Monday, December 29, 2008

Topic: Fairy Tales

Question: What is an interesting method for introducing fairy tales to secondary students?

10-second review: Teaches Anne Sexton’s transformed fairy tales along with the tales that she transformed into poetry—Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Title: “ ‘This Book of Old Tales/ Which Transforms the Brothers Grimm’: Teaching Anne Sexton’s Transformations.” KA Keely. English Journal (November 2008), 69-75. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “I have learned the hard way over the years that it is important to teach Grimms’ Fairy Tales along with Sexton’s revisions, because students are for the most part familiar only with the Disney versions of these tales. Because of this skewed familiarity, knowing only the mildest, ‘cleaned up,’ sentimental versions of these tales, students are likely to find Sexton even darker than she is when they read, for example, about a dove’s pecking out the eyes of Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, a detail that Sexton takes straight from the Grimms’ version.”

Summary: Students discuss how the Grimms’ Tales are rewritten in the Disney versions. Also study the structure of the tales: separation from familiar surroundings, challenge and return to society at a higher social rank.

Comment: Excellent article. Worth keeping. RayS.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Topic: Student Response to Literature

Question: Why read literature?

10-second review: Students responded in writing to the literature they read as it related to their own experiences. Made their writing come alive.

Title: “Encouraging Student Voice in Academic Writing.” R Gemmell. English Journal (November 2008), 64-68. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author began to encourage student personal experience in interpreting literary works because their writing about literature had become lifeless to dead.

Teacher moved students in the direction of using personal experience in interpreting literary works by keeping a writer’s notebook in which they responded to teachers’ prompts, both before and after the day’s reading. The prompts involved both technical and personal response to the literary work.

The results in their writing were as follows: Clear thesis sentences, personal experience and observations as part of evidence for their interpretations, greater audience awareness and “…saw the bigger purpose of writing—to effectively communicate their ides and opinions and to engage with the ideas in the text.”

Comment: English teachers are beginning to encourage students’ personal experience to become part of interpreting literary works, i.e., academic writing. A modification of the New Critics’ approach to explicating. A long time coming. RayS.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Topic: Homework

Question: What are some alternatives to traditional homework?

10-second review: Teacher assigns 30 minutes (Monday through Friday) a night of reading a book of their choice, leading to about 15 books a year plus the 5 books assigned to be read in class for a total of 20 books a year. She assigns no other homework.

Title: “Twenty in a Year! Discovering a Prince in a Library of Frogs.” Amanda Stovall. English Journal (November 2008), 52-56. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author uses Friday for sustained silent treading. Enables her to see what books the students are reading. Takes classes to the library to allow them to select from new books. If students miss a night—Monday through Thursday—they must make it up by reading for an hour on Saturday. She assigns no other homework.

Comment: Assigning no other homework leads to questions about how she deals with the five books for class study. They read in class? No doubt about it, the author has solved the major problem of high school students’ failure to read on their own. The homework assignment and goal are straightforward. Grading and accountability as described by the author are complicated and made harder by dealing with plagiarism from the Internet. The idea is a good one. I would need to make the reporting, grading etc., as straightforward and simple as the assignment. The author’s approach to accountability has so many contingencies that I would become overwhelmed in detail.

To achieve the same goal of encouraging students to read books of their choice each day, I’d almost be inclined to have students read for ten minutes at the beginning of class, instead of requiring it for homework. Settles the students for class and can produce a one-sentence summary each day. RayS.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Topic: Homework

Question: What are the purposes for homework?

10-second review: Four purposes for homework are fluency, application, review and extension.

Title: “Homework and the Gradual Release of Responsibility: Making ‘Responsibility’ Possible.” D Fisher and N. Frey. English Journal (November 2008), 40-45. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Fluency means to practice a skill. Application means to use a skill to solve a problem. Review is review. Extension means to explore the skill or topic, for example, on the Internet or in other publications.

Comment: Making the purpose clear for homework should change to some degree the negative attitude of the students. In all my years in school, no teacher ever told me why I was learning anything, let alone why I was being assigned homework. RayS.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Topic: Research Paper

Question: How can I avoid the tediousness of writing research notes longhand?

10-second review: Student jettisons the 3" X 5” note cards in favor of using Excel from Microsoft Office.

Title: “Death of the 3” X 5” Note Cards. Dani Weber (student) and Mike Smithmier (teacher). English Journal (November 2008), 37 – 39. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Student Dani explains to teacher Mike how using Excel takes much of the tediousness out of recording notes for the research paper. She uses headings on the Excel spreadsheet: Source Name, Slug (topic), Notes, Page # and Outline #. Then she sorts each column in any order she wants, alphabetical or otherwise, and begins to write her paper.

Comment: Sounds cool. It all makes complete sense—if I knew how to use Excel. My younger daughter has been using it for years and praising the program for its flexibility. If your students understand how to use Excel, tell them about this idea and they can begin recording notes for their research papers and maybe teach their teacher how to avoid the tediousness of writing by hand. Me, I’m going to learn how to use Excel. I’ve waited too long to learn a program that my daughter has been telling me for years to use! RayS.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Topic: Homework

10-second review: The positive effects of homework.

Title: “Homework on Homework: Involving Students with a Controversial Issue.” Ben F. Nelms. English Journal (November 2008), 22-29. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Possible positive effects of homework are better retention of factual knowledge, increased understanding, improved attitude toward school, better study habits, greater self-discipline, better organization of time, and more independent problem solving.” p. 26.

Comment: All of the above imply a purpose for homework. Of the several positive effects of homework listed above, the one that I think is most important is “better study habits.” Teach the students how to study. Have them set up a study schedule. They need to become comfortable with a set time for study so that if they are in college, they will be ready to study on their own. But they also need to know how to preview reading assignments, how to write a paper, how to prepare for a test and how to go over notes from the day’s classes.

The reason for my comment is two years of working with “at risk” students at Syracuse University. They were “at risk” because they did not know how to study. RayS.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Topic: The Five-Paragraph Essay

10-second review: “We” educators do not conform to the formulaic five-paragraph essay.

Title: “The Five-Paragraph Essay and the Deficit Model of Education.” Lil Bannon, et al. English Journal (November 2008), 16-21. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “This format [the five-paragraph essay] is one of those school-created ‘things’ that persist, much like the ‘modes’ of discourse. They persist because they have been enshrined in textbooks and tested by the testing establishment, even after scholars in composition have documented the irrationality of their use for over 30 years.” p. 17.

Summary/Quote: “Students learn that writing means following a set of instructions, filling in the blanks. Such writing mirrors working-class life, which requires little individual thinking and creativity combined with lots of monotony and following orders. It’s obvious what training the five-paragraph essay is really practice for.” p. 18. [RayS.: We’re training the five-paragraph essay? Tsk.]

Summary/Quote: “Students who spend their primary, middle and secondary school years rehearsing the five-paragraph essay end up blaming themselves for not getting it right, or hating writing, or believing they aren’t measuring up.” p. 19.

