Friday, February 27, 2009

K-12 Topic: Interesting Research (4)

10-second review: Variety of topics and findings in recent research.

Title: “Annotated of Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” ed. R Beach, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (RTE) (November 2008), 188-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

1. Writing Error Counts: How have errors changed in student writing between 1986 and 2006? “Concludes that error rates have remained relatively stable compared to previous studies, with some shifts in the types of errors.”
[Comment: Maybe we’re not emphasizing error correction enough. Correcting errors is part of polishing prose. RayS.]
AA Lunsford and J Lunsford. (2008). “Mistakes Are A Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study.” College Composition and Communication, 50 (4), 781-805. RTE (November 2008), 228.

2. Planning Writing: Do proficient writers plan their writing more than less proficient writers? “Finds that the writer’s level of proficiency influenced the amount devoted to planning.”
[Comment: Then planning is a part of proficiency? RayS.]
RM Manchon and JR DeLorios. (2007). “On the Temporal Nature of Planning in L1 and L2 Composing.” Language Learning, 57 (4), 549-593. RTE (November 2008), 229.

3. Revision and Writing: Do students making revisions online recognize that they are making revisions? 14- and 16-year olds. “Although all students engaged in online revision of some kind, it is not clear that the students think of this as revision.”
[Comment: So long as they make the revisions, who cares what they call it? RayS.]
D Myhill and S Jones. (2007). “More Than Error Correction: Students’ Perspectives on Their Revision Processes During Writing.” Written Communication, 24 (4), 323-343. RTE (November 2008), 224.

4. Writing Process: What is the relationship between proficiency in writing and planning, evaluation and revision? “More time was devoted to planning, evaluation and revision as proficiency increased.”
[Comment: The use of the writing process does improve the writing product? RayS.]
J Toca DeLarios, R Manchon, L Murphy and J Marin. (2008). “The Foreign Language Writer’s Strategic Behavior in the Allocation of Time to Writing Processes.” Journal of Second Language Writing, 17 (1), 30-47. RTE (November 2008), 230.

5. Writing Process: Does teachers’ modeling of the writing process improve the writing product? “Students practiced strategies for planning and writing stories, and then revised their stories after instructor modeling of revising. Finds that students’ stories [second grade, with disabilities] at post-instruction were longer, more complete and qualitatively better.”
[Comment: More evidence that teaching students how to complete the writing process produces a better written product. RayS.]
B Saddler and K Asaro. (2007). “Increasing Story Quality Through Planning and Revising: Effects on Young Writers with Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disability Quarterly, 30 (4), 228-234. RTE (November 2008), p. 230.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

K-12 Topics: Interesting Research (3)

10-second review: Variety of topics and findings in recent research.

Title: “Annotated of Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” ed. R Beach, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (RTE) (November 2008), 188-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

1. Writing in First Grade. How does attitude affect first and third-graders’ writing achievement? “Students who were more positive about writing had higher writing achievement.”
S Graham, V Berninger, W. Fan. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32 (3), 516-536. RTE (Nov. 08), 227.
[Comment: So how do you help first-grade students improve their attitude toward writing? RayS.]

2. Writing: Teaching. How should one teach the writing process? “Recommends to explicitly and systematically teach the processes and strategies involved in writing, including planning, sentence construction, summarizing and revising.”
S. Graham and D. Perin. (2007). Journal of Educational Psychology, 99 (3), 445-476. RTE (Nov. 08), 227.
[Comment: That can’t mean back to grammar drills, can it? How does “sentence construction” differ from traditional grammar? Otherwise the finding is true, in my experience. Telling people to construct a thesis sentence does not teach them how to. All aspects of the writing process, from brainstorming to editing should be taught. RayS.]

3. College Testing. Which is a better predictor of success in the first year of college? Grades or SAT scores? “Of the three SAT [Verbal] sections the writing section is the most predictive of college performance.”

“For students in public/less selective colleges, grades are slightly better predictors of success, while SAT scores are slightly better predictors for private/more selective colleges.”

“Suggests the value of using an admission test that includes a writing sample.”

JL Kobrin, et al. (2008). “Validity of the SAT for Predicting First-Year College Grade-Point average.” College Board Research Report No. 2008-5.
[Comment: This is a publication I have to read! I hope it does not have as many holes in it as were in some of the earlier reports I read from the College Board. Go ahead. Challenge me. Ask me what were the holes in those earlier reports! RayS.]

