Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Topic: Writing Fiction

10-second review: Be sure you are showing and not telling.

Title: “9 Signs You’re Telling, Not Showing.” LJ Peterson. The Writer (May 2009), 13. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Write a first draft as quickly as possible and then go back to analyze your scenes to make sure you are not simply telling instead of showing. Nine symptoms that you are telling and not showing:

1. Too many cerebral verbs: think, feel, hope, suspect, fear, regret and understand, for example.

2. Weak verbs: entered, moved, went, fell, rose.

3. Use of the verb to be: Produces static writing: be, am, is, are, was, were, and any verb ending in be, being or been.

4. Adverbs: They “weaken action.”

5. Missing senses. Use senses in addition to the visual—hearing, taste, touch and smell.

6. Non specific adjectives: “an old man”; “decrepit house.” Use specific images.

7. Generic nouns: children, building, vehicle—no specific image.

8. Narrative summary: summarizing what happened instead of showing it happening.

9. Overloaded dialogue: too long or too much information.

Comment: In the article, the author provides solutions to each of these problems. This advice applies to students who are writing narratives in describing incidents and scenes, as well as fiction. RayS.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Topic: Plot

10-second review: A plot is not an incident. A plot is a series of incidents leading to a crisis.

Title: “What a Plot Is, and What It Is Not.” Mona Farnsworth. The Writer (May 2009), 9. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary/Quote: “A plot is a situation, as intricately involved as life itself, peopled with characters who have a problem and who, through the unfolding of your plot, solve it. It requires a series of incidents—between 20 and 25 probably—to advance your action and bring the whole thing to a crisis.” p. 9.

Comment: In my literature class, this writer’s definition of a plot would enable me to help students distinguish between an incident and a plot and could be applied to creative writing. Leads to the question, “How is an incident different from a short story?” RayS.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Topic: Trailers to Promote Books

10-second review: You’ve seen trailers for movies. Publishers and bookstores are producing trailers for books to encourage people to read them.

Title: “Publishers Roll Out Book Trailers.” The Writer (May 2009), 8. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary/Quote: “As with movie previews, book trailers give the audience a taste of the book in the hope that they will want more. They are becoming a common marketing tool on sites such as You Tube, My Space and publishers’ Web sites.” p. 8.

“A section on Barnes and Noble’s Web Site includes trailers for classics like Gone with the Wind or excerpts from Huckleberry Finn read by well-known authors…. Borders plays book trailers on TV screens in its book stores.” p. 8.

Comment: A no-brainer. Beats book reports. Students write and film book trailers that entice other students to read the books. However, I checked out some examples on the Internet and they did not impress me. First, the background music was too loud and intrusive, distracting me from the pictures and the text. The pictures destroyed my imagination with regard to the characters and the setting. Too real. The text was wiped away before I could read even half of it. I think the idea of the book trailer is worth expending some creativity on producing one, but the ones I have seen as examples did not sell me on the books they were promoting.

Individuals can create their own book trailers by sampling novels and nonfiction which lead to readers’ becoming immersed in reading. If my readers are interested in this concept of sampling, write to me at raystop2@comcast.net and I will give you some details of how to sample or preview reading materials. RayS.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Topic: Professional Development

10-second review: Professional development requires a philosophical base, a research base and illustrative good practices.

Title: “Support, Resources, and Challenges for Teachers in Forming Professional Communities of Inquiry.” J. Avila. Language arts (March 2009), 311. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Thoughts on professional development. Workshops begin with a problem. Participants read theoretical, practical and research reports in professional journals and in books dealing with the problem. The resulting curriculum should contain lesson plans that reveal in detail the solution to the problem.


1. Problem: Teaching fifth-and sixth-grade students to write exposition.

2. Research: Participants read articles and books, including research, on teaching the writing process.

3. Lesson Plans: The members of the workshop plan and teach to the group illustrative practices, including brainstorming, models of the expository format, main idea, middle paragraphs with topic sentences, summary paragraph, introductory paragraph, revision and editing.

The problem with most summer workshops is that the participants produce the curriculum but the teachers who did not participate do not understand how to use the information. Providing model lesson plans explains how to resolve the problem to those other teachers, who can try the lesson plans in their classes and provide evaluative information. RayS.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Topic: Small-Group Discussion (3)

10-second review: Roles in Working with Small Groups: Familiarizing and Practicing Roles

Title: “Small-Group Discussion.” Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004, pp. 299-303.

