Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advice on Rejection for Writers

Question: How should the rejected writer deal with it?

Answer/Quote: “Rejection, sad to say, goes hand in hand with writing. We all have to deal with it, and it smarts no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. No doubt you’ve heard these stories: Richard Bach’s best selling Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected more than 20 times before getting published.  Chicken Soup for the Soul, the first in the phenomenally successful Chicken Soup series, struck out more than 100 times before winning a contract. And, Pearl s. Buck received a rejection slip for a short story in the same week she learned about her Nobel Prize for literature.

“It’s hard not to take a rejection personally, but it’s important to remember that editors aren’t rejecting you—and they may not even be rejecting your work. In ‘How to cope with rejection’…writer and consultant Moira Allen suggests that the first thing to do when an editor says ‘no’ is to separate yourself from your work. ‘You may pour your heart and souls into your writing, but you must also establish boundaries between yourself and your creation. … Success will become impossible if you cannot bear failure.’ ” Jeff Reich, Editor, The Writer.

Comment: Part of teaching writing is helping students deal with rejection.  The problem of rejection is worth a good discussion on how to deal with it, whether it’s the teacher’s criticism or an editor’s. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers and the theme of dealing with rejection is constant and uplifting. The Writer is also a source for articles on creative writing, whether poetry or fiction or nonfiction. The magazine is a good source for teachers who teach writing. RayS.

Title: “When Editors Say ‘No.’ ” Jeff Reich, Editor. The Writer (April 2011), p. 6.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Good" Writing

Question: What is “good” professional writing?

Answer/Quote: “How do you define good writing? Do you know good writing when you see it? In Leah’s [Zuidema] professional writing course, college students investigate what ‘good writing’ looks like in their fields of study. They examine writing samples, and they interview professionals in medicine, business, social work, computer science, law, engineering,, education, and other fields.

“The students all ask a version of this question: ‘How, in your profession, do you know when your writing is successful?’ Without fail, at least a few interviewees answer like this: ‘There’s no such thing as a universal definition of ‘good’ writing. I can’t give you a checklist or a formula. The only way to know if your writing is good is to see how your audience reacts to it. If you get the response you’re looking for it’s good writing.’” P. 95.

Comment:  The authors throw into the discussion ethical considerations in writing. Frankly, I’ve never thought about ethics in writing. The example the authors give is in job-searching and résumés. I think the issue of ethics in writing goes well beyond the job-search although more than a few famous people have cheated on their résumés. Ethics in writing is worth thinking about.

For me, however, audience response is as good a definition as you’re apt to get in defining “good” writing. RayS.

Title: “Professional Writing in the English Classroom: Good Writing: The Problem of Ethics.” LA Zuidema and Jonathan Bush, Eds. English Journal (July 2011), 95-98.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Storyboards to Interpret Text

Question: How can storyboards help students to interpret texts?

Answer/Quote: “In using storyboards, students learn a strategy that allows them to closely read text.” P. 85.

 Quote: “I have offered a variety of ways to capitalize on students’ visualization of text and the capacity for students to interact with a passage in a nonprint mode. These three activities using storyboards—finding images in poetry, visualizing scenes from print texts, and analyzing a sequence from a film—are inviting ways to engage students with the visual aspects of reading texts.” P. 84.

Quote: “Most importantly, by providing a way for students to see how others read and understand texts, storyboarding helps students learn that interpretations are not fixed.” P. 85.

Comment: An interesting idea. You’ll need to try it out yourself first. RayS.

Title: “Framing the Text: Using Storyboards to Engage Students with Reading.” DL Bruce. English Journal (July 2011), 78-85.

Friday, August 26, 2011

War and Literature

Question: Why is everything we read in literature so depressing?

 Answer; The author’s answer to this question is that he hopes students will act on the impressions they gather from the literature of war.

Quote: “In the age of smart bombs, drones, and violent video games, there is perhaps no more pertinent issue than to remind students of the necessity to stop and consider the effects of our decisions on other human beings.” P. 61. [Comment: As I read this quote, Philadelphia is in the throes this summer of a rash of flash mobs of teenagers, some as young as 11 years of age, who beat their victims senseless, for no other reason than to enjoy the experience of turning others into victims. RayS.]

