Friday, March 30, 2012

Effective Writing Instruction

Question: What are five principles of effective writing instruction often mentioned by experts?

Answer: Guiding Principles of Effective Writing Instruction

> Principle 1: Effective writing instructors realize the impact of their own writing beliefs, experiences and practices. [What are your writing beliefs, experiences and practices? Take a moment and write them out. RayS.]

> Principle 2: Effective writing instruction encourages student motivation and engagement.

> Principle 3: Effective writing instruction begins with clear and deliberate planning, but is flexible. [What format does “clear and deliberate planning involve? Brainstorming? Outlining? Thesis sentence? Free writing? RayS.]

> Principle 4: Effective writing instruction and practice happen every day. [Important to develop the writing habit. RayS.]

>. Principle 5: Effective writing instruction is…collaboration between teachers and students. [Be the guide by the side. RayS,]

Comment: Not sure what all this means. Probably just publishing rather than perishing. Principle #1 is useful. The rest of the principles are BS. RayS.

Title: “Conversations with Leaders: Principles of Effective Writing Instruction.” S Zumbrunn and K Krause. The Reading Teacher (February 2012), 346-353.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Teaching Young Children to Write

Question: How can teachers prepare young children to write?

Answer/Quote: “ ‘What’s the crazy thing that happened in this story?’ Diane asks, as she ;props the big book against the book shelf. She’s just led her first graders in a shared reading of Joy Cowley’s Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Scrubbing Machine, and now she’s eliciting possible sentences for the interactive writing lesson to follow. ‘The scrubbing machine went wild,’ the children call out. As Diane begins the writing event, she draws a line across the large writing tablet, about 9 inches from the top. Pointing to the space she has just created, she explains that it will be ‘the practice part,’ and that ‘the bottom part of the paper will be where we write.’ ” P. 330.

Comment: A variation on the student-dictated language experience writing and reading lesson. The top part becomes the “practice part’ of the page, the place to brainstorm ideas, correct spelling and sentence structure. The bottom part is for the actual organized, corrected writing. Good idea. Solves the problem often raised about whether students should only produce corrected writing. RayS.

Title: “The Practice Page as a Mediational Tool for Interactive Writing Instruction.” Cheri Williams, et al. The Reading Teacher (February 2012), 330-340.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Question: Why should students as young as second and third graders learn to recognize and to use hyperbole sparingly in their writing?

Answer: They should learn to recognize it in their speech and in  reading and to use it sparingly in their writing.

Quote: “Children are prone to hyperbole in their everyday speech, so it’s not a far reach for students to incorporate this author’s  craft effectively in their writing.” P. 305.

Quote: “Hyperbole is not intended to be taken literally. Oftentimes linked to quantitative or idiomatic expressions hyperbole is any purposeful use of exaggeration to emphasize a point or create a desired effect. It’s hard to imagine a world without hyperbole. Just as we use exaggeration to tell stories of our everyday lives, authors use hyperbole to tell their stories and bring voice to their writing.” P. 305.

Some examples of hyperbole in everyday expressions:
“He is as skinny as a toothpick.”

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”

“I have a million things to do today.”

“She was so embarrassed she thought she might die.”

Comment: Helping students separate clear expressions from hyperbolic expressions is one way of eliminating clich├ęs. Recognizing and eliminating hyperbole from speech is one way of encouraging students to think before they speak. RayS.

Title: “Toolbox: Emphasize with Extravagant Exaggeration.” Adapted from Susan Ehmann and Kellyann Gayer’s I Can Write Like That! A Guide to Mentor Texts and Craft Studies for Writers’ Workshop, K-6. Reading Teacher (February 2012), 306-307.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Motivating Student Reading

Question: How can teachers encourage students to want to read?

 Answer: Invite administrators and other faculty members, regardless of subject, to give book talks to students about their favorite books.

Comment: I like the idea. You might want to suggest some guidelines. Significant ideas. Favorite scenes. Favorite quotes. Why it is one of your favorite books. RayS.

Title: “Motivational Moments.” Betsy Potash. Reading Today (August/September 2010), 45.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Question: What can you ask about your children’s school day beside “What did you do in school today?”

Answer/Quote: “ ‘What did you do in school today?’ If your children answer ‘nothing,’ maybe you should try a new question.

“Beginning your after-school conversation with ‘What was the best part of your school day?’ will yield totally different and more productive responses.

“In the end, the goal is having time each day to talk with your child about what is significant during the hours at school. An open-ended question asked with genuine, nonjudgmental interest in the answer will start the school year off brilliantly.”