To familiarize students with these roles, Litsey suggests having students view a video tape of a group discussion. Each student in the class is assigned to observe one of the members of the group. After viewing the discussion, the students fill out the following evaluation form:

Name of Rater …………………. Name of Participant …………………

Directions: Circle the number which you think most closely approximates the extent to which the ‘ratee” has been each of the following.

(1) Not at all (2) A little bit (3) To some extent (4) Fairly Much (5) A Great Deal

Initiating 1 2 3 4 5

Information Seeking 1 2 3 4 5

Information Giving 1 2 3 4 5

Clarifying, Elaborating 1 2 3 4 5

Summarizing 1 2 3 4 5

Consensus Testing 1 2 3 4 5

Encouraging 1 2 3 4 5

Expressing Group Feelings 1 2 3 4 5

Harmonizing 1 2 3 4 5

Compromising 1 2 3 4 5

Gate Keeping 1 2 3 4 5

Setting Standards 1 2 3 4 5

Blocking 1 2 3 4 5

Aggressiveness 1 2 3 4 5

Seeking Recognition 1 2 3 4 5

Playboy 1 2 3 4 5

Deserter 1 2 3 4 5

Dominating 1 2 3 4 5

Another way in which to familiarize students with these roles would be to stage a small group discussion in which each student in the group plays one of the roles.

After participating in a group discussion or project, students could rate themselves, using the above scale, on which roles they think they played.

Litsey also suggests an evaluation form to be completed by each individual at the conclusion of a group discussion or project:

Our Effectiveness As A Group

Scale: 1…..2…..3…..4…..5…..6…..7…..8…..9…..10

Low High

1. ………. Members of the group felt free to state their real opinions.

2. ………. The group defined its task.

3. ………. All members accepted the responsibility for the outcome of the meeting or project.

4. ………. All members of the group were productive.

5. ……….. All members of the group feel positive about the work n this session.

Copyright (1969) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Comment: Teaching students how to work in small groups requires a complete teaching effort. Like it or not, participating cooperatively in small groups is how the work of business and democracy is accomplished. Students need to learn how to help small groups work cohesively. RayS.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Topic: Small-Group Discussion (2)

10-second review: Roles in Working with Small Groups: Task Roles and Self-Serving Roles

Title: “Small-Group Discussion.” Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004, pp. 299-303.

Assuming clearly expressed goals, maintenance roles are positive in helping the group to achieve its goals. So are the “Task roles.” Not so, the “Self-serving roles.”

Task Roles

1. Initiating: Proposing tasks or goals; defining a group problem; suggesting a procedure.

2. Information or opinion seeking: Requesting facts; asking for suggestions and ideas.

3. Information or opinion giving: Offering facts; stating a belief; giving suggestions or ideas.

4. Clarifying or elaborating: Interpreting or reflecting ideas and suggestions; clearing up confusion; indicating alternatives before the group; giving examples.

5. Summarizing. Pulling together related ideas; restating suggestions after the group has discussed them; offering a decision for the group to accept or reject.

6. Consensus testing. Checking with the group to see how much agreement has been reached.

Self-Serving Roles

1. Dominator: Interrupts, embarks on long monologues; is overpositive; tries to lead group; asserts authority; is autocratic; monopolizes.

2. Blocker: Interferes with the progress of the group by rejecting ideas; takes negative attitude on all suggestions; argues unduly; is pessimistic; refuses to cooperate.

3. Deserter: Withdraws in some way; is indifferent; aloof; excessively formal; daydreams; doodles; whispers to others; wanders from subject.

4. Aggressor. Struggles for status; boasts; criticizes; deflates ego or status of others.

5. Recognition-seeker. Exaggerated attempt to get attention by boasting or claiming long experience or great accomplishments. [Been there, done that. RayS.]

6. Playboy type: Displays a lack of involvement in the group process by horseplay; inappropriate humor; or cynicism.

Comment: Discussion of these roles is always interesting. RayS.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Topic: Samll-Group Discussion (1)

Topic: Small-Group Discussion (1)

10-second review: Roles in Working with Small Groups: Maintenance Roles

Title: “Small-Group Discussion.” Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004, pp. 299-303.