4. Writing Process and Product. Why do struggling writers struggle? “…struggling writers focus on product over process even at the secondary level.”
S-JC Lin, BW Monroe, and GA Troia. (2007). Reading and Writing Quarterly, 23 (3), 207-230. RTE (Nov. 08), p. 228.
[Comment: Does this mean that struggling writers try to write it right the first time? RayS.]

5. Writing: Feedback. What’s the best way for students to send feedback by e-mail to another student writer? Anonymous or identifiable? “Finds that anonymous feedback results in more critical feedback and superior writing performance than the use of identifiable feedback.”
R. LU and I. Bol. Journal of Online Interactive Learning. 6 (2), 100-115. RTE (Nov. 08), 228. [Comment: I’ll have to replicate this one. RayS.]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

K-12 Topic: Interesting Research (2)

10-second review: Variety of topics and findings in recent research.

Title: “Annotated of Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” ed. R Beach, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (RTE) (November 2008), 188-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

1. SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). Did the use of SSR affect students’ reading for pleasure? Studies effects of SSR on student’s attitudes toward reading and on reading habits. Three times during one-year period. Significant increase in students’ reading books for pleasure. Decline in students’ reading for pleasure outside of school.
SP Chua. The Clearing House, 81 (4), 180-184. RTE (Nov. 08), 206. [Comment: Maybe the decline is the result of making SSR required in school. Some kids hate required reading. My own father never read a book after completing law school because of it. If reading has some specific purposes, people will read. I think. RayS.]

2. Reading. When does students reading start to decline? How do children and their parents feel about reading print and online? Surveyed 501 children aged 5-17 and their parents. Half read books two or three times a week. Favorite books are self-selected. Reading for fun declines age 8 through adolescence. Online reading supplements and extends, but does not replace reading books. 62% prefer to read print over computer texts. Parents are sources for book suggestions but have difficulty finding information about books.
Yankovich and Scholastic. (2008). Scholastic Publishers. RTE (Nov. 08), 209-210. [Comment: Interesting findings on reading print in books and magazines vs. online. RayS.]

3. ELL (English Language Learners). What are the negative influences in English Language Learners’ learning to master English? “Critiques standardized testing and the many classes devoted to review for the tests, inauthentic language use/materials, and lack of meaningful literacy instruction related to students’ most important goals (e.g., finding a job, communicating with landlords and child’s teachers).”
D.S. Warriner. (2007). Linguistics and Education. 18 (3-4), 305-324. RTE (Nov. 08), 214. [Comment: If they have a purpose, they will learn to read it. I think. RayS. ]

4. ELL (English Language Learners, i.e., Learning English as a Second Language). What works in teaching English Language Learners? Show interest in ELLs’ culture. Encourage ELLs to share their cultural experiences. Include ELLs as full participants in class activities. Model how to appreciate ELLs’ cultural differences. Encourage mainstream students to support ELLs’ classroom learning.
P Yoon. (2007). Reading Teacher. 61 (3), 216-225. RTE (Nov. 08), 214. [Comment: Interesting summary of attitudes and behaviors needed to work successfully with English Language Learners (ELLs). RayS.]

5. Writing Drafts. Does writing drafts improve students’ writing? “Finds that over half of first drafts scored as well if not better than final drafts for general students; no significant differences between first and final drafts for special education and ‘general education’ eighth graders.”
L Crawford and K Smolkowski. Accessing Writing 13 (1), 61-77. RTE (Nov. 08), 226. [Comment: That’s my experience. I learned it long ago. The writing process helps people to start writing, tells them how to organize and how to polish their writing. But drafts only help when people are trying to say something more clearly and smoothly. Purpose is all. RayS.]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

K-12 Topics: Interesting Research (1)

10-second review: Variety of topics and findings in recent research.

Title: “Annotated of Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” ed. R Beach, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (RTE) (November 2008), 188-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

1. Immigrants. What’s another label for immigrants and minorities in American society? Refers to immigrants/minorities as “hyphenated Americans.” Hmmmmm!
N. Asher. Theory into Practice, 47 (1), 18. RTE (Nov. 08), 188. [Comment: Cute but suggests stereotyping. RayS.]