Summary/Quote: “Students who do not conform to the five-paragraph-essay indoctrination, whose thoughts do not easily lend themselves to the five-paragraph-theme format, learn quickly that they and those ideas do not belong in that classroom.” [RayS.: How do the authors recommend that they organize the expression of those ideas?]

Comment: I’m almost inclined to think that these authors sat around a room thinking up what ideas will shock the reader most. The effect is good rhetoric, but distorted thinking.

1. The five-paragraph essay is a format, a model of organization, a model of the tried and true guide for the organization of expository material, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.”

2. Following the model means an introduction that can be several paragraphs in length and often is.

3. The thesis is not limited to a single sentence, but can be a paragraph or more in length.

3. Not all paragraphs have topic sentences. A string of paragraphs will begin with a topic sentence, but the ensuing explanatory paragraphs might be separated for reader comfort. [RayS.: unlike the paragraphs in this article that go on and on in “writing-project-lack-of-control.” The paragraphs in this article are interminable.]

4. The final paragraph summarizes, and concludes with a memorable idea.

5. The five-paragraph essay is a model for organization; it is not an ironclad format limited to five paragraphs.

6. The authors of this article criticizing the five-paragraph model of organization use the five-paragraph model themselves in this article. It has several thesis sentences, albeit at the end of the second interminable introductory paragraph, topic sentences and an interminably lengthy summarizing paragraph.

7. For God’s sake, stop using “we writing teachers” when you mean “you” writing teachers. Don’t include me in your sweeping assertions about the five-paragraph-essay model.

8. The authors claim that the five-paragraph model is deadening for writers with ideas. Freedom of ideas is a result of teacher encouragement and has nothing to do with the organization of those ideas. RayS.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Topic: Homework

10-second review: Some considerations when giving homework.

Title: ‘Questioning Homework.” KP Haas. English Journal (November 2008), 14-15. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: How do students define homework? Purpose of homework? Meaningful? Students ready for the assignment? How much time needed to complete the homework? What feedback do we give on the homework? How grade the homework? Consequences for not completing?

Quote: “We do know that assigning homework just for the sake of doing so no longer works.”

Comment: How about letting the students react to the assignment?

How do you rate the assignment? Hard Average Easy

What difficulties did you have with the assignment?

What did you learn from the assignment?

Additional comments:

This information should help the teacher to give better homework assignments. RayS.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Topic: Homework

10-second review: Horror story about the editor’s experience of not completing his homework and at the mercy of two nuns—his teacher and his principal.

Title: “From the Editor.” Ken Lindblom. English Journal (November 2008), 11-13. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Nuns, who appeared to be monsters to the writer, threaten to call his parents for not completing his homework—Catholic parents who hit you harder at home when you were hit by the nun at school

Comment: First, I’m a big believer in spending time in class having students start their homework. If the homework has a purpose (???) and is challenging (???), the students have the opportunity to ask questions and to clarify the directions. Once started, students are more likely to finish. Especially important, is helping students plan long-term projects like research papers.

Second, I’m becoming tired of Catholics retelling horror stories about their experiences with unfeeling nuns and their iron discipline. I spent eight years in a Catholic elementary school and the nuns who taught me were people who were skilled teachers, with a desire for their students to learn under conditions (40+ children per class) that were difficult.

The nun I feared most in the fourth grade was both kind and helpful when dealing with me individually. She taught us our math facts so well that today I can add, subtract, multiply and divide more quickly than most people. She also read books aloud to us and we sat on the edge of our seats while she did so. We used to beg her to keep reading—which she almost never did, because she had other things to teach us. Her name was Sister Mary Rupert, and I will never forget her.

Until sixth grade, I never had any confidence in myself and then Sister Mary George gave me that confidence. She was an excellent teacher who made her lessons interesting, and she helped me learn how to be responsible by making me an altar boy, an honor at that time. I will never forget her either.

I will never forget all of the wonderful, respectful women who were nuns in grades 1 through 8, and gave me the foundation that made me as successful as I could be. RayS.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Topic: Plagiarism

10-second review: Barry Gilmore of Heinemann Publishing Company presents an insert to the November 8, 2008, English Journal, a poster entitled “How Students Can Avoid Plagiarism, ‘Why It Happens’ and ‘How to Prevent It.’ ”

Title: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Plagiarism: A Student’s Guide. Barry Gilmore. Heinemann ( Coming in spring 2009.

Summary/Quotes: “1. Know the definitions of plagiarism at your school.” “2. Take good notes.” “3. Paraphrase carefully. Try not to use more than one or two important words from the original source.” “4. Learn to attribute correctly.” “5. Leave plenty of time—most plagiarizing occurs when students feel desperate or rushed.” “6. Make sure you understand the assignment.” “7. Research wisely—use search engines and the library.” “8. Make your bibliography as you work—type bibliography as you find sources.” “9. Double-check your [sources].” “10. Take the assignment personally—try to make the assignment important to you.”

Comment: Useful. RayS.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Topic: Student Response Groups and Writing

10-second review: Students think aloud as they read other students’ compositions, leading to improved writing.

Title: “What Teacher Inquiry Means in Practice.” Diane Waff. Council Chronicle (November 2008), 32-34. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Another community college research group member has found that teaching students to ‘think aloud’ about a fellow student’s written draft is helping students produce more well-crafted essays….” p. 34.

Comment: Worth a try. RayS.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Topic: College Applications

10-second review: Six questions Oregon State University asks to determine students’ “non-cognitive” factors that make up one-third of the steps in admission to the university. It’s an “insight resume.” Questions must be answered in 100 words.

Title: “Assessment Models Worth Sharing.” Kathleen Blake Yancey, NCTE President. Council Chronicle (November 2008), 28-29. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Questions on “non-cognitive factors” to be completed as part of the admission application to Oregon State University:

1. Leadership/Group Contributions: Describe examples of your leadership experience in which you have significantly influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. Consider responsibilities to initiatives taken in or out of school

2. Knowledge in a field/creativity: Describe any of your special interests and how you have developed knowledge in these areas. Give examples of your creativity: the ability to see alternatives; take diverse perspectives; come up with many, varied, or original ideas; or willingness to try new things.

3. Dealing with adversity: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing that challenge, the role that person played and what you learned about yourself.

4. Community service: Explain what you have done to make your community a better place to live. Give examples of specific projects in which you have been involved over time.

5. Handling systemic challenges: Describe your experiences facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from those experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.

6. Goals/task commitment: articulate the goals you have established for yourself and your efforts to accomplish these. Give at least one specific example that demonstrated your work ethic/diligence.

Summary/Quote: “The effects of the ‘insight resume’ (IR) are impressive. For one thing, Oregon State has admitted and enrolled more students who don’t test well and more students of color than in the past…. …the school has found that there is a direct correlation between higher scores on the Insight Resume and retention rates. In other words, the students who score well on the IR are exactly those students who stay in college and are thus more likely to graduate…. …Oregon State’s development and use of the IR provides evidence matching what teachers know, that determination and hard work are as important (if not more important) to success in school as test scores.”