Title: “Ask a New Question.” Ruth Larson. Reading Today (August/September 2010), 38.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Student Boredom

Question: Are high school students bored in school?

Answer/Quote: “This report presents the latest numbers from the annual survey conducted by the Indiana University Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP). More than 42,000 high school students were surveyed in 2009 at 103 schools in 27 states.

“Two out of three respondents (66%) in 2009 are bored at least every day in class in high school; nearly half of the students (49%) are bored every day and approximately one out of every six students (17%), is bored in every class. Only 2% report never being bored, and 4% report being bored ‘once or twice.’ The full report is available at

Comment: Boredom is a fact of life. To expect teachers to maintain interest in a class 100% of the time is unrealistic. Even the best of teachers is going to bore some of the students some of the time. Is there a profession that does not endure boredom at least some of the time? RayS.

Reprinted in “Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High school Survey of Student Engagement.” Reading Today (August/September 2010), 34.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Myths about Technology and Teaching

Question: What are some myths about the use of technology in the classroom?

 Answer/Quote: Myths
> “Teachers who are newer to the profession and those who have greater access to technology are more likely to use technology frequently for instruction than other teachers.”

> “Only high-achieving students benefit from using technology.”

> “Since students today are comfortable with technology, teachers’ use of technology is less important to student learning.”

> “Teachers and administrators have shared understandings about classroom technology use and 21st-century skills.”

> “Teachers feel well prepared by their initial teacher preparation programs to effectively incorporate technology into classroom instruction and foster 21st-century skills.”

Quote: “The report’s recommendations for teachers include the following:”
> “Be as fearless as your students. Make a commitment to learning new technologies or applications.”

> “Seek out or create opportunities to collaborate with and learn from your peers.”

> “Evaluate continuing education opportunities and consider options that integrate technology and 21st-century skills development into the curriculum.”

> “Communicate with Parents.”

Comment: I keep looking for significant contributions of technology to curriculum. What I seem to find is that teachers use technology for administrative purposes, rather than for instructional purposes. RayS.

From: Educators, Technology and 21st-Century Skills. Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. Walden University. Reprinted in “Dispelling Technology Myths.” Reading Today (August/September 2010), p. 33.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

E-books vs. Paper Books

Question: Are e-books quicker to read than regular books consisting of paper?

Answer/Quote: “It will take you longer to tread a book on an iPad or Kindle compared to the printed page, according to recent study that compared the reading times of 24 users on the Kindle 2, the Apple iPad, ad PC monitor, and good old-fashioned paper.”

Quote: “…found that reading on an electronic tablet was up to 10.7% slower than reading a printed book. Yet users preferred reading books on a tablet device compared to the paper book. The PC monitor was universally disliked as a reading platform.”

Quote: “Regardless of how fast people can read on an electronic device, the e-reader is becoming more popular every year…. E-books raked in $313 million in 2009, growing by 176.6% compared to 2008, overtaking audio book sales. In 2010, e-book sales are growing at a rate of 217.3% versus 2009, according to estimates by the Association of American Publishers.”

Comment: With books, I am able quickly to skip around when previewing, reading first and last paragraphs of chapters, first sentence of middle paragraphs in chapters, especially of exposition. It’s also hard to find the end of the book, to know its size. I just finished reading Moneyball on a Kindle, and was completely surprised when I reached its last page, I have found that I can read more actively with a book, whereas I find myself reading page-by-page with the Kindle. Maybe that’s the major difference—active reading—between e-readers and books. RayS.

Title: “Books Beat E-Tablets for Reading Speed.” Reading Today (August/September 2010), p. 33.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fluency in Reading

Question: What is wrong with today’s concentration on fluency?

Answer/Quote: “Reading fluency has become a speed reading contest and divorced from the essence of reading—comprehension.”

Quote: “Reading fluency is the critical link from word recognition to comprehension. Reading fluency instruction must be focused on the making of meaning. If fluency instruction continues to be an instructional quest for faster and faster reading, as is currently evidenced by instructional mandates from educational entities and instructional methods and materials from publishers, then reading fluency should not be a hot topic. Indeed, it is not even reading fluency.”

Quote: “The importance of speed should be minimized in the fluency debate. Reading requires a level of active awareness and thought about language which diminishes when reading speed is emphasized. Reading at an appropriate rate in meaningful phrases, with prosody and comprehension, should be the fluency goal for all readers. A literate person is one who derives meaning, not speed from the printed word.”

