Mind in the Making: Skills 5 & 6

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

We’re continuing outlining the 7 essential life skills in our blog. This week, I will focus on skills 5 and 6, which happen to be two of my favorites!

Skill 5 – Critical Thinking:  For those of you who know me, you know I’m big on critical thinking. I have dedicated an entire workshop on activities to promote critical thinking! Critical thinkers are better able to process information. What does that mean? Well, if you can think critically, you are able to make better decisions, and be a bit less naïve. In an age where we have endless amounts of information available to us 24/7, it’s important for us to be able to sift through that information and come to a logical conclusion. Critical thinking allows us to use reason and logic to form our opinions, beliefs, and draw conclusions based upon our prior knowledge (which directly builds upon making connections!). This skill is paramount for functioning as an adult, and teaching it is really fun! Get in touch with me, and I’ll send you some fun games to play to boost critical thinking.

Skill 6 – Taking on Challenges: When was the last time you had to try at something? Like really, really try? I witnessed my daughter, a girl who was afraid of grass the previous year, recently master this skill. My daughter is four, and she really wanted to learn to ride a horse. So, my husband and I got her cute riding pants, boots, and a half hour at a barn on an adorable pony named Buddy. She was so excited; she could barely sleep the night before.  When we got to the barn, she helped brush Buddy and clean his shoes. Then, it came time to get on him. She climbed a little ladder and just stood there shaking her head. She was frozen with fear. She was not getting on that pony. After some soothing words from her trainer, ten minutes, deep breathing exercises, and reassurances from me, she let me lift her onto Buddy’s back. It didn’t take long for her to get incredibly comfortable, and she shooed me away so she could focus on her lesson. Fast forward a couple of lessons, and she’s already trotting! At any point, she could have given up and not have gotten on that pony. But, she didn’t. That single action of her getting on Buddy helped her realize that she can do so many things if she just tries. She tackled that challenge and now has an activity that is building her confidence to continue to try other things that will help her grow to be independent.

If you’ve been following the blog this month, you might be saying, “Yes, I know these things are important.” Of course you know! However, Mind in the Making isn’t about teaching you new information. It’s about helping you take the information you always thought to be correct, proving it with scientific research, and then working through how to help instill these skills in yourself and the people you are around. Mind in the Making isn’t just a teaching method; it’s a way of life. Let’s embrace it.

Mind in the Making: Skills 3 & 4

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Last week, I wrote about how Mind in the Making applies to everyone, regardless of their age. I briefly outlined the first two skills, focus and self-control, and perspective taking. This week, I’ll go into a bit more detail about skills three and four, communicating and making connections. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to solve the world’s problems with Mind in the Making research!


Have you ever noticed that when you are reading the requirements for a job, they almost always say they are looking for a candidate with superior communication skills? Think about the millions of ways humans communicate with each other every day; speaking, writing, music, facial expressions, physical gestures, art, movies, text messages, and the list could go on for another 500 words. Is it any wonder that this is an essential skill? There are 7 billion people on this planet, and we all need to communicate with each other. Whether you are communicating for a job, to a friend, or just to express yourself, it’s a skill that we all need to improve upon. Exercising better communication, especially when built upon the previous skill of perspective taking, can take us far. It will not only help us land that awesome job, but we will be able to do it well. This means we can be more efficient, less stressed, which directly leads to being happier and having overall better health! Wait, did I just find a way to lessen your risk of a heart attack? Ok, probably not, but it is still pretty important.


Making Connections:

Read the description of communicating again. See what I did there? At the end, I linked better communication to better health. Everything is connected to something else. I’m not necessarily talking about the butterfly effect here, but connecting pieces of information can change outcomes. If a person is better able to make connections, they are better able to understand and process information. They will use the new information they are receiving and be able to relate it to information they already knew. Being able to categorize things, being organized in our thoughts and actions, thinking about things sequentially, and being able to use all of this information to understand what is being communicated to us are what making connections is about. It will help us make better decisions by making a connection between our actions and the consequences.


Are you noticing a theme here? Our weekly blog has outlined the first four of the Mind in the Making’s essential skills. Notice how they build on each other (or connect to each other!)? Come back next week when we discuss skills five and six!

Mind in the Making- A Second Look

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

When I first start to explain Mind in the Making, people will ask, “How does teaching kids the 7 life skills pertain to your job in adult education?” Well, it’s actually pretty simple.

The 7 essential life skills taught by Mind in the Making applies to everyone. Yes, the research supporting Mind in the Making involve children. However, anyone who interacts with any other human being needs all 7 of these skills mastered. Unfortunately, not all adults have these skills perfected.

When I first went through Mind in the Making training this past May, I saw so many opportunities to better myself. Last month, I had the pleasure of becoming a Mind in the Making facilitator. As I’m revisiting the research, I still found areas of my life in which I need improvement. I also thought about the millions of ways Mind in the Making can make the professional world a better place.

