Thursday, August 9, 2012


Question: Should I revise as I write?

Answer/Quote: “In revision, there are two camps: revise as you go, or get it all out and revise later. Robert Olen Butler, author of From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, stresses the importance of revising as you go. His reasoning is that each detail must work with everything else in the story, and it’s not possible to move forward until you have those details set.

“Some writers may take this approach with bigger chunks of text, rather than revising sentence by sentence. Revising a chapter or a scene can help you clarify your intentions in those passages before moving forward.” P. 7.

Comment: With shorter material, I don’t revise until I finish the draft. With my book, I think I should have used the author’s recommended approach of revising larger chunks. I might have made fewer mistakes in my final copy. RayS.

Title: “Should I revise as I write?” Brandi Reissenweber. The Writer (August 2012), 7.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Nature of Writing

Question: What is the writing process?

Answer/Quote: “ ‘If you want to be a great writer and you have a choice between being brilliant and lazy or being a little clueless but motivated, choose the latter. You stand a far better chance. Sure, such intangibles as creativity, talent and inspiration play a role, but work is where the real action is.’ So says Alexander Steele in Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School, an excellent book from Gotham Writers’ Workshop. He’s focusing on what I’ve always referred to as the ‘creative slog’: You come up with a story idea, sketch out some details—and then the real work begins. It’s rarely an easy process because creativity isn’t linear, point A to point B; it’s far more complex, unstructured, exasperating, chaotic and, yes, exhilarating.”  P. 6.

Comment: My favorite idea in this editorial is “Creativity isn’t linear….” RayS.

Title: “Nothing Neat About It.” Jeff Reich, in “From the Editor.” The Writer (August 2012), 6.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Teaching in Low-Achieving Schools

Question: What’s it like to teach in a low-achieving school?

Answer/Quote: “I teach at a low-achieving school. Well, I don’t see it that way, but the state of Pennsylvania does.

Quote: “Julia deBurgos School, in Kensington, is one of many Philadelphia schools designated as ‘low-achieving’ on a state Department of Education list published last week. The list is based on the 2010-2011 state test scores in reading and math—and nothing else. And even though my school made what’s defined as ‘adequate yearly progress’ on those tests, there we were on the list.

Quote: “Now, under the new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, my students will have the ‘opportunity’ to go to ‘better’ schools. The main problem is this: My school is not a bad school. My school is incredible.

Quote: “A staggering 95% of our students come from poor families, nearly 30% are learning English, and at least 16% have special needs. You will never hear me use those numbers as excuses, though. I tell anyone who will listen that my students are some of the most intelligent, engaging, enthusiastic, and resilient children in Pennsylvania.”

 [Comment: The author goes on to cite several examples of children, in spite of handicaps, who were successful in school. RayS. ]

Quote: “It would never cross my mind to call a student ‘bad.’ But now the state is labeling entire schools—and, in turn, communities—‘bad.’ That is distressing not only because I know my colleagues and I are committed to excellence, but also because it will be one more way society is telling our students they are unworthy.”

Note: Hillary Linardopoulos teaches third grade at Julia deBurgos School. She can be reached at

Title: “Dispatches from a ‘Low-Achieving’ School.” Hillary Linardopoulos. The Philadelphia Inquirer (Wednesday August 1, 2012), A21.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Much Ado

Question: What’s wrong with President Obama’s slogan, “Forward.”

Punctuation Nerds Stopped by Obama Slogan, 'Forward.'
From Both Sides of the Aisle, a Question: Is Ending It With a Period Weird?

By CAROL E. LEE [Since many of my readers do not read the Wall Street Journal, I thought it better to include the entire article to give them an idea of how much fun it is to read the Journal. If the editors of the Journal object, I will withdraw it immediately. My purpose is to increase Journal readership. Rays.]

The. Obama. Campaign. Slogan. Is. Causing. Grammarians. Whiplash.
"Forward." is the culprit. It was chosen to reflect the direction Mr. Obama promises to take the country if re-elected. It also is designed to implicitly convey the opposite: that likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney would set the nation in reverse.

Obama campaign slogan
Simple enough. Except the moment seven characters became eight, things got complicated. Period. Even for some in the president's orbit, the added punctuation slams the brakes on a word supposed to convey momentum.

"It's like 'forward, now stop,' " said Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the National Economic Council who still advises the Obama campaign. He added, "It could be worse. It could be 'Forward' comma," which would make it raise the question: "and now what?"
The president signed off on his own slogan, but evidently isn't sold. "Forward! Period. Full stop," he has joked to his campaign staff, according to an Obama adviser.

On that, if on nothing else, Mr. Obama has bipartisan support.
"It's sort of a buzz kill," said Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.).

