Monday, October 31, 2011

Teacher Education

Question: What is an authentic English classroom?

Answer: The author defines an authentic English language arts classroom as “…work that is, in some way, meaningful beyond the context of school.”

Then she asks her methods course students the following questions about their lesson plans: What is the point of this activity? What are the students’ purposes for undertaking this activity?

Comment: Good questions for any activity used in an English class. RayS.

Title: “In Search of the Authentic English Classroom: Facing the Schoolishness of School.” Anne Elrod Whitney. English Education (October 2011), 51-62.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Changing University English Dept.

Question: How has the college English department changed?

Answer: Tenured professors are in the minority. Adjunct, contingent and graduate student instructors are in the majority. What are the implications of this shift in the nature of the faculty?

Comment: Speaking as a former adjunct instructor, I see little chance that the majority will wield the power that is in tight control by the minority tenured faculty. I see little chance for a revolution by those instructors in the majority. FYI. RayS.

 Title: Review: The Old Curiosity Shop and the New Faculty Majority.” Jim Cocola. College English (September 2011), 69-84.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

WWII Japanese-American Internees

Question: What can we learn from petitions written by interned Japanese American citizens during WWII?

Answer/Quote: “However successful or unsuccessful they may have been in changing the internees’ circumstances, these documents provide evidence for subsequent generations that their Issei forbears were neither passive nor afraid to raise their voices to argue for change in their lives. They contribute to the ‘written legacy’ of resistance desired by Mira Shimabukuro. When these petitions were viewed as historical and rhetorical documents, we can see that the internees in a sense put their lives on the line to make their political arguments. In doing so, they show that they somehow had maintained some belief in a system that had failed them. Perhaps that belief made them the supreme patriots and democrats: they had faith that the written word in America would somehow convey not only their views, but more important, their humanity.” P. 66.

Comment: The NCTE is apparently suggesting the study of writing for resistance. Several articles have featured the writing of indigenous people like the Cherokee, and now this article on the petitions  of Japanese -American internees during WWII. Interesting. RayS.

 Title: “Putting Their Lives on the Line: Personal Narrative as Political Discourse among Japanese Petitioners in American World War II Internment.” Gail Y Okawa. College English (September 2011), 50-68,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writer as Citizen

Question: Why do we teach writing?

Answer: Well, one reason is to create citizens as writers. That’s at least one of our goals, and we ought to give our students the opportunity to use writing in their role as citizens. Public writing. Participatory writing. The writer as citizen.

Comment: Worth thinking about. I never directly asked students to write letters to the editor, for example, or letters to Congress Persons. It’s authentic writing and I should have. Mea Culpa. RayS.

Title: In the Name of Citizenship: The Writing Classroom and the Promise of Citizenship.” Amy J. Wan. College English (September 2011), 28-49.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Literature and Empathy

Question: Is one of our goals in teaching literature empathy?

Answer: According to the author, if we think empathizing with characters will produce empathetic students is a goal of literature study, we are mistaken. Studying literature cannot produce students who are empathetic. Rather, look to the institutions at which our students study. Do our institutions reflect an empathetic spirit? That spirit will be catching and we have a much better chance of sensitizing students to empathy by example. Reading literature by itself does not produce empathetic students.

Quote: “If respectful, thoughtful, and humane ways of being, thinking, and acting are valued elements of institutional culture, then we will have, at the very least, created the conditions where students can both be introduced to the complexity of empathy and experience it as a daily practice.” P. 24.

Comment: In The Western Canon, Harold Bloom says that literature does not exist to alter individuals or society; that the Canon displays a complex view of humanity; that people read to enlarge their lonely existence by understanding the complexity of motivation and point of view in the world, but without didacticism and moralizing. RayS.

Title: “Empathy and the Critic.” Ann Jurecic. College English (September 2011), 10-27.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading Speeds

Question: What are the various speeds in reading and what are they for?

Answer/Quote: “Actually, when I say skimming, I mean skipping—just passing over whole paragraphs. Skimming is reading quickly, about 450 words a minute for a proficient reader; scanning—the way we read dictionaries or telephone directories—is done at about 600 words a minute. These are the first two reading levels of the five hypothesized by Ronald P. Carver, a professor of educational psychology. The middle level, which Mr. Carver called "rauding," is the level at which we read literary fiction, or letters or long magazine stories. To oversimplify his theory, when we raud we are not only reading every word but comprehending their meaning in the context of sentences and paragraphs. (Mr. Carver's other two levels are reading to learn—studying—at about 200 words a minute and reading to memorize, 138 words a minute.)”

