Friday, May 29, 2009

Topic: Re-reading and Discussion

10-second review: After students read a novel or short story, teacher has them re-read difficult passages.

Title: “You Want Me to Teach Reading? Confessions of a Secondary Literature Teacher.” P Monahan. English Journal (July 2008), 98-104. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Sometimes the teacher picks the passage for re-reading, sometimes the students pick it. What makes it difficult to read? The class summarizes it after discussion. They write in their journals how it relates to their personal lives. They discuss it again. “Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the process I am describing is that discussions that follow the re-reading activity are more detailed and provocative than the discussions I once had without the re-reading activity.” p. 103.

Comment: For me, the challenge in this activity is trying to determine what makes the passage difficult to read and to work with the students to develop a strategy to overcome the difficulty. RayS.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Topic: Ethnography As a Writing Assignment

10-second review: Students pick a “culture,” ask a question about behavior typical of that culture and try to answer the question.

Title: “Teaching Ethnography: Reading the Word and Developing Student Agency.” J Arias. English Journal (July 2008), 92-97. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Technically, the author’s use of the term ethnography (see definitions of ethnography on the Internet) is not the same as engaged in by research ethnographers. The “culture” the students choose is a familiar one—high school dances, sports events, dating rituals, etc. One student studied two classes, one taught by a male teacher, the other by a female teacher, to see if girls participated more in one class or the other. Another compared her experiences in two different churches. The key, after selecting a “culture,” is the question they want to answer.

Comment: A challenging assignment for the teacher to prepare and for the students to carry out. It is an assignment, however, in which the writing is authentic. Real writing for real purposes. The students should at least look at the format for published ethnographies to see how to organize their report of the study. RayS.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Topic: Reading as Models for Writing

10-second review: Three purposes for reading in class, including models for writing.

Title: “Long-Term English Learners Writing Their Stories.” LL Jacobs. English Journal (July 2008), 87-91. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “During the school year, the English for Academic Success class read a variety of texts, some intended to provoke authentic discussion, others to model styles of writing, and still others to consider the values of a variety of cultures.” p. 88.

Comment: One factor to consider when choosing a work to be read in class is how it will be used. You might at times use the text for all three of these purposes: for discussion, to understand other cultures and as a model for students to apply in writing. RayS.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Topic: "Why Do We Have to Read This Stuff? It's Dumb."

10-second review: Questions from the teacher helped students think about what they read. These questions included relating what was read to the students’ lives.

Title: “The Art of Asking Questions: Two Classes That Changed My Teaching Life.” Ken Donelson. English Journal (July 2008), 75-78. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Nothing starts a discussion better than a good question. I suggest that good questions start with the students. What do they really want to know? A good question from the teacher will move the discussion along. And one of those questions about the literary work the teacher should ask, if the students don’t, is, “Why read this?” If the students can’t answer that, and the teacher can’t either, maybe they shouldn’t read it. RayS.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Topic: Critical Thinking, Discussion and Civility

10-second review: Analyze discussions in the media. What do you learn?

Title: “Civility: The Right Thing To Teach in Contentious Times.” A F Nilsen. English Journal (July 2008), 65-69. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “It is discouraging that after a presidential debate what gets quoted are the zingers. The ‘winners’ are not the ones who make the most thoughtful suggestions but the ones who interrupt others, talk the loudest, make the quickest comebacks or insults, and compete to keep the attention on themselves.” p. 66.

Comment: The models of uncivil discussion are all over cable television and the radio. Have the students analyze the behavior. Apply it to class discussions. Put together a booklet with the students’ conclusions on how to conduct a civil discussion. RayS.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Topic: Plagiarism

10-second review: Don’t assume students can even define plagiarism.

Title: “Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Teach Students about Plagiarism.” MA Vosen. English Journal (July 2008), 43-46. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students complete a K-W-L chart. In column one (K), they list what they already know about plagiarism. In column two (W) they list what they want to know a bout plagiarism. After discussions about plagiarism, students put in column three (L) what they have learned about plagiarism.

Students develop a definition of plagiarism. They do so after checking Google and sharing what they have learned. The teacher reads a paper written in the past, but leaves out the citations. The students pick out what has been “plagiarized.” Teacher emphasizes in-text citations and works-cited entries. Students make up MLA citations for a variety of different resources from a book with one author to an article on a Web site to an e-mail. Focuses on the difference between paraphrases and direct quotations.