2. Storytelling. How does Navaho storytelling offer a different model of education? “Examines story telling practices among Navahos as an example of a non-western approach to education.”
DJ Eder. (2007). Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 38 (3), 278-296. RTE (Nov. 08). 189. [Comment: The author doesn’t give it away in this snippet of summarized research. RayS.]

3. Dialects. Are students conscious of using different levels of language? “Demonstrates how classroom conversations embedded in students’ experiences with dialects helped them become more conscious of their own daily code-switching and view language variation as natural and valuable.”
A Godley and A Minnici. (2008). Urban Education, 43 (3), 319-346. RTE (Nov. 08), 189. [Comment: I’m assuming the students conversed directly about dialects. That’s a significant piece of learning. RayS.]

4. Remedial Reading and Parents. Did repeated-reading practice at home improve students’ fluency in reading? “…home repeated-reading intervention for improving the reading accuracy, fluency and independent reading skills of eight struggling second-grade students in an urban school district.” Suggests a parent-training component is needed.
A Hinlin and JR Paratore. (2007). Journal of Literacy Research, 39 (3), 307-332. RTE (Nov. 08), 194. [Comment: Fluency is becoming big in reading education. I’m inclined to agree that it’s a major player in successful reading. RayS.]

5. Poetry. Why don’t teachers teach poetry? “Summarizes results of British government review of poetry instruction in 86 schools.” Poetry instruction weaker than other aspects of English. Teachers lacked knowledge of poetry, limiting teaching of poetry. High-rated school emphasized oral interpretation, poetry writing and making poetry books available.
J Gordon. (2008). Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 15 (2), 223-233. RTE (Nov. 08), 198. [Comment: I’m not surprised that many teachers of English are reluctant to teach poetry because they do not know it. The New Critics have scared them away. RayS.]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Writing Topic: Publishing

10-second review: Advice by a writer who lived the experience of dealing with rejections.

Title: “There Was No Quit in Her on the Way to Publication.” J Seewald. The Writer (February 2009), 14. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary/Quote: “Can you break through? I believe so. We all have something to say, something unique and worth writing about. Just remember to write, rewrite and keep sending your work out to editors and agents. Don’t allow rejections to discourage you (I’ve collected enough rejections to wallpaper my home many times over). I simply refuse to quit.”

Comment: The thing I like about the magazine The Writer is the steady encouragement each month to write on, even when discouraged by rejections Somehow, articles like this one make me feel as if I shouldn’t stop writing and I am at it again. RayS.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Secondary/College Topic: Writers about Writing

10-second review: We need to share with our students what can be learned about writing by becoming acquainted with and discussing the ideas of writers who write about their writing.

Title: “Reconsiderations: Writers Wanted: A Reconsideration of Wendy Bishop.” P Bizzaro. College English (January 2009), 256-270. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “…so important that writers’ reports ought to serve as foundation for all pedagogies of writing.”

Comment: No question about it. Students will learn about writing by reading and discussing what writers have to say about writing—all kinds of writers. The books quoting writers on writing abound. Begin with The Paris Review Interviews and continue with Booknotes, the reports on Brian Lamb’s interviews with contemporary writers of nonfiction. There is a treasure chest of quotes in both of them. And that’s only the beginning. For example:

“Short paragraphs put air around what you write and make it look inviting, whereas one long chunk of type can discourage the reader from even starting to read.” Zinsser, On Writing Well.

James Baldwin on motivating for writing: “Something that irritates you and won’t let go,” Plimpton, ed., The Writer’s Chapbook.

Hemingway: “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” Plimpton, ed., The Writer’s Chapbook.

“Spencer…defined [writing style] as that which requires the least effort of understanding.” Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy.

Discussing such quotes will add to students' knowledge about the writing process. Guaranteed. RayS.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

K-College Topic: Ethics and Teaching English

10-second review: Maybe it’s time to define a code of ethics in teaching English.

Title: “Ethics and Teaching English Language Arts: An Exploration.” TJ Duggan. English Journal (July 2008), 18-20. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: suggests such issues as negative remarks made to students; student teachers; colleagues; collecting examples of our best teaching to serve as models in the profession; dealing with standardized tests.

Quote: “I suggest that we encourage discussion of ethics and codes of conduct in our meetings and in publications such as English Journal, with the hope of inspiring collegial conversations and debates…. The specific language for an ethical code in our field may prove elusive, but the attempt to articulate a consensual statement may help us collectively and individually to examine the ethical dimensions of our practice.”

