Monday, April 30, 2012

Common Core Standards

Question: What are the implications of the Common Core Standards?

 Answer/Quote: “Readers of Language Arts, with relatively few exceptions, are probably familiar with the 2010 Common Core Standards, even if they didn’t follow the story of their development and adoption. [The Common Core Standards were reviewed in this blog from March to July 2010. Simply type in March 2010 in the search in the upper-left-hand corner of the blog to begin the reviews. In general, I was impressed by the standards. RayS. ]

 “That’s because, as of this writing, 42 states, plus Washington DC and the US Virgin Islands—representing around 86% of the students in the US—have adopted the Common Core Standards as either the ‘core’ of their state standards or the entirety of those standards…. Most teachers are therefore aware that these new standards have made a substantial difference in what they are supposed to teach and what students are supposed to know and be able to do by the end of each grade level.

 “Indeed, the adoption of these standards has brought about the most sweeping nationalization of the K-12 curriculum in US history.” P. 38.

Quote: “The main contribution of the CCS (Common Core Standards), the dimension that is new in them, is the shoving down—all the way through the grades to kindergarten—of a restricted image of college or academic literacy.” P. 40.

Comment: In other words, the Common Core Standards make the purpose of K-12 education college. For some educators this is a controversial concept. RayS.

Title: “Relating Policy to Research and Practice: The Common Core Standards.” R Bomer and B Maloch. Language Arts (September 2011), 38-43.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Student Teaching

Question: How does student teaching affect new teachers’ performance?

Answer/Quote: “Participants reflected on what they learned from student teaching and how student teaching experiences contributed to their successes and struggles as beginning teachers….” P. 23.

Comment: Every teacher education instructor and cooperating classroom teacher should ask new teacher graduates to answer that question. The student teachers’ answers could improve teacher education. RayS.

Title: “To Follow, Reject, or Flip the Script: Managing Instructional Tension in an Era of High-stakes Accountability.” J Stillman and L Anderson. Language Arts (September 2011), 22-37.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Challenges in Teaching Reading

Question: What are three challenging concepts in teaching children to read?

 Answer #1 and  #2: From guided to independent reading; from prior knowledge to new concepts: “It is the conscious movement from guided to independent practice that students build a … model that links their prior knowledge to new concepts.” P. 15.

Answer #3: Applying strategies from one text to a new text: “They see how they can apply each strategy they are learning to a new text.” P. 18.

Comment: From guided to independent reading, from prior knowledge to new concepts, from using a strategy on one text to another text. Three challenging concepts in teaching reading. RayS.

 Title: “Post-scripts: Teaching Reading in the Aftermath of Prescriptive Curriculum Policies.” H Maniates and J Mahiri. Language Arts (September 2011), 10-21.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Elements of a Book Proposal

Question: Want to write a book? What are the elements of a book proposal?

> “The overview includes a description of your book, an understanding of its scope, its unique features and the reasons why you are the right person to write it (1-5 pages).”

>  “The about-the-author section compellingly positions you as the right person to write your book. Keep it short ad to the point…. Avoid personal or ancillary information that has no bearing on the project (1 page).”

 > “Your about-the-market section highlights demographics and qualitative data to demonstrate an existing targeted audience for your project; emphasizes your book’s distinguishing elements and identifies and evaluates competitive works in an objective and informative way (3-5 pages).”

> Your author-platform section shows how strong a sales partner you will be when your book is published (1-2 pages).

> “A table of contents offers a comprehensive outline of your entire work. Short headlines and summaries are acceptable, but ensure that every word supports both the style and content of the project (2-6 pages).”

> “A polished writing sample will convince your targeted agent or publisher to read additional chapters of your book and that he or she should be your partner in publishing it (usually 3 chapters).”

Comment: If you’re not discouraged by the things you have to do to complete the book proposal, then get to it. RayS.

Title: “How to Craft a Winning Book Proposal.” Marilyn Allen and Coleen O’Shea. The Writer (May 2012), 43-44.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Writer's Block

Question: What is writer’s block?

Answer/Quote: “Discussions of writer’s block usually concern the flow of words and how to get words flowing again when the brain seems to shut down.” P. 32.

Question: How can writers overcome writer’s block?

> “Write yourself a newsy letter or telegram covering the high points; don’t bother with beginning, transitions or endings but just write chunks that turn you on.”

> “Begin…with ‘What I really want to say is…’ or ‘I have to tell you about….’ ”

> “Begin a difficult passage with a question you want to answer. Answer the question. Then delete the question itself.”