Comment: I have often felt that students plagiarize without realizing they are doing so. This article suggests that teachers not assume students can even define it and encourages discussion of what constitutes plagiarism. She encourages students to ask questions. I suggest that the teacher or English department prepare a booklet on “Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Plagiarism Because You Were Afraid to Ask” in Q & A format. RayS.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Topic: Reading on the Internet

10-second review: Is reading electronic print on the Internet the same as reading print on paper? Do the same Instructional strategies as used with print on paper apply to electronic print on the Internet?

Title: “Assessing the New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: An Informative Interview with W I O’Byrne, et al. at the University of Connecticut.” Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 354-357. A publication of the International Reading Association.

Summary/Quote: “As texts have shifted from printed pages to electronic screens, researchers have wondered whether current models and conceptualizations of reading and writing apply equally well to a drastically new and interactive electronic medium such as the Internet. We wondered, too, whether the skills, strategies and practices that have been validated and used successfully with print texts could be tailored for use in online environments or whether the nature of the new medium requires a dramatic reconceptualization of literate activities and literate practices, which characterize effective reading comprehension.” p. 354.

Comment: I’m keeping my mind open on this one. One thing I have noted with online reading is that the medium seems to me to be much less flexible than reading printed pages. I can turn pages more rapidly in order to skim and scan than I can move down pages of electronic text online. In some ways, the medium of electronic print seems to control my reading similar to how speakers control the attention of the listeners. I’m keeping my mind open. Maybe it’s all in what I’m used to. RayS.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Topic: Fluency in Reading

10-second review: Defines fluency in reading and suggests repeated reading as a good technique to use in developing fluency.

Title: “Repeated Reading of Poetry Can Enhance Reading fluency.” Sherri Faver. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 350 – 352. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quotes: “Reading fluency…must be explicitly taught and modeled.” p. 350.

“…defined a fluent reader as one who accurately decodes words while automatically recognizing them and using the appropriate oral expression while reading. The ultimate goal of a fluent reader is to read at a normal speaking pace while comprehending what is being read.”

“Meyer and Felton (1999) suggested the following three types of repeated reading: read along, in which an adult or teacher reads along with the student; assisted repeated reading, in which students are paired and read in unison; unassisted repeated reading, in which students read the text independently.” (By repeating the reading several times or more, the students become familiar with the text and can therefore begin to practice reading fluently. RayS.)

Author suggests reading the same poem three to five times a week, using one of the three techniques—read along, assisted or unassisted repeated reading. Leads to improved fluency.

Comment: No question. Teaching fluency explicitly is well worth while, an important part of learning to read. Assumes that fluent oral reading leads to fluent silent reading. Does it? RayS.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Topic: SSR--Sustained Silent Reading

10-second review: Alternative to the usual SSR, 15 minutes of random reading in anything the children choose to read.

Title: ‘The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge.” EM Garan and G DeVoogd. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 336-344. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Typically, students just read for fifteen minutes when they engage in Sustained Silent Reading (SSR). The activity builds the habit of reading. Sometimes teachers require a one- or two-sentence summary of what the students have read. Another alternative is to have students sample every literary genre—novel, short story, poems, plays and nonfiction.

Comments: To add to these ideas, I might have students learn how to preview chapters, magazine articles, nonfiction, short stories and novels. Such alternatives give a useful purpose for the reading beyond just developing the habit, which is reason enough.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Topic: What Is Reading?

10-second review: Presents a view of reading with which I (RayS.) don’t disagree, but which I think needs to be extended to apply to the real world.

Title: “The Benefits of Sustained Silent Reading: Scientific Research and Common Sense Converge.” EM Garan and G DeVoogd. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009). 336-344. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “As reading teachers, we recognize the joy that comes from getting lost in the pages of a good book. We fondly recall the books that inspired and changed us as children and that still influence us as adults. As teachers, we want to awaken that love and literacy in our students and invite them to experience that magic in our classrooms. We want them to grow into ‘skilled, passionate, habitual and critical readers’ (Atwell 2007).”

Comment: I suggest amending the last sentence to read, “active, purposeful, reflective readers who use the ideas they have read.”

“Joy” and “magic” might apply to some children’s books, but as children grow older, they are going to be required to read texts they don’t particularly want to read. Students will soon learn that they will not become immersed in every book they try to read. They need to learn how to deal with ideas that do not appear to have much relevance to their personal lives. There are ways to deal with these problems and they need to learn them.

Perhaps, one aspect of reading instruction should deal with, “What do you do when you aren’t interested in reading a particular text? How can you become interested in reading a very long book? What do you do when, as with many books, you encounter a boring part? How do you deal with reading difficult ideas?”

Reading is not always “joy” and “magic.” I think reading educators tend to forget that, especially in the elementary school. RayS.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Topic: Why Teach Writing?

