Friday, December 11, 2009


This blog will resume on January 4, 2010. It consists of ideas taken from recent publications in English education. RayS.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Topic: Protecting Your Ideas

10-second review: Patents, trademarks and copyright.

Title: “How to Protect Your Brilliant Idea.” Colleen Debaise. Wall street Journal (December 1, 2009), Internet.


Patents. Most expensive and most valuable. Innovative products or business methods. Monopoly for twenty years. Need patent attorney. $2,000 to $10,000.

Trademarks. Word, symbol, logo or image, scent, sound or color. Filing fee is $375 by paper; $275 to $325 electronically.

Copyright. Original works like poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architectural designs. $45 fee by paper or $35 through the U.S. Copyright’s Online System.

Adapted from an upcoming book, The Wall Street Journal Complete Small Business Guidebook (Three Rivers Press, Dec. 29, 2009).

Comment: You’ll need much more information about these three protection programs. Check the Internet. RayS.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Topic: Literature and Students' Questions.

10-second review: Student-generated questions about the interpretation and appreciation of short stories were more effective than teacher-generated questions.

Title: “Self-questioning in the Literature Classroom: Effects on Students’ interpretation and appreciation of Short Stories.” T Janssen, M. Braaksma and M Couzijn. Educational Studies in Language and Literature. 2009.

Comment: My method for helping students generate questions when reading short stories is as follows:

They read one sentence per column or page. They tell what they have learned and suggest questions to which they want answers.

They read one paragraph per column or page, tell what they have learned and suggest questions to which they want answers.

Teacher records what they have learned and questions with key words.

They read to answer the questions. RayS.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Topic: Urban Youth Culture in Teacher Education Classes.

10-second review: “Highlights that using urban youth culture as a ‘fund of knowledge’ in teacher education may improve teaching practices and learning outcomes for urban youth of color.”

Title: “Representin’: Drawing from Hip-Hop and Urban Youth Culture to Inform Teacher Education.” Education and Urban Society, 41 (4), 489-515, 2009.

Comment: Giving pre-service teachers background information about black urban culture should be useful to teachers who encounter it. Background information about youth culture in general should be useful for teachers who have little contact with it other than in the classroom. RayS.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Topic: Online Feedback on Writing vs. Paper-Based Feedback

10-second review: The study involves foreign students trying to learn English. First-year college students who received feedback on their errors in writing when using an online annotator versus those who received paper-based feedback. Finds that students receiving online feedback performed significantly better on recognizing errors than students receiving paper-based feedback.

Title: “Using Online Annotations to Support Error Correction and Corrective Feedback.” SW Yeh and JJ Lo. Computers and Education, 52 (4), 832-842, 2009.

Comment: In this brief summary, nothing is said about the nature of the contents of the online annotations.

However, I picked out this piece of research for another reason. Some people feel that simply using the computer motivates students in a way that they are not motivated by traditional paper/pencil practices. This study seems to support that contention. Simply using a computer motivates. RayS.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Topic: Teaching College Composition

10-second review: What’s wrong with college writing classrooms is that the readings which are supposed to provide models of how to write take center stage and are not used to teach writing but to expound on literature.

Title: “Opinion: Composition Studies Saves the World!” Patricia Bizzell. College English (November 2009), 174-187. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote. “ ‘…the clearest example’ of what’s desperately wrong in the academy, [is that]… in writing classrooms… ‘more often than not the anthologies of provocative readings take center stage and the actual teaching of writing is shunted to the sidelines.’ ” Quoting Stanley Fish on page 174 of this article, taken from his new book.

Comment: The writer of this article takes issue with this statement. I do not.

Way, way back in 1952, I took my only college writing course and in it I learned nothing about how to write. My classmates and I were given an anthology of writings meant to be used as models for writing and we spent the entire class time listening to the instructor expound on the items in the anthology as literature As a writing class, it was a complete waste of time. I thought that six decades later (2009), we had learned something about teaching writing. If Stanley Fish is correct, we have not.

Closely allied to this problem in teaching writing at the college level is one in which the teacher expounds a cause like Feminism or some other do-goodism. Disagree with the instructor and you will be penalized. I know of at least one case in which a friend of mine failed a composition because the instructor disagreed with my friend’s ideas and he stated clearly that that disagreement was his reason for failing my friend.

For heaven’s sake, in a writing course, teach students how to write! And instructors have no business forcing their ideas on the students. If there is not a statement of ethics opposing this practice in the writing classroom, there should be.. RayS.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Topic: The Relevance of Abraham Lincoln.

10-second review: 2009 is the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Why study Lincoln in a literature course? Six scholars and teachers suggest reasons.

Title: “Reflections on Lincoln and English Studies.” Douglas Wilson; Steven Mailloux; Nan Johnson; John Stauffer; Tony Wolk; and John Schilb. College English (November 2009), 160-173. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quotes in response to the question, “Why study Lincoln today in English?”

