Friday, December 23, 2011

The Classics

Question: How can English teachers help today’s students relate to the classics in literature?

Answer: Begin with an open-ended question about the classic that relates to the student. In the case of The Scarlet Letter, the “essential” question was, “What is worth risking everything for?”

Comment: While that might not be the question I would choose for this particular work of fiction, it is a relevant question from the point of view of the students. It invites the students into Hawthorne’s romance with a question that applies both to the work of fiction and to the students. An idea worth thinking about. RayS.

Title: “Making the Classics Matter to Students Through Digital Literacies and Essential Questions.” J Ostenson and E Gleason-Sutton. English Journal (November 2011), 37-45.

Note: Taking a week or so off. Will rejoin you on Monday, January 2, 2012, to bring you reviews of what I consider significant ideas in the teaching of English. RayS.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

College Writing Placement

Question: What would happen if college writing placement was assessed with untimed writing that allowed for invention and revision?

Answer/Quote: “No one, however, has yet published research directly comparing essays students have written for the SAT or ACT and the kind of writing students do in our classes—that is, in response to untimed writing tasks that allow for invention and revision.” P. 721.

Quote: “In response to our writing task, the students have to read carefully, interpret information, use note-taking and organizing skills, synthesize and compare information from different sources, decide what to use and what to discard,  and be able to explain the issue clearly to readers who have not studied it as the writers have.” P. 723.

Quote: “I would like to see other research investigating the differences in student performances on the ACT Essay or the SAT Essay and locally developed, untimed writing situations. I believe this research has implications for the use of timed writing samples as a measure of writing ability, but the question of which model more accurately predicts writing performance in academic writing situations still rests, like so much of what we do as writing teachers, on faith.” P. 741.

Comment: I wonder if research has been done on teachers’ assessment of accurate placement based on the timed tests? I’m thinking back to my days in the two-year college. The writing for freshman composition was definitely strong, most students were ready to learn and learned quickly, but I would not want to try to accurately describe its strengths and weaknesses. Too many variations in writing needs. In other words, the timed assessment seemed to work. RayS.

Title: “Online Challenge Versus Offline ACT?” I Peckham. College Composition and Communication (June 2010), 718-745.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prior Learning Assessment

Note: Prior Learning Assessment summarizes the students’ prior work experience and learning in order to award college credits before entering the academy.

 So what? This prior work experience is assessed through the essay and the authors of this article suggest that the essay format has weaknesses which limit the students’ ability to translate the experience into learning.

Comment: This idea of the weaknesses of the essay in assessing prior learning assessment, coupled with the weaknesses of the essay in interdisciplinary writing, suggests the need to develop new approaches to writing at the college level. Intriguing. RayS.

Title: “Composing Knowledge: Writing, Rhetoric and Reflection in Prior Learning Assessments.” C Leaker and H Ostman. College Composition and Communication (June 2010), 691-717.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Writing, Craft and Atomic Energy

Question: Why do we need to write responsibly?

Answer: When we write, we are “crafting”; we are like the people who developed atomic energy. “Crafting” is putting ideas to work. As Albert Einstein famously stated in 1946: “The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking…. The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”

Comment: Crafting is doing. Crafting in writing is putting ideas to work. And we need to be aware of what we are doing when we write because whatever we write has consequences. I guess that’s what this article means. It’s a good thought that doesn’t mean much in the writing exercises of the classroom. Still…. RayS.

Title: “Craft Knowledge of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies.” RR Johnson. College Composition and Communication (June 2010), 673-690.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Much Ado About....

Note: This article takes up a full 32pages of dense, almost unintelligible jargon. After all of this, my readers should be interested in the conclusion to which the article leads. RayS.

“In essence, we have begun a reflective process, endowed by a basic principle: we accept the notion that there is value to be recognized and appreciated in the lives and words of women!” p. 666.

Comment: Duh! How’s that for a shaggy dog story? RayS.

Title: “Feminist Rhetorical Practices in Search of Excellence.” GE Kirsch and JJ Royster. College Composition and Communication (June 2011), 640-672,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Change in Language

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

Alexander Brede, “The Idea of an English Language Academy.” Vo. 26 (September 1937): 560-68.