Comment: Since the author wrote this article on developing a code of ethics for English teachers, I assume there is none at the national level. I wonder if codes of ethics in teaching English exist at state or district levels. I know there are codes of ethics for teaching in general, and I have even seen one for the reading teacher by the International Reading Association, but what about English teachers? RayS.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Secondary/Adult Topic: Miscue Analysis

10-second review: ELLs [English Language Learners] compared the word they said in English when reading aloud vs. the actual word in the text and speculated on why they did so. Led to better understanding of the reading process.

Title: “Retrospective Miscue Analysis with Proficient Adult ESL [English as a Second Language] Readers.” AJ Wurr. JL Theurer. KJ Kim. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 324-333.

Summary/Quote: “Through the RMA [Retrospective Miscue Analysis] sessions, Young’s perception toward the reading process was transformed from a skill-oriented process to a meaning-oriented one. He came to understand the reading process more deeply by looking at his own reading and miscues by giving permission to himself to guess certain things he was not clear about. As Young became more confident, he began to take risks to deal with vagueness. In so doing, he constructed meaning more efficiently and effectively…. The results show Young was able to revalue himself as a better L2 [English] reader than he initially thought.”

Comment: Never tried it, but I think it’s worth a try. The author used tape recordings of the student’s reading and then compared the tape with the text to determine the miscues. To start, I’d be inclined to have students read passages aloud while the instructor follows along with the same passage, noting the changes on the written passage. RayS.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

E-School Topic: Fractured Fairy Tales--First Grade Style

10-second review: First-grade students re-write fairy tales in their own way. The results are sometimes hilarious and amazingly logical.

Title: “First Graders and Fairy Tales: One Teacher’s Action Research of Critical Literacy.” RT Burke. The Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 304-312. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: One example of children’s re-writing a fairy tale: The king kisses Sleeping Beauty and she doesn’t want him to because she would rather sleep and so they argue ever after. The students begin to think about other possibilities because the teacher asked “Why?” questions as he read aloud to them. Asked the students to view the story from the point of view of different characters.

Comment: The teacher’s “why?” questions led to the students’ viewing the story from a different point of view. Critical thinking in the first grade. Interesting article. RayS.

Monday, February 16, 2009

K-12 Topic: National Writing Projects

10-second review: Does teachers’ participation in National Writing Projects change their classroom behavior?

Title: “Teacher Transformation in the National Writing Project.” Anne Whitney. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2008), 144-187. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Hard to find research showing teachers using the practices taught and modeled in the National Writing Projects’ sessions. Suggests that the changes in teachers’ behavior will not necessarily be found in actual classroom practice but in the teachers’ thinking and attitudes that are not clearly measurable.

Quote: “This study helps to clarify that while classroom practice is of course an important indicator of change in teachers, it is not in and of itself a sufficient criterion for deciding whether transformation has taken place or even whether learning has taken place.” p. 179.

Quote: “…to research this instance of professional development and others in a manner consistent with a view of teachers as thinkers and people rather than as the trainable enacters of others’ ideas.” p. 180.

Comment: The issue is how to measure teachers’ changes as a result of inservice. I was once thinking of researching changes in teacher behavior as a result of teachers’ reading of professional literature. The same issue would have applied: How would I measure the effects on teachers’ behavior in the classroom as a result of their reading professional literature?

At first I reacted to the conclusions of the researcher in this NWP research as a way of side-stepping the issue of the effects of inservice. After reflecting on her conclusions, I think the researcher might be suggesting another, valid way of measuring teacher’s changes as result of inservice. I need to think some more about it
. RayS.

Friday, February 13, 2009

K-12 Topic: National Writing Projects

10-second review: Why do teachers who attend writing projects over the summer say the experience changed their lives?

Title: “Teacher Transformation in the National Writing Project.” Anne Whitney. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2008), 144-184. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “In an NWP (National Writing Project) Summer Institute, experienced teachers from kindergarten through college in all subject areas who have been selected through a process of application and interview gather for five weeks of all-day sessions. The teachers engage in daily personal and professional writing and meet in writing groups. They also demonstrate successful teaching practices of their own, see demonstrations by scholars in education and composition, and spend time discussing and unpacking the principles that underlie those demonstrations.” p. 144.