Comment: An excellent way to determine the applicant’s personality and the applicant’s ability to write. Challenging questions. I would be hard pressed to answer them and I am 74 years old. And in no more than 100 words. I think this approach to college admissions is great. On the other hand, I’m wondering how OSU admissions people rate the answers. RayS.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Topic: Close Reading of Literary Works

10-second review: Author describes how she teaches students to read literary works closely.

Title: “ ‘Being A Writer Depends on Being a Reader’: An Interview with Francine Prose.” L A Goodson. Council Chronicle (November 2008), 25 -26. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “[Francine] Prose says she’s enjoying teaching literature classes, where she’s teaching undergraduates how to do close reading of works. ‘It’s exciting,’ she says. ‘We go over a [short] story, line by line. You’d think it’d be tedious, but it isn’t. I love watching the way their minds work. That’s the fun about teaching.’ ”

Quote: “In this technique, students examine each line of the text to determine why the author chose specific words and phrases. Prose contends in Reading Like a Writer that learning such an approach is extremely helpful when trying to understand difficult texts.”

Comment: There are different types of reading: There’s normal reading for ideas. There is proofreading. And there is close reading of the text. As the author entitles her book, It’s reading like an writer. Interesting. RayS.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Topic: Finding Time to Read

10-second review: Student says he never reads books because he does not have the time.

Title: “Reading and Writing Differently.” NCTE. Council Chronicle (November 2008), 15 – 21. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote. Greg Bukata, high school student: “I never read books. I’ll be honest. I can’t remember the last time I read a book. Nowadays, people are so busy that they need to get summaries of it, like Sparknotes…. It’s a legitimate source. It pays enough attention to detail that you can get the assignment right, and you can read the whole book in a matter of minutes.

“I’ve actually never read, like Romeo and Juliet, so I read it yesterday in five minutes. I feel like I’ve kind of cheated it. I kind of feel like I owe it to myself to read some of these books, but I just don’t have time. I mean if there were 27 hours in a day, I’d read Hamlet. I really would. But it’s only 24.” p. 15.

Comment: Greg, the student, is right. Sparknotes summarizes each chapter of The Scarlet Letter and he will be able to read The Scarlet Letter in fifteen minutes by reading summaries. Sounds to me as if his teacher assigns the reading outside of class.

It is my belief that people who can’t find time to read will read books if they become immersed in them. They become immersed in reading when they read actively by raising and answering questions.

I’ll start with novels. Before reading a novel, the students preview it. First, students read for ten minutes near the beginning of the novel. They tell what they have learned and raise questions to which they want answers. The teacher records the questions using key words on the white or black board. Better to have them read for ten minutes rather than a certain number of pages because with the number of pages, you’ll have to wait for slow pokes. Reading for ten minutes means everyone finishes at the same time, no matter how many pages they are able to read.

Second, students read for ten minutes in the middle of the novel. At the end of that ten minutes of reading, the students tell what they have learned and raise questions about what they want to know.

Third, students read for ten minutes about ¾ way through the novel, again tell what they have learned and raise questions.

Finally, the students read for ten minutes near the end, but not the end, tell what they have learned and raise their final questions.

The teacher and students reorganize the questions into questions of fact (can be answered from the text), questions of interpretation (why?), and questions of criticism (author’s style, etc.). The students now read to answer the questions. The teacher can add questions that the students don’t ask. And a lot of questions and answers will be discussed before they begin to read the novel from beginning to end. A sort of teacher cheating the student who would cheat by reading Sparknotes.

And another tip: if students become bored with the novel as they read it, tell them to read a paragraph a page until they are once again immersed in the novel and want to read everything. The paragraph a page will keep them reading, will pick up the pace and maintain an understanding of the plot when they are tempted to quit. RayS.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Topic: Warning to Prospective Teachers

10-second review: Prospective teachers should dismantle “My Space,” ”Facebook” and other social networking sites.

Title: “ ‘I Gave Up My Space for Lent’: New Teachers and Social Networking Sites.” W Kist. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (November 2008), 245-247. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Administrators are Googling social networking sites before allowing student teachers to work in their schools. Teachers are not allowing students to blog as part of their class assignments for fear that the students’ words could cost them their jobs. This “fear factor” can be protected against by monitoring the site carefully. One student teacher used a combination of nicknames for her site to protect against other people finding her.

Comment: I don’t know much about these sites because I don’t use them. I am registered on “Facebook” because a friend of mine posted some pictures on it and I had to register to see them. I will take heed of the warning to monitor the site.

However, in giving notice of this warning, I am doing nothing more than I have always done with my composition assignments—warn the students not to write anything that could be embarrassing. I stay away from assignments that might lead to such personal expression
. RayS.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Topic: Pre-service Training in Discussion

10-second review: Questions about discussion discussed during teacher training.

Title: “Missed Opportunities in Cyberspace: Preparing Pre-Service Teachers to Facilitate Critical Talk about Literature Through Computer-Mediated Communication.” S L Groenke. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (November 2008), 224-233. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “…in preparation for discussion and online chatting, the prospective teachers and I will first discuss questions such as the following: What are your beliefs about Teachers’ and students’ roles in discussion? Where do these beliefs come from? Who benefits from such beliefs? …. Why is the more teacher-controlled I – R – E* pattern the predominant pattern of discussion in most English classrooms? Why does it feel ‘risky’ to let students control, or more fully participate in, discussion?” *Teacher initiates question; students respond; teacher evaluates the students’ responses. RayS.

Comment: At least in my teacher training, no one discussed how to discuss literary works with students. Do many teachers, therefore, organize discussion as their teachers discussed literature with them—teachers ask questions, students answer questions and teachers accept or reject the answers? As with so many skills in teaching, we should not assume that teachers know how to organize literary discussions.

I still think the Great Books approach to discussion works best: teachers should never ask questions to which they know the answers. I think teachers should identify the students’ questions and let the students discuss the answers. Teachers should try to participate without dictating the answers
. RayS.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Topic: Avid Teenage Readers

10-second review: Parents and teachers significantly influence children to become avid readers.

Title: “Who Is the Avid Adolescent Reader in Taiwan? The Rule of Gender, Family and Teacher.” Su-Yen Chen. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (November 2008), 214-223. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Children become avid readers when they see parents who do things with their reading, see that reading helps to achieve their success. “These results suggest that what parents do is more important than who they are.” Teachers who are enthusiastic about their subjects also contribute to the enthusiasm that students have for reading. “The teacher’s influence is as important as the parents’, at least for 12th graders.”

Comment: I think I intuitively knew the truth of these findings. However, that parents show what they have learned from their reading contributes to their children’s becoming avid readers is, for me, a new and thought-provoking idea. That teachers are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach—not just about reading—is also an interesting thought. We assume that all teachers are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach. My experience tells me they are not. At least they don’t show it and their students are bored. I need to think more about parents’ and teachers’ roles in encouraging avid reading. RayS.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Topic: Writer on Writing

10-second review: Advice on writing by Sheridan Hay, author of a debut novel, The Secret of Lost Things.

