Monday, August 31, 2009

Topic: The Varied Language of Writing

10-second review: Students should pick their own topics, purposes and audiences which will allow them to experiment with varieties of English.

Title: “Self-Directed Writing: Giving Voice to Student Writers.” K B Lovejoy. English Journal (July 2009), 79-86. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “When students are given opportunities to write about their own topics and to write for different purposes and audiences, they learn that language need not be rigid as they might have thought.” p. 84.

Comment: An interesting point of view. I always felt the need to teach students to write in formal, standard English. As a result, I tried to eliminate in writing “speakwrite,” or language that is informal, like the language students use when they speak.

I think if I had to do it over, I would adopt this author’s point of view two or three times a year and maybe more often. I would still emphasize formal, standard English and I always have allowed students to pick their own topics. But, in establishing different purposes and audiences, students could vary the level of language from informal to formal, depending on the audience. An interesting idea. RayS.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Topic: Reading Aloud Marathon

10-second review: Students read aloud, one by one, some in pairs, Kerouac’s On the Road throughout the day and into the night. When one student finished reading aloud, another took over. Some read well, some poorly. They all became involved in the book.

Title: “ ‘Ripples in the Upside-Down Lake of the World’: A Read-Aloud Marathon.” D Iasevoli. English Journal (July 2009), 74-78. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “…a celebration of the life that we, as students of literature, put into printed matter. On October 21, we made some words fly off the page. High school seniors were able to forget, for a few hours that day, that they were responsible for getting something out of their books. Instead, they lived with the book, in the book’s time, or it became a part of them, of their hearts and minds, as they read within a group of readers.”

Quote: “It transformed the school setting for them. By the time students have entered high school, they read (and, to a lesser degree, also write) as lone minds…. But as these seniors experienced, when their eyes dissolved with too many words, their egos also dissolved and they joined in a community play with words.”

Comment: This was spontaneous reading aloud. I understand its purpose. Still, I think there is room for a more structured marathon. That way students can practice before reading aloud. An interesting idea. RayS.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Topic: JK Rowling, Harry Potter and Rhetorical Devices

10-second review: So you think Harry Potter is just kid’s stuff. Check out the rhetorical devices you will find in the Harry Potter books.

Title: “Naming Tropes and Schemes in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Books.” DLF Nilsen and AP Nilsen. English Journal (July 2009), 50-68. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: You can find all of the following rhetorical devices in the Harry Potter books: allegories, allusions, archaisms, circumlocutions, hyperbole, incongruity, irony, paradox, oxymoron, innuendo, meiosis, metaphors, similes. metonymy, synecdoche, paralipsis, adolphasis, periphrasis, personification, synesis, synesthesia, alliteration, anagrams, anaphora, apposition, assonance, cacophony, euphony, chiasmus, puns.

In the article, the authors explain each of these rhetorical devices and give examples from the Harry Potter books.

Comment: This article is a “keeper.” Write to to purchase a copy. RayS.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Topic: Engaging Students in Writing Humor

10-second review: Some funny writing situations

Title: “Comic Relief: Engaging students Through Humor Writing.” BA Goebel. English Journal (July 2009), 38-43. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


Definitions: Try writing definitions for made-up words like the following: pod snob, word of mouse, beepilepsy, jargonaut, for example.

Association brainstorms: “…students are given a character in terms of profession---firefighter, police officer, dog-catcher, gardener—and then asked to brainstorm as many verbs as they can that might metaphorically describe a physical or psychological condition. For example, in describing how a firefighter might feel, coming home from work, one might list burned up, torched, fired up, steaming and not too hot.” p. 39.

Fractured clich├ęs: “If at first you don’t succeed, quit.” W.C. Fields. “If all the world’s a stage, it’s time to change the director.” Russell Goebel.

Rule of three: “he was my dream date, tall, dark and dumb.”

Lists: “Top ten signs you’re watching a bad monster movie.” David Letterman.