Comment: In Part 2 of my review of this article, I will describe the author’s suggestion for evaluating the effects of these summer institutes in the teacher-participants’ own classrooms. RayS.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Language Topic: Alliteration and Comprehension

10-second review: Alliteration helps people to comprehend and remember.

Title; “Alliteration Makes Poetry and Prose Passages More ‘Memorable.’ ” JK Burchardt. The Writer (February 2009), 12. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary/Quote: “From nursery rhymes to Shakespearean sonnets to speeches, alliteration has always been an important aspect of poetry and prose…. It is also useful for improving memory, according to new research published in…Psychological Science.” p. 12.

Summary/Quote: “In three different types of tests, people read poetry and prose with and without alliteration. They were then asked to recall content and thematic aspects from their reading. Results of all three experiments indicated a strong connection between alliteration and memory.” p. 12.

Comments: Sounds useful for scintillating titles and satisfying summaries in speeches and secondary school—and beyond--writing. RayS.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

College Topic: Creative Writing and Reading

10-second review: Says that students in creative writing programs are reading superficially—to get to the end of the book. They should be reading as critics, as literary scholars and writers.

Title: “A House Divided: On the Future of Creative Writing.” K. Andrews. College English (January 2009), pp. 242-255. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “When I identify myself as a creative writer with a strong desire to become an active literary critic, my creative colleagues (writers for writing’s sake) regard me with a mixture of encouragement and sympathy. But they seem also to be asking me, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ (To which I sometimes want to snap, ‘Because I can’t read.’)”

Summary/Quote: “I have had fabulous writers as teachers: writers who taught me the mechanics of a sonnet, uncovered for me the inner workings of Anglo-Saxon verse, and showed me fourteen different types of elegy. And I know, now, that each one of those writers was also, in part, a scholar.”

Comment: I have found that people who read learn to write without instruction in writing.

Reading literature carefully, as a writer, will teach creative writing students to write.

The purpose for creative writing for most students in school is to learn to write the genres of literature in order to understand the literature
. RayS.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

K-12 Topic: That @#$%^&* Apostrophe

10-second review: Seems a certain place in England is banning the apostrophe.

Title: “Apostrophes Reach the End of the Road.” Meera Selva. Philadelphia Inquirer. January 31, 2009, p. A3.

By Meera Selva

LONDON - On the streets of Birmingham, the queen's English is now the queens English.
England's second-largest city has decided to drop apostrophes from all its street signs, saying they're confusing and old-fash­ioned. But some purists are downright possessive about the punctuation mark.

It seems Birmingham offi­cials have been taking a hammer to grammar for years, quietly dropping apos­trophes from street signs since the 1950s. Through the decades, residents have fre­quently launched spirited campaigns to restore the missing punctuation to signs denoting such places as "St. Pauls Square" or "Acocks Green."

This week, the council made it official, saying it was banning the punctua­tion mark from signs in a bid to end the dispute once and for all.

Councilor Martin Mul-laney, who heads the city's transport scrutiny commit­tee, said he decided to act after yet another intermina­ble debate into whether "Kings Heath," a Birming­ham suburb, should be re­written with an apostrophe.

'I had to make a final deci­sion on this," he said yester­day. "We keep debating apos­trophes in meetings, and we have other things to do."

Mullaney hopes to stop public campaigns to re­store the apostrophe that would tell passersby that "Kings Heath" was once owned by the monarchy.

"Apostrophes denote pos­sessions that are no longer accurate, and are not need-ed/' he said. "More impor­tantly, they confuse people."

Grammarians say apos­trophes enrich the English language.
"They are such sweet-look­ing things that play a crucial
role in the English lan­guage," said Marie Clair of the Plain English Society, which campaigns for the use of simple English. "It's al­ways worth taking the effort to understand them, instead of ignoring them."

Mullaney contended that apostrophes confuse GPS units, including those used by emergency services.

Jenny Hodge, a spokes­woman for the satellite nav­igation equipment maker TomTom, said most users of their systems navigate through Britain's some­times-confusing streets by entering a postal code rath­er than a street address.

If someone preferred to use a street name — with or without an apostrophe ~ punctuation wouldn't be an issue, she said. By the time the first few letters of the street were entered, a list of matching choices would pop up and the user would pick the destination.