Small-Group Discussion

“A second skill in speaking (after formal speech) is the small group discussion (related today to ‘cooperative learning,’ or group projects), which, in my experience, at every educational level, has been a complete waste of student time. Usually ‘getting into small groups’ meant ‘BS-ing’ about irrelevant topics, and group projects usually became the responsibility of one or two people in the group to complete the project. However, in the real world, group projects are the way in which the world’s business is completed. Group projects involve a variety of talents in producing results that could probably not be attained by any one individual. Teaching students how to work in groups needs to be taken seriously.

“English teachers have the responsibility to train students in the skills and attitudes needed to participate successfully in small group discussions and projects. They need to teach students how to moderate a discussion and how to act as leaders in projects, how to take notes for later reporting to the larger group and how to analyze the roles of various participants in order to learn what helps a group to achieve its goals and what prevents a group from achieving its goals. As usual, the teachers’ performing these tasks as they work with the students provides models to follow. “

David M. Litsey (1969) suggests 18 roles that people can play in a group enterprise. He divides these roles into three categories: ‘Maintenance,’ ‘Task Roles,’ and ‘Self-Serving Roles.’ ”

Maintenance Roles in Small Group Work

1. Encouraging: Being warm and responsive to others; accepting the contributions of others; giving others an opportunity for recognition.

2. Expressing group feelings: Sensing feeling and mood, or relationships within the group, and sharing one’s own feelings with other members.

3. Harmonizing: Attempting to reconcile differences and reduce tension by giving people a chance to explore their differences.

4. Compromising. When one’s own ideas or status is involved in a conflict, offering to compromise; admitting error; disciplining oneself to maintain group cohesion.

5. Gate-keeping: Keeping communication channels open and facilitating the participation of others.

6. Setting standards: Expressing standards for the group to achieve; applying standards in evaluating group function and production.

Comment: Of course, all of these roles are positive in keeping the group moving toward its goals. But “Maintenance roles” do not say anything about goals. You can’t assume that people understand the goals of the small-group work or project. They must be clearly expressed. And the best people to define the goals in their own words will be the people who are part of the small-group discussion or project. In my workshops, I always began with the problem we were asked to solve. We began by reading professional articles related to the problem. Then we defined the problem and the goals of the workshop. Rays.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Topic: Speaking, Listening and Democracy

10-second review: As suggested by Dewey, overcoming disagreements and conflict and working together to build consensus must be modeled in the classroom consistently through the grades for students to use those skills when they are part of adult society.

Title: “Community Dialogue: The Bridge Between Individual and Society.” Gordon Wells. Language Arts (March 2009), 290-301. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “But sooner rather than later, today’s students will be acting out that stance in practice. In countless situations, day by day, they will be called upon to maintain the status quo by repeating what they have learned from their elders or they will attempt to transform it through their contributions to interpersonal interaction with others. In either case, how they speak and act will be of potential long-term significance, not only for themselves but also for their communities.”

Comment: OK, we’ve heard it all before. The classroom should be a practicing democracy. I don’t know how far “practicing democracy” in the classroom can go. I’ve never really tried.

But we’re actually talking about the skills of speaking, listening and cooperating, which are important and often neglected language arts skills. In my book, Teaching English, How to…. (Xlibris, 2004), I discuss how to help students learn to work cooperatively in small groups. In the next several blogs I am going to reproduce that part of my chapter on speaking, dealing with understanding roles in successful group work. The end result may be better democracy, but it begins with the skills of speaking, listening and cooperating. Rays.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Topic: Publication in Professional Education Journals

10-second review: “Publication Does Not Equal Advocacy.” Just because an article appears in the pages of a professional journal does not mean that the editor of the journal advocates that point of view.

Title: “Publication Does Not equal Advocacy.” Louann Reid. English Journal (May 2009), 11-12. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author of this “Letter to EJ,” Louann Reid, former editor of the English Journal from 2003 until 2008, responds to charges that the publication of two articles favoring the use of the five-paragraph essay constituted advocacy by the editor and the journal She rightly points out that both articles were opinion pieces and not subject to scholarly evaluation. However, she makes clear that publishing any article in the journal does not constitute advocating it.

Comment: I have been reading English Journal since 1964. I remember clearly that the guideline for NCTE publications at that time was representation of all points of view regarding issues in English education.

However, when the NCTE began making resolutions concerning issues, editors of its professional publications began favoring—it seemed to me—articles favoring the NCTE’s positions. I watched the appearance of a preponderance of articles trashing the teaching of grammar, the significance of the writing process and the unimportance of the writing product, and now a preponderance of articles in various NCTE journals denouncing the five-paragraph essay as a formula for expository writing.