Rewrite funny passages: Identify the funniest passage. Explain why it is funny. Write a brief description of how to write a passage like this. Write a brief emulation that captures the form and style of the chosen passage while using content of your choosing.

Students look for things that make them laugh, then share with the rest of the class.

Comment: I bet they’ll have a heckuva time explaining why it’s funny. Why not a unit on humor? I know. Don’t bother to answer that question. It won’t help improve students’ scores on high stakes tests. RayS.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Topic: Best Practices

10-second review: Author has decided that “Best Practices” are what works for each individual teacher—as opposed to the No Child Left Behind law that mandates “Best Practices” based on research. for all teachers of reading. The individual teacher has to make the judgment of “what works.” Which defines teachers as professionals.

Title: “Is It Time to Abandon the Idea of ‘Best Practices’ in the Teaching of English?” Peter Smagorinsky. English Journal (July 2009),15-22. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: I think that Smagorinsky is reacting to the kinds of scripted lessons that seem to have been put in place following the No Child Left Behind law. His belief that teachers need to adapt “best practices” is another one of those ideas that seems to be just plain common sense. Long ago, I learned that borrowing an idea from a professional journal meant that I had to adapt the idea to the students with whom I worked. In fact, I learned that I needed to try the idea myself on myself before I would attempt to use it with my students. “Best Practices” are and should remain recommendations. I think I would call them “Promising Practices.”

As a side note, the National Council of Teachers of English has been defining “best practices” for years with its resolutions, statements and guidelines. Obviously, teachers must be informed of and reflect on these ideas. They are produced by thoughtful, experienced teachers. But once again, teachers need to adapt these ideas to the classes and individuals with whom they work. The guidelines for teaching writing (2004), for example, state that the conventions are important so that readers’ expectations are met and readers are not distracted by “mistakes.” But how to teach the conventions is an issue. Formal grammar? Functional grammar? Teachers have to decide what will work with their classes. RayS.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Topic: Response to Literature

10-second review: Students draw stick-figure comics of scenes in novels, short stories and nonfiction.

Title: “Teaching for the Fun of It.” K Mitcham. English Journal (July 2009), 13-14. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Why? It’s fun. Begin by having the students recall a list of scenes in the book or story, one way of reviewing what occurred in the book. Rendering the comic strip in pencil helps to implant the scene in the students’ minds. The students’ rendering of the scenes could lead to discussion of interpretation. Characters’ quotes could come directly from the book. Requiring only stick figures takes away the need for artistic skill, which many of us do not have. Could be used in any review of outside reading. RayS.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Topic: Our Schools are "stuck in the mud."

10-second review: Nothing much has changed in our schools in the twenty-first century.

Title: “Shaping New Literacies Research: Extrapolations from a Review of The Handbook of Research on New Literacies.RJ Tierney. Reading Research Quarterly (July/August/September 2009), 322-339. A publication of the International Reading Association (NCTE).


(1) “In North America, paper and pen technologies still dominate….

(2) “Inside-the-head versus social models of learning guide teaching and testing….

(3) “Print seems to remain more privileged than images….

(4) “And apart from keyboarding and the use of a few other tools of technology…the technology changes that are contributing to changes in our lives outside of school are not occurring within the confines of our classroom or school lives.” p. 338.

Comment. Some quick responses:

(1) The reason we’re using paper and pen technologies is that students need experience with all forms of communication technologies. Also, they are technologies that are still comfortable for many people. When I know what I am going to talk about, I use word processing. When I don’t know what I am going to say, I use yellow pads and pencil. I still think that the best purpose for word processing is for genres (memos) that don’t take much thinking or in revising and editing of serious communications.

(2) Someone is going to have to prove to me that “social learning” is more important than inside-the-head (individual) learning and producing in society.

(3) Images will never be superior to print for the communication of ideas. Images support the ideas in print.