Note: Prosody refers to expression that conveys meaning. RayS.

 Comment: Somebody has to find something to “debate” in order to keep the publishing wheels turning. I guess an overemphasis on speed is a concern with fluency. RayS.

Title: “Fluency: Why It Is ‘Not Hot.’” Timothy Rasinski and Pamela Hamman. Reading Today (August/September 1910), 26.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Question: What is the indispensable literacy skill(s) needed by impoverished children?

Answer/Quote: “If there is one instructional strategy that teachers can implement to support the academic success of children, especially those in low socioeconomic communities, it is to let them talk.” P. 29.

But, to maximize the advantages of talking, developing oral vocabulary, they must be shown how to listen.

 Quote: “Central to developing classroom contexts where rich oral language development occurs, is the establishment of a norm that promotes listening. Much has been made of teacher modeling in the literacy literature, followed by guided practice, and independent work. Understandably, teachers have taken this to mean that they must model and think aloud constantly. However, at times less is more, and teachers must also model what good listening looks like. This approach requires that students be explicitly taught to ask for clarifications, to respond to peers, and to benefit from the guided practice all as a means for establishing their…self-confidence as learners. Additionally, by listening to students summarize what they learned about a subject, respond to a piece of literature, or explain a process, teachers can informally assess their oral academic language. …teachers can support each other’s efforts to be thoughtful listeners in their classrooms.” P. 30.

Comment: A strong plea to model how to listen effectively. I’m a lousy listener. This plea hits home. RayS.

Title: “What Children Living in Poverty Do Bring to School: Strong Oral Skills. Let Them Talk.” PA Mason and EP Galloway. Reading Today (February/March 2012), 29-30.

Friday, March 16, 2012

OMG: Oh, No! Not Again?

Question: What is an issue about grammar that we do not need to bring up for another go-round?

Answer: The idea that first students study grammar before, finally, learning how to write whole compositions. I never thought this idea would appear in print again. The last time we believed that sequence was fifty years ago, postponing most students’ learning to write until grammar had been exhausted. Please! Not again. Teach grammar and writing at the same time! Then you have a chance at least to help students apply it to their writing. RayS.

Quote: “After graduating from Pottsville Area [School District] in 2003, she learned to diagram sentences at Shippensburg University, where she graduated in 2007.
                “ ‘Now at Pottsville Area, we are trying to get back to teaching the grammar first, then encourage them to do compositions and editing.”  Breanne Frandsen, an English teacher at Pottsville Area’s D.H.H Lengel Middle School.

Comment: ARRGHHHHHH! RayS.

Title: “Wats a Teacher 2 do? L Hammering Grammar in the Age of Texting.” Stephen J. Pytak. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Tuesday, March 13, 2012), 82C.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Texting and "Grammar"

Question: What is the effect of texting on the use of correct grammar?

Answer/Quote: “In the age of Facebook posts, emoticons, and tweets, English grammar may appear to be on the road to extinction.

                “ One of the more apparent problems we see in student writing is a carryover of ‘texting language,’ said Leslie Kraft, a ninth-grade English teacher at Pottsville Area High School.

                “Brandon Kessock, a Pottsville Area freshman, said he’d experienced it.  “ ‘Texting affects us a lot,’ he said. ‘I get so used to texting that I mess up a lot of easy words. Instead of what, I type wot.’ ”

Comment: I understand the young man’s point. However, let’s get our terms straight. Spelling is not grammar. Grammar is syntax, i.e., sentence structure, punctuation and usage that is related to sentence structure: parallel structure, active and passive voice, dangling modifiers, nominative and objective case, etc. I don’t normally get on my high horse, but if we’re going to talk about grammar, let’s talk about the effects of texting on grammar. RayS.

Title: “Wats a Teacher 2 do? L Hammering Grammar in the Age of Texting.” Stephen J. Pytak. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Tuesday, March 13, 2012), 82C.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Free Verse

Question: How can students create free verse using short excerpts from novels they are reading?

Answer: Students take short excerpts from key parts of the novel and shape them into free verse. Here’s an example from Fishtailing by Canadian author/teacher Wendy Phillips:

Tricia (Page 54)

The only time
I was in the counselor’s office
was for career planning.
the future looks bright.
Ms. Nishi told me then.
It is crowded now
me in one chair
in the other
my mother
stroking the baby hair
of my sister on her lap.
You’ve always been such a good girl,
she tells me
Is this rebellion because of Emily?
You know Jason and I love you both.
I shrug.
Ms. Nishi moves
The desktop Zen garden.
A fluorescent bulb is blown
there are new shadows.

