Sunday, July 31, 2011

Topics for the month of July 2011

English Updates

The July 1 topic is at the bottom of the list; the topic for July 29 is at the top of the list.


Rhetoric and Autism


More Practical Ideas for Teaching ESL


Collaborative Writing

Not Reading

Summary of Working with ESL Students

A Second Experience in Publishing

How Other People Can Help the Writer

A Judgmental Review of My Article

My First Professional Article

Professional Writing


Book Report

Advice on Collaborative Writing

"I Hate Writing."

Drama in the Classroom

Purpose in Writing

Thoughts on Achievement in School

Review of Topics for English Updates, June 2011.

I Hadn't Thought of That....

Friday, July 29, 2011


Question: What on earth is meant by “ecopoetics”?

Answer/Quote: “…ecopoetics—defined here as the theory and practice of a creative relationship with the processes and products of one’s world expressed in writing, whether poetry or prose, or in some other medium entirely. More simply, it is the poetics of ‘nature writing’ … or ‘environmental literature’….” And the reflection and resonance that occur as a result.

Comment: I don’t know why I am passing along this definition of another piece of jargon. There is jargon enough in English studies as it is. But in case the word ever occurs again, my readers will be able to recognize it as poetic expression about nature—whether in poetry or prose. I am thinking of the essays of Loren Eiseley.

I thought such a definition might be useful. The article that explains the term is like Coleridge’s prose, alternately intelligible and unintelligible. I don’t feel like spending my time trying to untangle it. I did that with Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria once. RayS.

Title: “The Case of Cotton Mather’s Dog: Reflections and Resonance in American Ecopoetics.” Jimmie Killingsworth. College English (May 2011),498-517.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rhetoric and Autism

Question: How are rhetoric and autism alike?

Answer; They both involve social interaction.

Kenneth Burke: “…basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.”

Marc Fumaroli: “Rhetoric appears as the connective tissue peculiar to civil society and to its proper finalities.”

Gerald A. Hauser: “Rhetoric is communication that attempts to coordinate social action.”

Quote: “Though the definitions of autism are also legion, what they, too, have in common is a focus on language use in the social realm, a focus on communication in social interaction.”

“The National Institutes of Health define autism as ‘a spectrum that encompasses a wide range of behavior’ but whose ‘common features include impaired social interactions, impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.”

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, ‘Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities defined by significant impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests.”

Comment: All of the above quotes can be found on page 487. What does “proper finalities” mean? What does “restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior” mean? What does “presence of unusual behaviors and interest” mean? What's the point of this article?

Other than that I have no comment except to refer readers to a book entitled Selling Sickness. RayS.

Title: “Autism and Rhetoric.” Paul Heliker and Melanie Yergeau. College English (May 2011), 485-497.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Question: Why is autism now one of the popular problems in the public consciousness and in education?


April 2, 2008, the First World Autism Awareness Day, sponsored by the UN.

CNN devoted it entire day’s programming to discussions of Autism on the same day.

Recent documentary films: Autism Every Day. Autism: The Musical. Her Name is Sabine.

2009: Feature film: Adam.

2010: HBO, a biopic on Temple Grandin.

NBC: Parenthood, a series about a family with an autistic child.

Ad space in USA Today.

Multi-year Autism Speaks television campaign, compares autism incidence with statistics on lightning strikes, car crashes, and the likelihood of becoming a professional athlete AD Council.

Corporations like Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us, Lindt Chocolates and Starbucks have promoted the fight against autism.

2010: NASCAR’s first Autism Speaks 400 stock car race.

Comment: No comment. RayS.

Title: “Autism and Rhetoric.” Paul Heliker and Melanie Yergeau. College English (May 2011), 485-497.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Practical Ideas for Teaching ESL

Question: How can reading and writing help to support learning both skills?

Answer: They are mutually supportive.

.In teaching comprehension, teachers should complete for themselves the following information about reading assignments: comprehension of what, by whom and under what conditions—and I add for what purpose.