Quote: “The ;position of linguists today is a whole-hearted acceptance of the fact that change in language is inevitable and not to be deplored and resisted. While it is recognized that a certain uniformity is desirable, it is also recognized that absolute uniformity is not attainable. Correctness of a disputed usage is not to be decided by an authoritative fiat but rather by the Horatian principle of use and custom. But this acceptance of inevitable change was not always the fact. On the contrary, the usual  attitude has been to deplore change.” (560).

Comment: In my course on the history of the English language, the instructor said that if people find a usage too complicated, they will change it. However, to my knowledge, the distinction between “disinterested/uninterested” is still a battle zone. So is the distinction between “lie/lay.”  Also, I’ve noticed in sports commentary, the distinction between the past tense of verbs and the participle is confused: “he had ran/he had run.” The change won’t be in my life time. RayS.

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Significance of NCTE Journals

Question: What are the effects of reading the articles in NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) journals?

Quote: “But what is less available through this perspective is the cumulative effect that NCTE journals have had on their readers over time—how the studies reviewed here made their way (or did not) into the thinking and practices of NCTE members, in their roles as researchers, teachers…and as writers. How did articles sink in? How did the scenes of our teaching and research adjust as a result of our encounters with journals? These are question in need of their own empirical investigation.” P. 213.

Comment: During my three years (1967-1970) as a doctoral student at Syracuse University, I proposed a dissertation topic that was rejected by my adviser. (In fairness to her, I failed to do  my homework. The questions in the preceding quote should have been part of my preparation before bringing the topic to her attention.) What would happen, was my question, if I showed teachers how to read journal articles efficiently, showed them how to find the interesting ideas quickly. I guess I was ahead of my time. Now that the NCTE is 100 years old, questions are being raised about the effects of reading their journals. It may be time to raise my question about the effects of efficient reading of journals again. RayS.

 Title: “Struggles for Perspective: A Commentary on ‘One Story of Many To Be Told’: Following Empirical Studies of College and Adult Writing Through 100 Years of NCTE Journals.” Deborah Brandt. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2011), 210-214.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

100 Years of Research in English


Question: What have we learned about teaching secondary English in the 100 years that the NCTE has been in existence?

Answer/Quote: “First, we have learned that the teaching of traditional school grammar á la Warriner and that ilk does next to nothing to advance a better writing and even correctness in writing.

Second, we have learned that writing is a process, though we may disagree about some important parts of the process.

“Third, we know that real discussion…is essential to learning how to interpret literature….

“Fourth, we know from a very wide variety of studies in English and our of it, that students who are authentically engaged with the tasks of their learning are likely to learn much more than those who are not….” P. 189.

Comment: Traditional school grammar is useless in improving writing or correctness. Writing is a process. Discussion is significant in interpreting literature. Authentic engagement produces better learning. Each of these findings calls for significant discussion. Try them out  on your colleagues. RayS.

Title: “Commenting on ‘Research in Secondary English, 1912-2011: Historical Continuities and Discontinuities in the NCTE Imprint.’ ” George Hillocks Jr. Research in the Teaching of English (November 2011), 187-192.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Artificiality of Freshman Composition

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

Earl L. Vance, “Integrating Freshman Composition,” Vol. 26 (April 1937), 318-323.

Quote: “A common criticism of the Freshman composition course is that, however admirable on the side of technique, it somehow does not tie up with the student’s total educational progress. Granted that it serves very well its special purposes in teaching the student to write acceptable ‘themes,’ with reasonably correct sentences and coherent paragraphs, still it often does not function effectively in improving his writing other than themes. He is taught what George Pierce Baker called ‘traveler’s English’—English to be used for his immediate needs in the course and then forgotten.” (318-319).

Comment: Not to mention the need to write in other disciplines. RayS.

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Warning about Media in 1936.

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

Editorial: “The Writing on the Screen,” Vol. 25 (May 1936), 412-13.