Title: “Sheridan Hay.” The Writer (December 2008), 58. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: “As far as advice goes: Get it down as much and as quickly as you can, and fix it up later Write every day. When you can’t write everyday, read as much as you can and take notes of the things that work in the novels of others.” Sheridan Hay. p. 58.

Comment: One piece of advice that I don’t seem to use—I don’t take notes on what works for other writers. I’m so intent on reading for ideas that I don’t notice the techniques that convey those ideas effectively. I need to learn to do that. RayS.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Topic: Research and Telling a Story

10-second review: The author prepared for writing her historical novel Moon’s Crossing by researching the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, early Chicago, Daniel Burnham, the Ferris wheel, the neo classical buildings and the Civil War because the main character is a veteran of the Civil War. But she learned that even with all that research, she needed to remember how to tell a story.

Title: “When Too Much Fact Spoils the Story.” Barbara Croft. The Writer (December 2008), 40-41. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: What did Barbara Croft learn about telling a story after doing all that research? “A story can’t be told, however fascinating its facts may be. It must be dramatized.”

Comment: Which is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.” RayS.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Topic: Interviews

10-second review: Consider sending questions before the interview.

Title: "9 Ways to Make the Most of the Writer/Publicist Relationship.” Debbe Geiger. The Writer (December 2008), 38-39. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: “Submitting a list of your interview questions may help in certain situations—if the subject is controversial or if the person being interviewed needs clear directions of your intent, or must prepare by researching the specifics of a subject.” p. 39.

On a related topic: Interview by e-mail. “…e-mail interviews are usually not the preferred way to go. First, busy professionals don’t have time to respond. Nor do they write as well as fresh quotes will sound. And, you lose the opportunity to ask questions that arise from your conversation…. For the most part, request a phone interview. You’re more likely to get on the person’s schedule, and your article will be better, too.” p. 39.

Comment: I continue to learn about effective interviews. RayS.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Topic: Sustaining Writing in Books and Projects

10-second review: How to keep up motivation in writing books and long projects.

Title: “No More Excuses—Make Time to Write.” Laura La Rocca. The Writer (December 2008), 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Some people find that detailed outlines help keep their writing on track; others like to leave off mid-scene (or even mid-sentence) so they know what’s coming next and can jump right in the next day. Figure out what works.” p. 37.

Comment: This is a topic I have not seen addressed often—how to keep up the motivation for writing when you’re writing a novel or nonfiction book or a long project. Mark Twain suggests stopping writing and giving the project time to recharge itself. Hemingway said to stop when you know what you’re going to write next and then you’ll be excited about resuming the next day.

I think outlines in school were a real drudge, emphasizing balancing the capital and subsumed letters and numbers, instead of ideas. I know of no better way to plan a major writing project than the outline. Tweaking the outline is necessary, but don’t let it become an excuse for not writing. I realize now how developing a detailed outline would have improved my book
. RayS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Topic: How to Find Time to Write

10-second review: Mentally write in your mind while doing some other task besides writing.

Title: “No More Excuses—Make Time to Write.” Laura LaRocca. The Writer (December 2008), 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Writer’s block is the biggest time-waster of all. Instead of staring at a blank page, do a mindless task such as laundry. But as you do, keep yourself mentally parked in your chair and work out the [writing] problem. When you return to your desk, you’ll have the next bit worked out…. You’vepre-done’ another [writing] task.” p. 36.

Comment: Many successful writers say that they write mentally while doing something else: jogging, cutting the grass, listening to the sermon in church, shaving, etc. RayS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Topic: Fiction, Nonfiction, Plot and Credibility

10-second review: Both fiction and nonfiction have plots.

Title: “Follow Fiction Techniques for Livelier Nonfiction.” Shelby Hearon. The Writer (December 2008), 24-25. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “In some ways, the two forms [fiction and nonfiction] are very different. There is the plot in fiction, and the writer must invent facts readers will believe. In nonfiction, the writer has all the facts and has to arrange them into a plot for the readers. But in their final effect, the two kinds of writing are not dissimilar. In both, the ultimate question the reader will ask is: Does it ring true?”

Comment: I never finish the articles in The Writer without having learned something new about writing, and without being encouraged to keep writing. RayS.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Topic: Learning to Write

10-second review: You learn to write by reading and paying attention to the world around you.

Title: “Tips from a Master Story Teller.” SA Johnson. The Writer (December 2008), 20-23. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Summary: Interview with fiction writer Elizabeth Cox. Question: What advice do you have for new writers…? Answer: “Read. Read. Read. And pay attention! Reading good writers will help you pay attention to detail: the way gestures reveal true emotions, the dialogue of people around you, the way an event unfolds in your life and in others’ lives. I read poetry every day because poets can see nature as a psychic landscape, can use detail to imply larger ideas or emotion. And when you begin to pay attention in this way, you’ll find ways of being amazed again—feeling the kind of discovery in everyday life the way a child does. You’ll never be bored.”

Comment: I read for ideas. I have had to learn how to read for technique, to see how writers achieve their effects.

One of the best writers I have discovered for awakening the reader to the miracles of everyday life is Loren Eiseley. His essays cause me to recognize the detail in life that I overlook when I go through life with other things on my mind, distracting me from the reality around me. You can go through life bored, distracted, uninvolved, unobservant, or you can focus on the world around you—and learn how to write. I’m not giving this advice just to my readers. I’m giving it to me!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Topic: Criticism of Your Writing

10-second review: If you’re going to learn to write, you’re going to have to learn to accept criticism.

Title: “How a Critique Group and Ad led to a Book Deal.” Susan Colebrook. The Writer (December 2008), 14. The Writer is a magazine with articles written by writers for writers.

Summary: The author discusses how she published her first book. Part of her advice is the following: “I left my ego at the door. In my critique groups, I really listened to others’ comments and tried to keep from defending my work.” p. 14.

Comment: Ouch! I’m thin-skinned. I don’t take criticism politely. I’m always defending my writing. And I’m losing the opportunity to learn. Will my readers tell me how they learned to shut up and listen dispassionately while others shredded their work, including editors and the readers of manuscripts for professional articles? I want to learn, but I’m emotionally unable to withstand criticism without fighting back.

While I think about my own weakness, I’m thinking also that maybe we need to help our students learn how to deal with criticism. I don’t think much of peer-response groups—ignorance sharing ignorance—but I could envision an experiment in which students conscientiously try to listen to others’ comments on their writing and evaluate what they have learned from those comments. For me, that’s an interesting thought
. RayS.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Topic: Writing--People Sources

10-second review: Keep a list of people who will explain research, give personal experience, provide background details and give useful, succinct quotes as sources for your writing.

Title: “7 New Ways to Find an Expert Source.” L Palmer. The Writer (December 2008), 13. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Begin with the people you know, doctors, writers, teachers with avocations, a Verizon lineman who also knows plumbing, electricity and uses books to fix up his house, etc., etc. They may be your friends, but they are also sources of information for your writing.