.Construct “story grammars” that help students complete in writing the essential ideas in a story or article.

.Use multiple texts for information on a topic.

.Students keep a reading log.

.Students brainstorm a topic before reading about it. Activates prior knowledge.

.Students construct a web of key ideas and details before, during and after they have read.

.Teach students how to summarize. Begin with lists of events in stories. Then show students where to find the main ideas and supporting details in expository material.

.Students engage in dialogue journals with the teacher.

For more information on these techniques consult

Title: “Comprehending through Reading and Writing: Six Research-Based Instructional Strategies.” N Farnan, J Flood and D Lapp. Pp. 135-137. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994, 108-131.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Question: What are some techniques for teaching listening skills?

Answer/Quote: Modeling Good Listening. “Keith McPherson in Teacher Librarian suggests that modeling active listening skills is a big step toward teaching those skills in the classroom Making eye contact with children while they are speaking to you, clarifying the message by repeating or rephrasing, and asking questions and not interrupting are important aspects of this model.”

Quote: Poor Listening. “The poor listener focuses on the speaker’s voice, clothes, or looks and, in so doing, discounts whatever they might say due to a critical stance on the speaker. The good listener looks for the ideas present and doesn’t focus on the speaker.”

Quote: Setting a Purpose for Listening. “One of the suggestions for preparing students to listen is a KWL chart. The students start by writing what they already know about the topic at hand, then they write a few questions regarding what they wonder about, and then, after the presentation or the reading, the students will write what they learned about the topic.” P. 67.

Comment: One thing I learned from this article is that I am a lousy listener. I don’t make eye contact, I interrupt and I almost never ask questions about what people are saying to me. I have a lot to learn. I like the idea of modeling good listening and the KWL approach to establishing a purpose for listening. The author also suggests looking up “listening” in Google for more ideas on improving the skill of listening. In fact, whatever the topic you are about to teach, even grammar, look it up on Google. RayS.

Title: “The Power of the Listening Ear.” Robyn Campbell. English Journal (May 2011), pp. 66-70.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Collaborative Writing

Question: Why encourage collaborative writing in our classrooms?

Answer/Quote: “One argument for the use of collaborative writing in our classrooms is that ‘collaboration is an important skill to learn in preparation for working with others in schools and the workplace” (Beach, et al. 71). Another argument is because (sic.) students are becoming increasingly familiar with digital tools and collaborative practices…in out-of-school contexts….” P. 28.

Comment: I believe that these are cogent arguments for encouraging collaborative writing. Of course, we have to learn how to write collaboratively. RayS.

Title: “Building Fantasy Worlds Together with Collaborative Writing: Creative, Social, and Pedagogic Challenges.” RM Rish and J Caton. English Journal (May 2011), 21-28.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not Reading

Question: What can teachers do to counter student’s not reading the books they assign?

Answer:: Makes it clear that our students are not reading assigned novels. The first thing the students do is run to the Internet. “The Great Gatsby yields 2.5 million Google hits; The Scarlet Letter more than 1.2 million; The Old Man and the Sea, a puny 589,000 hits.”

The author urges teachers to assign student reading journals in which to respond to what they are reading.

Comment: Try this. Have students read for 5 minutes near the beginning of the novel. What have they learned? Record key words. Do they have any questions? Record key words.

Now the students read for 5 minutes in the middle of the novel. What have they learned? Record key words. What questions do they have? Record key words.

Third, they read for 5 minutes three-fourths through the novel. What have they learned? Record key words. What questions do they have? Record key words.

Finally, the students read for 5 minutes near the end, but not the end. What have they learned? Record key words. What questions do they have? Record key words.

Students have said to me when I have used this technique that it gives away the plot and therefore they have no reason to read the novel. The fact is, this technique gives clues to the plot but mainly raises questions about all sorts of thing, character, theme, language, etc.