“…a major contributor to the flowering of art and expression that became known as the American Renaissance.”

“…those in our discipline who privilege the study of literature and those who do the same with rhetoric.”

“…engaging students in the study of great words.”

“The story of Douglass and Lincoln’s literacy dramatizes the power of language of self-making. It also offers a salutary counterpoint to prevailing theories of education, which emphasize breadth over depth, movies and Internet-surfing over sustained reading, and a sampling of subjects and books instead of total immersion in a few works of great merit.”

“…immersing English students in a vital period of this country’s history….”

Lincoln’s prowess with words makes him relevant to our discipline.”

: I’m inclined to explore Lincoln’s rhetoric. RayS.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Topic: Either/Or Issues

10-second review: “Is the purpose of a composition course to help students fit into society or to convince them to change it?”

Title: “Composing in a Global-Local Context: Careers, Mobility, Skills.” M Lu and B Horner. College English (November 2009), 113-133. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Another of those annoying either/or issues that English teachers like to argue about in the pages of their professional journals. Remember the process/product issue in writing and the whole language/basal issue in teaching students to read? The answer to the latter questions was “both.” And the answer to this issue is “both.” For me, the solution to controversial issues in English education is to explore whether both sides of the issue can contribute to the language growth of students.

Are there issues in life that cannot be solved by joining both sides of the issue? Certainly abortion seems to be one. But issues in English education, even if one side of the issue or the other takes on the vehemence of a moral crusade, still involve education, not morality. There is a difference.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Topic: Interview Killers.

10-second review: In today’s (2009) terrible job market, avoid behaviors that will kill your chances for the job.

Title: “Avoid These Interview Killers.” Diana Middleton. Wall Street Journal (November 16, 2009), Internet.

Summary: The basics. Don’t arrive late for the interview and don’t trash your previous employers. Other slip-ups: Don’t become too familiar with the interviewer. Don’t dress provocatively. Turn off the cell phone during an interview. Don’t ask about vacation or working from home too early in the interview and don’t ask about salary unless the interviewer brings it up first. Don’t use clichés like “dream job” or “thinking outside the box.” With the latter, do it rather than say it. Enter the interview with something in your hand like a notebook or your résumé to avoid looking awkward. Typos on your résumé will probably mean instant rejection. And the thank-you after the interview should be a simple e-mail or brief statement on a card. No balloons, etc.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Topic: Literacy Leaders

10-second review: What is a literacy leader? people who believe that reading is a joyful activity that enriches lives. They continue to grow in their own reading.

Title: “Teachers as Literacy Leaders.” JD Turner, et al. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 254-256. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “Literacy leaders seek to challenge their students to think deeply about what they read, for the depth of their thinking is the pathway to intellectual growth.”

Comment: Reading is thinking. Teachers must use reading to stimulate their own thought. And they must convey that same spirit to their students. It is not enough to read. You have to think and reflect on what you read. Unless teachers can convey that spirit to their students, students will never love reading. Reading is ideas. Reflecting and thinking about those ideas will keep students reading. RayS.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Topic: Mathematics Vocabulary.

10-second review: Many words in mathematics have a general meaning, but also a math-specific meaning. Teachers need to focus on the meaning in math of these words. Examples of such words follow.

Title: “Designing Vocabulary Instruction in Mathematics.” Me Pierce and LM Fontaine. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 239-243. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Examples of words with general meanings and more specific meanings in math: key, pattern, rule, another way, area, shade, true, belongs, foot/feet, kind, match, model, order, problem, result, ruler, table.

The complete article provides a chart with the general meaning and the math-specific meaning of each of these words.

Comment: Don’t assume students know how to apply these words in math. RayS.

Note: Blog will resume on Monday, November 30, 2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Topic: Vocabulary.

10-second review: A technique for teaching vocabulary.

Title: “Using Lemony Snicket to Bring Smiles to Your Vocabulary Lessons.” LM Arter and AP Nilsen. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 235-238. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “Rather than restricting the study of vocabulary to 20 minutes on Mondays (when you pass out the list) and 20 minutes on Fridays (when you give the quiz), stop whatever you are doing and give a vocabulary mini-lesson whenever an interesting word comes up.” p. 238.

Summary/Quote: “Extend such lessons by teaching the word and its relatives, because the meanings of related words will reinforce students’ learning and memories.” p. 238.

Comment: Example: ego, egotist, egotistical, egoist, egomaniac, egomaniacal, alter ego, etc. Teaching the word’s relatives is a good idea. So is pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary before the students read and having the students collect 3 x 5 index cards with the word and its pronunciation (if needed) on one side and a brief one-, two-, or three-word meaning on the other side. The briefer the meaning, the more easily students will remember the meaning of the word. Frequent review of these cards is important. RayS.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Topic: Unusual Orthographic Features of Writing.