(4) Someone always wants to replace reasoned discourse with the latest technology—forget the organization of expository writing and substitute in writing class texting, twittering and e-mails with carelessly organized, sloppy diction and grammar, the very opposite of thoughtful writing. RayS.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Topic: Amelia Bedelia, Ambiguity and Comprehension Instruction

10-second review: Showing third-grade students how to manipulate the ambiguous meanings in the Amelia Bedelia series improved comprehension on one measure, but not on a longer, standardized group test.

Title: “Using Semantic Ambiguity Instruction to Improve Third Graders’ metalinguistic Awareness and Reading Comprehension: An Experimental Study.” M Zipke, LC Ehri and HS Cairns. Reading Research Quarterly (July/August/September 2009), 300-321. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: "Metalinguistic awareness (MA) is the ability to focus on and manipulate the formal properties of language—specifically, the ability to analyze, think about, talk about or play with language as an object separate from its meaning in or out of context.” p. 300. [Becoming aware of words as words can improve comprehension? RayS.]

Example of Ambiguity: “The man’s nails were sharp.” Could be his fingernails or razor-sharp extensions or the set of nails with which he was building something. p. 301.

Quote: “Ambiguity detection qualifies as a type of metalinguistic awareness in that students much consciously wield control over their mental processes and recognize that words and sentences have double meanings and to re-process those meanings.” p. 317.

Quote: “This research also holds implications for reading comprehension instruction. Present findings suggest that teaching children to manipulate language, write riddles, and read ambiguous text, such as the popular children’s series Amelia Bedelia, increases their understanding of ambiguity and their reading comprehension.” p. 317.

Comment: Another example of how children’s literature can contribute to improving reading comprehension. The first time I, a secondary teacher employed as K-12 Supervisor of Language Arts, read Amelia Bedelia, I couldn’t stop laughing. What a delightful experiment. And I don’t doubt that students’ comprehension would improve when students enjoy sorting out the double meanings. You’ll need to read the full article to learn about the activities the authors used to help third graders understand the concept of ambiguity. RayS.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Topic: Help with Literacy--Literacy Brokers

10-second review: Refugees who do not know English very well can ask for the help of “literacy brokers” to complete tasks involving reading and writing in their daily lives.

Title: “Genres, Contexts and Literacy Practices: Literacy Brokering Among Sudanese Refugee Families.” K. H. Perry. Reading Research Quarterly (July/August/September 2009), 256-276. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The refugee needed help with completing a job application form. The literacy broker introduced her to a phone book where she could find information on her references. She did not know how to use the phone book.

Example of Literacy Brokering

Quote: “I helped her find the hotel’s number [a previous employer] in the yellow pages and the restaurant’s [a previous employer] information in the business section. After we copied the relevant information, I introduced Viola to the three sections of the phone book. The business section, I explained, provided an alphabetical listing of area businesses. The yellow pages also were business listings, but they were organized by category, such as hotels or restaurants, and they also included advertisements. The white pages, I added, listed personal at-home phone numbers. ‘Oh!’ Viola exclaimed, indicating that this information was new to her.” p. 256.

Quote: “This vignette illustrates an example of literacy brokering, when individuals seek informal help with the texts and literacy practices they encounter on an every-day basis….” p. 256.

What Do Literacy Brokers Do?

Quote: “Literacy brokering is a complex activity that may involve one aspect of a text, such as translation of word meanings, mediation of cultural content, or explanation of genre aspects [the phone book] of a printed text, or it may involve many of these aspects all at once.” p. 257.

Where Would One Find a Literacy Broker?

Quote: “Sudanese community members had access to a broad network of support in Michigan—social workers, clergy, sponsoring American families, volunteer tutors, co-workers, neighbors…. The parents reported turning to all of these individuals when they needed help with texts.”

Comment: Not much help on the Internet regarding literacy brokering as described in this article. One definition of “literacy brokering” on the Internet is in helping people with academic publishing—completely unrelated to the literacy brokering described in this article in which people unfamiliar with the English language seek help with everyday literacy tasks.