During the time that Dr. Reid was editor of English Journal, she was a model for what the NCTE used to represent—unbiased selection of articles on all points of view toward controversial English education issues. I, too, need to be reminded of her point in this letter that publication does not equal advocacy. RayS.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Topic: Method of Assessing Discussions

10-second review: Listen for…. Count…. and Look for….

Title: “Discussions in a Fourth-Grade Classroom: Using Exploratory Talk to Promote Children’s Dialogic Identities.” K B Renniger and L Rehark. Language Arts (March 2009), 268-279. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


Listen for the following: The kinds of questions students ask. The length of the responses (should be more than one or two words). The details students use to support their thinking. Chains of reasons.”

Count the following: The number of consecutive students turns. The number of teacher turns. The number of interruptions.”

Look for the following: Student-to-student eye contact. Students looking back to the text.”

Comment: Put these assessments together and you have a pretty good idea of how well students really did discuss. These would be interesting assessments to use at a faculty meeting on the topic of student discussions. Start with what each assessment means and then their implications. Come up with some published guidelines as part of the curriculum for a good student discussion. RayS.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Topic: Reader's Club and Action Research

10-second review: Ten fourth-graders who loved to read met and discussed books they had read in the past and now together. Met twice a week at lunch time. Purpose was to research the experience of reading. 29 initial applicants. 10 selected by lottery. The students were active co-researchers.

Title: “Readers Researching Their Reading: Creating a Community of Inquiry.” LT Parsons. Language Arts (March 2009), 257-267. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Children and teacher were co-researchers in learning about the process of reading.

Quotes: “The children felt their voices were heard and their ideas mattered.” p. 263.

“…the children re-voiced each others’ thoughts, built upon and contested ideas, and moved toward consensus.” p. 264.

“Disagreement and respect for differing viewpoints were essential to knowledge construction.” p. 265.

[As the teacher]: “…during any given session, I raised the opening question, brought us back to topic when the conversation strayed too far a-field, and summarized my understanding of the knowledge being constructed.” p. 266.

“They [the students] examined their thinking, made connections, and contributed insights as they participated in group discussions. They actively participated in coding, analysis and interpretation of data and later elaborated on, verified and clarified my final interpretation. We did indeed work together as co-researchers.” p. 266.

Comment: Interesting concept. Teacher and students worked together on research involving the students’ learning. Love it! RayS.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Topic: Data-Driven Schools

10-second review: Teachers are, through technology, tracking students’ progress, individually and in groups, almost instantly. If, for example, a very young child is able to read only 95% of words accurately, he or she is immediately placed in a special center to give instant help to achieve 100% accuracy.

Title: “Data-Driven Schools See Rising Scores.” John Hechinger. Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2009), Internet.

Summary: Using statistics and anecdotes, Hechinger supports the Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools’ contention that individual students receive quick help when needed, and groups of students do too. Large central database spews out data that is studied for patterns, with reaction following quickly.

“The high-tech strategy…uses intensified assessments and real-time collection of test scores, grades and other data to identify problems and speed up interventions….” p. 1 of 6.

Everything from students who are suddenly and uncharacteristically failing, to using PSAT scores to encourage minorities to take Advanced Placement courses is identified and responded to.

Those unhappy with the very expensive system say that there is too much testing and not enough emphasis on creativity. At least in this article, these objections seem weak and unimpressive.

Comment: Quick intervention with individual and group problems is the purpose of this expensive technological system. I was particularly impressed with notifying parents when a student was beginning to fail. It’s not only standardized tests but also teachers’ personal tests and students' grades that supply the data on each student’s progress.

Hechinger makes the system look good. I know that when I was teaching I could see students beginning to fail and could do practically nothing about it. Data on test scores, compositions, etc. would provide real evidence that could alert students, counselors and parents to do something about it.

That part of the program I like. To the degree that too much testing and test preparation replace teaching I don’t like. It has the feel of industrialization, that we are producing a product, a test score, instead of educating.

Quick response is good, especially if we know and understand what we are responding to. What I like about this system is that it goes well beyond standardized test scores. Teachers teach and provide data on individual and group performance. That data could be as interesting to the student as it is to the teachers or parents. From my point of view, the teacher must make a decision when to supply such data. RayS.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Topic: Pen Pals, Second Graders, Pre-Service Teachers and Math

10-second review: The students made up math problems for their pen pals, second-graders and pre-service teachers. Gave the letter writing purpose beyond the “get-to-know-you.”