10-second review: Point out to students how authors use unusual orthographic features to convey meaning.

Title: “ ‘We-e-el-l’ or ‘We’ll’: Children Negotiating Orthographic Features of A Letter to Amy.” P Arya, P Wilson, P Martens. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 224-233. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “This study shows that orthographic features of text, including spelling, line breaks, fonts, and so forth, influence readers’ comprehending but…not necessarily comprehension.”

Comment: The authors make the point that we do a lot of things—gestures, etc.—when we speak to convey feelings but we are limited in conveying the same feelings in writing. Such orthographic tricks certainly contribute to comprehension. RayS.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Topic: Parent, Child and Reflections on Learning to Read.

10-second review: Parent discusses her experiences in reading with her child who is having difficulty in reading.

Title: “Parents and Children and Reflecting Together: The possibilities of Family Retrospective Miscue Analysis.” B Kabuto. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 212-221. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The mother remembers when she discovered that she did not have to read every single word in order to understand what she was reading. Yet she was expecting her child to read every word. The mother then began to realize that every miscue is not destructive of comprehension. An example of what can happen when parents reflect on how they learned to read, giving insight into what to expect when the child reads.

Comment: Another reason for not insisting on slavish word-by-word reading. but, most valuable for me is parents’ reflecting on how they learned to read and thus beginning to understand how learning to read looks to their children. RayS.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Topic: Read-alouds and Vocabulary

10-second review: Prepare for reading aloud in order to increase students’ vocabulary.

Title: “Vocabulary Development During Read-Alouds: Primary Practices.” K J Kindle. Reading Teacher (November 2009), 202-211. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Pick out the words in the story that are likely to be unfamiliar to students and crucial to the meaning of the story. Decide how to deal with these words when you encounter them as you read. Some strategies: questioning, providing a definition, providing a synonym, providing examples, clarifying or correcting students’ responses, extending a student-generated definition, labeling (connecting the word with a picture in the book).

Comment: Makes sense to prepare for reading aloud by selecting the important unfamiliar words from the story and deciding how best to deal with them when you encounter them. RayS.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Topic: Good Teachers

10-second review: Lorenza Lara is the Secondary Literacy Coordinator for the Denver (Colorado) Public Schools, with 16 high schools and 16 middle schools. She suggests one characteristic of a good teacher.

Title: “Literacy Instruction for Adolescent English Learners: An Interview with Lorenza Lara.” David W. Moore. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 173-175.

Quote. Lorenza Lara: “I believe that educators who continually question the effectiveness of what they are doing in the classroom are the ones who eventually become master teachers. They are the ones who continually look for answers to complex questions through investigation and evaluation. They are the educators who see teaching and learning as a lifetime commitment.” p. 175.

Comment; One of my regrets as a retired language arts supervisor was my failing to encourage teachers to engage in action research. RayS.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Topic: Using Literature Circles with Science Textbooks.

10-second review: Students in each group were assigned to one of four roles: Discussion Director. Summarizer. Vocabulary Enricher. Webmaster [The “Web” does not refer to the Internet, but to constructing a graphic organizer].

Title: “Textmasters: Bringing Literature Circles to Textbook Reading Across the Curriculum.” LG Wilfong. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 164 – 171. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Description of roles:

Discussion Director: Develop list of questions about this part of the book.

Summarizer: Prepare brief summary of today’s reading.

Vocabulary Enricher: Look for a few especially important unfamiliar and puzzling words.

Webmaster: Make a graphic organizer of all of today’s information.

Each group prepares a presentation to teach their classmates what they have learned.

Comment: Interesting approach to content area reading. RayS.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Topic: One-on-One Tutoring Using Video Conferencing.

Topic: One-on-One Tutoring Using Video Conferencing.

10-second review: The tutors were pre-service teacher trainees. They focused on fluency training and used Young Adult Literature.

Title: “Delivering One-to-One Tutoring in Literacy Via Videoconferencing.” TT Houge and C Grier. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 154 – 163. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “Findings from this study suggest that one-to-one literacy instruction via videoconferencing technology can be an engaging and effective means to assist adolescents with comprehension while reading with appropriate accuracy and fluency.” p. 161.

Direct and explicit accuracy, fluency, comprehension and spelling instruction. Supervised by a reading specialist. Appropriate training for tutors.

Comment: Note the emphasis on fluency. RayS.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Topic: Books in the Home.

10-second review: Do families have books in the home?

Title: “Critical Literacies and Graphic Novels for English—Language Learners: Teaching, Maus.” CW Chun. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 144 – 150. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “When asked how many books were in their homes, the overwhelming majority of students responded that their homes had only the school textbooks they were currently using for classes.”