Comment: A good way to highlight key ideas in the novel. RayS.

Title:” Free Verse Provides Freedom to Write.” Margriet Ruurs. Reading Today (February/March 2012), p. 15.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Comprehension for Engliish Langage Learners

Question: How can teachers of English language learners use students’ native language in learning about comprehension in English?

 Answer: Working in small groups, the students translate key texts from English textbooks in English into their native languages. They then discuss how they did it and what they learned  about comprehension in English from their translations.

Comment: Interesting! Why didn’t I think of that? RayS.

 Title: “Celebrating Teachers: Finding Spaces to Teach Diversity and Differences.” IRA President, Victoria J. Risko. “Students’ First Languages As a Space for Enhancing Reading Comprehension [in English].” Robert Jiminez, Lisa Pray and VJ Risko. Reading Today (February/March 2012), 2.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Teaching Writing

Question: What is the weakness in our teaching of writing?

Answer/Quote: “On the professional level, especially after doing historical scholarship and seeing, shockingly reveals, a recursive, abysmal spiral of the same essay-based pedagogy from the field’s origin onward, one can’t but wonder why the field on the whole seems so stunted and contrary…..” p. 508.

Quote: “Official composition has persisted as a bland, sanitized pedagogy, teaching clear, correct, citation-based essay form to students, using a literarily thin corpus of nonfiction readings as prompts.” P. 511,

Comment: According to this author, the weakness in our teaching of writing is the short essay format. The research paper, as it is usually taught, is only an extension of that format. At the college level, there are some alternatives: having students write articles based on the journals in the students’ major fields. Extending the essay format into longer treatments of topics. Learning from other disciplines the types of writing required in those disciplines. Having the courage to deviate from the short-essay based curriculum will take some courage. However, wisdom says, use a combination of the short essay to demonstrate the structure of exposition and at least one alternative. RayS.

Title: “Review Essay: Resisting Entropy.” Geoffrey Sirc. College Composition and Communication (February 2012), 507-519.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: Academically Adrift

Book Review: Academically Adrift…. By Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

Question: How well are college students of today educated?

Answer/Quote: “Academically Adrift, by Richard arum and Josipa Roksa, takes on a well-worn theme—the failure of the U.S. Education system. In this case, higher education. For generations now, employers, policymakers, and faculty themselves have complained about college students. They socialize too much, don’t study enough, and leave college woefully ill-equipped for productive citizenship and employment. On that topic, Arum and Roksa cover familiar ground and arrive at similar conclusions. Of course, students aren’t the only problem in higher education highlighted in Academically Adrift: tenured faculty attend to their own research interests rather than undergraduate education; faculty and administrators cater to ‘consumers,’ privileging ‘customer satisfaction’ over academic quality and rigor; policymakers, seeking greater accountability, turn to standardization and ranking systems (with disappointing results and often punitive consequences, at least in K-12 education); and, culturally, increased commercialization of education means’ credentials’ are valued over competency. For the most part, these critiques are legitimate and well substantiated.” P. 495-496.

Comment: Once again, highlighting failure and weakness over strengths, creativity and competence in education. I keep saying that “This, too, will pass” but the steady drumbeat of failure undermines the spirit by presenting unbalanced conclusions. RayS.

Title: “Important Focus, Limited Perspective.” Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt. College Composition and Communication (February 2012), 495-499.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Maintaining a Stereotype

Question: Do students grow in writing during their college careers?

 Answer/Quote: “In 1975, Derek Bok, president of Harvard, asked Dean K. Whitla, director of the Office of Students, to verify the widespread belief that undergraduates were leaving Harvard-Radcliffe as writers no better than when they entered. Whitla ran a meticulous study of first-year and fourth-year students at five institutions and concluded that the ability of Harvard-Radcliffe students ‘to present an organized, logical, forceful argument, increased dramatically over the college years.’ Whitla’s unexpected finding was followed by what I will call the Bok maneuver. Forced to report to Harvard’s Board of Overseers the unpopular news that their undergraduates really were developing their writing skills, President Bok said the gains were not ’substantial’ enough, and ‘many students showed no improvement’. Bok’s maneuver has remained common in attacks on US education. The USS Academia is off course, the argument goes, and any evidence to the contrary is belittled, or just jettisoned.” Pp. 487-488.