 Quote: “It is more than possible that the screen and the loudspeaker already get more attention and wield more influence than printed fiction, drama and poetry combined; and we have to consider the probability that in the not distant future improved photoplays  and broadcast television are going to make deep inroads upon the present meager reading time of both adults and children. The sooner we set ourselves seriously to deal with photoplays and the radio the better we shall be prepared for this entirely possible metamorphosis of ‘literature.’ If we persist in neglecting our present duty we may find ourselves completely unready to meet the demands of the fourth decade of our century.” (413).

Comment: And that’s not half the inroads on the “meager reading time of both adults and children.” Computers, the Internet, cell phones, texting, cable and satellite TV, computer games, etc. RayS.

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Should Teachers Express Their Own Opinions?

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

Bergen Evans, “English and Ethics,” Vol. 24 (September 1935), 541-45.

Quote: “Those who maintain that the teacher has no right or need to express his personal convictions are not without some justification. A persistent or excessive intrusion of personal approval or disapproval is bad. Everyone has suffered from teachers who made the work being read merely a text from which they expounded their own ideas….” (543-44).

Comment: It’s even worse when a student contradicts the teacher’s convictions on feminism, etc., and the teacher penalizes the student’s writing because of it. I have read several articles in College Composition and Communication by teachers defending this practice. I disagree! RayS.

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advice for Commenting [On Student Compositions]

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

 Robert G. Berkelman, “A Letter to My theme Reader,” Vol. 22 (January 1933), 62-66.

Quote: In order to help rather than condemn, I have found that it is better to word comments positively, even when the criticism must be adverse. That is, instead of stating the faults bluntly, show the writer what virtue he should strive for. To the student a guide-post pointing to improved thought and expression is far more inviting than the flourish of a pruning knife. Which of these comments, for example, would you prefer on an effort of yours: ‘This is clear but rather dull’ or ‘Commendably clear, now aim at liveliness?’ ”  (63-64).

Comment: The idea behind this advice is worth thinking about. RayS.

 Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Freshman Writers Need

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

H.W. Davis, “Mastering Principles of Composition.” Vol. 19 (December 1930), 795-803.

Quote: “People who write well must have something to say to somebody and they must want to say it Purpose, audience, and zeal are requisites to effective composition—all the freshman rhetoric courses in America to the contrary notwithstanding. I will back them any day in a race with unity, coherence, and emphasis.”  (801).

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Publishing Students' Papers

Note: The National Council of Teachers of English was founded in 1911. The organization is celebrating its centennial. As part of this celebration, College English is publishing excerpts from its predecessor, the college edition of The English Journal. The excerpts are timely, a bit wordy and take their time to get to the point. However, I believe my readers will find them of interest. RayS.

Topic: Publishing Students’ Papers
Albert Morton Turner, “Publishing Freshman Themes.” Vol. 18 (March 1929), 242-43.

Quote: “Two ever present bugbears of Freshman English are the lack of any desire, on the part of students, to write and, when they are compelled to do so, their frequent tendency to regard themes as a mere field to show their proficiency—or the want thereof—in the use of commas and semicolons. In the effort to counteract these difficulties, the Freshman English staff at the University of Maine is publishing a series of leaflets composed of themes written during the current year, leaflets which are distributed to all the first-year students and which are discussed in class. At the beginning of the year, before their pockets have been depleted by purchasing textbooks and ice-cream cones, we collect the sum of twenty-five cents from each of our 425 Freshmen. With this sum we pay for the printing, from time to time, of the necessary number of copies of eight different leaflets, four in each semester…. Both bad and good themes are printed…. Bad themes, it should be observed are always printed anonymously; good ones, on the other hand, may appear with their authors’ names….” (742-43).

Title: “College English’s Precursor: Excerpts from the College Edition of The English Journal.” College English (November 2011), 157-191.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ten Books on Writing

Lit from Within: Contemporary Masters on the Art and C raft of Writing. Edited by Kevin Haworth and Dinty W. Moore. Ohio University Press, 200 pages. Paper, $19.95.

Help! For Writers: Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces by Roy Peter Clark. Little, Brown, 304 pages. Hardcover, $22.00, digital, $9.99.

Write Your Book Now!: A Proven System to Start and Finish the Book You’ve Always Wanted to Write! By Gene Perret. Quill Driver Books, 160 pages. Paper, $14.95.