Quote: “I ask the students to simply respond to the question, ‘How do we redeem a culture torn by war?’ I ask them to go beyond the pat answers that would boil down to ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’” p. 62.

Quote: “We talk often about just how far we can take our ethics into the realm of action. Will we continue to simply talk, will we act enough to merely alleviate guilt, or will we stretch beyond comfort, sacrifice, and act for true and lasting change?” p. 63.

Comment: My belief is that literature does produce reflection on the part of individual readers. Who knows when or if that reflection will take the people who read it to act on it? RayS.

Title: “Reading the Literature of War: A Global Perspective on Ethics.” Kyle Vaughn. English Journal (July 2011), 60-67.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Question: How can students use the Internet to help them detect what might be considered plagiarism?

Answer/Quote:, a free online detection service, offers students the opportunity to submit papers before they turn them in. Instead of serving as a site for cheating, the purpose of the service is to help students identify plagiarism and deal with the issue before submitting an academic paper.” P. 55.

Comment: The service is not free. It’s $8.95 a month. RayS.

Title: “Classrooms That Discourage Plagiarism and Welcome Technology.” NG Pearson. English Journal (July 2011), 54-59.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Academic Dishonesty

Question: How should a teacher deal with problems of academic dishonesty?

Answer: Discuss openly with students what the teacher and the students believe are examples of academic dishonesty. Keep the emotion out of it.

Example: Student seemed to plagiarize an editorial in the New York Times. When questioned, the student said she did not read the New York Times. She had taken the offending passage from a blog which she did not know how to document.

Comment: It’s a good idea to discuss with students what, in the teacher’s opinion, is plagiarism and what is not. Try to clarify in the students’ minds what is plagiarism.

I’ll give you an example of what is likely to occur in such a discussion.  I remember an article, I think it was in The New Yorker, but I really don’t know. The article said in effect that much of what is in the daily newspaper is blatant, unattributed plagiarism. Have I just committed the sin of academic dishonesty? The idea is relevant. I admitted I did not know the identity of my source, and I said so. RayS.

Title: “An Ethical Dilemma: Talking about Plagiarism and Academic Integrity in the Digital Age.” EE Thomas and K Sassi. English Journal (July 2011), 47-53.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Assessment of small-Group Process

Question: What is the ideal group process and what is a problem with group work?

Answer/Quote: “In the best cases, groups present a respectable product and all group members gain significant learning from the experience. However, in other cases, group members who didn’t pull their weight may have received the same grade as the members who took more responsibility for the task.” P. 42.

Comment: The author suggests rubrics to help students evaluate the group process and urges teachers to have students evaluate the group experience. RayS.

Title: “Assessing Internal Group Process in Collaborative Assignments.” TJ Nelson. English Journal (July 20ll), 41-46.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Evaluating the Teaching of Writing Today

Question: What do we know about the teaching of writing today?

Quote: “…even in English class, on average, students are not writing a great deal.” P. 15.

Quote: “The amount of extended writing seems particularly limited when viewed against how students spend the rest of their time.” P. 15.

Quote: “…with the exception of math, less than a third of the classrooms made use of any technology. And…when technology was used, it was usually used by the teacher.” P. 22.

Comment: I’m a little confused by these conclusions. I don’t expect much writing or extended writing to take place in actual classrooms, nor do I expect, necessarily, that technology would be used in the classrooms per se. But to what degree are writing, extended writing, and technology used as part of assignments outside of the classroom? To what extent is classroom time spent on preparing for writing? RayS.

Title: “A Snapshot of Writing Instruction in Middle Schools and High Schools.” AN Applebee ;and JA Langer. English Journal (July 2011), 14-27.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing Process

Question: How organize writing longer materials?

Answer: Lan Samantha Chang: “As I’ve moved away from the short story toward longer work, the one thing that has changed about my process is that I no longer try to write in order.” P. 58.

Comment: More and more I have read authors who say they do not write “in order.” Or, they concentrate on individual sections of the work, not necessarily in order, They write sections in which they have an immediate interest. Interesting. RayS.