> “Do a ‘freewrite’ of unedited, unpublishable [material]…. No particular topic. Try to write steadily for a set time, 5 or 10 minutes, not stopping to look at what you’ve done.”

> “Don’t get hung up on a word. Write a string of x’s and finish the sentence.” Later, the word will come to you.

> “If you’re stalling on an opener, start anywhere, with anything—a piece of dialogue, a fact, a later incident—and build around it.”

> “End the day’s writing in midstream, with a passage that’s easy to continue.”

Comment: I think the suggestion about the missing word you’re looking for is good advice. This entire article with all kinds of exploration about the reasons for writer’s block is excellent and should be required reading for your student writers. RayS.

Title: “You Can Conquer Writer’s Block.” Arthur Plotnik. The Writer (May 2012), 32-34.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Question: What are some ways to begin stories or essays?


> With a list.

> As a reflection.

> With reminiscence.

> With something you didn’t know.

> With a report of a past event or a crime.

> With a generality.

> With fascinating facts.

> With a portrait in words.

> With a first or last event.

> With an assertion.

> With a conflict.

> In the middle of a discovery.

> With a child narrator.

> In the middle of an emergency.

> With a diagnosis.

> With a mystery.

Comment: An interesting list for beginnings of essays. The sequence of activities I suggest in writing the essay includes brainstorming the topic; thesis; draft, including the thesis, the middle paragraphs and the last paragraph—and then the introductory paragraph.  RayS.

 Title: “Where to Begin.” Laura Oliver. The Writer (May 2012), 30-31.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Question: What can be gained by rereading a favorite book?

 Answer/Quote: “Perhaps the best way for writers to improve their craft, besides the continual trial-and-error process of writing itself, is to read and reread the kinds of books that excite and inspire us. Reading teaches by osmosis, as would-be writers unconsciously absorb the sentence structures and story elements of the sorts of books they enjoy, and probably want to write. Reading gives writers models to aspire to, and also perhaps something to borrow, even if indirectly.” P. 20.

Quote: “What [Patricia Meyer] Spacks believes most is that rereading is worth it, that no two reading experiences can ever be the same because we are not the same person. ‘We find books that we reread both familiar and forever new partly because they change as we change…the experience we bring alters what we see.’ For those who like to meditate on literature and what it means to reread, On Rereading is definitely worth a first (and maybe a second) reading.”

Comment: These quotes are from a book review of On Rereading [by Patricia Meyer Spacks] in the May 2012 issue of The Writer by Chuck Leddy. I discovered rereading when I bought my Kindle from I found that the e-book format encourages page-by-page reading and I began rereading all kinds of books, classics, mostly, including books by Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Sarah Orne Jewett, Mark Twain, Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and so on. The author of On Rereading is right. I’m a different person from the English major I was when I first read them. Rereading is a whole new experience. I find myself analyzing the author’s techniques, sentence structure and style as a writer in addition to bringing to bear my experiences of some sixty years. Try rereading your favorite books. You’ll enjoy them in a whole new way.  RayS.

Review of On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. Reviewed by Chuck Leddy in The Writer (May 2012), 30-31.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Online Learning

Question: Are there free college courses online?

Answer/Quote: “It costs well over $50,000 a year to attend the University of Pennsylvania, but beginning in June, anyone anywhere will be able to get a sliver of that Ivy League education for free.”

Quote: “Penn has joined a group of top universities, including Princeton, that  will begin offering select courses online for free through, a California-based online education company founded this year by two Stanford University computer-science professors.”

Quote: “The goal is to make top-notch education available worldwide, including in developing countries, and to a much larger group of people.” A2.

Comment: I signed up for a course out of the University of Pennsylvania on modern poetry. The professor who is giving it, Al Filreis, briefly summarizes the course, is himself and his qualifications described, and he answers frequently asked questions about the course. Sounds as if it will be stimulating and nonthreatening.

Here are some other courses:

Heading: Society, Networks and Information. Courses: Model Thinking, Securing Digital Democracy and Social Network Analytics.

Heading: Economics, Finance and Business. Courses: Introduction to Finance, Model Thinking, and Health Policy and Affordable Care Act.

Heading: Humanities and Social Sciences. Courses: Greek and Roman Mythology, Listening to World Music, Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Heading: Computer Science. Courses: Cryptography, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning.

Heading: Mathematics and Statistics. Courses: Automata, Cryptography, and Introduction to Analytic Combinatorics.

Heading: Healthcare, Medicine and Biology. Courses: Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act, Fundamentals of Pharmacology, and Basic Behavioral Neurology.