Comment: I never thought of this idea. Among my friends, associates and acquaintances are civil, mechanical and electrical engineers; an engineer who owns a number of patents; a retired sports writer from the Washington Post; a lawyer who graduated from West Point, fought in Vietnam and is now practicing elder law; housewives who specialize in certain kinds of cooking; and the list goes on. My doctor, my dentist, a tax expert who is also a former minister. Funny, I seem to look at my friends as my friends, not as sources of valuable information for my writing. A useful idea. Rays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Topic: Writing Style

10-second review: Most writers adopt either the sentence or the paragraph as the smallest unit of meaning in their work.

Title: “How I Write: Kevin Brockmeier.” The Writer. (November 2008), 58. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Quote. Kevin Brockmeier: “I think most writers ultimately end up adopting either the sentence or the paragraph as the smallest unit of meaning in their work, the component by which their stories move forward, and it can be helpful to discover which kind of writer you are and embrace that style of writing.”

Comment: Frankly, I never thought of writing style in that way. I’m not exactly sure what it means. Of course, Emerson and Thoreau used the sentence as the core of their writing. Eiseley seemed to combine the two, sentence sometimes, paragraphs at other times. I guess most writers are like Eiseley. Eric Hoffer in The True Believer seemed to write with paragraphs. He just didn’t connect them. I need to think more about this concept of writing style and what it means to how people write.

I’m reminded of a book written by a former student of mine on the joys, hard work and cruelty of farm life. It was by Tom Smith and entitled, Liberty Square Observed and Noted (Xlibris, 2007). He wrote in paragraphs of course, but it was the individual sentence that popped up in the paragraphs that jolted me. They were placed almost anywhere in the paragraph, the beginning, the body, the final sentence. The ideas in the sentences stood out. He was definitely a “sentence writer.” Just reflecting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Topic: Memoirs

Topic: Memoirs

10-second review: There’s a journal devoted to memoirs

Title: "Memoir (And).” M Hart. The Writer (November 2008), 44. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Biannual. Check Website for types of memoir writing: Address: Memoir Journal. P.O. Box 1398. Sausalito, CA 94966.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Topic: Memoirs

10-second review: When not to write a memoir?

Title: “When Not to publish.” A L Turpin. The Writer (November 2008), 34-35. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Summary: When writing a memoir, be careful not to write something that will tear apart your family. It’s not worth the bitterness that will follow.

Comment: If you have to be negative toward someone’s actions or words, find a nice or neutral way to say it. As I advise with problematic items of usage, “Write around it.” RayS.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Topic: Writing Exercise

10-second review: Give students a copy of one or two doctored paragraphs from a story or novel and ask them to revise it.

Title: “Learn to Lie.” M Winegardner. The Writer (November 2008), 19. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Teacher rewrites (“butchers”) one or two paragraphs from a short story or novel. Students try to revise. They then compare to the original source.

Comment: Sounds like an interesting exercise. However, what’s the point? The author never really says. I suppose, word choice. RayS.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Topic: Purpose for Writing

10-second review: If you’re reading something and you think, “I can do better than that,” do it. Take the challenge.

Title: “ ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ Became Her Mantra.” Barbara Nefer. The Writer (November 2008), 14. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: The author took up her challenge on a topic she knew a great deal about, found the right publication [ topic was horses], Horse Illustrated, and gained her first writing contract. She wasn’t cocky. She knew her field and she was confident in her knowledge.

Comment: I’ve read that some authors wrote a book because the book they wanted to read did not exist. This motive, “I can do better than that,” is similar. They both motivated writers to write. RayS.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Topic: Celebration of African American Language and Culture

10-second review: The meaning of Dean Myers’ The Blues of Flats Brown, a picture book for children from pre-school to grade 3.

Title: “ ‘The Blues Playingest Dog You ever Heard of’: (Re)positioning Literacy Through African American Blues Rhetoric.” C Kynard. Reading Research Quarterly (October/November/December 2008), 356-373. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “Like the narrator tells you, some people have not believed in new possibilities. So when you face them, just you be like Flats: Don’t you never mind all that. In the end, folks like Flats’s narrator will always remember and go out to spread the word, the rhythm and the rhyme.”

Comment: I can’t begin to summarize all of the information contained in this research article on a picture book about a dog who escapes from the mean owner of a junk yard, writes a blues song and succeeds in New York. For ages 3 through 8. Check out for reviews of the book and its accompanying CD. The author of the article shows how the book celebrates black language and culture. Fascinating. RayS.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Topic: Fluency in Learning to Read

10-second review: There is a relationship between early oral reading fluency and comprehension.

Title: “A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children.” J Miller and PJ Schwanenflugel. Reading Research Quarterly (October/November/December 2008), 336-354. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “Decreases in the number of pausal intrusions between the first and second grades and early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension later.” [I think this means that few pauses in oral reading with good expression between first and second grades predicts better comprehension in later grades. RayS.]

Quote: “…there is a correlation between reading fluency and comprehension skills.”

Quote: “In fact, research has suggested that children who do not develop fluency early on in the schooling process are likely to experience difficulty learning and comprehending important material from texts introduced in later grades.”

Comment: For me the important message in this piece of research is that training students in oral reading fluency correlates with good comprehension in silent reading in later grades. The oral training should occur with prose—I’m guessing material in science and social studies. RayS.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Topic: Varied Presentations of Content Area Concepts

10-second review: Students learn to present science, social studies, etc. concepts in various modes of writing.

Title: “Moving Beyond the Page in Content Area Literacy: Comprehension Instruction for Multimodal Texts in Science.” A A Wilson. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 153-156. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Students learn how to present concepts in content materials in a variety of modes: report, story, diagram, description, argument, dialogue, etc.

Comment: This idea is worth thinking about. Generate a list of modes of expression and have students try the different modes in expressing concepts learned in content area reading materials. RayS.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Topic: Interactive Writing

10-second review: Students take turns completing a composition on the whiteboard.

Title: “Interactive writing Beyond the Primary Grades.” H Wall. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 149-152. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Demonstrate how to write a composition by having different students begin, continue and conclude the composition on the white board.

Comment: Why didn’t I think of this? It’s one thing to present a model of an expository composition. It’s another to have the entire class of students complete a composition themselves together as a group. Demonstrate the process to the group by having the group construct a composition. A worthwhile idea. RayS.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Topic: Kindergartners, Pretend Stories from Books and Comprehension

10-second review: Kindergartners retell stories that have been read to them and by using props act out scenes from the story.

Title: “Playing Within and Beyond the Story: Encouraging Book-Related Pretend Play. JG Welsch. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 138-148. A publication of the International Reading Association.

Summary: Teachers read stories to the kindergarten students. Students then, as a group, re-tell the story. Next, the teachers distribute props to the students who act out scenes from the story. Improves the children’s comprehension of the story.

Comment: Sounds like fun for children and adults. I remember when my wife and I gave props to our two young daughters one boring Sunday afternoon in January. They acted out “Red Riding Hood.” Even though the girls are adults now, they still remember when we made a movie of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Much of their dialogue was improvised. RayS.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Topic: Teaching Comprehension

10-second review: Comprehension instruction should fall into three categories: pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading.