“How I Write: Lan Samantha Chang.” Elfreida Abbe. The Writer (August 2011), p. 58.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

More on Nouns and Verbs

Question: What should you do when you revise?

Answer/Quote: “Write with powerful verbs and nouns. Word choice defines you as a writer, so choose carefully. When revising your work, you might find yourself relying too heavily on adjectives and adverbs. This means your nouns and verbs are weaklings. The answer isn’t to pile on the modifiers but to strengthen you nouns or verbs. Take time to find the right word….to say exactly what you mean. Concreteness is better than abstraction. Shorter is often better.” P. 31.

Comment; I keep searching for how to operationalize the process we call revising. Or, to put it another way, what do you do when you revise? Strengthening nouns and verbs and eliminating adjectives and adverbs is at least part of the answer. RayS.

Title: “Give Readers a Story, Not Dry Facts.” Chuck Leddy. The Writer (August 2011), 30-31.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writers on Writing

Question: Want to ask an author a question or watch authors talk about their books?

Answer: Go to You (or your students) will be able to ask Simon and Schuster authors questions about their books or about writing or you can watch videos in which authors talk about the books they have published by Simon and Schuster.

Comment: Your students might find this an interesting Web site. RayS.

Title: “Your Favorite Simon and Schuster Authors Answer Your Questions.” B.S.M. The Writer (August 2011), 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writing and Adjectives

Question: “Why do editors say that adjectives make for weak descriptions?

Answer/Quotes: “Nouns and verbs, however, are the foundations of writing, and you should choose them carefully, rather than slathering on adjectives (or adverbs, which modify verbs). A man can ‘walk slowly,’ but it is stronger to say, ‘he plodded.’ A garden of ‘bright flowers’ isn’t nearly as vivid as one with ‘irises and lilacs.’ ”

“Once you become meticulous in choosing your nouns and verbs, you can then save the adjectives and adverbs for the moments when you really need them.”

Title: “Why do editors say that adjectives make for weak descriptions?” Brandi Reissenweber. The Writer (August 2011), 7.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Authentic Assessments and ESL Students

Question: Why use authentic assessments with ESL students?

Answer/Quote: “We need to understand why many second-language students do not score well on formal literacy measures in English. Formal literacy measures provide a sampling of students performance. Because formal literacy tests often underestimate the reading performance of second-language students…, teachers of these students need to look beyond these tests to understand students’ literacy performance. This does not mean that formal literacy measures cannot be used, but that they need to be used cautiously and in concert with authentic assessment measures.” P. 201.

List of authentic assessments:

.classroom observation

.oral miscue analysis

.story retelling

.story telling or writing

.tape recording of oral reading

.reading logs

.reading response logs

 writing folders

.student-teacher conferences.

Comment: I began reading this booklet on teaching ESL students, thinking that there was some magic formula for working with ESL students. What I learned was that the practices recommended for use with ESL students were the same techniques that I used with students whose native language is English. The techniques need to be adapted, but they are the same techniques I use with English-speaking students. In other words, just plain good teaching. My readers will find the entire list of techniques for teaching ESL students with explanations at RayS.

Title: “Assessing the Literacy Development of Second-Language Students: A Focus on Authentic Assessment.” Georgia Earnest Garcia, pp. 180-205.  In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writers on Writing

Question: How do writers begin to write?

Answer/Quote: “There are so may better ways to write than the way I write. …I write all the middle; then I have to write the beginning and ending.” Dorothy Allison. P. 4.

Comment: An interesting way of organizing one’s writing. Could be a solution to writer’s block. RayS.

Quoted in the table of contents: The Writer (August 2011), 4-5,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

FYI: From the Wall Street Journal

August 10, 2011, Internet.

Headline: State Education Tests Trail National Standards

Question: How do state tests of reading and math compare to students’ performance in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)?

Quotes: “States have increased the difficulty of their elementary-school math and reading tests, but the standards are still far below what students are expected to know on national achievement exams, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

“The data help explain the disconnect between the relatively high pass rates on many state exams and the low scores on the national tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

“Between 2007 and 2009, eight states made it tougher for students to pass one or more of the exams given to 4th- and 8th-grade students, while New Jersey and South Carolina lowered the bar, according to data from the National Center on Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP. The remaining states made no changes.