The period was a subject of a spirited debate as Mr. Obama's senior advisers and outside consultants spent hours in a conference room at their Chicago campaign headquarters deliberating over the perfect slogan, according to an adviser who was in attendance.
Does a period add emphasis? Yes! Does it undermine the sense of the word? Maybe!

President Obama campaigning in Florida this month. He has joked with staffers about the slogan's punctuation.
David Axelrod, the president's longtime messaging guru, is a champion of the period. "There's some finality to it," Mr. Axelrod said. For those who think it stops "forward" in its tracks, he has a suggestion: "Tell them just to put two more dots on it, and it'll seem like it keeps on going."

The period debate hasn't been confined to the upper echelons of the Obama campaign. Politicians, grammarians and designers who brand people and products have noticed it, too.
"There's been some speculation that the period really gives the feeling of something ending rather than beginning," said Catherine Pages, an art director in Washington, D.C.

In 1992, George H.W. Bush's line, "Who do you trust?" generated chatter about the use of "who" versus "whom." Dwight Eisenhower's 1952 slogan "I like Ike" is clearly a sentence, but didn't include a period. George W. Bush's "Yes, America Can" slogan included a comma; Mr. Obama's "Yes We Can" chant four years later did not.
Meanwhile, the title of the super PAC supporting Mr. Romney, "Restore Our Future," seems to bend the rules of space and time, if not grammar.

Those who brandish red pens for a living are divided on whether Mr. Obama's campaign slogan passes muster.
"It would be quite a stretch to say it's grammatically correct," said Mignon Fogarty, author of "Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master in No Time." "You could say it's short for 'we're moving forward.' But really it's not a sentence."

The only single words that properly end with a period are verbs, Ms. Fogarty added, or interjections such as "wow."
George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at University of California Berkeley who is well-known in Democratic circles, has a different verdict. He says that the slogan respects the period's proper use because "Forward." is an imperative sentence.

"You can look at the period as adding a sense of finality, making a strong statement: Forward. Period. And no more," Mr. Lakoff said. "Whether that's effective is another question."
Joining the Obama campaign is the alternative rock band fun., which added a period on forming in 2008. In a written statement, two of the group's founders, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost, described the punctuation as "our way of sedating the word fun. We love how quick and sharp 'fun' is, but in no way do we intend to give people the impression that we're going to walk into rooms doing back flips."

On its page-one nameplate and elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal maintains its period, a holdover from the 1800s. No one at the paper knows why the Journal kept it when other papers gradually dropped their traditional periods, a spokeswoman said.
In presidential campaigns, discussions over slogans often focus on pre-emptive damage control. "We'd sit around the conference rooms and have these discussions," said Steve Hildebrand, a deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign. "You wonder if they're going to catch on; you wonder if people are going to make fun of them."

Shortly after the 2012 line was unveiled in April, late-night talk show host Jay Leno said, "That's a good message for Obama. He's telling voters, whatever you do don't look back at all those promises I made. Just look forward."
Mr. Romney has called the "Forward." slogan "absurd," and has seized on it to argue Mr. Obama's policies would take the country "forward over a cliff."

Mr. Romney's slogan, "Believe in America" (no period), has its share of critics as well. "I think that's about as close to a standard slogan as you can possibly get," said Fred Davis, a Republican media consultant.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a former public-relations manager, said he prefers the period over an exclamation point or nothing at all.

"Forward without a period leaves open the question: 'In what direction?' " Mr. Israel said. "But that's just the old, frustrated, former public-relations executive in me."
It is possible the president isn't the best judge of his own marketing. During his successful 2008 run, Mr. Obama told his campaign staff he wasn't sold on the slogan "Change We Can Believe In," according to a book written by close aide David Plouffe.

He also thought the campaign's signature symbol—a red, white and blue rising sun—was "cheesy," recalled longtime Obama adviser Robert Gibbs.
The period has mysteriously been dropped in several recent Obama campaign ads. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said there is no particular reason behind the omission. "Stay on your toes—anything could happen," he said. "Do not be surprised if we introduce a semicolon."

Write to Carol E. Lee at
Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2012. Internet.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Reading, Writing and ESL Students

Note: Normally, I do not publish my blog, English Updates, on weekends. However, I publish several other blogs during the week having to do with ideas in English education that are not current, but still useful. On weekends, I will publish samples of these ideas. RayS.

Question: Why should reading and writing be taught together in working with ESL students?

Answer/Quote: “Most experts agree that although not identical, reading and writing are similar…and mutually supportive…language processes.”

