Your Fonts can Affect Your Grades

June 26, 2013

Inside Chris Gayomali’s interesting article on, “How typeface influences the way we read and think” is a bit about an undergraduate student who found that the font he used affected the grades he got on his papers. Turns out that some fonts, Georgia for example, are better than others.

Grades vs. Fonts. Image from Gayomali, 2013.

P.S. As the article points out: don’t use Comic Sans.

The Dish

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Your Fonts can Affect Your Grades, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Some Rules for Writing

March 8, 2013

Aerogramme Writers’ Studio has compiled Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling as well as Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing.

Both sets of rules focus on the search for perfection, which, like the horizon, you have to learn to deal with the fact that you’ll never reach to your ideal satisfaction.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Some Rules for Writing, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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A Writing Process

October 3, 2012

Sitting around the campfire and telling stories on the Current River.

Writing is a process. There might not be one single, best, process, but breaking the process into steps is often useful for new writers trying to find their voice. The following steps come from my Middle School Montessori Training a few years back. While I’m not teaching language at the moment, I would like to get my students to write up their experience in the thunderstorm on the river using at least parts of this process.

  • Step 1: Collect Seeds
    • Collect ideas for topics to write about. This is why we keep a writer’s journal with us at all times. Anything can be a seed: quotes from books you’ve read; overheard snatches of conversation; ticket stubs; artifacts; rocks; notes about profound experiences (which is what I count the canoe trip in the storm as).
  • Step 2: Develop ideas
    • Take a seed idea and write about it. Write fast, write rough. You can fix it later. Write to surprise yourself.
  • Step 3: First Draft
    • Use the ideas from your rough writing to make a first draft. This does not mean editing the rough writing, in fact, you should probably put away the rough writing and start your draft from scratch.
  • Step 4: Revision (the hardest part)
    • Revision is making the big changes to your writing. Even if you liked your first draft a lot, making big changes helps you see your work in new, interesting ways. Try:
      • Rewrite in a new genre: convert your memoir, for example into a play, or change the perspective from first person to third person.
      • Physically cut and paste your story. Maybe the conclusion actually works better as an introduction? Rearrange your paragraphs, rearrange the sentences in your paragraphs. See what works and what does not.
      • Read out loud, or have someone read to you. As you read you can rearrange the paragraphs (read the last paragraph first, for example).
  • Step 5: Edit
    • Now that you have a draft that you like, edit it for spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization etc.
  • Step 6: Polish and Publish
    • Make your story look pretty. Format your text how you want it, or how it needs to be in your word processing program. Remember, simpler is better. Fancy fonts and colors tend to distract from your story.
    • Remember that there’s no final version of your story. Writers are always making changes (or wanting to make changes). You can always make changes and, if you don’t like them, revert to the original.


As an example of how revision can change a story, I have my two versions of our thunderstorm adventure here and here. They’re aimed at different audiences, but you can see that they came from the same source.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. A Writing Process, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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Writing should first focus on the text

May 1, 2011

I have a great antipathy when my word processor tells me what to do, or, even worse, “corrects” my writing without my permission. So I avoid MS Word like the plague. OpenOffice is little better. Now I’ll admit that my writing is usually in great need of a good editor, but not looking over my shoulder, inserting little, irritating suggestions while I’m caught up in the turbulent rapids of self-expression. Getting into the flow of productive writing is difficult enough; I don’t need the extra distraction.

Instead I much prefer the plain text editors; Smultron has been a favorite of mine since I’ve been using Macs, and I spend a lot of time writing on the class Wiki (MediaWiki) and on this blog (WordPress), which both have very simple text-entry boxes.

WordPress and MediaWiki also process the text and make it presentable. Like most websites these days, this blog has a theme that tells it where to put the text, how to format it, what background to have, where to insert images, what to have in the header and footer, …. The theme I use was created by Karen Blundell and adapted to put in a couple of my own details, like the little citation thing, and the ability to name the reviewer and editors at the bottom of the post. I did spend a lot of time getting these things to work, but I did learn quite a bit about the inner workings of WordPress and CSS in doing them, and once they were done, I could forget about them entirely and just focus on the writing.