Promote Your Book: Over 250 Proven, Low-Cost Tips and Techniques for the Enterprising Author by Patricia Fry. Allworth Press, 224 pages. Paper or digital, $19.95.

Many Genres, One Craft:  Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller. Headline Books, 384 pages. Hardcover, $2995.

Language Wars: A History of Proper English by Henry Hitchings. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 416 pages. Hardcover, $28; digital, $14.99.

The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers by Laura Oliver. Alpha Books, 224 pages, paper or digital, $13.95.

Write More Good: An Absolutely Phony Guide by The Bureau Chiefs. Three Rivers Press, 272 pages. Paper, $13; digital, $9.99. Guaranteed to get you fired for any job requiring writing.

Write Fantastic Nonfiction (Teach Yourself) by Claire Gillman. Hodder & Stoughton. 196 pages. Paper, $16.95.

The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, edited by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee. Soft Skull Press, 192 pages. Paper, $14.95. Will books survive?

Title: “10 of This Year’s Terrific Writing Books.” Chuck Leddy. The Writer (December 2011), 19-21.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Merit Pay

Question: What’s wrong with merit pay?

Answer/Quote: “…the problems with individual merit pay are numerous and well documented. It has been shown to undermine teamwork, encourages employees to focus on the short term, and leads people to link compensation to political skills and ingratiating personalities rather than to performance.” 26. Jeffry Pferrer. Harvard Business Review: Six Dangerous Myths about Pay (1998).

The author points out that improving education for all students is the goal. Merit pay undermines that goal.

Comment: I have had several experiences as a supervisor in which teamwork was undermined by teachers’ unwillingness to share their successful methods with other teachers, most notably in a primary grade writing workshop. RayS.

Title: “Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Effectiveness, and School Reform.” Richard Long. Reading Today (October/November 2011), 26-27.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Science and Poetry

Question: How introduce first-grade students to writing poems about science?

Answer: Research an animal. Students create an acrostic poem using the letters of the animal arranged vertically as the first letter for each line that says something about the animal.

Found poems: Arrange words from a text in the form of a poem.

Title: “Creating Poems from Science research: A ReadWriteThink Project for Bilingual Students at Hodge elementary in Denton, TX.” V Rojas and E Manning. Reading Today (October/November 2011), 12-13.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards for Reading

Question: What type of reward for reading will motivate students to continue to read?

Answer/Quote: “A child who is intrinsically motivated undertakes the task for very different reasons than the child who is extrinsically motivated…. Teachers aim to facilitate a lifetime love of reading among students, so it is clear that fostering intrinsic motivation to read is most likely the goal educators strive for in the long-term.” P. 6.

“Gambrell (1996) proposed a reward-proximity hypothesis to investigate how the type of reward and its proximity to the desired behavior (i.e., reading) might influence the intrinsic motivation of students. For example, can prizes such as books, more positively influence students’ intrinsic motivation to read as opposed to rewards such as food, toys, or stickers?” p. 6-7.

“Research on the reward proximity hypothesis suggests that the type of reward condition may influence the type of motivation cultivated among children. In a study with third grade students, Marinak and Gambrell (2008), found that students given a book reward, or even no reward at all, were more likely to engage in subsequent reading than students who received tokens such as Pez dispensers, friendship bracelets and the like for their efforts….” 7.

Comment: Interesting. I’ve always felt that the love for reading comes from the love of ideas, that ideas are the main enjoyment and motivation for reading. RayS.

Title: “Rewards for Student Reading: A Good Idea or Not?” K Hildens and J Jones. Reading Today (October/November 2011), 6-7.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kindles in the Classroom

Question: Why bring Amazon’s Kindles into the classroom for struggling readers?

Answer/Quote: “I brought a Kindle into school one day, and shortly had a group of boys surrounding me, wanting to take a look. I am now purchasing six Kindles for the classroom. I think it will be really good for struggling readers in particular—you can change the size of the text, you have a built in dictionary, and you can offer them lower leveled books with no stigma—nobody sees the cover.” P. 3. Angie C. Miller, Middle School Language Arts Teacher at Holderness Central School in Holderness, New Hampshire.

Comment: I never thought of that. RayS.