Comment: My definition of skimming is spinning through dictionaries or telephone directories. My definition of scanning is reading the title, first sentences of paragraphs and last paragraph in order to raise questions to answer when reading a textbook chapter. Mr. Carver’s definition of “raiding” sounds like Sir Francis Bacon’s “…others to be swallowed…that is…to be read, but not curiously” [“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested”]. That means to me detective fiction, Westerns and “Chick Lit.” RayS.

Title: “Skimming Vs. Reading.” Cynthia Crossen. Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2011. Internet Version.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Question: Why use quotes in your writing?

Answer/Quote: “Great quotes can help sell your queries to editors. Used as leads, quotes can pull your readers into your story. In the middle of your article, quotes can act like locomotives pulling the reader along while helping you make your main points. They can also aid in writing a satisfying conclusion to your story. Plus, quotes can add life to otherwise dry subjects. So how do you get engaging quotes? Follow these tips:

> Find unique quotes.

> Plan your interview.

> Listen for potential follow-up question.

> Pick up the phone or meet face to face.

> Take advantage of a recorder.

> Put your source at ease.

> Leave your own opinions and biases out of the interviews.

> Look for fresh expression.

> Double-check your quotes.

Title:”9 Tips for Quotes That Sparkle.” JK Borchardt. The Writer (October 2011), 13.

Comment: The one tip that stands out for me is “Leave your own opinions and biases out of the interview.” Too often, questions become speeches featuring the interviewer’s point of view. The Writer is a publication by writers for writers. I highly recommend it, especially for creative writing teachers. RayS.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Question: “How do I know if something is a cliché?”

Answer/Quote:”George Orwell described clichés as those images, concepts or phrases that have ‘lost force.’ Most clichés probably started off as fresh and exciting but have lost their energy over repeated use. For example: He was tall, dark and handsome. Her heart skipped a beat. She worked like a dog.”

“We’ve all heard these phrases before and understand what they mean. But they don’t evoke an interesting image or a compelling emotion. In fact, images probably don’t arise at all.”

 “We use clichés as an easy way to express a sentiment.” Writing is about precision. ‘So, if you’ve heard it before, it’s a cliché….”

 Title: “How Do I Know If Something Is a Cliché?” Brandi Reissenweber. The Writer (October 2011), 7.

Comment: The Writer is a publication by writers for writers. I would recommend that you purchase a copy of The Writer for October 2011 and use Brandi’s full article with your classes. I’m sure this question has come up in your writing classes. RayS.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rhetoric of Indigenous People

Note: The entire issue of the September 2011 journal College Composition and Communication is devoted to the rhetorics of indigenous people. For example, several articles deal with the American attempt to educate the Cherokee.

One of the authors defines the term “survivance” as coined from “survival” and “resistance.” The message is plain: The native peoples used their indigenous rhetorics to analyze and criticize  and discredit the European and Western concept of colonialism to marginalize native people by trying to assimilate them into the dominant culture. In reading about these native authors, students learn the power of writing to resist. 

 Comment: This issue of College Composition and Communication (September 2011), is a keeper. You might skim it to begin with, but you will come back to it again. The articles are significant and well written, too. RayS.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Future of English Teaching

Question: What are your thoughts about the future of English teaching?

Note: The editor of the special September 2011 issue of English Journal, Leila Christenbury, posed the following questions about the future of English teaching. You can read about the answers she has gleaned from multiple audiences in her article, “Then and Now: ?The Thoughts of NCTE Members in 1960 and in 2010.” Leila Christenbury. English Journal (September 2011), 133-138.

> What to expect in the year 2061

> The change I would most like to see in English teaching during the next 50 years

> Ten of the important studies in research in English

> Important unsolved problems in research in English

> A book that has influenced my thinking about the teaching of English

> What worries me most about the teaching of English

> An article that I especially remember [My title. RayS.]

Comment: If you care to respond to these issues, send them to I’ll publish the results. RayS.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Two Quotes about Writing

Question: How should one teach writing?

Answer: “ ‘Writing is not too difficult to be achieved,’ wrote Lou LaBrant in 1957, adding, ‘but the components call for direct, full experience rather than for mere learning about the process. Despite this there are today in the freshman classes of our nation’s colleges some hundreds and even thousands of freshmen who are having their first experience in selecting a subject and writing their ideas about it. They have outlined, parsed and punctuated bits, have perhaps written paragraphs (parts of pieces), but they lack experience with the full production.” P. 103.

“In the end, LaBrant leaves us with a vivid metaphor for the distinction between school writing and authentic writing: ‘Knowing about…writing and its parts does not bring it about, just as owning a blueprint does not give you a house.” P. 104.

Comment: A reminder. Grammar exercises are not the same as actual writing. RayS.

Title: “Revisiting LaBrant’s ‘Writing Is More than Structure’ (English Journal, May 1957).” PL Thomas. English Journal (September 2011), 103-104.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NCTE: An Important Omission--Ethics

Question: What can a teacher do when forced to perform an unethical act in teaching?

Answer/Quote: Nothing. Read on: “But an even more important regret about the structure of NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) is what I wish Ruth Cline’s (1990) NCTE president) work on an ethics code had been adopted by NCTE. We need such a code…. That is, a K-12 teacher has a right to an ethical working condition (not being asked to teach in a harmful manner). In NCTE’s Code for Right to Ethical Conditions, a K-12 teacher could file a complaint about ethical conditions (‘I am being required to perform an unethical act by my district’), and NCTE could review the matter and make a recommendation—just as it does under the Right to Read Policy where teachers report censorship cases….” P. 43.

Comment: A question: What ethics policies exist throughout education? RayS.

Title: “Buckle Up for Interesting Times.” Miles Myers. English Journal (September 2011), 33-42.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reading and Interpreting Poetry

Question: How can I help students to interpret poems from several points of view.

Answer: Students given a variety of well-recognized poems. Each student selects one poem.

 > First they respond to the poem they selected with a personal interpretation, citing correctly quotations from the poem. .

> Second, they research information from the content of the poem that will help them to understand it.

> Third, they read a critical essay by a professional critic on the poem.

 “Finally, students revise the three parts of the assignment into a complete analysis of the poem.” P. 83.

 Title: “A Scaffolded Essay Assignment on Poetry.” Jane Arnold. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2011), 82-83.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Standard English as One of Many Dialects

Question: How can I help students understand that Standard English is one of many appropriate choices for effective communication?

Answer/Quote: “As a teacher at a community college in Appalachia, I am often shocked by composition students who have come to accept what they have learned in previous academic settings: that their native dialects make them ‘sound stupid.’ I want my students to recognize standard English as another dialect that is suitable in particular situations—to avoid mistaking Standard English as inherently ‘correct’ English, or as the only option for effective communication. To determine the best language options, students need to pay close attention to the language needs of the situation at hand, or consider why one particular dialect might be more useful than another in a particular setting.” P. 81.

The author has students record in journals the types of language in situations that they experience during the day, i.e., the language at home, the language at work, etc. “This extended prewriting leads into a formal essay in which students describe two settings in which they spend a great deal of time, along with specific language situations they might encounter at each.” P 81.

 “Ultimately, students can come to understand that their local dialects are not inferior and in fact work better for communicating in certain situations while standardized dialect is often more likely to facilitate effective communication across professional and nonlocal audiences or settings.” P. 82.

 Comment: Interesting technique for analyzing the language of different social settings and the appropriateness of Standard English for specific situations and the appropriateness of other dialects for certain other situations. In general, the more students write informally, the more their language reflects the way they speak. RayS.

Title: “Dialect and Language Analysis Assignment.” Amanda Hayes. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2011), 81-82.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Evaluating Online Sources: The CRAP Test

Question: How can students evaluate online sources for the purposes of research/

Answer/Quote: “There is so much information on the Web posted by so many different people. How do you know if something is accurate and reliable? One way to determine if the information is valid is to use the CRAP test. For this test, you will surf the Internet to Find a Web page.” P. 71.

I. Description of your search:

>What is your topic?

>What search engine(s) did you use?

>What key words did you use to do your search?

>How many hits (results) did you get?

>How many sites did you look at? Did you go beyond the 1 page of results?


A. Content

>Coose one of your sites. Copy and paste the URL below.

> Is the URL from an ‘org,’ ‘edu,’ ‘com,’ Or ‘gov”?

>Is the information fact or opinion?

>Is the information documented? Explain.

>Is the page well written? Is it well proofed and error free?

>Now go the root of the Web page by omitting everything after the gov or com in the URL (ex. Once you are on the root’s homepage look for an ‘about us’ or ‘information’ that gives insight about the host. What do you learn? Does it add or take away from the page’s credibility? Explain.

B. Recency

>How old is the information? How often is it updated?

>Are the links on the page working or ‘dead’?

>Does the web site include references to mostly current or out-of-date information?

C. Author

>Who is the author of this site? Is it a person? Organization?

>Is the author/organization qualified to write on the subject? Explain.

>Can the author/organization be contacted for further information?

>What biases does/might the author bring to the information? Why is the author writing about the subject? Explain.

D. Purpose

>What is the purpose of this information? Inform? Persuade? Entertain?

>Does the author/organization make his/her purpose  or intentions clear?

>Who is the intended audience for this information (for a hint, go back to the root of the page)? Explain.

 III. Overall Assessment

> On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being least reliable ‘it’s crap’ and 10 being most reliable ‘it’s expert information’). What would you rank this site and why?”
pp. 71 & 72.

Comment: In addition to the CRAP analysis of online sources, this article also supplies an easy-to-follow guide to documenting sources online and in traditional media. RayS.

Title: “A Personal Touch: Embedding Library Faculty into Online English 102.” Casey Kadavy and Kim Chuppa-Cornell. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2011), 63-77.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Evaluating Student Writing

Question: What are some basic categories for assessment of student writing?

Answer/Quote: The authors and their English department were unsatisfied with their original rubric for student assessment. They reduced six categories to four: purpose, critical thinking/analysis, intertextuality and audience awareness. “ ‘Intertextuality’ is a term we use to describe the integration of a student’s ideas with outside texts, and we define outside texts loosely: articles, books, movies, poems, advertisements, and the ever-widening range of new media.” P. 54.

Whereas the six-category rubric seemed unnecessarily complex and confusing, including the category “voice,” the four-category assessment gave the teachers and students the opportunity to explore  definitions of and understanding of the categories.

The scheme of assessment included the following:

Paper Assessment Sheet
Core elements (Scores ‘3’ and above are ;passing)

Purpose                                                 6              5              4              3              2              1

Critical Thinking/Analysis              6              5              4              3              2              1

Intertextuality                                     6              5              4              3              2              1

Audience Awareness                          6              5              4              3              2              1

 Comment: Much to like in these categories for writing assessment. RayS.

Title: “From Rigidity to Freedom: An English Department’s Journey in Rethinking How We teach and Assess Writing.” C Strouthopoulos and JL Peterson. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2011), 43-62.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Five-Paragraph Theme

Question: How do you use the model for expository writing known as the five-paragraph theme?

Answer/Quote: “This article traces the history of the five-paragraph theme and views about it, along with arguing for its elimination in writing instruction in favor of problem-based ‘rich-task’ writing experiences for students.” P. 29.

Quote: “ ‘How do you feel about the five-paragraph theme?’ I have posed this question as a conversation starter on the topic of theme writing over the past two years to first-year college writers, along with elementary and secondary English teachers, two-year and four-year college instructors, and others interested in literacy instruction who have attended conferences sponsored by the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Iowa Council of Teachers of English.” P.. 29.

Quote: “What the continuum reveals is a lack of consensus about this uniquely ‘North American species of pseudogenre,’ a formula that puzzles those who teach writing elsewhere in the world: Assessments range from ‘very positive on the left side to ‘very negative’ on the right…creating a balanced range of responses from strong approval to strong disapproval.’ ” P. 29.

Comment: Once again, the National Council of Teachers of English creates an ‘either/or” issue that is best resolved by “both/and,” both the five-paragraph model, not a genre, for expository writing and a ‘rich-task’ writing experience for students, whatever that is. The five-paragraph essay is a model for the structure of exposition, easily expanded, and, in spite of the NCTE’s objections to it, the model followed by every published writer of articles in NCTE publications. By continuing to use “either/or” situations (grammar, writing process vs. product, phonics), the NCTE violates the very basic notions of critical thinking and common sense. RayS.

Title: “What to Make of the Five-Paragraph theme: History of the Genre and Implications.” M Tremmel. Teaching English in the Two-Year College” (September 2011), 29-42,

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NCTE and You

Note: The September 2011 issue of English Journal celebrates the centennial of the National Council of Teachers of English. The articles consist of testaments to the value of the NCTE to practicing teachers of English. Peter Smagorinsky in the final paragraph of his article, “NCTE & Me: Reflections on the Council’s Role in One Teacher’ Life,” says well what I have learned from  my experiences with the NCTE.