Quote: “In her informative and thorough review of research on reading and writing relationships, Stotsky (1983) concluded that (1) good writers tend to be better readers than are less able writers, (2) good writers tend to read more frequently and widely and to produce more syntactically complex writings, (3) writing itself does not tend to influence reading comprehension, but when writing is taught for the purpose of enhancing reading, there are significant gains in comprehension and retention of information , and (4) reading experiences have as great an effect on writing as direct instruction in grammar and mechanics.”

Comment: My own experiences bear out the effects of reading on writing. In the early 1970s, I conducted a workshop for fifth- and sixth-grade teachers on establishing a writing curriculum for grades 5 and 6. In the course of the workshop, we invited six people for whom writing was an important part of their professions. They included children’s books authors, newspaper writers, and a lawyer. Five of the six writers said that they had never learned to write in school, but they never remembered being without a book as they passed through the grades. I think it’s pretty clear, both from the research and from my personal experiences, that reading influences writing—for native-English speakers and ESL students. RayS.

Title: “Comprehending through Reading and Writing: Six Research-Based Instructional Strategies.” N Farnan, J Flood and D Lapp. Pp. 135-137. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994, 108-131.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Reading Materials for ESL Students

Note: Normally, I do not publish my blog, English Updates, on weekends. However, I publish several other blogs during the week having to do with ideas in English education that are not current, but still useful. On weekends, I will publish samples of these ideas. RayS.

Question: What are some criteria for selecting materials to be used by ESL students?

. Language Experience. Use language experience as one method for reading lessons. Students individually or in groups dictate information or stories that are recorded by the teacher on chart paper o blackboard, etc., and the children then re-read aloud and silently what was recorded.

. Real-world print materials. Signs, advertising, etc.

. Basal readers in the past have been largely narrative. Content texts are usually expository and organized differently from narrative. Use the directed reading assignment for both types of material. (Find out what the students already know about the topic and/or build background by discussion, pictures, etc. Read the title, sub-title, first paragraph, first sentence of each intermediate paragraph, last paragraph. What have they learned? Raise questions that they want to answer. They read the text to answer their questions. Discuss. And apply the information in some way.)

. Children’s literature and trade books. Use books whose illustrations support and extend meaning.

. Read aloud, with discussion.

. Provide books dealing with the children’s native culture.

Title: “Selecting Materials for the Reading Instruction of ESL Children,” VG Allen in Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994, 108-131.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Vision of English Education

Question: What hope is there for English education in the English-speaking countries?

Answer: I offer my personal vision: The use of the directed reading assignment in every subject, every day, to produce what Olive Niles predicts will occur—no reading problems.

> The directed reading assignment begins as teacher directed and ends up as student directed.

> It begins with assessing what student already know about the topic to be read.

> It is enhanced by a survey or sampling of the text that narrows the focus of the ideas to be read. Both of these steps are important in building up the background information on the topic to be read. The more people know about the topic to be read, the better they will comprehend it.

> It includes pre-teaching of unfamiliar vocabulary, usually in context and if a dictionary is called for reducing the meaning of each unfamiliar word to two, or at most, three words for easy recall. That way, students will see and recognize the unfamiliar words. They do not see or recognize unfamiliar words if they are not called attention to beforehand.

> After sampling or surveying the text, students summarize what they have learned and raise questions about what they want to know.

> They read to answer their questions. They discuss their answers.

> They apply this information or deepen it by consulting other resources, most notably the Internet.

Here’s how each type of material uses the directed reading assignment:

Textbook Chapters (Expository)
Assess student knowledge of the topic to be read. Survey the chapter by reading the title, sub—titles, first paragraph, the first sentence of each paragraph and the last paragraph. Note unfamiliar vocabulary and read the words in context, or, if a dictionary is necessary, reduce the meaning of the words to two, or, at most three words for better remembering. Summarize what has been learned about the contents and raise questions to read to answer. Discuss what has been learned. Apply the information or deepen it by using other resources, most notably the Internet.

Books of Exposition or Information
Assess student knowledge of the topic. Read the title, first and last paragraphs of each chapter. Summarize what has been learned. Raise questions about what students want to know. Discuss their answers to these questions after reading. Apply this information or deepen it by consulting other resources, most notably the Internet.

Read for ten minutes near the beginning of the novel. Summarize what has been learned. Raise questions about what students want to know. Read for ten minutes in the middle, three-fourths through the novel and near the end, but not the end. After each sampling, students summarize what they have learned and raise questions about what they want to know. Order the questions according to questions of fact, interpretation or criticism. Read and discuss the answers to their questions.

Short Stories
Read a paragraph a page or column. Summarize what has been learned. Students raise questions about what they want to know. Organize the questions according to questions of fact, interpretation an criticism. Read and discuss the answers to their questions.

 Comment: That’s my vision. And it is achievable, but it will take a lot of work—and teaching. RayS.