10-second review: Why did American education emphasize reading? Because children should receive the wisdom of society, not challenge or participate in it.

Title: “The Impulse to Compose and the Age of Composition.” K B Yancey. (2008 NCTE Presidential Address.) Research in the Teaching of English (February 2009), 316-338.

Summary/Quote: “As E. Jennifer Monaghan and E. Wendy Sail explain: ‘Society has focused on children as readers because, historically, it has been much more interested in children as receptors than as producers of the written word.” 318.

The author suggests real writing for real purposes and audiences. Using more and more student research as the subject of student writing. Composing multi-media messages. Exploring new composition models.

Comment: Sounds good to me. I think it would be interesting to model alternative composition formats in English education journals. I am not sure readers will appreciate them. They are used to getting in and getting out in the least possible time. Readers are used to the format of “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them.” In a sense the author used an alternative format in this article, multi-media, in that she used illustrations with her text. Frankly, I ignored the illustrations because they added very little to the ideas in print. I still think illustrations are just that—supplements that support the text. RayS.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Topic: Educational Research

10-second review: Suggests a study of how research can be translated into classroom practice.

Title: “Growing Research Practices: Expanding Our Communities and Our Conversations.” Beth Maloch. Research in the Teaching of English (February 2009), 312-315. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “…I want to spend more time in conversations with teachers, exploring together how research translates into classroom practices. What gets in the way? What are the barriers? What facilitates?” p. 315.

Comment: Translating research into classroom practice begins with reflection on the research findings and conclusions. I also think that translating those findings and conclusions into the classroom will mean modification, in order to make them work in the teacher’s particular classroom. RayS.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Topic: Struggling Readers

10-second review: Struggling readers may not improve because of the different identities they choose to assume.

Title: “Struggling Reader, Struggling Teacher: An Examination of Student-Teacher Transactions with Reading Instruction and Text in Social Studies.” LA Hall. Research in the Teaching of English (February 2009), 286-309. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: “Other researchers, however, have posited that the ways students identify themselves as readers and the ways they want others to identify them, can influence their decisions.” p. 287.

“However, they [teachers] are less likely to understand how students’ identities as readers can influence the decisions they make with reading tasks and instruction.” p. 287.

“Teachers may not recognize that the behaviors they request of their students may require them to develop a new identity that they may be uncomfortable with and may also threaten the identity their students are trying to maintain, hide or promote.” p. 287.

“On the surface, it may appear that teachers’ and students’ activities are about cognitive difficulties and motivation, while a closer look is likely to suggest that they are about the identities that are prioritized and marginalized within classrooms.” p. 287.

Comment: This is heavy. Maybe the struggling students do not want other students to think they are accomplished readers. Maybe they are trying to be “cool,” being nonchalant and uninterested in appearing to be achievers. And the source of the reading problem is in how they want to be viewed by the other students.

At first I thought this was a lot of psycho mumbo jumbo. The more I thought about it, I don’t think so. It means the teacher has to go beneath the surface of the students’ behaviors to find the real source of the students’ reading problems.

Interesting. RayS.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Topic: Purpose for Technology

10-second review: Don’t use technology to replicate traditional paper-based activities.

Title: “Tech-to-Stretch: Expanding Possibilities for Literature response.” PE Whitin. Reading Teacher (February 2009), 408-418. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Combine text and images. Compose using technology: slide shows, digital movies. Teacher trainees responded to a book by making a digital movie. (One way of solving writer’s block.)

Comment: Good idea. Interesting to note that the authors don’t believe that using technology as a duplication of paper and pencil activities is an effective use of technology. How does this activity of composing with technology apply to high-stakes tests? And this activity cannot and should not replace instruction in writing. On the other hand, instruction in writing can help in planning slide shows and films. High-stakes tests certainly get in the way of interesting language arts activities. "If it’s not tested, why teach it?" RayS.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Topic: Classroom as Community

10-second review: I don’t know if this article is very helpful. But I’ll summarize it. When students learned how to crochet, they came together as a community.

Title: "The 42nd Crochet: Getting Students hooked into a Literacy Community.” M Boyd and S Kneller. Reading Teacher (January 2009), 434-440. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: How organize a second-grade classroom into a community? Through crocheting as a method for developing fine motor control for improving handwriting, the students began to help each other, came together as a group.

Comment: Frankly, I never thought of crocheting as a way to develop fine motor skills, but the article has a deeper purpose—teaching how students can work together as a community.

My concern is that people on the outside, including parents, will not understand that crocheting supports the development of handwriting skills or language arts skills or the importance of developing an understanding of community.