Title: “President’s Message: Celebrating Teachers.” Reading Today (October/November 2011), 2-3.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Teaching English as a Second Language

Question: How can a teacher with several students whose first language is Spanish help them to recognize English words?

Answer: Cognates. “The Spanish and English languages share more than 20,000 cognates, most of which derive from Latin. Spanish-English cognates are words that are spelled similarly or identically in both Spanish and English and have the same or nearly the same meanings in both languages. The following: pairs of words are examples of Spanish-English cognates: nación/nation, realmente/really, and seguro/secure. These cognates can be found at all levels of word frequency in English.” P. 161.

Quote: “Cognate instruction benefits all levels of ELs [English Learners] and all elementary school students. Even in classes where the majority of students are native English speakers, students not only derive much from lessons on cognates but also express an interest in learning more about them and about learning Spanish.”  P, 164,

Comment: Excellent idea. Grab that high school or college Spanish I textbook you put away and start looking for Spanish cognates for English. RayS.

Title: “Identifying Spanish-English Cognates to Scaffold Instruction for Latino ELs.” JA Montelongo, et al. Reading Teacher (October 2011), 161-164.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Evaluating Web Sites by Elementary Students

Question: How can elementary students learn to evaluate Web sites used in research?

The WWWDOT Framework:

> Who wrote this and what credentials do they have?

 > Why was it written?

> When was it written?

> Does it help meet my needs?

> Organization of the site?

> To-Do list for the future. “The to-do list can include additional websites and other texts to read, and it can also include activities that do not involve further reading, such as asking a librarian a question, sharing what they learned with a family member….”

Quote: “Even our youngest students have unprecedented access to information. Although in large measure this should be viewed as a  positive development, the unfiltered nature of information on the Internet creates a new urgency for teaching students to critically evaluate sources of information.  The WWWDOT framework provides…[an] approach to enhancing students’ awareness of the need to and skill in critically evaluating websites as sources of information. This kind of instruction is essential to helping students make wise use of the riches of our Information Age.” P. 158.

Comment: Good series of ideas to begin checking the legitimacy of Web sites. Might use the same framework in evaluating other sources of information as well. RayS.

Title: “The WWWDOT Approach To Improving Students’ Critical Evaluation of Web Sites.” S Zhang, et al. Reading Teacher (October 2011), 150-158.

NOTE: Taking four-day vacation for Thanksgiving Holiday. RayS.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reading Stress

Question: How can the teacher tell that students are stressed while reading?


Text is Too Difficult
> Students are off task, nervous, or engaged in inappropriate behaviors.

> Students read haltingly. Their reading may include excessive repetitions or self-corrections or require extensive teacher support.

> The lesson takes more than 15-20 minutes because the teacher has to instruct extensively.

Comment: Solution? The authors suggest shifting the level of the text that is too difficult to a text that is at the students’ reading level. I suggest the directed reading approach: build background information on the topic, pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary, survey the text by reading the title and discussing it, the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph and provide students with a purpose for reading (possibly a question to answer). RayS.

Title: “Toolbox: Handy Helpers for Guided Reading.” J Burkins and M Croft, Preventing Misguided Reading. Reading Teacher (October 2011), 147-149.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vocabulary in the Elementary Grades

Question: What is the key to learning ten, sometimes 20 new words at a clip?

Answer: Study vocabulary through Latin and Greek roots and affixes. Quotes: “The next quantum leap in vocabulary growth…will come when the systematic study of Latin-Greek derivations is embedded into vocabulary programs for the elementary…grades.” P. 135. “A Growing body of academic research is beginning to demonstrate the power and potential of a Latin-Greek approach to vocabulary instruction.” P. 138.

Quote: “Think of the enormous advantage we can give students when they learn that one root can help them unlock the meaning to 5, 10, 20 or more English words! Moreover, it is likely that a fair number of those words are the academic words so essential to students’ learning in the various content areas. The systematic, ongoing and consistent integration of Latin and Greek roots into vocabulary instruction offers awesome potential for enhancing students’ academic growth.” P. 140.