I guess, wherever adult literacy is taught, one should be able to arrange for help by a literacy broker. Here in Chester County, PA,, the Chester County Library is a sponsor of programs in adult literacy. Another place to look for help might be local colleges or universities. RayS.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Topic: Comprehension

10-second review: Compared three approaches to teaching comprehension to fifth-grade students: content, strategies, and basal reader.

Title: “Rethinking Reading Comprehension Instruction: A comparison of Instruction for Strategies and Content Approaches.” MG McKeown, IL Beck & RGK Blake. Reading Research Quarterly (July/August/September 2009), 218-253. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The Content approach consisted of stopping the students’ reading to ask open-ended questions. The strategies approach focused on teaching summarizing, predicting and drawing inferences. The Basal Reader approach used the questions at the end of the story.

Conclusion: The Content approach (interspersed questions) seemed superior to the strategies approach (summarizing, predicting and inferences). The authors of the study suggested that the focus on strategies distracted the reader from the content of the passage.

Comment: The key to the superiority of the Content approach was interspersing questions at crucial times throughout the reading. Nothing wrong with teaching summarizing, predicting and drawing inferences. The problem seemed to be on the degree to which the strategy rather than the content became the focus. The Basal approach as defined by the authors was based on selected questions at the end of the story in the basal. No mention was made of building background information, pre-teaching vocabulary or setting purpose for reading.

From my point of view, I’m interested in interspersing questions at important points while reading. And I still think the basal approach with all the steps is still a significant method for teaching comprehension. I think the authors unfairly decimated the complete basal approach. RayS.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Topic: Communication and Doctors

Topic: Communication and Medical Personnel

10-second review: Suggestions for improving communication between patients and medical personnel.

Title: “Communicating with Health-Care Workers Takes Effort.” Kathleen Begley. West Chester, PA, Daily Local News (Sunday, July 19, 2009), B1-B3.

Summary: Recognize that doctors are heavy on science and light on working with people. They are impatient with long stories. Organize yourself in advance. Make lists, most important to least important. Body language counts—make eye contact. Take notes. Invite a companion along to ask questions in an unemotional manner. Tell the truth—including your heavy drinking. Blood tests will reveal it anyway. Not being truthful will postpone needed treatment. Be nice. Difficult for anyone to remain positive when facing a continued negative attitude. Doctors are people too.

Comment: This is good advice and I need to remember and refer to it. One caveat: doctors in Pennsylvania can take away your driver’s license. You need to be aware of that if you reveal personal information—like heavy drinking. RayS.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Topic: Authentic Assessments

10-second review: Suggests that teachers need to provide performance-based assessment to supplement the end-of-year standardized assessment to show what students can do that might not be evident in the standardized assessments.

Title: “Authentic Assessment for ELLs in the ELA Classroom.” M DelliCarpini. English Journal (May 2009), 116-119. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Although the author focuses on English Language Learners (ELLs), the same concept of providing performance-based (projects) assessments—what the students can do—would apply to all students. Don’t be satisfied with the end-of-the year standardized assessments without evidence to supplement the results of the standardized tests. Give students a chance to show what they can do in language arts/English through projects. Students could develop PowerPoint presentations, create YouTube films, create Web sites and blogs.

: This article makes a valid point. Don’t sit and wait, without any evidence, to be judged solely by standardized tests. Have students show what they can do. However, my problem is that people pay attention to the standardized tests. A statistic stands out. Will they pay attention to the supplemental project-based, authentic assessments? That’s another article which someone should write. RayS.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Topic: Teacher Training

10-second review: Case studies as a method of helping teacher trainees think about what to do in difficult situations—in the real world of the classroom.

Title: “Using Case Studies.” TW McCann and L Johannesen. English Journal (May 2009), 110-114. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “The use of case studies is an important strategy that merits further discussion…. It would be worthwhile, as part of the teacher training program, for the prospective teachers to grapple together with some of the difficulties they might encounter on the job, such as censorship challenges, curricular inconsistencies, literacy lapses, assessment dilemmas and classroom management difficulties.”

