Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Topic: Professional Publication (1)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: The author studied who contributes to professional journals in English education—classroom teachers, university researchers, etc.

Title: “NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published.” A Whitney, Coeditor. English Education (January 2009), 101-113. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: By about 2 to 1, the articles published in the elementary school level publication of the NCTE, Language Arts, are by college or university faculty over classroom teachers. The number of classroom teacher authors increases steadily in the middle school publication, Voices from the Middle, until, in the high school publication (English Journal), the number of classroom teachers and college and university authors is about the same.

Comment: I thought this might be a good time to tell the story of my first publication. I find the story amusing today (2009), but I did not feel that way at the time I submitted the article for publication in 1981. I included this story of my first attempt at publishing in my book, Teaching English, How To…. 2004, Xlibris.

My First Attempt at Publishing

The Topic of My Article: Reading Professional journals Quickly and Efficiently
The topic of my first published article was how to find time in a busy schedule to read professional journals. Professional journals are a most valuable source of useful ideas and teaching techniques. They shed light on important issues in teaching English. However, as a teacher, I had little time for such reading, so I experimented and found a method that helped me gain the most from the limited time I could allow for reading professional materials. I learned early in my career that many professional articles were not worth my time, so I developed a method for sampling that helped me find quickly the main points of each article and just enough of the supporting details to answer my questions.

First, I would read the title, sub-title, the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the article. Usually, this brief minute or two of reading was enough to tell me whether the article was worth reading in more detail. If I had no more interest in the article, I would jot a brief summary at the beginning of the article to help me remember its essential idea and would move on to the next article.

However, if I wanted to know more, or if I had questions to which I wanted answers about the ideas in the article, I would read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph between the first and last paragraphs. Again, this sampling of the first sentences of paragraphs did not take long, but it often gave me the details that I needed to answer my questions.

If I still had questions, I would read the entire article. That did not happen often, maybe one article a journal, but usually my sampling was enough to give me the main ideas and supporting details of almost every article in the journal. In fifteen minutes’ reading I would gather any number of valuable ideas.

Having tried successfully this technique of reading professional journals with teachers in my school district, I decided to write an article on the technique and to submit it to The Reading Teacher, a journal for reading specialists and elementary classroom teachers.

A Judgmental Review of My Article: Not Very Helpful
I worked hard on the article, never having tried to write for professional journals before. When I finished what I thought was a really good article, I brought it downstairs for my wife, an elementary teacher, to read—a mistake. She was on the couch reading the newspaper. I asked her to interrupt what she was doing to read my article; then I sat on the stairs, waiting for her to tell me what a brilliant piece of work I had produced.

Instead, she showed every evidence of being bored. She started to read. Then she leafed through the pages to see how long it was. She shifted her position, put the article down, picked it up again, then obviously began skimming in order to finish in a hurry. I grew tense. I grew angry.

Finally, she held out the article to return it to me. “I’m not very smart,” she said. “I think this is written for people who are smarter than I am.”

“But it’s written for people just like you,” I blurted. “It’s written for elementary teachers.”

She shrugged and I exploded.

“All right,” I said, stomping back up stairs. “I’m sending this in, and you’ll see!”

It was I who would “see.” The article came back with whole chunks of text eliminated by the peer reviewers. In addition, one peer reviewer said, “Everyone knows this. Not recommended for publication.” However, the editor said that if I were to find information on how much professional reading teachers did and other articles on encouraging professional reading to which I could relate my idea, she would consider publishing it if I resubmitted.

I should have known to provide background information before launching into my idea. After all, I’d read a great number of professional articles and that practice is standard.

I had to go to my wife and admit, “You were right.”

“I need your help,” I said. “I need you to review what I write. But we’ve go to change the way we do it. The minute you started to make negative judgments about my article, I hit the ceiling. Even telling me it was great wouldn’t have helped me to improve it.”

How Readers Can Help in Revising
We finally agreed that she would read my articles, that she would make no judgments, negative or positive, but would ask questions any time something I wrote was not clear. It worked perfectly. Her questions were non-judgmental, simply asking what I meant when I said such and such. I clarified ideas that she asked about, included background information on teachers’ professional reading, and resubmitted the article, which was accepted and appeared as the lead article in The Reading Teacher for January of 1982.

In my next blog, I will tell you about my experience with the mysterious workings of the writing process. In the following blogs, I will give you some tips on how to publish in professional journals. RayS.

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