No national body is respon­sible for regulating place names in Britain. Its main mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, which provides data for emergency services, takes its information from lo­cal governments, and each one is free to decide how it uses punctuation.

To sticklers, a missing or misplaced apostrophe can be a major offense. British grammarians have railed for decades against store signs advertising the sale of "apple's and pear's," or pubs offering "chip's and pea's."

In her best-selling book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss recorded her fury at the title of the Hugh Grant-Sandra Bullock com­edy Two Weeks Notice, in­sisting it should be Two Weeks' Notice.

"Those spineless types who talk about abolishing the apostrophe are missing the point," she said, "and the pun is very much in­tended."

Comment: I am for abolishing the apostrophe! Then I won’t have to mark those “its”/ “it’s” mistakes. Rays.

Monday, February 9, 2009

K-12 Topic: Teaching

10-second review: The story of Dmitry, an exchange students from Russia, a teacher trainee, whose last gift was to make the teacher and other members of the class remember how precious each individual is.

Title: “Dmitry’s Last Gift.” G. Lynn Nelson. English Journal (July 2008), p. 17. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Dmitry wrote about a childhood experience that suggested he was thinking of committing suicide—as a way to achieve his personal freedom. It was a beautifully written piece. Before the author, his teacher, could return it to him, Dmitry had committed suicide. His loss reminded everyone in the class just how precious is each individual life and personality.

Comment: A number of people have suggested over the past few years that the best way to explain teaching to people who are not teachers is to tell stories of experiences that help to define teaching. This story is one of them. But this story is also a reminder to teachers about what their purpose in teaching really is. My summary does not do it justice. I think this story should be required reading in all teacher-training classes. It will remind teachers that each and every person in class is unique. I admit to forgetting that. And it makes all the difference in the world. RayS.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Literacy Coaches

10-second review: Literacy coaches work with teachers to help them improve their instruction in literacy—and that includes teachers in disciplines beyond English, i.e., math, science, social studies, etc. This article is the report of a survey completed by active coaches, including their needs. The biggest problem appears to be lack of a job description.

Title: "Middle and High School Literacy Coaches: A National Survey.” KL Blamey. CK Meyer. S Walpole. Journal of Adolescence and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 310-323. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: One finding stands out from the survey: the role of “coach” is undefined. The intention is good: work individually and collectively with teachers to help them improve their instruction in literacy—and that means teachers in every discipline that requires reading and writing. It’s obvious that coaches need good communication skills. These active coaches expressed a need for data analysis in order to define what the students need. Finally, the goal is to prepare the teacher to do themselves what the coach has demonstrated or encouraged.

Comment: The role of the coach in a secondary school is daunting. I worked for twenty years as a K-12 language arts coordinator/supervisor without any authority. However, I had no responsibility for teachers of subjects other than language arts. I can say without reservation that combined teacher/supervisor cooperation and problem solving were highly rewarding professionally. But I would also warn would-be coaches that they are likely not to receive credit for their success because the teachers, naturally, will believe that they are the ones who did the work of implementing the recommendations from the coach.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to define the role of “coach” in secondary literacy education. Evidently the role does not include evaluating teachers’ performance. After defining the role, the biggest problem will be gaining the teachers’ confidence and respect. The third problem is providing techniques based on assessment of students’ and teachers’ needs. The fourth problem is to encourage the teachers to use independently what the coach has recommended.

I also think that “coach” is a misleading term to describe the role in secondary literacy education. One naturally thinks of the coach on the playing field. Coaches in athletics teach, but they also evaluate. They have the authority to tell the players what to do on the playing field. Coaches in secondary literacy education will not have the authority to tell the teachers what to do. The analogy breaks down further. Players compete to start. And the goal is clear-cut: to win, a quantifiable goal that might not be so clear to the literacy coach. I think “counselor” would be a more apt description of the role. RayS.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Elementary School Topic: Laptops in Fourth Grade

10-second review: The results reported in this article were disappointing to me—increased motivation and engagement were the major advantages. Activities were fast-paced and quick changing. All of them could have occurred with paper and pencil. Effects of the use of laptops for learning on standardized tests were side-stepped.

Title: “Literacy Instruction with Digital and Media Technologies.” D Barone and TE Wright. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 292-303. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Each student’s having a laptop increased engagement with class activities which were neither different from pencil and paper techniques nor produced greater achievement. I’m still waiting for reports on activities that increase student learning from the use of technology.