Think about how many different people you interact with on a daily basis. I’m not just talking about your family, co-workers, and friends. You interact with strangers; the barista, acquaintances on social media, other drivers on your commute, the customer service rep, and the guy changing your oil. Unless you are off the grid on a mountain, you are interacting with other people and (hopefully) exercising the 7 essential life skills (focus & self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning). Utilizing the 7 skills will help you exercise executive functions needed to lead, not only a productive life, but be productive on a global scale.

As stated on the front flap of Ellen Galinsky’s book Mind in the Making, “These aren’t the kind of skills that children just pick up; these skills have to be fostered.” If any of these skills were not learned in childhood, then as adults, they will be lacking.

Here’s the really awesome thing about Mind in the Making; it’s never too late. No matter your age, you can work to better each and every one of these skills. Mind in the Making paves the road for each of us to do that. So, here’s more:

Skill 1: Focus & Self-Control

How hard is it to stay focused in today’s world? We have distractions every waking moment. I hear people complain that they don’t sleep well because they can’t put their mind to rest. Mastering how to stay focused and have self-control is difficult, but oh so important. As adults, we know we need to focus, but do you know how? No? Well, Mind in the Making can help with that!

Skill 2: Perspective Taking

How many times does drama occur? Whether it’s office drama, family drama, or Facebook drama, it is everywhere! Other than avoiding all people at all times, how do you keep your emotions in check? Seeing other people’s perspective is the key here. Having the skill to consider other’s point of view is of utmost importance in handling conflict, cultural literacy, and it is the foundation for utilizing reason and logic. So, if you have a “My way or the highway” attitude, Mind in the Making can help with that!

Stay tuned next week where we discuss more skills and how Mind in the Making is changing human interaction!

We interrupt this blog series…

jennwigginton (2)I’m interrupting this blog with an important announcement! The Literacy Center’s staff are Mind in the Making certified facilitators! This is collaboration with the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation and their Mind in the Making Grant. Here is an excerpt from EVSC’s news release to explain: “Minds in the Making: The Science of Early Learning was developed by the Families and Work Institute. It is a collaborative effort to share the science of early learning with the professionals who work with children and families. Minds in the Making has documented the science of early learning with children from birth to eight years old and focuses on what makes young children stay motivated and engaged in learning, and determines what are the essential skills children need. This grant – which was also received in its first year by school districts in New York, Tulsa and Portland; and this year (2012) by Providence, RI, Hartford, Conn., and the EVSC –  is designed to help school districts further their early childhood goals.” 

The seven essential life skills are:

  1. Focus and Self Control
  2. Perspective Taking
  3. Communication
  4. Making Connections
  5. Critical Thinking
  6. Taking on Challenges
  7. Self-directed Engaged Learning

In the next month we will discuss the seven essential life skills and explain how we implement them in our adult program. It is going to be a learning and growing experience.  Stay tuned.

Then & Now

Curiosity brought me to The Literacy Center at Ivy Tech in early 1987. I was intrigued by an article in the Evansville Courier & Press requesting volunteers to tutor adults in basic reading skills or to help read a second language. Because I had tutored several young students in English while in college, I felt I had some experience to contribute. I knew tutoring was rewarding, so I immediately volunteered.

My work as the Volunteer Office Manager at the Literacy Center was terrific for me because I got back much more than I put in. Watching the pride on the faces of the student graduates was a joy; as was watching the volunteers take pride in their work; and the tutors take pride in their students.

Three decades later, I needed similar help reading due to a serious medical condition, which caused memory loss and communication problems. The Literacy Center appeared in yet another article in the Courier which piqued my interest again. This article told the story of a young adult starting to attend college who needed help with her reading skills. Well, again, I thought, “Aha —that’s for me!”

I was a lucky child. My parents raised my siblings and me to value our education. They read to us when we were very young and surrounded us with wonderful books, took us to the library, and played games with us through young adulthood. Reading became a life-long passion of mine. When I lost my memory and communication skills, it affected all aspects of my life. However, because I liked to read so much, I turned to fiction – political and legal thrillers, especially. I read the daily newspaper cover to cover. Then some time passed, and more and more I wanted to resume my education.

After years away from my university studies and a career in management, I wanted to better myself through more formal education. I wanted to read the literature and non-fiction books that require more advanced reading skills. First, I realized I needed to refresh my current reading skills and “unplug” blocked memory to improve comprehension of the written word.

Two major factors were holding me back: I was computer illiterate, and I was unable to afford any local school. The Literacy Center article stated that this facility “offers free reading instruction and tutoring for adults.” What a wonderful opportunity! And so, here I am. For the last nine months I have studied grammar, composition, and effective communication. My instructor teaches me one-on-one. I work in the computer lab at the Literacy Center and at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.