“Still, virtually every state uses math and reading exams that are far easier to pass than the national test.”

Comment: I’m not much for statistical manipulation. Seems the NAEP has a scale that converts performance in state tests in reading and math to  performance in the NAEP, and the states’ scores that call the students’ performance “proficient” are, by NAEP standards, “basic.” Is anyone surprised? 

We’re in the throes of another godawful mess created by politicians. We should have learned from the godawful mess created by No Child Left Behind that politicians are in over their heads and we should somehow have kept politicians from messing with economics, but we didn’t and look at the godawful mess that created: A lower U.S. credit rating from Standard and Poor.

I’d say let the NAEP do the testing, but their testing is done in piecemeal fashion with some students taking part of the test and others taking other parts. Still, if we want consistency, we’re going to have to have a national test created and supervised by the National Center on Educational Statistics. Forget local control of education. National standards are in place. See my reviews of the Common Core States Standards in this blog from March through July 2010. I thought they were pretty good. RayS.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summarizing "Reading and Writing and ESL Students"

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. RayS.

.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.

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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Students' Reflections on Their Writing

Question: What do students learn from writing about their own writing processes?

Answer/Quote: “Scholars and teachers within the field of composition have long heralded the merits of reflective writing…. Whether written intermittently throughout a course or near the end (typically in the genre of portfolio cover letter), reflective writing assignments are thought to promote cognitive development by helping students become more aware of their own writing processes…. …reflecting on their writing and revision processes is thought to empower students as learners: rather than simply implement their teachers’ suggestions for improvement, students, through reflection, analyze their rhetorical choices, claim authority as writers, and take responsibility for their own learning….” p. 628,

Comment: Curiously, throughout my entire career as a writing teacher, I never asked students to reflect on their own writing processes. I wish I had. RayS.

Title: “Reflective Writing’s Synechdochic Imperative: Process Descriptions Redescribed.” J Jung. College English (July 2011), 628-647.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Purpose for Reading Literature

Question: What is the purpose for reading literature, specifically literature dealing with social issues, like poverty?

Answer/Quote: “The lesson of ‘The Lesson’ [Toni Cade Bambara] seems to be not just that we live in an immoral society, one in which ‘some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven,’ as Miss Moore puts it, but that that lesson is a difficult one to communicate. People are not always ready to hear it, or they misinterpret its meaning, or, as Sylvia does, they are occasionally at a loss for what to do with their newfound knowledge. To put it another way, Sylvia, and students in a literature of poverty course, learn valuable lessons about poverty and inequality. But those lessons do not always or even often translate into deeds, let alone the right deeds.” P. 623.

Comment: Harold Bloom in The Western Canon (1994) says that “Real reading is a lonely activity and does not teach anyone to become a better citizen.” In other words, the purpose of reading literature is reflection, not action. RayS.

Title: “The Literature of Poverty, the Poverty of Literature Classes.” J Marsh. College English (July 2011), 604-627.

Friday, August 5, 2011

World Literature

Question: Why teach world literature?

Answer/Quote: “Fundamentally, world literature pursues a fantasy, a utopian concept of global coherence and connectivity, and while this pursuit may constitute a problem for us, it is also a source of both rhetorical and pedagogical power. At a time of potential despair and cynicism about our global situation, world literature motivates us to seek words and concepts that shape our ideal of a ‘world’ that is meaningful, safe and just.” P. 601.

Comment: Sounds as if this author wants to unite the world through teaching world literature. And since when is literature of any kind “safe” and “just”? I think the question is a good one, and deserves thinking about. I think the author’s answer is more than a little idealistic. RayS.

Title: “What Good is World Literature?: World Literature Pedagogy and the Rhetoric of Moral Crisis.” KR Smith. College English (July 2011), 585-603.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Question: What are the characteristics of student writers who are likely NOT to plagiarize?

Answer: Student who write with a strong sense of purpose.

