with a vitamin. Watch movie trailers to see what will be big when each movie comes out the next year.
  1. Do write compelling characters. Write characters that are going through a lot of things. Also, don’t have the adults solve the problems.  Let the kids solve the issues without preaching from the adult characters.
  1. Do be yourself.  Kids can spot a phony a mile away.


Next June, make a point of visiting the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton.  The people are welcoming and you may soon find that you’ve developed relationships with mentors and fellow writers who will guide you throughout your career.  Meet one-on-one with acquisition editors and publishers, while also absorbing valuable insights and industry trends.  We especially thank Jesse Florea for sharing his expertise in children’s publishing with My Web Writers’ readers!

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Filed under Audience, Conferences, Editors, Education Strategy, School Websites, Women Writers, Writing Careers, Writing for Children

Two Unforgettable Keynote Speeches and Why They Were So Good

It is that time of year when the successful, the esteemed, and the sages are orating all over the country. We’d all benefit from turning an ear to their decrees of wisdom.

2014 Graduation SpeechesThese days, we are all privy to the pearls wisdom from the elite through social media. As a result, we have on record some of the most profound and universal principles that have guided the successful for decades.

Graduation and commencements are still taking place. Bill and Melinda Gates will be speaking at Stanford in a few weeks. The first of its kind joint commencement speech will surely have some noteworthy truths shared. But for now, we have chosen these two very different speeches to glean from.

Colin Powell at High Point University

Colin Powell gave the May 3rd commencement address for High Point University. The General’s calm authority is powerful. His recent talk echoed much of his core beliefs regarding the importance of a life dedicated to service, compassion, and making the choice to be a problem solver for others.

Here are some of his words of advice for the class of 2014:

  • “Make sure you share the talent and the time and the treasure you have with others who are in greater need than you.”
  • “Go forth and raise strong families remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation.”
  • “As you go through life, listen to the other side. Have your eyes and your ears and your heart open to counterviews…”
  • “If you want to save the world, start by saving just one kid. That’s what it’s all about.”

You can see General Powell’s speech here in its entirety.

Jennifer Lee at the University of New Hampshire

Jennifer Lee was the honored speaker at her alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Who is Jennifer Lee? Lee is simply the first female director of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film and the first writer at any major animation studio to become a director. That is a big deal. Then she takes it up a notch and writes a little screenplay, Frozen, which goes on to win the Academy Award for the Best Animated feature film.

Looking like she may be a former model, Lee was humble and honest in her appeal to the graduating class of 2014. Like many creative people, it seems that this groundbreaking director has wrestled self-doubt and won. She shares, almost in the tone of a “12 Step meeting,” what happens when self-doubt takes root. She describes how it clouds everything you do and see. It is the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses. Lee shares, “The lenses of self-doubt are nasty and thick, big and filthy and covered in swamp scum. They are the lenses of, ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Ms. Lee shares from her heart for nearly fifteen minutes. She takes us on her journey through adolescent and young adulthood. Her story is one that everyone can identify with on some level. All, except that blockbuster hit she has on her resume, of course!

Ultimately, Ms. Lee’s speech was worth sharing as another example of how women are respectfully breaking through ceilings. Even having the vulnerability to share authentically, in the vein of Brene Brown, is a bit revolutionary. She implores the graduates to join the revolution.

“When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better. You accept criticism and listen,” Lee told grads. “If I learned one thing, it is that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”

Ban self-doubt? We couldn’t agree more.

There is also no doubt that there will be other great speeches given over the next few weeks that deserve to be shared. Let us know if you spot one so we can all learn from the lives of the successful.

~ Jennifer

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Filed under Colleges, Keynote Ideas, Leadership, Speeches