Comment: The best vocabulary book on the market for adults is Norman Lewis’s Word Power Made Easy. Look it up on and you’ll see the glowing reviews of ordinary people who have used it. Lewis bases his program on the Latin and Greek roots and on the notion that words are ideas. Try it yourself and see how many new words you will learn based on Latin and Greek roots. For common Latin and Greek roots for elementary school, check the list in this article. RayS.

Title: “The Latin-Greek Connection.” TV Rasinski, et al. Reading Teacher (October 2011), 133-141.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rating Fluency in Reading

Question: What are the categories for fluency in reading, low and high?

Answer/Quote: Expression and volume; phrasing; smoothness; pace.

Expression and Volume: Reads with little expression or enthusiasm in words as if simply to get them out. Little sense of trying to make text sound like natural language. Tends to read in a quiet voice.

Phrasing: Monotonic with little sense of phrase boundaries, frequent word-by[word reading.

Smoothness: Frequent extended pauses, hesitations, false starts; sound-ours, repetitions, and/or multiple attempts.

Pace: Slow and laborious.

Expression and Volume: Reads with good expression and enthusiasm throughout the text. Sounds like natural language. The reader is able to vary expression and volume to match his/her interpretation of the passage.

Phrasing: Generally well phrased, mostly in clause and sentence units, with adequate attention to expression.

Smoothness: Generally smooth reading with some breaks, but word and structure difficulties are resolved quickly, usually through self-correction.

Pace: Consistently conversational.

Comment: We’ve come a long way from reading aloud with no sense of meaning to reading aloud with full comprehension as measured by expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness and pace. RayS.

Title: “Putting the Fun Back Into Fluency Instruction.” MA Cahill and AE Gregory Reading Teacher (October 2011), 127-131.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Getting Started on the School Year

Question: What is some good advice for the new teacher?

> “Wall displays are most effective when students and teachers coproduce these. Consequently, classroom wall spaces need not be filled on the first day of school.” P. 98. [Comment: The best displays are of student work. RayS.]

> “When children enter the classroom, they should have a series of tasks that are to be accomplished immediately.” P. 100.[Comment: When I was teaching in high school, I would have one of two activities right at the beginning, a spelling test or a 10-minute essay on a topic of their choice. RayS.]

> “Understanding where your students are now and where they need t be at the end of the year is very important.” P. 101.

> “When planning daily instruction, remember to plan emergency time fillers to help reinforce skills that are part of the scope and sequence of skills.” P. 106.

> “Join a professional literacy organization such as the International Reading Association [or the National Council of Teachers of English] and get involved.”

And, finally:
“Lastly, read. Read books outside of education, books that address issues in medicine, business,, and the world. Get to know what is going on nationally and glob ally. Read for fun. Have a book that you read to escape. And last, carry books with you wherever you go. Be a model of someone who loves to read and reads. And remember when talking with students to be sure to regularly talk up and talk about books….”

Comment: Take it from me, a wizened old fogey who survived 30 years as an English teacher and supervisor, this advice is good advice. RayS.

Title: “Organizing Literacy Classrooms for Effective Instruction.” DR Reutzel and S Clark. Reading Teacher (October 2011), 96-109.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thinking Visually

Question: How can you help students think visually?

Answer: Have them summarize an entire novel by drawing a picture [or a diagram]. The author, Jim Burke, summarizes Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, by drawing a circle with a large black dot outside the circle. That illustration becomes the focus of a discussion about the novel, its dot outside and how it summarizes the novel. Interesting image.

Comment: I think the dot outside the circle as a summary for Crime and Punishment is an interesting technique for helping students visualize and summarize a novel. Adds another technique to methods for critical thinking. RayS.

Title: “the Shape of Ideas.” Spark. Jim Burke. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2011), 155.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reading Critically

Question: What are some questions that can help students read critically?

> What is the topic?

> What is the writer’s purpose?

> What was not said about the topic? Why? What are the consequences?

> Whose interests are served by the text?

> What are other ways of writing about the topic?

Title: “Reading ‘Further and Beyond the Text’: Student Perspective of Critical Literacy in EFL [English as a Foreign Language] Reading and Writing.” J Huang. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2011), 145-154.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing Is Obsolete

Question: On the topic of “What’s Hot and Not Hot?” the following statement about writing is included as “Not Hot.” What do my readers think of the following statement?