Title: “The Comprehension Matrix: A Tool for Designing Comprehension Instruction.” SR Gill. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 106-113. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The author begins by summarizing the research on comprehension: “For years we have tested comprehension but rarely taught it.” She then suggests that teaching comprehension occurs before reading, during reading and after reading.

Comment: Useful for remembering that there are three parts to comprehension instruction. In my experience, it is the third category—after reading—that gets short shrift—especially in the secondary schools. Building background knowledge, pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary and setting purpose are often referred to as pre-reading activities. Reading to accomplish the purpose occurs during reading. But applying what has been learned from the reading does not seem to be emphasized in professional articles as often as pre-reading and during-reading. Especially missing are creative approaches to using the material gained from reading. RayS.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Topic: Teaching Success

10-second review: Teachers need to analyze successful teaching units to determine why the unit was successful.

Title: “March of the Penguins: Building Knowledge in a Kindergarten Classroom.” L Fingeret. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 96-103. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: This idea of analyzing teacher successes came as part of an article in which children were exposed to read-alouds and films on the topic of penguins.

Comment: We all have success stories on units or teaching episodes that work. Ever think about why they work? What are the underlying characteristics that made your teaching successful? How do you know it was successful? Can you build a list of the characteristics that make your teaching successful? RayS.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Topic: "Basic" Writers

10-second review: Defines the “basic” writer not as deficient, or remedial, but as never having been taught to write.

Title: “Before Mina Shaughnessy: Basic Writing at Yale, 1920-1960.” K Ritter. College Composition and Communication (September 2008), 12-45. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A review of “basic” writing courses in the distant and not-too-distant past. In general, “underprepared” writers were not allowed into the mainstream writing curriculum in college. The courses were usually noncredit. Course descriptions were/are meager and gave no promise of really teaching the underprepared writers what they needed to know.

Comment: Are these basic writing courses any better today? Who are the underprepared and why are they underprepared? Looking back at my experience, I can identify some who were what we call today “learning disabled,” otherwise very bright students, who could not spell or organize their writing, but who had been taught to write. They just had not learned. In most of these cases, the students were not lazy. They simply could not put words together in an organized format. Their frustration must have been great.

Other students who were underprepared had not been taught how to write. In fact, I was one of those students. Why wasn’t I taught to write? Because my English classes focused on grammar rather than writing and never distinguished between the two.

I think part of the solution to how to help underprepared writers is to define more clearly the types of underprepared writers and their characteristics. Don’t teach them all in the same way. RayS.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Topic: Online Resources for Research in Adolescent Literacy

10-second review: Five Websites dealing with adolescent literacy.

Title: “Research Connections: Websites on Adolescent Literacy Research.” DW Moore. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2008), 166-168. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Ad Lit.
Alliance for Excellent Education.
Carnegie Corporation’s Advancing Literacy Initiative.
Center on Instruction.
International Reading Association: Focus on Adolescent Literacy. Between “focus” and “adolescent” is a low dash.

Comment: The author reminds his readers that although these Websites contain valuable resources, they are not all encompassing. Don’t forget books and periodicals devoted to adolescent literacy. RayS.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Topic: Copyright and Fair Use

10-second review: Reviews the four tests to determine whether copyright has been infringed.

Title: “Copyright in a Digital Age.” Troy Hicks. Classroom Notes Plus (October 2008), p. 12. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Fair use of copyrighted material is allowed for the purposes of commentary, criticism and parody. The four tests of legal use of copyrighted material are as follows: the purpose of using the material; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount of the work used; and the effect on the work’s market. The results of these tests are apparently open-ended and arguable and lead to extensive litigation.

Comment: We are all going to have to learn about this morass of fair use of copyrighted material, especially in the digital age. The place to begin is Google and the main source of valid information on the subjects is at Stanford University’s Web site. Don’t forget, the Web site of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Two purposes of fair use—commentary and criticism—seem reasonably clear. If commentary and criticism are not your purpose, then probably, I think, any other purpose for using copyrighted material, except for parody, will probably be illegal copyright violation. But these purposes seem focused on writing and do not fit the act of teaching. The use of professional articles, for example, in preparing for curriculum workshops, might be considered “too much” in the test of “the amount of the work used.” I have a lot to learn about this issue and appreciate the author of this article for bringing it to my attention
. RayS.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Topic: Close Reading of Literary Works

10-second review: Three steps to close reading.

Title: “How to Read a True War Story: Close Reading Through The Things They Carried.” B Gilmore. Classroom Notes Plus (October 2008), 1-6. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: After students have finished reading a book (fiction or nonfiction), select a passage, type it up, distribute to the students and engage in three steps with them:

1. Students read the passage and underline any words that strike them, even if they do not know why.

2. Students try to identify the technique in each underlining (metaphor, run-on sentence, fragment, alliteration) or, if they can’t name the technique, describe its effect.

3. Students try to relate the technique to the theme of the book.

Uses a 3-column chart, the columns labeled “Text,” “Effect,” and “Reflection/Connection.” In column one, students copy the text from the passage. In column two, they describe the effect of the technique. And, in column three, students tell how the technique relates to the theme of the book.

Result is that students will have slowed down their reading and seen how the author achieved the theme of the book.

An interesting sub-step: After the students have read and underlined the ideas in the passage, the teacher re-reads the passage aloud and students who had underlined particular words or phrases, etc., read the words aloud with the teacher. Shows the students that different students underlined different passages.

The author suggests that students practice the technique.

Comment: Intriguing idea. You might want to try it yourself and you might then alter the details of how to structure the steps in the technique with your classes. Sometimes we forget to teach students what we assume they already know—like close reading. RayS.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Topic: Reading and Annotation

10-second review: Authors suggest a system for identifying key ideas and words.

Title: “Annotating to Support Learning in the Content Areas: Teaching and Learning in Science.” J Zywica and K Gomez. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2008), 155-165. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Assuming students can write in books or use copies of materials from the textbook, the authors suggest a system of marking to note important ideas and key words. For example, circle headings, rectangle around key vocabulary, triangle around other difficult words, double underline main ideas, single underline supportive ideas, etc. The purpose of these marks is, of course, to help students master the ideas in the text.

Comment: The authors’ definition of annotating is to mark important sentences and words in the text. I define annotation differently. For me, to annotate means restating briefly key ideas in the margins. Forces the reader to reduce the ideas to a few words. RayS.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Topic: Multimodal Literature--Using All the Senses in Learning

10-second review: Using visual (sight), kinesthetic (touch) and auditory (hearing) modes to “read” the world.

Title: “Multimodal Teaching and Learning: Creating Spaces for Content Teachers.” M Thompson. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2008), 144-153. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Incorporating as many senses as possible in learning.

Comment: Something to consider in planning your lessons: incorporating as many senses as possible. How, for example, would I teach Jane Eyre, using multimodal learning? Students will read, of course, but they will also read aloud and be read to aloud (both of which they will be prepared for by the teacher). They will view and interpret photographs, diagrams, videos and listen to the commentary that might accompany them. They will use the sense of touch with certain artifacts that are crucial to understanding the environment of the novel.