Similarly, with LaTeX, although it’s much more of a pain to figure out how to use. On the Muddle I use LaTeX to add mathematical equations, but it really is a fully-fledged typesetting program, designed for professionals.

Two pages from a booklet my class and I put together about a display of fossils. I used LaTeX to typeset.

My class recently created a little display of fossils collected from Coon Creek for a school fundraiser, and we put together a booklet for it. I had the students write their essays and put them up on our Wiki. Then I copied and pasted their text into a LaTeX document, added a couple chapters from some of my blog posts, and it did the rest to create a very nice looking book, complete with title page, table of contents and bibliography.

Setting up the LaTeX file was not trivial, since I’ve not used it in a number of years, and this was the first time I tried to format a book. But it creates beautifully looking documents, without all the mysterious formatting features that inevitably show up if you tried something this complex with Word.

There are, I’m sure, other software for publishing documents like this. However, LaTeX is free and so is the old version of Smultron. Smultron’s new version costs $4.99, but is probably worth it.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Writing should first focus on the text, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Editing and Reviewing

March 26, 2011

Even if seven editors and seven reviewers, marked it up for half a year, I doubt they’d be able to completely clean up the mess I post to this blog every day (and they’d be full of bitter tears). However, in case they were willing to try, I thought it would be useful to be clear about what I mean by editing and reviewing.

Editing is catching all the grammatical errors, loose spelling, punctuation and so on that the author is liable to miss. Usually it is because he or she is reading what they thought they wrote, not what they actually typed. It might also involve checking citations to make sure they are right. In this case, it does not involve extensive fact checking, though at a real newspaper it would. Partly that’s because facts can be so malleable, but mostly it’s because I believe that making sure the facts are right are the responsibility of the author.

Reviewing is a lot harder, largely because, since it primarily deals with style, it is extremely subjective. I will admit that an awful lot of people are likely to consider my writing boring and atrocious, but I will often disagree. Good review is a process of negotiation. The reviewer tells the author what they like, and why, and what they don’t like, and why. Then, instead of yelling, the author carefully considers the comments and adjusts their piece accordingly. The reviewer then looks it over again and gives the same type of feedback as before. Ultimately, what’s published remains the responsibility of the author; they make the final choice about which comments to accommodate and which to ignore, but good reviewers are invaluable if used well.

So, if you see a tag at the bottom of a post saying “Reviewed by So and So”, or “Edited by So and So”, or even, “Reviewed and edited by So and So”, please spare them a moment’s thought because they’re not an easy or trivial jobs. This is especially true for a blog where the author sets themself the task of posting something every day, and finds it hard to stop writing once they’ve started. Even when they know they should. Like now.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Editing and Reviewing, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Memories in the fire

October 23, 2010


I decided that we would read our memoirs, the ones my students had been working on for the last five weeks, on our immersion trip down to Mississippi. The idea of sitting around the fire, sharing memories was just too enticing to pass up.

I was a little surprised that no one objected, or even hesitated, when I made the suggestion the week before. We’d just come in from soccer and I was trying to figure out how we’d fit the projects, the tests and the presentations into the time we had left. There was a precedent. They’d read their first stories, the ones from the orientation cycle, on our first immersion and that had worked out well because it had given us an entire afternoon to have a great discussion. They seem actually to look forward to, what’s come to be called, “Teatime with Doctor.”

“What if,” I asked, a little quietly to one of the 8th graders, who’d been on the challenge course immersion the year before and happened to be walking by, “you read your memoirs around the campfire on immersion?”

“Yes.” Declarative and succinct. I raised an eyebrow, but he just continued on his way. I was a little surprised he did not have more to say. I’m always surprised when my students don’t have more to say. My students can be quite loquacious given any opportunity, and this one in particular tended to have strong opinions that he was usually more that willing to share.

The discussion with the rest of the class took barely longer. The larger the group, the more likely you are to have people who need to think out loud, but there were unanimous thumbs up in less than two minutes.

I think that there’s some primal need that gets stirred up by even the thought of sitting around a fire and sharing stories. Of course this plan of action also fulfilled that other fundamental need of the adolescent, the need to procrastinate.