Title "Writing a Mathematics Community: A Pen Pal Inquiry Project.” L Norton-Meier, C Drake and M Tidwell. Language Arts (March 209), 245-256. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/quote: “My second-grade students were pen pals with teacher education students this year. They had opportunities to practice their letter-writing skills, which is one of our writing requirements for second grade."

“We sent information about ourselves, wrote math story problems for the pen pals to solve, and answered the math story problems sent by the pen pals. The latter activity required my students to write out their work and their understandings of the math concepts."

“The second-grade students were so proud to have new friends. Their friendly letters improved over the semester as a result of having an authentic audience, and the bond between the students was amazing. I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable my students were in talking and working with their pen pals."

“They had so much fun while working on story problems that they didn’t realize they were actually making themselves work harder trying to “trick” their pen pals by using large numbers and writing complicated problems. Socially and intellectually, it was a big ego boost for my students.” Ms. Larsen. 2nd-grade teacher, interview data, May 2007.

Comment: What an ingenious idea. Second-graders tried to “trick” their pen pals, other second-graders and teacher education students in college, who also had to explain how they solved the word problems. Suggests the use of other subject areas in pen-pal exchanges and inquiries. RayS.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Topic: Reading and Writing Identity

10-second review: Defining a writing identity begins with reading.

Title: “Developing Personal Literacies: Writing Through Reading.” N Paley. English Education (January 2009), 177-186. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: [RayS: I’m going to write the author’s reasons for forging a writing identity through reading. I state clearly that I don’t understand anything of it after the first sentence.]

Reading is fundamental to the development of a thoughtful, writing self. Rich and wide-ranging reading experiences affirm the complex pleasures inherent in the human experience and the communicating of those experiences through writing. Reading helps you see yourself in a more-dimensioned way, which then helps you better see others in the world in a more-dimensioned way, thus helping you better to write something of meaning and critical value about both. Reading provides crucial knowledge to help you identify the politics of your writing interests so that you can understand what you might want to choose to write for in your life, or what you might write against.”

[RayS: The author then gives nine “Tips for Writing”]:

1. Choose a plan. 2. Record every drop. 3. Specify what you hear. 4. Watch yourself separate and describe it as best you can. 5. Don’t look up. 6. Fall through the night. 7. Never trust them again. 8. Return the gift. 9. Good luck. p. 185.

[What do you think of the author’s comments? RayS.]

Comment: In one of my very early writing workshops for fifth-and sixth-grade teachers in 1973, I invited eight writers to address the workshop’s participant. One was a writer of children’s literature, two were newspaper reporters, another was a lawyer and several others wrote as part of their careers, but not to publish. Each of these writers addressed our group, one a day.

The first questions we asked was, “How did you learn to write?” Their answer? “I don’t know, but I never remember being without a book when I was growing up.”

I always ask that question of people whose writing I respect. The answer is almost always, “I never learned to write in school. But I never was without a book when I was growing up.” Of course, these are older and more mature people. The tide begins to swing toward school with the emphasis on writing beginning in the 1970s. Still, my experience has been that people who read learn to write, even without direct instruction in writing. RayS.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Topic: Board Certified Teacher vs. Mandated Assessment

10-second review: The definition of teacher according to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) conflicts with the realistic requirement to spend an inordinate amount of time preparing students for assessments rather than teaching.

Title: Performing ‘Teacher’: A Case Study of a National Board Certified Teacher.” T.S. Johnson. English Education (January 2009), 158-176. English Education is the NCTE’s publication on teacher education.

Summary: A veteran English teacher undergoes the experience of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). However, in her school district, she is constrained to emphasize test preparation rather than real teaching. Conclusion? “Be compliant and selectively defiant.” And remember that Foucauld said, Teachers “are much freer than they feel.”

Comment: I never had the problem that today’s teachers have of substituting test preparation for teaching. And I don’t know what “Be compliant and selectively defiant” means in practice. I have always felt that if I taught students to read and write that they could pass any test. When I taught in New York State, I approached the Regents’ Exam in that way and was quite successful in terms of percentage of students who passed.