Reorganize the question key words into questions of fact, questions of interpretation and questions of criticism. The students read to answer their questions.

Another suggestion: If students encounter dead spots in reading the novel, have them read a paragraph a page until they are caught up again in reading all of the text—and they will become caught up again in reading the text. The paragraph-a-page technique speeds up the process of reading and keeps students current with the plot.

This sampling provides any number of advantages. The students have a taste of the author’s style. They become motivated because they themselves raise the questions. They have a purpose for reading, to answer the questions. They will learn the advantages to reading the text instead of someone else’s summaries and comments. By the way, I always conclude our discussions of the novels by having the students gather critics’ comments in order to compare the students’ insights with the critics’. When I suggested this technique to one of my English teachers, she said, and I quote, “I couldn’t shut them up” in contrast to the dead silent response to her introduction that emphasized quizzes and quiz dates and pages per night requirements. RayS.

Title: “Not Reading: The 800-Pound Mockingbird in the Classroom.” WJ Broz. English Journal (May2011), 15-20.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summary of Working with ESL Students

Note: I’ve read a book of articles on working with ESL students. What follows is my summary of practical ideas on the topic. RayS.

Question: What have we learned about working with ESL (English as a Second Language) students from this article?

Don’t assume that ESL students are dumb because they are not familiar with the English language.

Native speakers of English are able to relate the printed word to their oral (listening and speaking) language. ESL students may pronounce the words, but they might not be able to relate the words to their oral language.

Communication Skills and Academic Skills: Recognize that fluency in oral communication skills is not the same thing as the academic skills needed in the classroom.

Cognates: Relate cognates in the native language and in English.

Language Experience: Use language experience. Students dictate information; recorded by teacher on chart paper, blackboard, etc. ; students read back what was recorded.

Directed Reading Assignment: Use the directed reading assignment. Check on students’ prior knowledge of the topic; build up prior knowledge of unfamiliar topics with pictures, etc.; pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary; survey the chapter: read and discuss the title, sub-titles, the first paragraph, the first sentence of each paragraph, the last paragraph, raise questions to answer from the reading selection, read, discuss, apply the information.

Reading Aloud by Teacher: Read a variety of materials aloud to the students.

Learning Strategies: Teach learning strategies directly.

Oral Reading: Don’t focus on pronunciation when students are reading aloud; note the mistakes and deal with them later. Focus on comprehension.

Daily Writing. Corrected 10-minute essays. 10-minues a day. Write on topic of their choice. Teacher corrects at night. Students re-write corrected 10-minute essay. Students do not write complete essay in ten minutes. Stop in mid-sentence at the end of 10 minutes. (Note: This idea is mine, not the authors of the article. RayS.)

Writing process for complete essays: Brainstorm; thesis; draft, including topic sentences for paragraphs, last paragraph, introductory paragraph, revision and editing. (Note: Again, this is my approach to teaching expository writing. RayS.)

Use multiple assessments like tests of oral reading, levels of comprehension, etc.

Comment: I learned right along with my readers. I feel better equipped than before to deal with ESL students, but it won’t be easy. RayS.

Title: “Instructional Approaches and Teaching Procedures.” AU Chamot and JM O’Malley. Pp. 82-107. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Second Experience in Publishing

The Vagaries of the Writing Process

My second experience in publishing showed me that I still had a lot to learn about the writing process.

Angered by the persistent criticism in the nation’s media of public school teachers and the public schools, I decided to write an article for the English Journal called, “Reverse the Image: Involve the Public in Reading and writing.” I had learned that when I demonstrated how our teachers taught reading and writing, and involved the audience in actual reading and writing activities, they expressed respect for the efforts of our hard-working public school teachers, who, in my experience, were doing an excellent job of teaching their students to read and to write. I decided to put my experiences in writing.