Comment: Articles in professional journals will supply some of these case studies with the advantage of telling how they turned out. Personal experience, of course, will be another source of case studies. And if the trainees are involved in student teaching, they can share with each other problems they are encountering.

On the Internet, case studies seem to be prevalent for teaching science, but much less available for teaching English. Case studies apparently originated in law and business. RayS.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Topic: New Secondary English Teachers

10-second review: One-third of new teachers will leave the profession in three years and one-half at the end of five years. One of the major causes is the failure of individual teachers to match their expectations of teaching and a belief that other teachers don’t have their problems. How can we help new teachers become secure in their profession?

Title: TM McCann and L Johannessen. “Mentoring Matters.” English Journal (May 2009), 108-111. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The authors suggest inviting new teachers to join them over lunch, ask about what they are doing in class, share materials and lessons and ask their views on instructional issues.

Comment: One of the pest pieces of advice I can give to new secondary English teachers is to provide an immediate activity in the first ten minutes of class: a daily spelling test; a 10-minute essay that can be quickly marked for grammar at night; a problem in sentence structure, usage or punctuation the student tries to label and correct. It’s important for students to settle themselves immediately at the beginning of class.

Another useful piece of advice is to give students an index card when they enter the classroom. In the last five minutes of class, they either summarize the class on the card or ask a question. RayS.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Topic: Creative Writing Workshops

10-second review: A negative view of creative writing workshops on campus.

Title: “Show or Tell: Should Creative Writing Be Taught?” Louis Menand. The New Yorker (June 8 & 15, 2009), 106-112.

Quote: “Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.” p. 106.

Quote: “…but a workshop is not a course in the normal sense—a sense of instruction in which some body of knowledge is transmitted by means of a curricular script. The workshop is a process, an unscripted performance space, a regime for forcing people to do two things that are fundamentally contrary to human nature: actually write stuff (as opposed to planning to write stuff very, very soon), and then sit there while strangers tear it apart.” p. 106.

Quote: “There is one person in the room, the instructor, who has (usually) published a poem. But workshop protocol requires the instructor to shepherd the discussion, not to lead it, and in any case the instructor is either a product of the same process—a person with an academic degree in creative writing—or a successful writer who has had no training as a teacher of anything, and who is probably grimly or jovially skeptical of the premise on which the whole enterprise is based: that creative writing is something that can be taught.” p. 106.

Comment: And that’s from someone who actually approves of this process. RayS.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Topic: The Red Pen in Writing Instruction

10-second review: Story of a student who was scarred by a second-grade teacher who red-marked everything she wrote and held up her papers as examples of what not to do when writing. She urges teachers of writing to drop the red pen and encourage students in their writing.

Title: “The Dreadful Red Pen.” Mary Ressler. English Journal (May 2009), 105-106. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English.

Comment: Let’s separate the red pen from the personality of a teacher bent on negatively criticizing the students’ writing. The red pen has its place: after the student has brainstormed, constructed a thesis sentence, written a first draft consisting of paragraphs clearly related to the thesis sentence by means of topic sentences, a summary paragraph and an introduction preceding the thesis sentence.

The first concern is ideas and organization. Let the students judge for themselves unity, clarity and smoothness of expression.

Directions for Students Evaluating Their Own Compositions

Each student has a partner. They do NOT look for grammatical mistakes or spelling. They are looking for ideas and organization.

1. Unity. Fold a paper in half width-wise. Partner reads the draft and writes the main idea on one side of the folded paper. Writer writes the main idea on the other side of the folded paper. Partners compare their main ideas. If they are similar, then the composition is unified. If they are markedly different, the writer should check the thesis sentence, the topic sentences and the summary paragraph to see where the unity has broken down.