If we can connect crocheting to reading, writing, etc., then other projects might be used to make language arts a means of interrelating the curriculum, including disciplines other than language arts, and in creating a classroom community. I think this idea is worth thinking about. RayS.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Topic: Early Reading and Personality

10-second review: Students who approach learning to read with a positive attitude succeed in reading. Those who approach the task of reading with a negative, defeatist attitude obstruct their attempts to learn to read.

Title: “Academic Resilience and Reading: Building Successful Readers.” EM McTigue, EK Washburn, and J Liew. Reading Teacher (January 2009), 422-432. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “While there are few formal tools for relating personality assessments to reading instruction, there are informal methods to collect such information. Namely, structured observations during literacy instruction and during storybook reading can provide invaluable information. Key features to observe and consider are (a) engagement and participation levels, (b) self-monitoring, and (c) inquiries for help.” P. 427.

"What are some methods for helping children change their attitudes toward reading? “Modeling, the process of observing and patterning one’s thoughts, beliefs and behavior after an exemplar (Schunk, 1987), represents both a principle and practice that literacy teachers can employ to support resilience in student thinking.” P. 427.

"And don’t forget feedback. Comment on good reading skills and be positive when helping students correct problems with their reading. Have students set specific goals in learning specific skills. These techniques can help children succeed."

Comment: In summary, students who expect to succeed in reading will. Students who don’t expect to succeed, probably won’t. To change the child’s negative attitude toward reading, the teacher should demonstrate a positive attitude toward reading. I think the defeatist and negative attitude toward reading, for whatever reason, is probably one part of children’s reading problems. RayS.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Topic: Family Tree and Writing

10-second review: If you want to find an interesting subject to write about, go back through your family tree. Some interesting characters might turn up.

Title: “A Family-History Voyage.” Jack Harpster. The Writer (February 2009). 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: The author “shook” his family tree and found a great, great grandfather nine generations back who had helped to found the state of New Jersey. Unlike William Penn, he was forgotten and the author delved into research and set the record straight.

Comment: Obviously, the research is technical and will require an adventurous mind to find and use it. But forgotten ancestors can make good stories. RayS.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Topic: Writing, Agents and Publishing

10-second review: How to approach an agent.

Title: “Inside Advice from Top Agents.” SA Johnson. The Writer (February 2009), 18-21. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.


Question: What’s the best way for an author to approach an agent? Query letter via e-mail or U.S. Mail. Short and sweet. Include author’s publishing history. If you want to know how to write a good query letter, check Google. You will find 15, 700,000 Web sites telling you how.

Question: What makes you respond to a query? Well-written query. Brief synopsis (three lines).

Question: What do you look for in a manuscript? Original and compelling stories. Sense of place. Good writing. Reason to keep reading.

Question: What do agents do? Help with revision. Help to prepare the manuscript for submission. Advocate for client throughout the publication process.

Advice? Do your homework. Know the types of material agents work with (find on the Internet). Be wary. If agents say they are agents, they are. The industry is not regulated. Watch out for scams.

Agents consulted for the article: Julie Barer, Susan Golomb. Christopher Schelling. Eric Simonoff. Lane Zachary.

Comment: In general, keep your communications with agents short and to the point. Don’t waste words. Don’t be overbearing. RayS.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Topic: Rejection in Publishing--Why?

10-second review: The Fiddlehead (named of a small fern said to symbolize the sun) is a quarterly Canadian publication that prints poems, fiction, book reviews and essays. What is probably unique about it is that staff members hand-write rejection notices with advice to all contributors. What are the most significant problems causing rejection?

Title: “The Fiddlehead.” M Hart. The Writer (February 2009), 48. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Most frequent reasons for rejection? Weak openings and conclusions.

Comments: Writers appreciate the personal touch even though they have been rejected. RayS.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Topic: Writing Memoirs

10-second review: Review of the book, The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 Valencia Guide to Writing Your Memoir. Ed. J Traig. Holt, 256 pages. One piece of advice about how to make an event interesting to readers.

Title: “Worthy Memoir Tips.” S Weinberg. The Writer (February 2009), 45. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Sean Wilsey, who formerly worked for The New Yorker, suggests that if you are going to write about an event in your memoir, interview as many people as possible who observed or participated in the event, offering different points of view and adding details that enrich the description of the event.

Comment: Sports writers do the same thing after a game. The writers interview different people who were part of it, deepening the experience of the game and offering as well different points of view. I think Wilsey is suggesting that interviews are an important part of memoirs. RayS.