Thursday, September 30, 2010

Topic: Family Writing Nights.

10-second review: The family gathers—moms, dads, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, etc.—at the school and writes.

Title: “Of Pizza and Poetry and Writing That Matters.” P Kittle. Voices from the Middle (September 2010), 41-42.

Summary: The author begins by having the family members list two topics that they could write about right now.

Comment: Why not? RayS.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Topic: An Interesting Idea--Teachers Create Books

10-second review: In South Africa, when supplementary books were needed, teachers wrote and published books about their experiences.

Title: “Opportunity Matters: The Ithuba Writing Project in South African Schools.” M Sailors, et al. Voices form the Middle (September 2010), 8-16.

Summary: 142 teachers wrote books about their experiences in their native language for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders. Illustrators were a part of the books’ production. An editorial committee provided a guarantee of quality. Although donated books were brought in, the costs of shipping and handling were expensive, while the cost of the teachers’ books was just 25 cents.

The teachers’ books were read by the students with enthusiasm. The books were about familiar personal experiences and in their own languages. One of the recommendations that resulted from this project was to have students publish their own books about their personal experiences.

Comment: Barbara Stopper, a first-grade teacher, from the Downingtown School District, Downingtown, Pa., developed an inexpensive method for students to create their own books about their personal experiences. She folded four or five sheets of 8 1/2” x 11” paper length-wise and stapled them at the cease. Students wrote on one-half of each page in pencil and, when finished, illustrated the ideas in the text on the other half of the page. She met with each student to help them correct spelling, punctuation, etc.

The idea could be adapted to books for middle schoolers. RayS.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Topic: Video Games vs. Books

10-second review: Each medium—video games, books, TV and radio—has its own niche. They are not at war with each other. One point of view.

Title: “Video Games and Digital Literacies.” C. Steinkuehler. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2010), pp. 61-63.

Quote: “Based on their somewhat unsavory appearance at times, video games have an unfortunate reputation with many parents and teachers despite a growing body of scholarly work in literacy studies investigating their merits…. The Reading at Risk report (Bradshaw and Nichols, 2004) and other such documents position games and books in diametric opposition to each other, with games presumed to be one of the causes of a decrease in students’ reading despite evidence that problematizes (if not contradicts) such claims.”

Quote: “Today’s youths are situated in a complex information ecology within which video games are only one small, albeit important, part. From this view, video games could no more replace books than television could replace radio; rather each digital medium settles into its own ecological niche and, as a part of that niche, its own complex relationship with every other medium.”

Comment: It’s a matter of time. With time spent on computers, the Internet, Ipods, video games, cell phones, etc. the time for reading shrinks. It has to. It’s a logical inference. However, much of what is on the Internet is printed words. And I’m not sure that reading has always been the priority that teachers believe it should be, except for the core of students who set aside a part of each day for it. Even then, what do we mean by “reading”? Is it the kind of stuff that teachers consider serious literature? What about “chick lit” and Westerns, SciFi, whodunits? And specialized magazines? I think in the long run, people use reading as they wish and always have. RayS.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Topic: An Interesting Problem in Teaching

10-second review: If you ever wished as a teacher that you had more clearly explained the answer to a question, the authors offer some suggestions for how to guide students to the right answer.

Title: “Real-time Teaching.” D Fisher, N Frey and D Lapp. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2010), 57-60.

The Problem: “Have you ever thought that you should have said something differently when your students appeared to still not understand after you responded to them? Have you wondered how you could have better explained a complex concept? Realizing that how we respond to an incorrect answer significantly influences students’ eventual understanding, teachers daily ponder the best ways to offer verbal scaffolds that support their students’ understanding. Of course, saying ‘You’re wrong’ isn’t going to result in increased learning, but simply supplying the correct answer isn’t going to do the trick either.”

Quote: “During guided instruction, the teacher poses a question for students to consider. The question should be designed to assess both student’s understanding of the topic and their ability to synthesize and evaluate information. “

The second step provides prompts to the student. For example, a teacher might prompt a student by saying, ‘Consider what you would do in this situation…..’ ”

Third step: Cues to shift attention. Cue the learner in a more direct way by guiding students’ attention to something missed or not noticed.

Finally: Direct explanations and modeling—when prompts and cues fail to resolve the error or misconception, the teacher can provide the student with a direct explanation while modeling his or her thinking.

Comment: All of these steps require thinking on one’s feet. I think the last step is the most interesting. Give the student the answer, but tell them how you arrived at it. RayS.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Topic: Morphology

10-second review: A Principle for teaching morphology.

Title: “Morphing Into Adolescents: Active Word Learning for English-language Learners and their Classmates in Middle School.” MJ Kieffer and NK Lesaux. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2010), 47-56.

Principle: “Morphology should be taught in the context of rich vocabulary instruction. Teaching about word parts is most successful when teachers combine it with rich and direct instruction in specific words.”

Comment: Use words that are unfamiliar and useful in breaking the word into affixes or roots that provide clues to meaning –alter ego–other self, ambidextrous—both hands are “right hands” or skilled hands. These can lead to other words—egotist, egoist, alternate, alternative, ambivalent, etc.

In pre-teaching words from a textbook chapter, for example, note, especially, words that have affixes or roots that provide clues to meaning and can be the source of related words.

The best commercial vocabulary book on the market is Norman Lewis’s Word Power Made Easy. You can find it on It is organized around affixes and roots and makes learning words, not only easy to remember, but fun, rewarding, and entertaining. The words he teaches are the kinds of words that used to be on the SAT Verbal Section, three-fourths of which was based on vocabulary—antonyms, analogies and sentence completions. RayS.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Topic: Multimodal Composition

10-second review: The need to move students beyond print in composition to include technology.

Title: “Shrek Meets Vygotsky: Rethinking Adolescents’ Multimodal Literacy Practices in Schools.” KA Mills. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2010), 35-45.

Quote: “Multimodality is now central to the literacy practices of youth and adults in the globalized communication environment…. Teachers are being urged to include new literacies using digital media to make connections between the learning spaces of home and school.” P. 35.

Quote: “This is an age of multimedia authoring where competency with written words is still vital, but is no longer all that is needed.” P. 36.

Quote: Schooling came into existence to expose youth to knowledge beyond their realm of lived experience.” P. 40.

Quote: “This means that schools have a greater responsibility to introduce the new literacies than has been recognized. Creating space for students to make connections with popular and multimodal texts in the English classroom is necessary, but not sufficient, to prepare adolescents for social and civic participation. Students need guidance by experts that moves them beyond the known to the new. It is time for Shrek to meet Vygotsky in the multimodal literacy practices of adolescents at school.” P. 44.

Comment: Vygotsky’s theory was that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition. I’m not quite sure what this theory has to do with the use of multimodal composition. It has been my experience that teaching students how to write is almost a full-time job in itself and I am not all that sure about the uses of pictures, films, etc. as primary modes of composition. I think the primary mode of expression is with text followed by supporting media. I’m not denying the fundamental nature of film, Internet, etc., as texts in themselves, but they all begin with printed text. RayS.