2. Clarity. Partner reads the paper silently. Puts question marks in the margin whenever an idea is not clear. Writer notes the ideas that are questioned. Is the idea incomplete? More information needed? If the expression is not clearly expressed, talk out fully what the writer wanted to say and then revise.

3. Smoothness of expression. Instead of the teacher’s “awk’s,” the partner reads the composition aloud. If the partner stumbles while reading the partner underlines the stumbled expression. The writer also reads it aloud and does the same thing. The writer then decides which expressions need to be revised.

Using the word processor, the writer now revises to assure unity, clarity and smoothness of expression.

4. Editing I. The writer first makes corrections according to the spell checker. Then the writer reads from last word to first word looking for spelling mistakes and typos not picked up by the spelling checker. This technique allows the writer to focus on each word in isolation in order to see the misspelling. When writers proofread by reading from the first word to the last, they are likely to concentrate on the ideas and not on the words.

Editing II. Now the writer reads for problems in usage, sentence structure and punctuation and uses the word processor to make changes.

Attention, Red Pens: Now the teacher’s red pen comes into play. The teacher evaluates for unity, clarity, smoothness in expression, spelling, and grammar. But only after the students have had the opportunity to make their own corrections.

The final grade should be in four parts:

Unity: 25 points.

Clarity: 25 points.

Smoothness of expression: 25 points.

Spelling and grammar: 25 points.

That’s how I did it. RayS.

Friday, August 7, 2009

English Education: Teachers in the University

10-second review: “Colleges and universities need English education professors who know what it is to teach five classes a day, accommodate IEPs and still take on extracurricular activities.” p. 96.

Title: “The University Needs You.” Allen Webb. English Journal (May 2009), 95-97. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Maybe you have had an experience like the one I have had: an education professor who has never been a classroom teacher. Or an education professor who was a classroom teacher so long ago that all that remains of the experience are some anecdotes from a lost era. Or an education professor who may have more recent teaching experience but nonetheless still seems strangely disconnected from real classrooms, for the challenges teacher face all the time, from getting students to turn in homework, grading all the papers, addressing curriculum mandates, dealing with parents and vice principals, and so on. Thus my first point: Universities don’t need more education professors who know teaching only in theory, who pay more attention to research and publishing than to what is happening, in the schools, who aren’t themselves good teachers.” p. 95.

Comment: The author urges good teachers in the real world to become education professors. RayS.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Topic: Peer Review

10-second review: Students practice reading aloud from published material to prepare them for reading aloud their compositions to a partner. Author assumes a literature class in which students could practice reading the literature aloud.

Title: “Approaching Authentic Peer Review.” Nelson Graff. English Journal (May 2009), 81-87. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students read their compositions aloud to a partner. The partner’s role is not to fix the composition, but to understand it. The author’s technique suggests many interruptions—at the end of each sentence and each paragraph—to reflect on what has been read. The listener then reads the composition aloud to the writer, with the same interruptions at the end of each sentence and paragraph, with reflections.

Comment: Makes practicing reading aloud an important part of the English program and applies it to reading their compositions aloud. I like the idea of the listener’s purpose: understanding and not fixing the composition. However, I think, after some preliminary practice in reading published material aloud, I would focus just on reading the compositions aloud effectively. That practice would best occur by reading the composition silently before reading aloud.

I disagree with the interruptions after each sentence and paragraph for reflections by the reader. I think I would simply have the reader read the composition aloud and the listener to try to report what has been heard and to raise questions about what is not clear. The writer jots notes on the composition about what the listener has said. I thinks it’s also valuable for the listener to read aloud the writer’s composition to the writer. But first the listener needs to read the composition silently in order to prepare for reading it aloud. RayS.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Topic: Fair Use of Copyrighted Materials

10-second review: Never are the rules for use of copyrighted materials very clear. However, use of copyrighted materials in the classroom, in curriculums and in students’ own work will probably be acceptable if the objectives for using them are clear, if their appropriateness to the objectives is clear and if the user has clearly attributed the sources.