Quote: “Surprisingly, writing is also on the coldest list. One literacy leader commented that perhaps the day is coming when writing will be obsolete. Voice recognition software will transform the composing process.” P. 20.

Comment: Back to the era of the Dictaphone. Dictated writing is like talking. It lacks the precision of word choice, the conciseness of Standard English at its best. It will be as imprecise as conversation, with needless repetition of words like “it,” “thing,” “get,” “there,” and the lack of clear reference for the demonstrative pronouns, “this,” “that,” “these” and “those,” and other characteristics like poor parallel structure, dangling modifiers, use of the passive as opposed to the active voice. The use of voice recognition software will lead to verbosity and lack of precision in writing. RayS.

Title: “Taking Our Pulse In a Time of Uncertainty: Results of the 2012 What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey.” Jack Cassidy and Doulas J Loveless. Reading Today (October/November 2011), 16-21.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Multi-modal Composition

Comment: Here is the text that set me off: “Of course, this will only feel legitimate if the conversations previously described begin to challenge the traditional hegemony of print-only texts in classrooms.” P. 143.

And the particular phrase that set me off was: “…challenge the traditional hegemony of print-only texts in the classroom.” The article tried to show the “transformative” power of adding sound and pictures to poetry, multi-modal composition.

The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) is off and running on building another castle in the air. This time it’s “multi-modal composition.” They try “multi-modal” composition in their journals by adding pictures to the texts of articles. Those pictures add not one single idea to the text. They’re useless.

Communication is based on ideas. Ideas are best communicated by words. Words are best communicated in speech (impermanent) and writing (permanent). Pictures illustrate, support the ideas in the text. I’m all about ideas and the “hegemony of print-only texts in the classroom.” Words come first, even in the movies and on TV. Sometimes the pictures contribute productively, sometimes they don’t. The ideas are conveyed in the text. That’s the first and primary thesis of English teaching. RayS.

Title: “Class-room Re-mix: Patterns of Pedagogy in a Techno-Literacies Poetry Unit.” M Callahan and J M King. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2011), 134-144.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Adult Book Club Practices

Note: This topic promised some interesting ideas for book discussions in the classroom. Unfortunately, the language of the article was opaque, often cloaking ideas in verbiage that can only be described as “edu-speak.” I am beginning to find that otherwise promising ideas are killed by the educational jargon of the writers. The title of the article was simple and straightforward, the article, not so. RayS.

Question: What can we learn from practices in adult book clubs that might be used in literary discussions in the classroom?

> Avoid monopolizing the selection of books for discussion by having a clearly stated procedure.

 > Participants should use their experience in interpreting the text.

> Participant should extend conversations by building on others’ responses.

Title: “Practices of Productive Adult Book Clubs.” R Beach and S Yussen. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (October 2011), 121-131.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Truth about Homework

Question: How do you usually assign homework?

Answer/Quote: “Teachers in secondary schools routinely assign homework to students for the purpose of practice. If it were really practice of familiar concepts, this might work to strengthen students’ level of understanding. Unfortunately, in too many classroom, homework is assigned on concepts that are not yet understood. In many instances, as the MetLife survey on homework demonstrated, secondary teachers’ ‘very often or often’ assigned homework because they ran out of time in class (Markow, Kim & Liebman, 2007, p. 30).” P. 71. 

And how do students respond to the homework they are assigned?
Completers, who take the work home and get it all done and done correctly.

Slackers, who, for whatever reason, do not complete the homework.

Bewildered, who give the homework a try and do most of it incorrectly.

Cheaters, who copy the homework of a peer in an effort to please the teacher and not fall behind in class. P. 71.

Quote: “As was shown in each of the examples we have shared, the teachers did not assign homework as an afterthought, but instead as a well-integrated dimension of their instruction. It was the independent practice that occurred only after the students were well prepared, and it was also an integral dimension of what was to follow in class.” P. 74.

Comment: You can prevent downtime at the end of class by having students start the homework assignment, giving students time to ask questions about the assignment. RayS.

Title: “Homework in Secondary Classrooms: Making It Relevant and Respectful.” D Fisher, et al. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2011), 71-74.