I want to fully comprehend legal documents, such as insurance and hospital policies. These contracts are important as I become older. With my tutor, I even review street signs to improve my driving, because signs have changed significantly since I have moved residences several times and I have aged. I read aloud to my instructor so that I can become a better conversationalist and speaker. I have rediscovered the joy of writing: I want to become a better writer, just for the love of writing. I want to type on the computer to join the present and future technological world. I feel less out of touch with my family, friends, and the younger generation because I am improving my computer abilities as a result of the computer sessions at the Literacy Center.

Have I mentioned my age—67! I am a senior citizen with a young mind. While most of my peers are in retirement, I am going back to school—and I dearly love each day preparing for my class sessions. Don’t get me wrong: I still have to work to prepare my lessons properly. However, there is a real element of fun. I am always enthused by my instructor’s presentations, and the questions she poses. My homework is not easy, and every lesson is a challenge. For you see, I am on dialysis three times a week, for four hours each session. Learning means so much to me – it is a high priority for the life I have left.

Fortunately, a place like the Literacy Center exists for people who are less fortunate—who had no help at home with their schooling and are experiencing difficulty reading and writing – or like me, educated but older, and needing to refresh their reading skills. The Literacy Center is the one special facility making education possible for me. And perhaps, possible for someone you know. Even you!

Linda S. Kramer

Literacy is Heavy

Let’s be honest; literacy is a heavy word. If you asked 20 people around you what literacy is, I bet they would say the ability to read. However, literacy is so much more than that. I can’t really stress how much deeper literacy goes, but I suppose I’ll try.

On the surface, literacy is the ability to read. To be literate, you must recognize symbols as letters, associate those symbols with a sound and combine the sounds together to form a word that we understand. And our brains do that in milliseconds!

As I stated, that’s just the surface. Literacy is the ability to process, and master, information. How health literate are you? Many health professionals would say the general public isn’t very health literate. We must be able to ingest fitness/nutritional/physical health information, understand what it means, and utilize that information in our lives.

What about financial literacy? I had a friend (who is in possession of multiple college degrees) vent on Facebook about knowing nothing about complicated mortgages, loans, and investments. I consider this friend of mine to have multiple intelligences, but financial literacy isn’t one of them. She needed help figuring out her 401k.

Additionally, there is tech literacy (basic operations of technology), and cultural literacy (understanding and respecting other cultures). See? Literacy is much deeper than you having the ability to read this blog.

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

In the office, there is a lot of talk about the stigma of illiteracy. I’ve heard, first hand, many people say, “Gggrrrrrr! Can’t that idiot read??” It saddens me, because there is a pretty decent chance that they can’t. That phrase also infuriates me because of the negative association with stupidity and illiteracy. When my friend reached out on Facebook about the confusing language of her 401k, no one made fun of her. No one said, “Seriously??! You don’t know what a Roth IRA is?” This was a skill she needed help. Just as our students need improvement in a skill. Today, I’d like you to think about a skill you aren’t a master. Now, answer the question, “Am I dumb because I don’t know this?” The answer is no. The answer is always no.

Finding the Spark

1458615_697777680241225_98719057_nHaving worked with many students of varying ages—7 to 72—it occurs to me that learning differences can be a lot like differences in our looks and our personalities.  Some prefer to work things out in great detail, some prefer being coached on all the short-cuts.  Some are quiet, some are entertaining with their bravado.  In short, as human beings, there are countless ways we can be put together, with our physical attributes and our mental attributes.

But the magic in each human being lies somewhere in the countless layers of our make-up.  After 17 years of tutoring, I continue to be amazed at the “spark” that triggers people to want to learn something.  One student comes to my mind that was, for all practical purposes, a non-reader.  But after many weeks, I discovered he was an expert at plants of all kinds and had his own garden he tended to.    This “spark” led to reading about plants and learning about organic gardening.

Another young man would always “spark to life” when learning about animals and nature.  He even kept a notebook about alligators, deer, and the marsh wildlife of coastal Georgia on a family vacation.   The spelling wasn’t perfect, but he had a great liveliness in relating from his notebook what he had observed.

It was heartwarming when a young boy learning the sounds in English was amazed at what he was learning and said, “I really need one of these sheets about the vowels at home so I can show my mom.”   His sense of family was his “spark.”

The common denominator among all the successful students I have known—no matter their learning difference—is the spark that makes them passionate about knowledge.  I have been fortunate enough to share and help discover students’ passions, no matter where they were on the learning continuum.  Respecting another human enough to allow them to show you who they are and what makes them passionate is an adventure.  It goes without saying that helping those find their spark and passion is a win-win experience.   I know it sparks something in me!