Summary/Quote: “Warschauer’s (2006) research found that laptops and connections to the Internet provided scaffolding for many classroom topics, thus building background knowledge.” p. 293. How? RayS.

Summary/Quote: “Teachers will see that giving a laptop to a student results in greater engagement. Greater engagement equals higher achievement. End of story.” p. 302. Whoa, Nellie! RayS.

Summary/Quote: “A final issue is centered on assessment. The question of how students achieve in traditional assessment will affect those who make decisions about moving to new literacies. This question, although important, is losing its power as major assessments like the National Assessment of Educational Progress move to the use of computers.” p. 302. How’s that for ducking the question? RayS.

Comment: I accept the value of increased engagement in learning activities from working with laptops. I also accept the use of the Internet to increasing background knowledge although the authors say nothing about how that is done as a class activity. Even the rapid pace in changing activities is impressive—if the teacher is able to keep up with and respond to the students’ work.

The students are actively engaged in activities. But where is the instruction?

For years, people have been saying that word processing is a wonderful tool for writing. They don’t say it’s a wonderful tool for improving learning to write. Results are inconclusive. However, I have never denied that word processing made writing enjoyable (“engaging”) for students and that was definitely worth while.

But still the question lingers: does using word processing improve students’ learning to write? I don’t suppose that we’ll be able to answer that until students are able to complete writing assessments using a word processor. I’m inclined to believe that student writing improves, not because of word processing, but because of skilled teaching. Same thing with laptops in the fourth grade. RayS.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Disliking Poetry, Part Two

10-second review: Students used PowerPoint to redesign and interpret classic poems, in this example, “A Noiseless Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman.

Title: “Using Digital media to Interpret Poetry: Spiderman Meets Walt Whitman.” MB McVee. NM Bailey. LE Shanahan. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2008), 112-143. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: With pictures, various sizes of text and other visual resources, the students used PowerPoint to interpret the poem “Noiseless, Patient Spider” by Walt Whitman. The result was that, although most of the student teachers in this class didn’t like poetry as it is traditionally taught, they enjoyed this exercise in interpreting poems. The technological resources were one part of the attraction. The freedom to interpret the poem creatively and personally was the other.

Comment: When I saw the word “Spiderman” in the title of this article, I thought, here we go again—another NCTE technique for using comic strips and superheroes as literature, like texting for writing.

Not so. Using all available technological devices, the students were free to conceptualize and interpret their poems. You would have to see the examples of what they did to the text—various sizes of print, boldface and regular print; picture of Spiderman next to relevant text; circular word “surrounded” over the image of a man and the words from the poem, “Surrounded in measureless oceans of space….” to realize how effective this technique was. In fact, I learned that PowerPoint does not have to be the dull, lifeless presentation it usually is. But it begins with the creative freedom to interpret.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Disliking Poetry, Part One

10-second review: The authors give several examples of the reasons students dislike poetry as it is traditionally taught. Sets the stage for an experimental technique to enhance students’ fun with poetry.

Title: “Using Digital Media to Interpret Poetry: Spiderman Meets Walt Whitman.” MB McVee. NM Bailey. LE Shanahan. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2008), 112-143. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Begins with Marianne Moore’s comment about poetry: “I, too, dislike it: There are things that are important beyond this fiddle.” Students’ comments: Poetry was boring. Required to look for deeper meaning. Feared poetry. Can’t get to the end of poems. In this article the authors tell how they transformed the student teachers’ attitudes toward poetry through using technology and a familiar program, PowerPoint.

Comment: In tomorrow’s review, I will summarize and explain how the authors used PowerPoint to overcome their distaste for classic poetry. However, it wasn’t the technology that changed the students’ attitudes so much as the encouragement to interpret the poems themselves and to use PowerPoint creatively to present their interpretations.

How do my readers help students overcome their dislike of poetry?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Secondary School topic: On-line Free Books

10-second review: Over 30,000 books are available for reading online.

Title: “Books on a Budget.” Susan Johnson. The Writer (February 2009), 10. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: “Online books are another budget-friendly option—they’re free. The Online Books Page hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries has links to more than 30,000 books available on the Web (, ranging from Gulliver’s Travels to Great Expectations and more.” p. 10.

Comment: What a great service! Mostly the classics. RayS.