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.