I remember coming home on a cold, rainy spring evening after an exhausting day at school. My wife greeted me with, “You had a call from Arizona. The editor of the English Journal wants to publish your article.” I was elated. “However,” she said, “you must have left out a page. He wanted to know where page 14 was. And he wants you to send it right away.”

The Mysterious Writing Process: Where Is Page 14?
I was puzzled. To my knowledge, I had not left out a page. I immediately found a copy of what I had sent the editor. I had typed it on one of the first Commodore computers. As I turned the pages, I soon realized that I had made a mistake in putting in the page numbers, which were not automatically numbered as they are today in most word processors. Somehow, I had skipped from page 13 to page 15 when numbering the pages. Still, since the article was complete, a missing page number should not have made a difference. The page numbers were simply wrong. But then, I began to read carefully. Sure enough between pages 13 and 15 was a gap, a significant gap, a missing transition that I simply had not realized I needed.

What followed was difficult. I had to write that transition between the two topics on pages 13 and 15, and I had to make it exactly one page long—page 14. Somehow I succeeded, sent the “missing” page and the article was published in the English Journal of October 1982.

I found myself marveling at the writing process. I had unintentionally left out material, but in putting in page numbers had not numbered the pages correctly. The page number I had left out proved to be the very place where important transitional information was missing from the manuscript. An interesting experience in professional writing—and in the process of writing.

Teachers can learn a lot about writing from attempting to write professionally. RayS.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Other People Can Help the Writer

My wife and I finally agreed that she would read my articles, that she would make no judgments, negative or positive, but would ask questions any time something was not clear. It worked perfectly. Her questions were non-judgmental, simply asking what I meant when I said such and such. I clarified ideas that she asked about, included background information on teachers’ professional reading and resubmitted the article, which was accepted for publication and appeared as the lead article in The Reading Teacher for January of 1982.

This experience in writing for professional journals was a valuable lesson, which I shared with my students when I was working with them on revising their work. I encouraged them to have others read their drafts, but that the rules must be very clear: No judgments. No “This is great,” or, worse, “This is awful.” And no comments on misspellings, mistakes in grammar or punctuation—unless you ask for them. Only questions when ideas are not clear.

Many professional writers say that they refuse to let others read and comment on their work while it is in progress. My experience was different. If I had not tried to write an article for professional publication, I don’t think I would ever have learned how important it is to have others respond to my work while I am still in the process of revising it. But that response has to be controlled in order to be helpful. I have found that having others judge my work in progress does hot help. Questions do. RayS.

Next Blog: A Second Experience in Publishing: The Vagaries of the Writing Process.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Judgmental Review of My Article

I had never tried to write for professional journals before. I worked hard on the article. When I finished what I thought was a really good article, I brought it downstairs for my wife, an elementary teacher, to read—a mistake.

She was lying on the couch reading the newspaper. I asked her to interrupt what she was doing to read my article; then I sat on the stairs, waiting for her to tell me what a brilliant piece of work I had produced. Instead, she showed every evidence of being bored. She started to read. Then she leafed through the pages to see how long it was. She shifted her position, put the article down, picked it up again, then obviously began skimming in order to finish in a hurry. I grew tense. I grew angry.

Finally, she held out the article to return it to me. “I’m not very smart,” she said. “I think this is written for people who are smarter than I am.”

“But it’s written for people just like you,” I blurted. “It’s written for elementary teachers.”

She shrugged and I exploded.

“All right,” I said, storming back up stairs. “I’m sending this in, and you’ll see!”

It was I who would “see.” The article came back with whole chunks of text eliminated by the peer reviewers. In addition, one peer reviewer said, “Everyone knows this. Not recommended for publication.” However, the editor said that if I were to find information on how much professional reading teachers did and other articles on encouraging professional reading to which I could relate my idea, she would consider publishing it if I resubmitted.

I should have known to provide background information before launching into my idea. After all, I’d read a great number of professional articles and that practice is standard.

I had to go to my wife and admit, “You were right.” I need you to review what I write. But we’ve got to change the way we do it. The minute you started to make negative judgments about my article, even in your body language, I hit the ceiling. Even telling me it was great wouldn’t have helped me to improve it.”

Next Blog: How Other People Can Help the Writer to Revise

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My First Professional Article

The Topic of My Article: Reading Professional Journals Quickly and Efficiently

The topic of my first published article was how to find time in a busy schedule to read professional journals in English education. Professional journals in any field are a valuable source of useful ideas. They shed light on important issues in teaching English.

No Time

However, as a teacher, I had little time for such reading, so I experimented and found a method that helped me gain the most ideas from the limited time I could allow for reading professional materials. I learned early that many professional articles were not worth my time, so I developed a method for sampling that helped me find quickly the main points of each article and just enough of the supporting details to answer my questions.

Title, Sub-titles, First paragraph and Last Paragraph

First, I would read the title, sub-titles, the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the article. Usually, this brief minute or two of reading was enough to tell me whether the article was worth reading in more detail. If I had no more interest in the article, I would jot a brief summary at the beginning of the article to help me remember its essential ideas and would move on the next article. This brief sampling of the article almost always gave me the main idea.

First Sentence of Each Intermediate Paragraph

However, if I wanted to know more, or, if I had questions to which I wanted answers, then I would read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph between the first and last paragraphs. Again, the reading of the first sentences of paragraphs did not take long, but it often gave me the details that I needed to answer my questions. After reading the first sentence of each paragraph, if I did not want to know any more, then I would jot a brief summary at the beginning of the article and would go on to the next article. (If I was still intrigued by the article, and had more questions I needed to answer, I would go back and read the entire article, which happened almost never.)

The Result: Making the Most of My Time

This techniques helped me to sift through and identify the interesting ideas in lengthy articles. It enabled me to skim over lengthy explanations in which I had no interest. In a short period of time, I found the main ideas and answered my questions. This method worked for me. I was able to read through journals while waiting in the doctor’s office, during free periods, and for 15 minutes each night before going to bed, gathering valuable ideas.

But How Much Was I Missing?

I tested myself to see if I was really missing important ideas when I did not read the entire article to begin with. I would read the first and last paragraph, decide I did not want to know any more, but would go back and read the article any way. Almost always, my initial instincts were right. Reading the entire article would be a waste of my time. I learned little more than I already knew or needed to know.

Topic for My First Article

I shared this technique with my teachers in workshops. To gather background information on the topic of the workshop, they would read articles in professional journals dealing with that topic. They liked the sampling technique. They almost always found articles they wanted to share and even articles that they asked to have copied so they could take them home with them. As a result, I decided to write an article on the technique and to submit it to The Reading Teacher, an International Reading Association journal for reading specialists and elementary teachers.

Next Blog: A Judgmental Review of My Article: Not Very Helpful

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Professional Writing

Note: Ken Lindblom, editor of English Journal, made recommendations in the May 2011 English Journal for how to publish successfully in professional journals. In July 2004 I published a book on my experiences in English education for over thirty years, entitled Teaching English, How To…., Xlibris, 2004. One of my chapters dealt with professional writing. In the next few blogs, I am going to reprint excerpts from my chapter on professional writing: what I learned about writing from my attempts to publish in professional journals. RayS.

Chapter 14

Professional Writing

What Can Teachers of Writing Learn from Trying to Publish Professionally?

Writing professionally will teach teachers of writing that they are still learning to write. In this chapter, I tell what I have learned about writing from my attempts to publish in professional journals. .

I think teachers of writing should attempt to publish professionally. Why?

From my first experience in submitting an article for publication, I learned humility. I learned what it feels like to be rejected. I gained a better understanding of the writing process. I developed empathy for my writing students. I became a sufferer along with my students in learning how to write. From publishing professionally, I learned that learning to write is a lifelong process, that every time I write, the situation is different and I learn to write all over again.

In attempting to write for publication, I learned that asking others to review my work can have a damaging effect on my ego and that I must insist on asking my reviewer not to make judgments on the quality of the writing, but to identify ideas that are not clear, advice that I have passed on to my students. Nonjudgmental responses have been most helpful to me in revising my articles for publication.

My second attempt at publishing professionally demonstrated to me the strange twists that the writing process can take.

Why Should Teachers of Writing Also Write?

I think that anyone who teaches writing should also write. At the very least, completing the students’ assignment can help the teacher anticipate difficulties with the assignment. On the other hand, I read recently the comments of a teacher who said he does not have time to write because he teachers. That alone occupies “48 hours a day,” he said. I share this teacher’s feeling of being overwhelmed by too much work to do when one teaches English. But I still think any teacher of writing must also write, in order to establish a feeling of shared learning with the students. And writing for publication has been a learning experience for this teacher of writing, who remains very humble when trying to teach others to write.

Writing Professionally Helped Improve My Teaching of Writing

One particular experience in publishing professionally helped me to formulate a method for revising that I recommend to my students. This experience was also quite funny, or at least it seems so now. It didn’t then.

Next blog: My First Professional Article.

NOTE: ESL (English as a Second Language). Beginning on June 27, 2011, I began a series of article reviews dealing with teaching English as a second language. This series of article reviews continues right through the present time in July 2011. The articles suggest practical techniques for working with ESL students. You will find these reviews at The title of the blog is “Teaching English How To….” Rays.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Question: How do readers of English Journal read its articles?

Answer/Quote: “Get to the Point. EJ readers are busy and practical professionals. They are interested in thoughtful approaches to teaching and learning, but they want to know—quickly—what the value of the article will be for them and their students. Most readers will scan an article first, looking at the title, the brief abstract, the first few paragraphs, and the pull quotes to determine\ what the article is about. Successful authors ensure their readers will understand within the first few paragraphs what they get from reading the full article.” 10.

Comment: I go one step further in addition to title, abstract, sub-heads and pull-out text. I read also the last paragraph. Usually, that paragraph summarizes the article. If I have questions about the article, I read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph to find the details. Then I briefly summarize the article at the top of the page. Later, I keep a journal in which I reflect on the idea and its application. Somewhat the same way I use my comments to reflect on the meaning of the articles I review in this blog. RayS.

Title: “Tips for Teachers to Publish in English Journal.” Ken Lndblom, editor of English Journal. (May 2011), 10-12.

NOTE: ESL (English as a Second Language). Beginning on June 27, 2011, I began a series of article reviews dealing with teaching English as a second language. This series of article reviews continues right through the present time in July 2011. The articles suggest practical techniques for working with ESL students. You will find these reviews at The title of the blog is “Teaching English How To….” Rays.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Report

Question: What does a poem have to do with a book report?

Answer: The poem has two sides to it, one positive, one negative, in response to the book. The question is in the middle of the page, the positive response on the left, the negative response on the right.

Example: What did I think about the book? Positive: “Loved it.” Negative, “Hated it.”

Unfinished sentence: “It was the….” Positive, “Best.” Negative, “Worst.”

Unfinished sentence: “The Ballyhoo Review gave it five stars. I give it….” Positive, “Ten.” Negative, “No more than three.”

Unfinished sentence: “The beginning of the book was….” Positive, “Engaging.” Negative , “Boring.”

Comment: And so on. The best parts of the contrasting positive and negative statements occur later on the page. Sorry, it would not be fair to copy the entire poem, but you could read it yourself by requesting it at Your students might get a kick out of it. RayS.

Title: “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum (A poem for Two Voices).” SD Collins. Language Arts (May 2011), p. 396.

NOTE: ESL (English as a Second Language). Beginning on June 27, 2011, I began a series of article reviews dealing with teaching English as a second language. This series of article reviews continues right through the present time in July 2011. The articles suggest practical techniques for working with ESL students. You will find these reviews at The title of the blog is “Teaching English How To….”  RayS.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Advice on Collaborative Writing

Question: How should someone collaborate with someone else in writing something?