Tammy Deicken, volunteer

#LiteracyDay Celebration

jennwigginton (2)September is here!  International Literacy Day is September 8th. Adult Education and National Family Literacy Week is September 21-27.  Literacy organizations across the nation celebrate this month as Literacy Awareness month but the competition is fierce. It is also Library Card Sign up Month, as well as everything from Be Late for Something Day (5th) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th).  There are many other holidays and events for the month and we all share importance.

Illiteracy is not a contagious, incurable disease.  We believe everyone can learn to read.   We also believe that literacy is a fundamental key to solving many issues.  Being literate is so much more than just reading a book.  It is being able to comprehend and understand your finances, medical instructions, health and nutritional information, to be employable and to educate your child.  A functional reading level means that you can function in society and not just cope or get by.  We hear many stories of our students coping and depending on others or the system in order to live.  The strength of our communities and our nation depend on if we are educated.   I’m going to write it. Please read this out loud…”If we educate, we will solve many community issues.”   I would love someone to try and argue against me, anyone willing to ‘duke’ it out?   I’ll make it even simpler…if you can’t comprehend what you just read then go ahead and ignore me but if you comprehend and understand this message then show up at an event (check out our calendar at http://www.litcenter.org/calendar/) , call us to volunteer or donate.  It’s simple; Literacy is more than just reading a book it is learning to write and think critically and to live life.  We need your help, act today.

What’s Your Story?

I have enjoyed the recent TLC blogs about history because I have always loved history as well.  However, as I have gotten older, I find that I enjoy knowing more about the stories of the people behind the historical events.

I think that is where my love for genealogy comes from.  There are so many names on family trees, folks that we may have heard of but have never met.   I’ve heard some of the stories…like the one about my great-great grandfather, Rowell, who left the family farm, his wife, and two small children in northern Illinois to go to the gold rush in California in 1849 – not to return until the 1880’s!  And I know that one of my ancestors, Andrew, left Norway at the age of 13 to meet up with his uncle in southern Wisconsin in the 1870’s to start a new life.  But what about Abigail?  Henry?  Maria?  Eugene?  What are their stories?

The Literacy Center has a story too.  When a group of people responded to an article in 1966 to help adults learn to read, a new volunteer community-based organization was born and it came to be known as Regional Reading Aid (RRA).  For over 22 years it was housed at the YWCA in Evansville.  Then in 1988 it moved to Ivy Tech and received offices, staffing, and administrative support. Finally in 1999, The Literacy Center incorporated and attained 501 c (3) status and officially changed its name from Regional Reading Aid/The Literacy Center to The Literacy Center.  Ivy Tech Community College Southwest continues their support to today by providing office space, technical support, and student workers.

Just as in any family tree, The Literacy Center has a family tree with the names of lots of people whose stories we just don’t know.  Yes, I know the stories of my contemporaries – Lola, Frank, Susanna, Helen, Darrell – as I have traveled beside them and know their story as to why they volunteered, decided to donate, or learned to read.  But what about all the other names on the tree?  What are their stories?

While I may not know the personal stories of my ancestors, I do know that I am here today because of the choices they made during the story of their life.  And I know that The Literacy Center is still here today because of the choices our volunteers and adult students have made over the years.  We are all connected through history and I believe that a life filled with determination and passion are the ingredients that bind us together over time.

What’s your story?  What choices will you make in your life?  Determine to live your life with passion and an eye towards the future because the “future” may just be looking back on the choices you made and the impact those choices are having on them.


Lori Eggers Saxby
Life-long learner and Literacy Center volunteer

Importance of History

For those of you, who know me; know that I get very excited about history. I find it fascinating. It makes my heart beat faster. History is an important subject to study; not just world history, but our personal history too. It helps us understand how we got to where we are, and will help us make better decisions about where we want/need to go.

The Literacy Center’s history is pretty interesting, as well. There are many aspects of our history that have shaped who we are as an organization. Personally, I find our past with volunteers to be not only a key component in our past, but key to our present and future.

If you took part in Jennifer’s quiz a couple of weeks ago, you learned that The Literacy Center began as Regional Reading Aid by a group of volunteers. I say that volunteers are the life blood of our organization, but in truth, volunteers are our foundation. The Literacy Center would not be able to impact as many lives as we do without the dedication and hard work of our awesome volunteers. In truth, The Literacy Center probably would not exist without the altruistic group that is our founding volunteers. These women saw a problem in our community, and they donated their time and knowledge to help adults in Vanderburgh Country to become better readers.

Fast forward to today; we have grown. The Literacy Center has reached thousands of people since our first days in the mid-‘60s. We reach an average of 75 adults annually. Yes, The Literacy Center now has two paid part-time staff members, but we still operate largely by volunteers. Without our volunteers, both in the past and the present, The Literacy Center would not be able to make such a great impact in people’s lives.

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator