Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some Facts to Consider

Question: How many youths in the United States are incarcerated every day?

Answer/Quote: “On any given day, more than 100,000 youths are incarcerated in the United States. Countless more are considered ‘at-risk’ for incarceration, based on factors such as homelessness, poverty, gang membership, substance abuse, grade retention, and more.”

Quote: “Unfortunately, gender and race can be considered risk factors as well. The most recent Department of Justice (DOJ) census showed that 85% of incarcerated teens are male…. Thirty-eight percent of the youths in the juvenile justice system are black, and 19% are Hispanic…. The DOJ predicted that the juvenile correctional population will increase by 36% by the year 2020, mostly because of growth in the Hispanic male population.” P. 385.

Comment: The author suggests finding relevant books in urban fiction to help students light the spark of reading. Maybe so. But I think it’s going to take a lot more than that to help at-risk males for incarceration to change their motivation for succeeding in reading and school. RayS.

Title: “Using Urban Fiction to Engage At-Risk and Incarcerated Youths in Literacy Instruction.” Stephanie F. Guerra. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2012), 385-394.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reversing Reading Failure

Question: How can a teacher change failing readers’ perceptions of their reading ability?

Answer/Quote: “When I met Antony (all names are pseudonyms) in September, he was an eighth-grade student in Ms. Winters’s English class. His most recent test scores indicated that he read on a fourth-grade level. Mrs. Winters explained that he had barely passed the seventh grade and had a history of failing to complete assignments. She was concerned that he might drop out when he reached high school because of his difficulties with reading. ‘If his reading doesn’t improve,’ she said, ‘then I think he’ll get frustrated and quit—just completely quit.’ ” P. 368.

Quote: “Rather than trying to force students like Antony to take up and enact our understandings of what it meant to be a good reader, both in general and in English specifically, we engaged them in discussions and experiences about how they wanted to improve their reading, what they needed to do to achieve their goals, and how we could assist them along the way. As a result, students’ experiences with reading evolved into a partnership between the student and Ms. Winters.” P. 369.

Quote: “If you were considered to be a poor reader, ‘you get to do more worksheets and all the books are dumb and boring.’ ” p. 371.

Quote: “Students also had thoughts on how their teachers could help them become the kinds of readers they envisioned. Their most common recommendation was for teachers to provide them with more time to read challenging texts in school. Students believed they did not spend enough time reading in school and that this lack of time prevented them both from learning content and improving as readers.” P. 372.

Comment: What do failing students think about their reading? How do they think their reading could be improved? This might not be the whole answer, but it’s part of the answer. Establishes a partnership between the teacher and the students to improve the students’ perception of their reading ability. I like the idea. RayS.

Title: “Rewriting Identities: Creating Spaces for Students and Teachers to Challenge the Norm of What It Means to Be a Reader in School.” Leigh A. Hall. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2012), 368-373.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another Approach to Read-Alouds

Question: How can we get the most from reading aloud to young children?

Answer: By focusing less on literal meanings and more on interpretation through discussion. Quote: “This article presents how one researcher and a kindergarten teacher worked together to redesign reading aloud as a classroom practice, to focus on higher level literacy practices to meet 21st century literacy demands.” P. 184.

Quote: “I define higher level literacy practices as those focused on actively constructing meaning through analysis, interpretation, and critical thinking resulting in interpretations of text, rather than comprehension of literal-level content explicitly in text.” P. 184.

Quote: “For example, recalling character names in a story would be considered a low-level literacy practice, because that information is explicit, leaving little room for interpretation. In contrast, interpreting character motivations would be a higher level literacy practice, because the reader must analyze the information explicitly in the text and synthesize it with her own knowledge and experience to construct meaning that is interpretive and goes beyond the text itself.” P. 184.

 Quote: Typical read-aloud sessions: “In a 1993 The Reading Teacher article, Hoffman, Roser, and Battle described the…average read-aloud experience from their data on 537 classroom observations:

The classroom teacher reads to students from a trade book for a period between 10 and 20 minutes. The chosen literature is not connected to a unit of study in the classroom. The amount of discussion related to the book takes fewer than 5 minutes, including talk before and after the reading.” P. 184.

Quote: Focus on interpretation read-alouds through discussion: “First, her read-aloud sessions grew longer, from approximately 23 to 30 minutes. Second, lengths of discussions within the read-aloud also expanded (increasing 45%)….”

 Comment: Obviously read-alouds focusing on interpretation will require some planning. Sounds like an interesting challenge. However, don’t forget about basic comprehension. I have found that it is necessary to establish character, setting and plot BEFORE launching into interpretation. Otherwise, we can’t be sure that the students have understood the story. RayS.

Title: “Co-constructing Meaning.” Jessica L. Hoffman. The Reading Teacher (November 2011), 183-193.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Responsibility for Teachers of Literacy

Question: In addition to providing effective instruction in literacy, what else must teachers of literacy do?

Answer: Engage in the politics of legislation. Quote: “…it must be said that we as members of the profession have yet to become mature players, both active and adept, in the world of politics and policy.” P. 180.

 Quote: “Today, although you must still have a focus on your instructional program, you must also be able to share the message of quality literacy research and instruction with numerous stakeholder groups, including those who develop the laws and policy that affect our teaching and, even more importantly, the futures of the children in your classroom.” P. 182.

Comment: Instruction in literacy is now in the hands of legislators. The NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND law was the first step in telling teachers how and what to teach. I am guilty of not keeping up with the state and federal legislators. I will use this article to rectify that. But, darn it, my job is to teach, not to engage in politics, for which I have no taste. However, this article is right. We, as professionals, have no choice, if we want to maintain control of our professions, by showing the way to effective instruction. After all, that is what this blog is all about. RayS.

Title: “Building a Foundation Together.” Norman A. Stahl. The Reading Teacher (November 2011), 179-182.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Multi-modal Expression

Question: What is effective multi-modal expression?

Answer: In the pages of my blog, I have several times complained about the models of multi-modal expression in the journals of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)  and the International Reading Association (IRA). These organizations encourage teachers to engage their students in multi-modal expression, but their journals present flawed examples. In my last blog, I reviewed Linda B. Gambrell’s “Seven Rules of Engagement,” about motivation and reading. Contained in the article is an example of flawed multi-modal expression. It contains pictures throughout the article—four of them. They are cute pictures of students reading. BUT THERE ARE NO CAPTIONS explaining their relevance to the ideas in the article. They exist as cute pictures in and of themselves. They do not help to explain the ideas in the article.

Please! Dr., Mr., Ms. and Mrs. NCTE and IRA, if you are going to encourage teachers to teach students how to use multi-modal expression, model it effectively. Captionless pictures add nothing to the expressed ideas in the articles. They have no relevance to the IDEAS in the article. They are simply “cute.” RayS.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Motivation to Read

Question/Quote: “Why is it so important for teachers to consider the role of motivation in literacy learning?”

Answer/Quote: “…students who enjoyed reading the most performed significantly better than students who enjoyed reading the least. Perhaps of most concern was the finding that 37% of students reported that they do not read for any enjoyment at all. These findings are startling. Clearly, instruction that provides students with decoding and comprehensions skills and strategies is not sufficient.” P. 172.

Note: The author’s “Seven Rules of Engagement” are underwhelming. Here they are:

1. “Students are more motivated to read when the reading tasks and activities are relevant to their lives.” P. 173.

2. “Students are more motivated to read when they have access to a wide range of reading materials.” P. 173.

3. “Students are more motivated to read when they have ample opportunities to engage in sustained reading.” P. 174.

4. “Students are more motivated to read when they have opportunities to make choices about what they read and how they engage in and complete literacy tasks.” P. 175.

5. “Students are more motivated to read when they have opportunities to socially interact with others about the text they are reading.” P. 175.

6. “Students are more motivated to read when they have opportunities to be successful with challenging texts.” P. 176.

7. “Students are more motivated to read when classroom incentives reflect the value and importance of reading.” P. 176.

Comment: I’m sure my readers are aware of the substance of these “seven rules.” But the problem remains: how does one motivate students to read, especially as they grow older and have more technology to play with? RayS.

Title: “Seven Rules of Engagement.” Linda B. Gambrell. The Reading Teacher (November 2011), 172-178.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writing Assignments in School

Question: Do students believe in what they write?

Answer/Quote: “My own students have a lot to say about how little writing in school means to them. In a course on literacy across the curriculum, I ask the students, all of whom are enrolled in the graduate teacher certification program at SUNY-Albany, to write about an important experience involving writing or reading. Not surprisingly, most write about their experiences in school, since school is where most students do most of their writing and reading. These essays are revealing. Semester after semester, they underscore how little meaning school-sponsored writing has had for these students. Vinny, for example, a preservice social studies teacher, wrote that ‘I never took pride in my writing [in school] because most of the time I did not believe in what I was writing about.’” P. 195.

Comment: I’m curious about this comment. Before any writing assignment, on a given topic or on the student’s own topics, I always encouraged students to brainstorm the topic, to find the connection between themselves and the topic. I never had any feeling that the students did not believe in what they were writing. Of course, that’s just my experience and the students might have been faking it.

“Praxis” in the title of the article is defined by Paulo Freire (2005) as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”  RayS.

Title: “Writing as Praxis.” RP Yagelski. English Education (January 2012), 188-204.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Teaching Poetry to Pre-service English Teachers

Question: Why is teaching poetry important?

Answer: “…given downward trends in America’s poetry reading and writing…. In this article, we argue that preservice teachers have limited experience reading and writing poetry, and that if they are to teach poetry in meaningful ways to their future students, they need to have compelling experience with poetry in teacher education—ones that take into account their former experiences and incoming dispositions and that invite them to begin to live ‘the life of a poet.’ ” P. 102.

Quote: “…we drew on Boyer’s notion of the scholarship of teaching (1990) to address three research questions: (1) What are preservice teachers’ perceptions of past experiences with poetry? (2) What dispositions (that is, attitudes and habits) toward poetry reading, writing, and performance do preservice teachers have? (3) How can an aesthetic approach enhance preservice teachers’ experiences with and dispositions toward poetry? Based on this research, we recommend that teacher education not only include substantive course work on the topic of poetry, but that the pedagogy of such a course approximate, to the extent possible, practicing poets’ engagement with the genre. This includes opportunities for preservice teachers to read and write a wide variety of poetry, to be exposed to a diversity of poets in and out of the classroom, to workshop their poems in small groups with peers, to read or perform their original poetry for an audience, and to engage in ‘poetic’ living and observation.” P. 102.

Quote: “In advocating an expanded role for poetry in society, former poet laureate Ted Kooser (2005) wrote, ‘I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took the time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m sure, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think there could ever be too many ;poets.”  P, 103.

Comment: Sounds like a need to teach content for English education majors. Since I’m an English major who stumbled into education, content—except for teaching writing—was not an issue. How prepared are English education students for teaching their subject? How many literature courses do they take?

Other than that concern, I approve the idea, especially for gathering a stockpile of favorite poems with which to begin to encourage future students’ engagement with poetry. RayS.

Title: “Living the Poet’s Life: Using an Aesthetic Approach to Poetry to Enhance Preservice Teachers’ Poetry Experiences and Dispositions.” JL Certo, L Apol, E Wibbens and LK Hawkins. English Education (January 2012), 102-146.

Friday, February 17, 2012

NCLB (Humiliating Teachers)

Question: Does humiliating teachers motivate them to do better?

Note: One of the results of the No Child Left Behind law has been to label failing teachers and failing schools. RayS.

Answer: “Humiliating Teachers to Do Better.”

Quote: “When it comes to using tests to ‘motivate’ teachers to do better, there’s been an analogy floating around for quite a while that we like. Take the worst professional football team in the country. To encourage them to win more games next season, take away their protective gear, team doctors, and nice practice facility. When they have to play games against better outfitted teams, it will inspire them to win. Sound ridiculous? No more ridiculous than thinking that humiliating teachers will inspire them to teach better or that taking away schools’ resources will result in higher test scores.”  P. 95.

Quote: “Until the national, state, and local administrators and policymakers begin to take seriously the effects of poverty and oppression on the educational achievement of children, we will continue to see teachers scapegoated and held to unachievable standards.” P. 96.

Comment: I’m not sure about the analogy in the first quote—except that “failing” schools do not have the resources that the better suburban, affluent school districts have—but the second quote needs to be said loud and clear. So long as students in “failing” schools who are victims of poverty, drug cultures, unmotivated parents, crime on the streets, etc., and other social problems are addressed, the schools will fail and teachers will be scapegoated. RayS.

Title: “Editorial: Opening the Conversation: NCLB 10 Years Later.” Leslie S rush and Lisa Scherff. English Education (January 2012), 91-101.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

High-Stakes Testing

Question: What are the assumptions of supporters of high-stakes testing?

Answer: “In their book Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools” (3007) Sharon L Nichols and David C. Berliner present a list of flawed arguments put forward by NCLB (No Child Left Behind) supporters. We present some of them here:

> “Students work harder and learn more when they have to take high-stakes tests.

> “Students will be motivated to do their best and score well on high-stakes tests.

> “Scoring well on high-stakes tests leads to feeling of success by students, while doing poorly on such tests leads to increased efforts to learn.

> “Students and teachers need high-stakes tests to know what is important to teach and to learn.

> “Teachers need to be held accountable through high-stakes tests to motivate them to teach better and to push the lazy ones to work harder.

> “The high-stakes tests associated with NCLB are good measures of the curricula taught in schools.

> “The high-stakes tests provide a kind of level playing field, an equal opportunity for all students to demonstrate their knowledge and skill.

> “Teachers use the results of high-stakes tests to help provide better instruction to students. “
P, 94,

Comment: Are these assumptions true in your schools? RayS.

Title: “Editorial: Opening the Conversation: NCLB 10 Years Later.” Leslie S rush and Lisa Scherff. English Education (January 2012), 91-101.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Advice on Writing an Article to Publish

Question: How can you polish your finished article?

Answer/Quote: “Don’t forget the final polish. After all that work, you finally have an article you’re proud of. But before you submit it, give it a final polish. Don’t rely on the editor to do all your fact-checking for you. Double-check the names, titles and quotes. Also check for needless repetition, transitions and awkward word choices. Finally, consider snappy sub-heads or other breaks to improve the article’s flow and organization. Delivering a clean, error-free and eye-catching article will save your editor some work and encourage him or her to call on you again in the future.” P. 13.

Comment: Good reminders for what to check when you’re ready to send it in. RayS.

Title: “Writing Essentials: 5 Steps to a Solid Article Draft.” Laura Maylene Walter. The Writer (March 2012), p. 13.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Note: Here’s one of the better explanations I’ve read on the difference between denotation of words and connotation. RayS.

Quote: “The denotation of a word is its literal definition; the one you find in a dictionary. The connotation, however, refers to the suggested meaning, including associations and emotional implications. Both ‘scrawny; and ‘slender’ have similar denotations, but ‘scrawny’ sounds inferior or sickly, while ‘slender’ evokes a more graceful or positive image. Understanding the connotations of words can enhance description, meaning and tone.”
Title: “Why Is Connotation Important in Fiction?” Brandi Reissenweber. The Writer (March 2012), 7.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Puns and English Learners

Question: What is the value of puns to English (nonnative) learners?

Answer: What makes English hard to learn for nonnative speakers of English is its double meanings. The pun is based on a double meaning. There are, according to this author, three types of puns: The soundalike pun, lookalike pun and close-sounding pun.

The Soundalike Pun. “A common kind of pun is based on homophones, two or more words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.” Example:

Teacher: Tell me something that conducts electricity.

Student: Why—er—

Teacher: Very good—wire! Now, name a unit of electrical power.

Student: The what?

Teacher: Very good job—the watt is correct!.

The Lookalike Pun
“These puns are based on words that both sound and look the same but have two or more unrelated meanings.”

 Teacher: Karen, what is the highest form of animal life?

Karen: A giraffe?

 The Close-Sounding Pun
“These puns are based on words that have different meanings and spellings, but sound similar, differing in only one or two sounds.”

Tim: Knock knock.

Teri: Who’s there?

Tim: Eiffel

Teri: Eiffel who?

Tim: Eiffel down and scraped my knee.

 Comment: This article is a keeper. Order it from the International Reading Association (IRA): . The title of the article is: “Pun Work Helps English Learners Get the Joke.” Kristin Lems. The Reading Teacher (November 2011), 187-201. The article explains how to teach the pun. Idioms are also difficult for English language learners. They, too, have two meanings. RayS.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Monolingual English Composition--NO!

Question: Are you ready for this?

Response: The authors of this article want to change from monolingual English in composition scholarship to translingual composition, which is written in different languages, including English.

Quote: “We offer a preliminary definition of a ‘translingual’ model of multilingualism that we believe would benefit composition scholarship, and we conclude with specific recommendations for how compositionists might pursue such a translingual approach in their work.” P. 270.

Quote: “For it remains the case, as we demonstrate, that our field operates on the tacit assumption that scholarship in composition is located—produced, found, and circulated—in English-medium, U.S.-centric publications only.” P. 271.

Quote: “The dominance of composition scholarship by English monolingualism is manifested not simply in the language(s) of the scholarship produced but the language(s) of scholarship cited, the bibliographic resources on which composition scholars rely, the forums in which the scholarship circulates, and the arguments it makes.” P. 272.

Quote: “In the larger arena of composition studies, we are arguing for a sea change of proportional magnitude: a change in what we recognize as normal and desirable in scholarly practice, publication and preparation for compositionists. While we should not underestimate the difficulties such a change entails, we should also not allow those difficulties to keep us from realizing the potential it holds for our field’s growth. Against the restrictions imposed by monolingualism, we can begin to move beyond English Only in all our work” p. 292.

Comment: You can see where this is headed. “Sea Change” is right. Along with this “sea change” from English only as writers comes a “sea change” in readers. I struggle every time quotes in Latin or French or German are used without English translations. This “sea change” could put the finishing touches to reading. (Not too seriously. But I’m not ready for these “sea changes.” I’m too old.) RayS.

Title: “Toward a Multilingual Composition Scholarship: From English Only to a Translingual Norm. “ B Horner, S NeCamp and C Donahue. College Composition and Communication (December 2011), 269-299.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Question: How does one define “argument”?

Answer: An article on the many definitions of “argument” in textbooks, from opposition to trying to understand an issue without “winning.”

Comment: I would suggest that my readers find this article on argument as defined in a variety of textbooks and read it. The opening paragraph sets the stage for the “limitations” of argument. RayS.

Quote: “…Jennifer Bay’s 2002 response essay, ‘The Limits of Argument.’ Using the attacks o the World Trade Center as one striking and horrifying example, Bay laments: ‘While we teach students argument and vehemently defend its importance, argument fails. In the place of argument, wars are fought, violence committed, vengeance inflicted. For all our conviction about arguments and the ability of arguments to accomplish understanding and mediation, they often fail to enact
change….’ "

Title: “A Textbook Argument: Definitions of Argument in Leading Composition Textbooks.” AA Knoblauch. College Composition and Communication (December 2011), 244-268.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Question: How can English teachers help their students develop conciseness in their writing?

 Answer: Limit their writing to 140 words. Possible exercises: Describe a picture. Describe a favorite place.

Title: “Twitter Poem In-Class Writing Exercise.” Kate Bradley. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (December 2011), 195.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Reviews

Question: How help students write book reviews?

Answer/Quote: Include the following:

> An interesting and creative introduction that will get readers interested in reading your review.

> Author, title, publication date, and subject.

> Why you [self-] selected this book.

> What you found interesting in this book.

> What you enjoyed in this book.

> What you learned from this book.

> Please include at least two quotes from your book and discuss why you found these quotations important or interesting.

> Your overall assessment of the book. P, 132,

Title: “ ‘A Livelong Aversion to Writing’: What If Writing Courses Emphasized Motivation.” Patrick Sullivan. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (December 2011), 118-140.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Aversion to Writing

Question: Why do students develop a life-long aversion to writing?

Answer/Quote: “With all due respect to the many excellent scholars working in the field of composition, I would suggest that the single most important sentence in the last twenty-five years of composition scholarship occurs in Linda Brodkey’s essay ‘Writing Permitted in Designated Areas Only’:

While it appears to take longer in some cases than in others, composition instruction appears to have succeeded best at establishing a life-long aversion to writing in most people, who have learned to associate a desire to write with a set of punishing exercises called writing in school: printing, penmanship. Spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary in nearly all cases; grammar lessons, thesis sentences, paragraphs, themes, book reports, and library research papers in college preparatory or advanced placement courses. P. 118. 

Comment: The author goes on to suggest that teachers cannot motivate students to write; students must motivate themselves to write: He provides a quote from Edward Deci (Why We Do What We Do):

In fact, the answer to this important question can be provided only when the question is reformulated. The proper question is not, ‘How can people motivate others’ but rather ‘how can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves? P.121.

His answer is not very satisfying, but he has framed the problem. How do teachers help students motivate themselves to write? RayS.

Title: “ ‘A Livelong Aversion to Writing’: What If Writing Courses Emphasized Motivation.” Patrick Sullivan. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (December 2011), 118-140.

Friday, February 3, 2012

English Journal 1912-2012

Question: What have we learned from 100 years of teaching English as reflected in the articles in English Journal?

Quote: “To look back to the early contributors to is, in many ways, to look into a mirror. Sometimes we like to think that our ideas are novel, that there is something inherently superior in this exact moment, but when we gaze back into the past, we are reminded that in our own voices linger echoes of those early NCTE teachers facing many of the same challenges we face today. Indeed, Shakespeare was right when he said, ‘what’s past is prologue.’ ” p. 65.

Comment: A generalization that is only half true. The topics of articles might be similar, but the ideas dealing with them are also different. And the perspective is different. Still, I have learned much from past ideas published in the English Journal and other publications. RayS.

Title: “ ‘What’s Past Is Prologue’: English Journal Roots of a Performance-Based Approach to Teaching Shakespeare.” J Haughey. English Journal (January 2012), 60-65.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some Interesting Questions

Note: In an article on the work of James Moffett, the author identifies two of Moffett’s questions that are relevant to the teaching of English today.

Quote: “Moffett went on to pose two ‘haunting’ questions: ‘How differently would you teach if your students did not have to come to class?’…and ‘How differently would you teach if you never had to test?’ ”

Comment: For me, two intriguing questions. Ironic in the face of the NCLB law that has turned testing into success or failure of teachers and schools. Worth considering. RayS.

Title: “James Moffett’s Legacy to English Journal.” E Spalding, DC Kosnick, M Myers. English Journal (January 2012), 26-33.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Note: The English Journal is celebrating 100 years of publication. In this particular article, today’s English teachers talk about an article from the Journal that caused them to act.

Name of Article: “On the Uses of Rubrics: Reframing the Great Rubric Debate: by Eric D. Turley and Chris W. Gallagher (March 2009).

Teacher who read it and acted on it: Karin Jozefowski, Superstition High School, Mesa, Arizona.

Quote: “…but as Turley and Gallagher aptly noted, rubrics should be more than a prescriptive tool. They should be a negotiated language for discussing quality in writing if they are to incite and inform dynamic dialogue in the classroom. Turley and Gallagher acknowledge and honor the slippery subjectivity of assessment by viewing rubrics as a flexible tool when created by students and teacher collaboratively. Since my reading of that article, every writing assignment in my class reflects, directly or indirectly, on the four guiding questions they posed because they offered more than a framework for assessing writing. They offered a framework for teaching writing as an active learning process.” P. 22.

Comment: The rubrics probably change for each writing assignment. As the author states, the changing rubrics become an excellent tool for teaching writing. RayS.

Title: “An English Journal Article That Made a Difference: A Forum.” Compiled by D Zancanella. English Journal (January 2012), 19-26.