Answer/Quote: Anne Mazer: Organizing: “There are many ways to arrange writing collaborations for students. They could simply pair up as writing partners for a set period of time, such as a week or a month, while they complete a story.

Accountability: “To establish accountability, each person must submit a designated amount of writing each day to their partner, either via e-mail or in person. It might be a number of words, or a page, or a scene.”

Feedback: “There should be clear guidelines about feedback. Anne and I think it works well when the partners tell each other what they enjoyed most about the daily installment. No negative criticism allowed. Works-in-progress are as fragile as blown-sugar sculptures. One harsh word and the whole thing shatters. Positive feedback isn’t empty praise. It’s actually tremendously important because it gives the writer hints as to what is working.” P. 383.

Comment: I think the advice on feedback is especially important. I think I would post those words on the wall along with advice to the discouraged writer. I think the advice on feedback applies not only to collaborators, but also to peer response groups. By the way, I think this article is a “keeper.” Contact for requests. RayS.

Title: “Spilling Ink: Writing in the Play Zone.” Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. Language Arts (May 2011), 381-385.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"I Hate Writing."

Question: How would you respond to the following statement from students?

Anne Mazer: “I often meet kids who are frustrated with writing. They tell me that they hate writing, or that they have no ideas or really “bad” ones. They say they hate revision, that they can’t think up characters, or that they ever finish their stories. They stare at blank pieces of paper in frustration, unable to write a single word. Even the kids who love to write are often nervous about how to approach their stories. They’re scared of doing it wrong.”

Anne Mazer’s response: “When young people read the finished version of a book they admire, they often see the writer as all-knowing, confident, masterly in her storytelling skills. It’s intimidating, to say the least, and terribly discouraging if you want to write your own stories. But that polished book is a layer cake of mistakes! If only the reader could see the mistakes invisibly swarming beneath the pages, it would hearten all aspiring writers. Working on a book, I make so many mistakes that I lose track of them. Eventually, I stumble onto what I want to say, in the way that I want to say it.” P. 381.

Comment: I think that response is great encouragement to discouraged writers. I think I would put that quote on my classroom wall. Here are some other of Mazer’s comments: RayS.

“Fear of not writing ‘correctly’ is a recipe for instant writer’s block.”

“Writing rules are not the Ten Commandments. Some are helpful; others are not. Any writing guideline might help a dozen young writers and turn off another two dozen.” P. 381.

“Many writers work differently. They may outline, make story maps, write histories of their characters, or interview them. Some writers don’t feel that they are writing until they’ve got a couple of drafts under their belt. And other writers—like me—start polishing and rewriting from the first word on. All these techniques are valid and important, but each writer must discover which ones work for him or her.” P. 382.

Comment: A healthy attitude toward the writing process. RayS.

Title: “Spilling Ink: Writing in the Play Zone.” Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. Language Arts (May 2011), 381-385.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Drama in the Classroom

Question: What are the results on achievement tests when drama activities are integrated into social studies and language arts classes in grades 4 and 5?

Answer/Quote: “The results on standardized achievement tests…which integrated drama into the teaching of social studies and language arts in grades 4 and 5, indicate that the integration of the arts into these subject areas contributed significantly to students’ achievement in language arts.” 365.

“Each integrated arts lesson explored a section of text taken from one of the novels through the use of theater games, scenery design activities, process drama, improvisation, script writing and enactment.” 366.

“Acting and understanding the characters; directing and understanding theme, plot and character relationships; and script writing and dialogue.” P. 367.

Comment: The rest of the article explains how drama was integrated into the classes, usually in small steps. The article also develops further the rationale for the approach and activities. This is one of those articles that is too detailed to summarize. Check with to purchase. RayS.