Comment: When your “friends” tear you to shreds, who needs enemies? Reminds of the current NCLB stereotype that blames teachers for all student and school failures. Grrrrrr! RayS.

Title: “Methodologically Adrift.” RH Haswell. College Composition and Communication (February 2012), 487-491.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

College Writing Instruction

Question: Who teaches freshman composition in college?

Answer/Quote: “The most recent statistics from the Modern Language Association (MLA) reveal that 2010, 60% to 80% of all English courses were taught by contingent faculty…. For first-year writing, the labor demographics are even more imbalanced. A 2007 Associated Departments of English (ADE) staffing survey indicates that 80.8% of all first-year writing courses offered in public institutions were taught by teaching assistants (29.5%), part-time (33.3%), or full-time, non-tenure-track faculty (28.0%)….. In terms of faculty gender, 2003-4—the latest years charted for this information—the ADE found that 66.7% of all part-time faculty in English were women…. These statistics illustrate what readers already know: the first-year college writing is taught, by and large, by contingent labor, the majority of whom are women.” P. 388.

Comment: These are the statistics. What do they mean? RayS.

Title: “ ‘Ladies Who Don’t Know Us Correct Our Papers’: Postwar Lay Reader Programs and Twenty-first Century Contingent Labor in First-Year Writing.” Kelly Ritter. College Composition and Communication (February 2012), 387-419.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Research on Composition Teaching

Question: What’s missing from research on composition?

Answer: The students’ perspective. We need to give students the opportunity to respond to our instruction in composition, to show what it meant to them.

Comment: Notes in margins of textbooks, responses to writing assignments, thoughts on the processes used in completing the assignments, what they have learned from the teachers’ comments on papers, etc. And we need to gather this information as well as examples of student writing. RayS.

 Title: “Inspecting Shadows of Past Classroom Practices: A Search for Students’ Voices.” Patricia Sullivan. College Composition and Communication (February 2012), 365-386.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Comprehension Process

Question: Why do we read? What is the process of comprehension?

Answer/Quote: “Students are expected to read from an impressive array of texts on a daily basis in classrooms. It is sometimes easy for students, and their teachers, to lose sight of why they read. Students do not read to complete assignments. They do not read to be prepared for tests. They do not read to meet standards. They read to understand.” P. 438.

Comprehension Process:
>Making connections to prior knowledge.

> Generating questions.

> Creating mental images.

> Making inferences.

> Determining importance.

> Synthesizing.

Comment: Students read for a variety of reasons, including completing assignments, preparing for tests, and meeting standards. But, underlying all these reasons, they need to learn how to establish a purpose with regard to the content, or, as the author says, to understand. RayS.

Title: “Toolbox: Teaching Students to Read It and Get It.” Adapted from Doug Buehl’s Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (3rd ed.). Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2012), 438-443.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Critical Reading

Question: What should students look for when reading critically?

Answer/Quote: “…critical stance is defined as one that ‘looks for societal stereotypes and patterns or how the text makes us look differently at everyday events; points out the stereotypes that the text perpetuates; helps us see the big issues that lie just beyond the text….’ ” p. 429.

Quote: “Indeed, as Kucer (2008) suggested, ‘it might be more accurate to talk of readers interpreting rather than comprehending words and texts within particular situations.’ ” P. 429.

Comment: Well, stereotyping is one perspective in critical reading. I’ve never been unduly conscious of stereotyping when I’m reading, but now I’ll put it on my “front-burner”  consciousness. I wonder how much stereotyping I will find? I was conscious of the role that stereotyping  ball players and their potential played in Moneyball. I thought the distinction between interpreting and comprehending was important. RayS.

Title: “Reading from Different Interpretive Stances: IN Search of a Critical Perspective.” C Leland, et al. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2012), 428-437.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Summer Reading Program

Question: How organize an appealing and effective summer reading program that would hold students’ interest?

Answer/Quote: “Using accurate, interesting, and relevant reading material can provide an ideal vehicle for engaging students. For example, when studying the early 20th century, a teacher could use novels on World War I, the influenza pandemic in 1918, the Harlem Renaissance, prohibition, or women’s rights, rather than one book assigned to the entire class. In this case, not only would students be able to pick something that matched their interests, they would be exposed to a greater variety of material as their classmates discussed their books.” P. 426.

Comment: More and more, choice appears to be significant in involving students in reading materials. RayS.

Title: “Assessing High School Students’ Reading Motivation in a Voluntary Summer Reading Program.” JM McGaha and LB Igo. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2012), 417-427.