Quote: “In examining in chapter 4 the texts that her research subjects produced, Pecorari (Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis. Diane Pecorari. New York: Continuum, 2008.) determines that students who wrote with a strong, defined sense of their own scholarly purpose and ethos were less likely than other writers to use a ‘large proportion of repeated language…whether properly attributed quotation or textual plagiarism.’ The finding is significant, for it demonstrates the critical importance of the relationship between a student’s sense of authority and his or her perceived right to speak within a given conversation. Moreover, when employing ‘repeated language,’ the writers with greater sense of their own purpose were more likely to reaccentuate, reconceptualize and adapt the passages than merely rephrase them. In other words, avoiding plagiarism is not simply a matter of understanding and employing grammatical or formal convention used within a discipline; it also has to do with understanding the subject of the discourse and with one’s sense of purpose in writing.”

Comment: I guess that means if students know the subject and have a strong sense of purpose in writing, they will have no need to plagiarize and, further, they will make better use of quotes than merely to rephrase them. RayS.

Title: “Review: Theorizing Plagiarism in the University.” Kay Halasek. College English (May 2011), 548-568.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Question: How should we deal with plagiarism?

Answer: The author reviewed three books on the topic:

Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis. Diane Pecorari. New York: Continuum, 2008.

My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture. Susan D. Blum. Ithica: Cornell UP, 2009.

Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies. Ed. Rebecca Moore Howard and Amy E. Robillard. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2008.

The consensus in the three books is to react proactively rather than reactively—in other words, teach the students about the issues in plagiarism; don’t wait until you are faced with cases of probable plagiarism.

Quote: “The approach must be proactive, not reactive. That seems to be the central position of all of these scholars. We need to take proactive instructional action—not preventive punitive action—that engages our students as sophisticated consumers of discourses whose assumptions about text, identity, self, and authenticity may differ dramatically from ours—but may yet productively inform our classrooms.” P. 567.

Title: “Review: Theorizing Plagiarism in the University.” Kay Halasek. College English (May 2011), 548-568.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Question: What are the characteristics of a failed administrator?

Answer: This essay is entitled “How to Destroy an English Department” at the college level. Some of the characteristics of the failed administrator could apply to any principal, supervisor or above.

.First, accept the position while loudly expressing your thorough disdain for the job and your deep resentment for having to take it.

. Express scorn for ‘administrators’ generally as sellouts or failures; use that attitude as the basis for your relationship with your dean.

. Act as if your department is the center of the universe, and accordingly consider the needs of other units on campus as inconsequential or laughable.

. Seek revenge for past grievances.

. Dispense resources as a reward for loyalty.

. Weed out the weak by pitting colleague against colleague in a grand Darwinian struggle.

. Be suspicious; everyone really is out to get you.

. Ignore problems that bore or confound you; this is especially true for financial problems.

. Never hold department meetings; your job is easier when you don’t have to answer any questions (but if anyone does attempt to engage you in dialogue, talk so long that everyone is too tired to respond or follow up).

. Delegate every decision so no one blames you, but then micromanage all delegated tasks to make sure everything is ‘don right.’

. Always tell people exactly what you think of them.

. If you know people are gossiping about you, then by all means, gossip about them.

. Yell at your staff; that is what you are there for.

. Finally, never train anyone else to do any aspect of your job.

Comment: Does any such monster exist?

In my book, Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris, 2004, I suggested four characteristics of successful supervision: Listen—to everyone, parents, students, teachers and administrators. Encourage innovation. Model for teachers the techniques you want them to use in their classrooms. Supervise as if you had no authority. These characteristics worked for me. RayS.

Title: “How to Destroy an English Department.” Donald E. Hall. College English (May 2011), 538-547.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Women and Rhetoric

Question: What would be the purpose for a course on women and rhetoric?

Answer: “…to come to know women as rhetorical agents by analyzing the rhetorical strategies they used to make their voices heard.” P. 518.

Comment: Assumes that women as women use special rhetorical strategies in order to make themselves heard and remembered—since they are considered in many ways to be minorities. Intriguing idea. RayS.

Title: “Remembering Sappho: New Perspectives on Teaching (and Writing) Women’s Rhetorical History.” J Enoch and J Jack. College English (May 2011), 518-537.