Quote: “I have always been puzzled at the fact that, with all that NCTE has to offer, more practicing teachers are not members. I taught in some highly regarded high schools in which I was among the few members of large faculties to join and take advantage of its resources. These resources have only grown more abundant and better with each passing year as NCTE tries to serve its members and improve the quality of teaching. I hope that my reflection on my own experiences with the Council helps others to think about where they would be without NCTE and to persuade colleagues of the possibilities that await them through their membership.” P. 116.

Comment: I began reading the English Journal in 1956 in my first year of high school teaching. Because I wanted to learn what was happening in elementary school, junior high and middle school, as well as high school and college, I expanded my reading of professional journals in English to include Elementary English re-named Language Arts, Voices from the Middle, College English, English Education, College Composition and Communication, Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Research in the Teaching of English and added to the NCTE’s list of journals those of the International  Reading Association, The Reading Teacher, Journal of Reading re-named Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and Reading Research Quarterly.

That’s a lot of reading, but I’ve learned to read for ideas and to find the significant ideas in each article of each journal, and, believe me, nothing is so exciting as discovering an answer to my questions about teaching English and raising new questions. I’ve discovered pre-writing, the writing process, writing to learn and teaching English as a second language in the pages of these journals. Sometimes the writers reinforce my own ideas, more often disagree with my ideas, but always I learn from ideas that I reflect on in order to improve my teaching of English. And I have learned how to write and publish in these journals, further refining my ideas.

Ideas. They are my reason for reading professional literature. Ideas that cause me to reflect about how to improve my teaching. That’s why I am a member of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English. If you’re an English teacher, you really need to belong to your professional organization. This blog, English Updates, consists of selected ideas from the pages of professional literature. I have had as many as 250 hits a day. RayS.

 Title: “NCTE & Me: Reflections on the Council’s Role in One Teacher’s Life.” Peter Smagorinsky. English Journal (September 2011), 111-116.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Goal of the Community College Teacher

Question: What is the primary goal of the community college teacher?

 Answer/Quote: “As a professor at a community college, you will be evaluated primarily in terms of your effectiveness as a teacher, your commitment to student learning, and your service to the institution and the community. While research and publication are generally encouraged and supported, they do not serve as the main institutional goals and therefore may be given limited recognition and reward in terms of rank, promotion, and salary. Most institutional honors and awards are based on exemplary teaching.” (“Considering Community College Advice to Graduate Students and Job Seekers” 167) p. 7.

Comment: Unlike four-year colleges, the mission of the community college is effective teaching. Research and publication are secondary to effective teaching. An important distinction. RayS.

Title: “Research and Scholarship in the Two-Year College.” Two-Year College English association. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (September 2011), 7-28.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Adults and Children's Reading

Question: What role should parents play in their children’s reading after they have stopped reading aloud to them?

Answer/Quotes: “Daniel Pennac (2008) warns against too little and too much intervention by adults in the life of the child reader. He admonishes adults for ceasing to read aloud to children the moment they begin to read on their own. When we abandon our role as reader-aloud, we often assume the role of reading police in children’s lives. We monitor what children read, how often they read, how much they read, what ‘level’ they read and whether they’ve gained the ‘correct’ meaning from the text.”

Quote: “So what, then, is the role of the adult? To model, to let be, and to have faith. We must be cautious that our own excitement about sharing what we love as readers, or what we loved as child readers ourselves, does not prevent children from finding what they love. Thus, and perhaps most important, we must let children read what they choose to read, suspending adult evaluations of quality and appropriateness. Pennac reminds us that children reading tastes will evolve over time, He concluded his original ‘Reader’s Bill of Rights’ (1994) assuring the reader that s/he has ‘The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes’ (p. 206). We believe that this right has particular implications for the child reader who must fend off well-meaning parents and teachers patrolling the reading beat.” P. 244.

Comment: I wonder if Daniel Pennac would defend the use of violent or pornographic video games as he defends the child’s right to read? This is murky stuff. There’s a difference between guiding reading and censoring it. RayS.

Title: “The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes.” MA Cappiello, et al. Language Arts (January 2011), p. 244.