Title: “When Achievement Data Meet Drama and Arts integration.” E Walker, C Tabone and G Weltsek. Language Arts (May 2011), 365-372.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Purpose in Writing

Question: Why should children write?

One Teacher’s Answer: “One reason that you are going to write and keep writing is because teachers are going to tell you to. But that better not be the only reason. What I wish for you is that you always have more reason to write than because the teacher tells you that you have to.”

Comment: Which raises the question, what is the purpose of the standard teacher-given writing assignment? Which raises the issue of the students’ establishing a purpose for every writing assignment other than “The Teacher assigned it.” This article is aimed at first grade. Establishing purposes for writing assignments is for all grades right up through college. Helping students find these purposes will not be easy. RayS.

Title: “ ‘Writing That Matters’: Collaborative Inquiry and Authoring Practices in a First Grade Class.” MP Ghiso. Language Arts (May 2011), 346-355.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thoughts on Achievement in School

Question: What are your thoughts on achievement in school?

Response: You may be surprised by the editors’ views of achievement in school:

Quote: “This issue of Language Arts presents stories of the different ways we have thought about how students achieve in our schools. In the American ethos, achievement has been characterized by a Puritan work ethic, rugged individualism, and economic success. These definitions of achievement present some individuals as representative of success, while others are dismissed or marginalized. This notion becomes evident as we consider how we talk about children, schools and literacy. The myth of the achieving child circulates as one who works hard, pays attention, and complies—behaviors that create the dichotomy between ‘good’ student and ‘bad’ student. Curriculum standards, test scores, and restrictive pedagogies, in turn, both reflect this ethos and reinforce the underlying implied view of achievement that creates disparities in the first place.” P. 355.

Comment: What is success in school? And do our expectations of children’s achievement affect their achievement? I’ve thought a good deal about these questions ever since I had a young woman in one of my classes a number of years ago. She was from a poor family. She dressed in unfashionable clothes. She was a poor student. She was quiet and contributed nothing to class discussions. In fact, I rarely even noticed her presence.

Then, one evening, I attended a country music concert in the community. There she was, in complete control of her audience, her voice, her gestures—she was the epitome of success in that setting. I’ve never forgotten her. It was late in the school year and I regretted not having known about her successful career in country music. I would have treated her much differently as a student. I’m sure my readers have had similar experiences. There’s more to a human being than success in school. RayS.

Title: “Defining Achievement in Language Arts Education.” P. Encisco, et al., Editors of Language Arts (May 2011), 335-336.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review of Topics for English Updates, June 2011.

Review of Topics for English Updates, June 2011.

To read any of these posts, type in the topic in the search box at the top of the page.

  Exclamation Mark!

 Young Adult Fiction

 Dual-Enrollment High School and College Programs i...

 Key Questions about English Education

 Multi-lingual Classrooms in Writing

 Literacy Narratives

 Life-long Literacy

 Confrontations

 Zing!

 Structure of Writing: Intros and Endings

 Basic Writers and Reading

 Peer Editing

 Academic Writing

 Rejected!

 Dealing with Those in Leadership Roles

 Advice on Writing

 Psychology for Writers

 Euphemisms

 Writers on Writing

 Peer Editing or Critiquing Groups

 Talking Pennsylvanian: the Strange Langwitch

 Vocabulary

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Hadn't Thought of That....

Question: What should you include in a cover letter for a query?

Answer: Frankly, I never thought about writing a cover letter for a query pitching publication of an article. I’m expecting that the editor or whoever screens such queries wants to get directly to the point. What would such a cover letter to a query include?

Well, the editor of Storyglossia, a journal that publishes short fiction of 5,000 words, Steven J. McDermott, suggests listing unpublished articles you’re working on as well as the article you’re submitting. I’ve never thought of that. Don’t know if it would a good idea. Could be incorporated into the query. Could pique the interest of the editor. RayS.

Title: “Storyglossia Seeks Emerging Writers.” Melissa Hart, ed. The Writer (June 2011), 49.