All right, I’m being theoretical here, but this article does remind us to incorporate all senses into our planning. I never did, but the article and the idea are worth thinking about. RayS.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Topic: Oral History

10-second review: Students used technology to research the immigrant experience in 1870’s Brooklyn, NY.

Title: “Electronic Reading Workshop: Beyond Books with New Literacies and Instructional Technologies.” LC Larson Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacies (October 2008), 121-131. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Students prepared a multimedia presentation with student-constructed newspapers; interviews; pictures, artifacts; sound, video files and graphics.

Comment: Good idea. Requires much careful planning. RayS.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Topic: Are Students Ready to Read in college?

10-second review: A study in The Chronicle of Higher Education said that 45% of college teachers and only 15% of high school teachers believed that incoming students are not prepared to comprehend college level reading material.

Title: “Bridging the Pedagogical Gap: Interactions Between Literacy and Reading Theories in Secondary and Post-Secondary Literacy Instruction.” LS Eckert. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2008), 110-118. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Suggests that the gap in perception between college teachers and high school teachers regarding comprehension can be overcome by teaching reading strategies to high school students. However, the author’s “strategy” is “miscue Analysis,” a study of students’ individual reading characteristics.

Comment: The idea of teaching reading strategies is good, but the suggested strategy appears to me to be irrelevant. Teachers at the college level are interested in only one thing—students can understand and interpret the assigned reading. Here are the strategies that would have been most useful to me in college:

Previewing nonfiction books, including textbooks. Read first and last paragraphs of each chapter, raising questions and then reading the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph in each chapter.

Previewing textbook chapters. Read the title, subtitles, first paragraph, first sentence of each intermediate paragraph, last paragraph, raise questions, read to answer the questions.

Previewing and maintaining interest in novels. Read for five minutes in the beginning, middle, three-fourths through and near the end; raise questions. Then read to answer the questions. When losing interest in the novel, read a paragraph a page until interest is reignited.

Previewing short stories. Read one sentence per column or page; read one paragraph per column or page; read the first paragraph, first sentence of each paragraph and last paragraph. Raise questions. Read to answer the questions.

Taking notes, the Walter Pauk (Cornell U.) way: Divide page into three parts, 2” column on left, 3 ½” in the middle, 2” on the right. At the bottom, leave about an inch of blank space. In the middle part, take notes. After taking notes, review by writing the question answered in the notes in the left-hand column and write key words from the notes in the right-hand column. At the bottom, summarize the page of notes.

That’s what I consider to be strategies for reading and taking notes in college. RayS.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Topic: Inservice Through Immersion

10-second review: Teacher learned most when immersed in the topic.

Title: “The High Point of My Professional Development: An NEH Seminar on Africa.” K Pezanowski. English Journal (September 2008), 69-70. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: It was a three-week summer course, but it concerned itself only with African literature and related history and ideas. What impressed the author was the immersion in African literature.

Comment: I can only reflect on my own experiences with inservice programs—they all were scattershot, piecemeal, diffuse. Maybe if inservice dealt in-depth with one narrowed topic, for a half day, a day or several consecutive inservice programs, teachers might gain considerable information, even practice with that topics, i.e., the relevance of grammar to writing. Maybe that’s already happening, but it was not in my day, from the 1970s to the 1990s. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Topic: Setting Goals in Writing--Four Generic Questions

10-second review: students answer four generic questions about the writing assignment they have just completed.

Title: “Beginning with the Students: Ownership through Reflection and Goal-setting.” M Harford. English Journal (September 2008), 61-66. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The four generic questions. “What did I do well in this assignment?” (At least three specific skills or techniques. “What do I need to improve?” (At least three specific skills or techniques.) “What is my writing goal for the next writing assignment?” (One specific skill.) “How am I going to achieve my goal?”

Comment: Sets up a format for a writing conference. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Topic: Staying Within a Word Count in Writing the College Essay

10-second review: Write out everything and then edit down.

Title: “ ‘It Sounds Like Me’: Using Creative Nonfiction to Teach College Admission Essays.” J Wells. English Journal (September 2008), 47-52. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Faced with a limit on the number of words in the assignment, students write out all that they want to say. Then they read aloud to a partner or partners, asking them to identify the most memorable parts. Suggests that editing begins with reading aloud to others, having others read your essay to you, and reading from last line to first. To check tense, students underline verbs and then check each one to be sure the tense is correct.

Comment: Some good ideas. Better try this idea yourself before trying it with your students. Or, present the idea to the students, have them try it and evaluate it. An example of “action research.” RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Topic: Grammar Checkers

10-second review: Considers the computer grammar checkers to be a partner in her teaching of editing.

Title: “My New Teaching Partner: Using the Grammar Checker in Writing Instruction.” R Potter and D Fuller. English Journal (September 2008), 36-41. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Has students use the grammar checker on their writing, but encourages them to question and discuss the checker’s reasons.

Comment: Sure, the grammar checker is not infallible, in fact, sometimes ridiculous, but having a dialogue about the checker’s suggestions provides an opportunity to explain the accuracy and misunderstandings of its suggestions and raises issues in style and grammar. Another way to reinforce the uses of grammar. Why not? RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Topic: Homelessness

10-second review: Some suggestions on how to help homeless children gain some confidence in a life of fear.

Title: “Homelessness, poverty and Children’s Literacy Development.” D Walker-Dalhouse and VJ Risko. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 48-86. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: In 2003, 550,000 families of young children were homeless in the U.S. These children come to school while living in fear. Make the classroom a safe place for them. Give instructional resources to take home and don’t be concerned that they might not be returned. Have in-school programs for parents and children together.

Comment: These suggestions are fraught with problems. They might not help much, but they are a beginning. I’m a big believer that once you begin, you will find other ways to help. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Standardized Tests

10-second review: Teaches a unit on standardized tests.

Title: “Reading Tests as a Genre Study.” M Hornof. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 69-73. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Teachers analyze the test. They take it themselves and note how they completed it They score the test. They ask students what they know about the test. Students had mistaken beliefs about it. Go over the vocabulary of the test, i.e., the words used in the directions. Students were confused by words like “selection” and “No. 2 pencil.” Model test-taking strategies. Analyze the answers with the class. Debrief: Ask students, “What did you like about the test?” Have students write out advice to others on taking the test. Keep the unit short (two weeks). Unit was taught to third graders.

Comment: Interesting sequence of activities. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Topic: Comprehension Through Visualization

10-second review: Students learn to visualize the elements of a story.

Title: “Picture It!” VM Naughton. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 65-68. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The five elements of a story consist of setting, characters, problem, attempts to resolve the problem and resolution. Students learn to create visual story maps of the stories they read.

Comment: This activity is not the same as “mapping” in which words are arranged in a diagram of the organization of the story or article. This approach actually tries to use pictures and/or drawings, even stick figures, and words to visualize the elements of the story. The possibilities for creativity are interesting. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Topic: Young Writers in Children's Books

10-second review: Analyzed books in which young people are writers.