Title: NCTE Guideline: Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, Adopted by the NCTE Executive Committee, November 2008.

Comment: I just waded through eight pages of guidelines for the acceptable use of Copyrighted material in education. It’s like punching a pillow. You keep looking for hard and fast guidelines, but they are surrounded by the soft “probabilities” and “limitations.” My 10-second review above is my best summary of the guidelines as they apply to education, and I think should be comforting to any conscientious teacher who worries about fair use in using copyrighted materials.

But don’t take my word for it. Go to the NCTE Website,, and print you own copy. Here are some quotes that will further ease your mind:

“Myth: If I’m not making any money off it, it’s fair use…. ‘Non-commercial use’ can be a plus in fair use analysis, but its scope is hard to define. If educators or learners want to share their work only with a class (or another defined, closed group) they are in a favorable position.”

“Myth: Fair use could get me sued. That’s very, very unlikely. We don’t know of any lawsuit actually brought by an American media company against an educator over the use of media in the educational process. Before even considering a lawsuit, a copyright owner typically will take the cheap and easy step of sending a ‘cease and desist’ letter….”


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Topic: Real-world Writing Project

10-second review: Recruits a community group, perhaps even a business, and the students complete documents for the organization.

Title: “Teaching Writing for the ‘Real World’: Community and work Place Writing.” M Cox, et al. English Journal (May 2009), 73-80. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A case study of community-based writing. Students and teacher work with a representative from the community group. Students are taught the following concerns about work-place writing: Readability. Page layout (columns, boxes, tri-fold, double-sided). Font choice. Use of white space. Color. Images (logos, icons, art work). Presentation (kinds of papers, color of paper, bindings). Headers and footers. Headings and sub-headings. Textual emphasis: underlining, bold face, italics. Charts, tables, visual aids, photos, etc.

Authors point out possible problems with the project: finding a client and keeping the client engaged. Time constraints. Negative response from the client to the students’ product: make clear that the client does not have to accept the students’ work, but will evaluate the work and show them how to improve it. Collaboration by the students is a difficult process. Suggests giving each member of the group a title, designating the role in the process.

Comment: I like the idea. Sounds like a lot of work, but the writing is real, for a real audience. I know of at least one social organization, the Elks Club in northern New Jersey, that can never find anyone to write their newsletter. Why not let the students try to do it? RayS.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Topic: Teaching Students to Read Aloud Effectively

10-second review: Teaching students to read aloud is an important, but often overlooked, skill in secondary English classes.

Excerpt from Teaching English, How to…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. p. 372-373.

“Round-robin reading,” the practice of having students read aloud a paragraph or two extemporaneously, with each student taking a turn, is NOT the same as teaching students how to read aloud. “Round-robin reading” is a time-waster, a boring activity, accomplishes nothing worth while, and is quite embarrassing to students who do not read aloud well spontaneously.

[Note: Having students read aloud in order to diagnose reading problems is, of course, a good practice, but such an activity usually occurs one-on-one with a teacher or reading specialist and not in public as does “round-robin reading.”]

Reading Aloud Effectively

However, if students practice what they are about to read for the purpose of holding the attention of an audience, then I think reading aloud is a most valuable skill and needs to be taught and, especially, practiced.

How many adults can read aloud effectively? Most U.S. Presidents in my time practiced reading their speeches aloud. Reading aloud is one of the most ignored skills in the English curriculum, and yet it is of great practical value for people who are expected to participate in civic and business organizations. In meetings, the ability to read aloud smoothly and expressively conveys messages effectively. Reading aloud in a monotone while stumbling over the pronunciation of words does not convey messages effectively.

Student should practice what they are going to read aloud. They can practice reading their compositions and reports aloud to parents, siblings, friends, classmates and grandparents—and the mirror—before reading them aloud to the class. The key to successful reading aloud is practice.

Teachers can evaluate the students’ reading aloud as they might evaluate a speech for the purpose of helping the students improve smoothness, articulation and dynamic expression. RayS.