But then came the SAT when it was an IQ test—antonyms, analogies, sentence completion and reading comprehension—that had relatively little relationship to what I was teaching in English and I knew that I had to give some time to test preparation. That would be my solution today: Teach students to read, write, speak and interpret literature and work briefly on test preparation. When students know what to expect on the test and understand strategies for taking the test, they are able to do their best.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Topic: Shared Research--University Researchers and Practitioners

10-second review: University researcher and high school English teacher collaborated on planning and implementing a teacher-education course.

Title: “Co-Learning Agreements in Research and Teaching: Another Approach to Collaboration in Teacher Education.” D Zigo and RD Derrico. English Education (January 2009), 135-157. English Education is the NCTE’s publication on teacher education.

Summary: The co-researchers were able to discern the problems in implementing the program they had planned, but they grew as both researchers and teachers.

Comment: I applaud the researchers’ honesty in evaluating what they were doing. It wasn’t easy to admit mistakes and shortcoming in their favorite ideas, but they did: “The manifestations of our work together in teaching and research will hopefully demonstrate to students and colleagues our unflagging commitment to a stance in language arts and teacher education that Bob Fecho calls ‘a practice in process, in a continual state of learning.’ ”

In other words, the researchers found what they should find in completing research—what works and doesn’t work, promising ideas, practices that have problems, and a continuing commitment to learning while they teach. In my opinion, this article is another step forward in improving education. RayS.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Topic: Perspectives on Teaching Poetry

10-second review: Enduring questions about poetry: “Whose poetry is worth teaching?” “Why teach poetry at all—of what real educational value can it be?” “Is it even possible to teach poetry so most students will enjoy and understand it?” The authors studied issues of English Journal from 1912 to 2005 and discovered two approaches to teaching poetry: Formalist and Populist. The authors favor the “Populist’ point of view.

Title: “The Other Tradition: Populist Perspective on Teaching Poetry, as Published in English Journal, 1912 – 2005.” M Faust and M Dressman. English Education (January 2009), 114-134. English Education is a journal concerned with teacher education and is published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


Formalist Perspective—“The best of the English language’s power and range of expression.” Emphasizes “correct interpretation and taste.” Studies rhyme, meter, literary allusion. Acquires appreciation of the cultural heritage. Poems are timeless, self-contained, precious objects. Teach about the lives of poets. Select the greatest poets to teach. p. 116.

Populist Perspective: “Do not explain poems to students. Do not give tests on poetry. Do not be overly concerned with poetic techniques. Do not approach a poem with historical matters. Do not impose the critics on students. Expose students to beautiful, powerful language. Allow time for multiple oral readings of a poem. Lead discussions that encourage a personal relationship with a poem. Teach contemporary poetry first and then go backwards in time. Teach poems you do not fully understand. Teach poems that are accessible to students. Allow students to sometimes choose their poems. Provide opportunities for students to write poetry.” D. Lockward. 1994. “Poets on Teaching Poetry.” English Journal 83(5), 65-70.

Comment: To put this Populist point of view in perspective, I have found that the editors of publications from the National Council of Teachers of English tend to encourage articles that resist the current thinking in the classroom. Since the current thinking during those years (1912 to 2005) was the Formalist and the New Critics’ thinking, you would expect the NCTE’s journal editors to favor the Populist point of view. I’m a middle-of-the-roader, mixing elements of the Formalist and the Populist points of view in teaching poetry.

This article is a “keeper.” If you can purchase it, you should. Go to http://reading.indiana.edu/. RayS.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Topic: Poetic Devices

10-second review: Students looked for poetic devices in lyrics for songs they liked. Color-coded the devices: orange for allusion, blue for metaphor, pink for alliteration, etc.

Title: “Let the Rhythm Move You…to write!” M Uscategui. English Journal (July 2008), 115-117. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: After finding the poetic devices, students played CDs of their favorite songs. They explained why the song was important to them. The teacher introduced students to a traditional poem comparable in some way to the song. They used the genre of the song (narrative, for example) to write in a similar genre. They chose an audience and wrote on the topic of the song to the audience. “They wrote letters to their senator, created public service announcements on PowerPoint, pamphlets and posters.”

Comment: The songs had to be school appropriate. What intrigues me with this activity is that students’ songs in which they found and color-coded poetic devices, led to many related activities in the traditional curriculum. I’m curious about whether the lyrics to their favorite songs are published and available for students to copy and use. RayS.