Title: “To Be a Writer: Representations of Writers in Recent Children’s Novels.” LT Parsons and L Colabucci. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 44-52. A publication of The International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Asked the following questions about writing in the analyzed children’s books: Why does the character write? What does writing do for the writer? If the writing is taken public, what effect does the text have on the audience?

Why do they write? Want to be known; need to remember; seek to communicate; expose injustice; inspired by a teacher; instinctively like to write.

What does writing do for the character? Helps cope with experience; documents experience; builds relationships; defines identity.

Effect on an audience? Entertains; brings about change; reveals the author; builds relationships.

Concludes that most writing in school “doesn’t count.”

Comment: Interesting study. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Topic: Comprehension

10-second review: Author charts the sequence of activities students use in reading.

Title: “START comprehending: Students and Teachers Actively Reading Text.” TD Scharlach. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 20-31. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Here is the chart showing how students can read successfully:

Before Reading: ………. predicting/Inferring………”In this chapter, I think….”

During Reading: ………. Visualizing………. “In my mind I see….”
………………………… Making connections………. “This reminds me of….”
………………………… Questioning………. “I wonder….”

After Reading: ……... Main idea………. “I think the most important thing….”
………………………. Summarizing………. In 10 words or less….
………………………. Checking predictions………. “My original prediction…..”
……………………….. Making judgments………. “My favorite part….”

Comment: I would add to “Before Reading”: building background knowledge of the topic; pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary; survey: read the first paragraph, first sentence of each intermediate paragraph, and the last paragraph. Formulate questions to read to answer, and then prediction. In "After Reading," I would add applying or extending what has been read. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Topic: ELL's and Sight Words

10-second review: Part of work in reading should be practicing reading materials that are familiar to the reader.

Comment: “English Language Learners” (ELL) are what used to be called “English as a Second Language” (ESL) learners. English Language Learners are learning English as a second language. RayS.

Title: “What Does Oral Language Have to Do With It? Helping Young English-Language Learners Acquire a Sight Word Vocabulary.” LA Helman and MK Burus. Reading Teacher (September 2008), 14 – 19. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: An important part of teaching young students whose native language is not English is to help them learn sight words. One method to help them reinforce their sight words is to have them re-read materials with which they are familiar.” “Repeated reading has been shown to increase fluency and consolidate the automatic recognition of sight words. Meaningful repeated readings can occur when students read with a partner, to a younger buddy, for their parents at home….”

Comment: Time to resurrect the time-tested language experience approach? Students (as a group or individually) dictate a story which is recorded by the teacher on chart paper. Teacher and students read it together. Then the students as a group, or individually, read it. They can re-read it again to buddies, the teacher or to parents at home. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Topic: Non-standard Comprehension

10-second review: What should we do when students respond creatively to what they have read and go beyond the “right” answer?

Title: “In Praise of Wiggle Room: Locating Comprehension in Unlikely Places.” M. Aukerman. Language Arts (September 2008), 52-60. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Some students will not respond to comprehension questions with “correct” answers. Why? Sometimes they are thinking beyond the “correct” answers. How should you deal with this “problem”? Suggested answer: give students the opportunity to hypothesize other possible answers.

Comment: The problem is to respond in a positive way. One method is standard—ask students to find in the text evidence for their answer.

Giving students the opportunity to speculate about other additional possible answers will give the opportunity to think creatively beyond restrictive answers.

Instead of using “canned” questions with the right answer prescribed in the teacher’s manual, have students generate their own questions. They read the first paragraph of the chapter, the fist sentence of each middle paragraph, and the last paragraph and then students suggest questions they will read to answer.

Teach students that there are three levels of questions: questions of fact that can be supported in the text. Questions of interpretation that usually begin with the question “why?” Questions of criticism that discuss the author’s facts, ideas and style of writing. Questions of interpretation and criticism would have possible multiple answers. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Topic: Teachers and Policy

10-second survey: How teachers can begin to chip away at restrictive teaching policies.

Title: “Building the Realism Bridge: Shaping Policy Through Collective Research.” M Proctor and P Demerath. Language Arts (September 2008), 42. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Narratives by teachers of how they teach successfully will contrast sharply with prescriptive teaching policy and will gradually lead to changing the policy.

Comment: Apparently a word I never heard—“policy”—in my years of teaching and supervising from 1956 to 1990, has become the new buzz word in education The authors of this article have discovered a new approach to research in which teachers gather their narratives of successful teaching practice to contrast with prescribed “policy.” Makes sense.

These narratives should enrich any prescribed curriculum—if teachers will be willing to share the secrets of their success. A counterforce could be payment to successful teachers. Then teachers might not be willing to share. I worry about that. One day I will tell you about my experience with a group of talented primary teachers who were asked to suggest a curriculum in writing for the early elementary grades. It might have been a vision of the future, and it was frightening
. RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Topic: Teacher Self-Determination

10-second survey: Teachers have become less and less professional as they are forced to follow prescriptive reading programs and guidelines.

Title: “Negotiating a Top-Down Reading Program Mandate: The Experiences of One School.” L Pease-Alvarez and KD Samway. Language Arts (September 2008), 32-41. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “This leads us to ponder the value of change that is imposed through policies and mandates, and to contrast it with change that is rooted in teacher self-reflection, initiative and collaborative inquiry.”

Comment: In the days when basal readers were questioned because the program, not the teacher, was doing the teaching, I felt that there was value in the basal because teachers learned how to teach reading—phonics as needed, the directed reading assignment, and progressive difficulty of word recognition and vocabulary. In my experience, teachers gradually weaned themselves from the basal, using those parts that were valuable and adding what teachers had learned from their experience.

The new prescriptions apparently threaten the teachers if they do not adhere strictly to the prescribed program, giving teachers no room to use what they have learned from experience. The problem does not seem so different from what is occurring with doctors and insurers.

I think teachers need to define themselves professionally, as educated people who use their judgment to do what is best for the students.

What do you think? RayS.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Topic: Fundamental Question about Reading and Writing

Ten-second review: Why do we read and write?

Title: "Writing and Painting Our Lives into Being: School, Home, and the Larger Community as Transformative Spaces for Learning.” Ralph A Cordova, Jr. Language Arts (September 2008), 18-27. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “So, have you ever asked yourself why painters paint, writers and readers write and read? Why teachers teach? We do it because we are reaching. We reach across spaces for substance and sustenance. We understand our self-realization only in realizing the lived experiences of others. As members of multiple communities, we can learn to reach across spaces and peoples like (sic.) we reach across familiar and unfamiliar books, navigating complex terrains and emerging transformed.”

Comment: The author’s somewhat poetic response to the fundamental questions of why we read, write and teach is worth thinking about. Why do you read, write and teach? And try answering these questions without resorting to clich├ęs.

I read to gather ideas about life and experience. I write to learn, clarify and shape what I think and to share my ideas with others. I teach to help others develop their purposes and skills for learning, reading and writing—without my assistance.

Why do you read, write and teach? And everyone teaches.

The purpose of this blog, English Updates, is to review interesting contemporary (2008-2009) articles from professional English education journals at all levels—elementary, middle school, junior high school, high school and college.