Come on in. RayS.

Title: “A touch of Ivy, Free: Penn and Others Are Teaming Up to Provide Free Online Class Offerings.” Susan Snyder. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Wednesday, April 18, 2012), p. A2.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Young Adult Fiction

Question: What is one way to solve the problem of reluctant readers in the middle school?

Answer/Quote: “ ‘When I encountered reluctant readers, it was that they were reluctant to read classics because those books didn’t speak to them,’ says Lesene, who taught middle school for a dozen years and has taught at Sam Houston State University in the Department of Library Sciences since 1989.

“I continue to hear it, Why do we read The Scarlet Letter? It has nothing to do with us.’ You’ve got to know how to get kids to where that kind of literature is accessible and I think the way you do that is through young adult literature.” P. 23.

However, Teri Lesesne makes the point that young adult literature is one way to build the students’ readiness for the classics.

Comment: There are two sides to this issue. People shy away from the controversial topics found in young adult novels. The kids might find these issues relevant, but many well-meaning adults don’t. Young adult novels are too controversial and graphic. Requiring their reading could well invite censorship incidents.

On the other hand, many young adult nonfiction books contain excellent explanations of topics in science, medicine, biographies in all subject areas, etc. These young adult books are wonderful for introducing middle-school students to otherwise dry-as-dust topics, topics killed by textbook treatments that bore. I highly recommend young adult nonfiction. RayS.

Title: “Right Book, Right Reader, Right Time: Teri Lesesne: The Woman Who Loves YA Literature.” Deb Aronson. Council Chronicle (March 2012), 23-25.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Common Core Standards

Question: What are some implications of changes in curriculum as a result of the Common Core Standards?

[Note: A detailed listing of these Common Core State Standards (K-12, CCSS) appeared in this blog, English Updates from March through July 2010. To see the guidelines, click on 2010 in the Archive Section on the left of the current blog, then click on March, April, May, June and July for my reviews of individual standards. Another way to find my reviews of the standards is to type March 2010 into the search engine on the left at the top of the blog. In general, I was impressed with the standards for English, K-12. RayS. ]

Answer: Suggests that a glossary is important “because not all teachers understood terms in the same way.” Also material covered in fifth-grade texts is now suggested for third grade. Will need to wait for textbooks aligned to the Common Core Standards.

Comment: I suggest that teachers at particular grade levels study the core standards for that grade level and raise questions about what they need to know and to do at that grade level. What are the implications of the suggested changes? What do the changes mean for the teachers? How will they need to adjust the curriculum to include the changes? Again, I have studied the Common Core Standards and I am generally impressed with them. RayS.

Title: “Making It Work—First Steps to Common Core Integration.” Lorna Collier. Council Chronicle (March 2012), 19-22.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Evaluating Teachers

Question: What criteria should be used in evaluating teacher quality?

Answer/Quote: “Defining teacher quality in terms of students’ scores on standardized tests is one way of emphasizing the importance of student achievement. It has the advantage of clarity and expediency. However, this definition does not take into account the body of research on teacher effectiveness or quality. Most  of this research portrays teacher quality as a complex phenomenon that can vary with context and includes manifestations of these observable dimensions:



Instructional practices


Question: What does “professionalism” mean?

Answer/Quote: “Professionalism includes varying combinations of communication with community members, self-evaluation, reflective practice, record-keeping…. One aspect of professionalism that merits special attention in relation to teacher quality is self-reflection. Recent studies have established strong relationships between self-reflection and effective teaching. Researchers have identified three types of reflection effective teachers practice: reflection-for-action (before teaching), reflection-in-action (while teaching), and reflection-on-action (after teaching) that enhance instructional practices. Currently, however, only five states in the US explicitly include reflection as an important criterion in teacher evaluation, and a handful of other states include reflection as an optional or supplementary component of teacher evaluations.” P. 16.

Comment: Self-reflection is one characteristic I did not include in my teaching and I regret it. I consider self-reflection indispensable to effective teaching. I’ve noted that more articles are being published on self-reflection in teaching. I think that is great. If I were teaching now, I would put more effort into self-reflection on my teaching. RayS.

Title: “Evaluating English/Language Arts Teachers: A Policy Research Brief Produced by the National Council of Teachers of English.” National Council of Teachers of English. Council Chronicle (March 2012), 15-18.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Topics for English Updates 06

Note: Click on the topic and my summary of the article will appear. To return to the list of topics, click the back space in the upper left-hand corner. RayS.