We get to Camp H., have lunch, and an afternoon of community building games. Lamplighter’s been working with the camp leader here for years and Ms. A’s impressed by how well this group works together. No surreptitious sabotage, no subtle denigration, no stubborn unwillingness to participate.

We talk about the group, she and I, as we walk back to the cabin, red gravel crunching under our feet, oak leaves turning color overhead, and myself getting slightly out of breath on the last climb. I’m perhaps a little more impressed than she is because I can see the conflict in those by now familiar faces; glimpses of of baser instincts being overruled by the prefrontal cortex. It is a sight that is ambrosia to the middle school teacher.

I get back to our cabin and I find V., one of the two students I’d promised they could get the campfire going.

“Are you guys getting the fire started?” I ask.

“We’re just going to play football for a little while, then start on the fire,” he replies. V’s been our main supervisor for Student Run Business this cycle and it shows. He’s been breaking out his calm, clear, confident, supervisor voice on the challenges all afternoon.

“We have half an hour until dinner and it will probably be dark afterward,” I say.

He just nods, seething competence.

It’s 5:45 and they’re still playing football. I look at my watch more and more frequently. I’m not going to remind them of what they have to do. We’re Montessori after all.

Two of the girls start working on the fire pit. Aha, I think to myself, this is going to get interesting. I saunter outside and my path nonchalantly takes me down to the fire pit. I suggest more kindling, they never get enough kindling. The boys realize other people are working on “their” fire.

Dissension in the ranks. Conflict. I tell them they should work together. Harsh words are spoken. A covenant broken. The poignant cry of impassioned idealism, “injustice”. Things fall apart; the center does not hold; Bethlehem is apparently somewhere on the other side of the playing field.

Ten minutes later it’s time to go to dinner, but first it’s time to rebuild, time to remind them of the covenant they came up with that very afternoon, time to have a short, quiet talk about the use of language.

Over dinner the laughter starts up again. I’m at the other table with Ms. A and her family, all of whom work at the camp in some degree or the other. After the last fifteen minutes I’m extra impressed by the calmness of her teenagers.

When we get back to the fire pit the laughter is perhaps a bit too loud, but the group seems back together again. The fire is started without recrimination (eventually because they did not have enough kindling).

We sit around the fire, reading stories, finding issues, being helpful writing partners, and learning how important it is to be critical, brutal even, to our own work. There are some really good writers in the group, and there’s nothing better than learning from your peers.

“Can we put our memoirs in the fire when we’re done?”

“Sure,” I say. Sharing our writing is supposed to be a celebration. Something strikes me as just about right about liberating these memories in flame, letting them take on a new, ethereal life. Burning pages in dancing flame, marking the putting away of cherished, childhood things; an adolescent rite of passage.

As the last few stragglers work on putting out the fire I sit there, on a cool fall night, thinking about cycles and the seasons. I wish I was on the beach, watching the tide come in, small waves advancing and retreating, bigger waves pushing them farther from time to time, every time a little closer to where they need to be.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Memories in the fire, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Little Red Riding-hood

September 7, 2010

And, saying these words, this wicked Wolf fell upon poor Little Red Riding-Hood, and ate her all up. — Perrault, 1922, p. 25..

Little Red Riding Hood.

Little Red Riding-hood as illustrated by Harry Clarke.

One of my students chose to do their first writing assignment in the mold of a classic fairy tale. So, as part of the revision process, I suggested they read the original Little Red Riding-hood to get away from the conventional, Disneyfied storylines. The Guttenberg Project, which aims to make available all the books that are now in the public domain as free ebooks, has Charles Perrault’s original book of fairy tales.

The student was somewhat surprised that Little Red Riding-Hood was eaten by the wolf in the end. They shared this with the rest of the class quite loudly.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Little Red Riding-hood, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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WatchKnow: Educational videos

August 12, 2010

One of Larry Sanger‘s new projects is WatchKnow, a website that rates online educational videos. It has a nice age filter that, while not very useful right now, may be very useful as the site develops.

The video above is the currently the top rated video (4 out of 5 stars) in the category on the writing process. Its WatchKnow page is here.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. WatchKnow: Educational videos, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
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