Comment: Do people read in the home anymore? Do people have books in their homes? With wide-screen TVs, video games, cell phones, Ipods, etc. in their homes—and declining newspaper readership—do people read books or even magazines in their homes any more? RayS.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Topic: Planning Family Literacy Programs.

10-second review: In planning programs to involve families in school activities, have your adolescent students help to design the program.

Title: “ ‘When You Do Your Best, There’s Someone to Encourage You’: Adolescents’ Views of Family Literacy.” A M. Wiseman. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 132-142. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Comment: Makes sense. RayS.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Topic: Standard and Nonstandard English.

10-second review: Recommendations for bridging the differences between standard and nonstandard language.

Title: “Code-switching Pedagogies and African-American Student Voices: Acceptance and Resistance.” KD Hill. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 120-131. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary. Among the author’s recommendations:

“Never tell students that home language features are wrong and standard features are right.” p. 130.

“Inform students that everyone speaks nonstandard English…. …compare and contrast varying ways and contexts in which people speak….” p. 130.

Explore “varying ways students express common ideas before emphasizing grammar roles.” p. 130.

Comment: I like the idea of comparing standard and nonstandard expression in the context that both are right in the appropriate situations. RayS.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Topic: Educational Research

10-second review: First, training in research needs to begin at the pre-service level—both producing and reading it. Second, researchers need to do a better job of explaining their research and its implications for instruction so that the majority of teachers can understand and discuss the findings and their implications.

Title: “Critical Research and the Future of Literacy Education.” Ernest Morrell. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2009), 96-104. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Comment: I agree with both recommendations. The second—producing a reader-friendly version of the research—is especially important to the wide readership that is intimidated by the jargon of professional research. Beginning emphasis on research at the earliest possible level of teacher education should broaden the base of research and increase most educators’ knowledge of the technical language of research reports without being intimidated. RayS.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Topic: Classroom as a Community

10-second review: A friend sent me the following:

One day a
teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room
on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of
their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as
the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate
sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that

On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class
was smiling. 'Really?' she heard whispered. 'I never knew that I meant
anything to anyone!' and, 'I didn't know others liked me so much,' were most
of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they
discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The
exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with
themselves and one another. That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet
and his teacher attended the funeral of that
special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin
before. He looked so handsome, so mature.

The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a
last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her.
'Were you Mark's math teacher?' he asked. She nodded: 'yes.' Then he said:
'Mark talked about you a lot.'

After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon.
Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his

'We want to show you something,' his father said, taking a wallet out of his
pocket 'They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might
recognize it.'

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that
had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew
without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all
the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him.

All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather
sheepishly and said, 'I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my
desk at home.'

Chuck's wife said, 'Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.'

'I have mine too,' Marilyn said. 'It's in my diary'

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet
and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. 'I carry this with me at
all times,' Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: 'I
think we all saved our lists'

That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all
his friends who would never see him again.

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end
one day. And we don't know when that one day will

Comment: I know of no better method for helping students to become a community in the classroom. I wish I had thought of this activity. RayS.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Topic: Stop Reading Shakespeare

10-second review: Students will understand the play if they act out scenes from the play. Stop emphasizing trivia such as what was the Nurse’s name in Romeo and Juliet.

Title: “Stop Reading Shakespeare!” S Spangler. English Journal (September 2009), 130-132. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Still, in my opinion, I can appreciate Shakespeare’s language better when I read it than when I see videos or theatrical presentations of Shakespeare’s plays. I still remember the field trip we took to see Hamlet. As Hamlet is dying, he gives a lengthy soliloquy. The students roared with laughter as an obviously not-dying actor tried to act as if he were dying while speaking the soliloquy that never seemed to end. However, I can’t deny the usefulness of having the students prepare and act out scenes. RayS.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Topic: ESOL--Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

10-second review: The author summarizes what he has learned after ten years of teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Title: “A Decade of ESOL Experience in about a Thousand Words.” Alex Dailey. English Journal (September 2009), 127-129. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


Experience the experience of being immersed in a language different from your own. You’ll understand how the ESOL student feels in your English classroom.

ESOL students must feel a need to learn English and be accepted in the English language community.

Extracurricular activities are valuable additional exposures to the English language.

Don’t focus on the rules of the language. Focus on meaning.

ESOL students learning the social use of language occurs in one to three years. On the other hand, learning the academic use of English requires up to seven years. ESOL students need to learn academic skills in their native language as well as in English.

ESOL students need to develop literacy skills in the fist language as well as in English. These skills reinforce each other.

Demonstrate to ESOL student their progress.

Recognize that all cultures do not accept the strictures in writing that we do in English—in which we don’t accept run-on sentences and do emphasize the thesis. “Not all cultures want you to get to the point quickly.”

Comment: Worth thinking about. RayS.