Monday, March 31, 2008

Word Processing

(The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in American professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.)

Topic: Word Processing, Part Two

Summary: Word processing contains a wealth of features that few of us explore or use.

In a technical writing class, the author taught students who were police officers how to use features of word processing with which the students were unfamiliar. Examples: editing in "print preview"; creating tables; using bullets; borders; shading; changing from single space to double space. S Tichenor. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 270.

Comment: [I don’t know about my readers, but I’m afraid I haven’t even begun to explore the many features of word processing. This article was a good reminder to do so. RayS. ]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Administrators and Listening

(The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in American professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.)

Topic: Listening and the Program Administrator

Title: "Mapping the Terrain: The Two-Year College Writing Program Administrator." Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 238-251.

Summary: Administrators need to listen openly to all who are involved in the program for which they are responsible.

The author urges program administrators to listen to everyone involved with the program in order to encourage dialogue with staff, colleagues and central administrators. J Klausman. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 247.

[Comments: The author neglects to mention about listening to the chief clientele, the students.

In my book, Teaching English, How To…, I make listening the first of four suggestions for successful supervision. In my career, I found that many popular educational fads were forced on teachers by administrators and the teachers resisted. Teachers, I learned, will make changes readily if they can understand that the changes will help to solve problems.

Administrators need to learn about problems by listening to all of their constituents—school board members, fellow administrators, parents, students—but, especially, teachers. When I arrived in a Pennsylvania school district in 1970 as K-12 supervisor, I listened to the teachers. When I asked them about the curriculum, they replied, “What curriculum?” They then set about defining the language arts curriculum, K-12, with a purpose and energy that transformed the existing ill-defined program.

The best ideas in my career and most significant changes came from teachers who willingly discussed problems with me. On the other hand, when “whole language” was forced on the elementary teachers from above by administrators, the negative emotion was immense, rebellion almost palpable. Many teachers thought that problems with the basal would NOT be solved by throwing the basal out of the curriculum. The outcome was resolved when teachers combined the use of the basal with whole language, which featured a greater emphasis on children’s literature and writing, yet retained the emphasis on systematic word recognition and phonics provided by a basal.

The first rule for administrators is to listen to everyone involved in the program. And don’t stop listening—ever


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Literature and Food

(The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in American professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.)

Topic: Food and Literature

Summary: The food memoir belongs in the literature classroom.

RayS: The second article in the March 2008 issue of College English continues the theme of food in literature. Written by Barbara Frey Waxman, its title adequately summarizes the article: “Food Memoirs: What They Are, Why They Are Popular, and Why They Belong in the Literature Classroom,” pp. 363-382. Following are the first and last paragraphs of the article:

“Why are food memoirs popular? It’s not just about the recipes, although recipes often conclude the chapters and punctuate the narratives of food memoirs. It’s not just the impassioned descriptions of unusual and well-loved comestibles—even though these are also plentiful in food memoirs. It’s also about the treasury of metaphorical associations that link food with love and emotional nourishment that are often present in the personal histories and confessions of food memoirists; these resonances are purposefully, creatively used by most food memoirists to elicit feelings from readers and evoke their memories. And it’s also about the associations of food with cultural identity, ethnic community, family and cross-cultural experiences; these matters are prominent themes of food memoirs Food is clearly a link among generations of immigrants and exiles; those who cook and write about food are ‘culture-tenders’ and at the same time teach people outside the cultural community about that community’s values, rituals, beliefs. These elements and others draw readers to food memoirs and inspire authors to pen them.” p. 363.

“I have been arguing for the educational value and appeal of culinary memoirs in the literature classroom. Providing an unthreatening context with which we are familiar (since we all have to eat), these food memoirs will reach out even to reluctant readers and turn reading into an enjoyable activity, teaching students about the power of a vivid description, the issues of selecting and arranging events in one’s life story to fulfill a specific purpose and invent a particular version of the self, the methods of creating a lively character portrait or an engaging voice, especially a witty one, and many other literary topics. Reading food memoirs in a literature class, students will learn the crafts of reading and writing. They will also benefit from the emotional and moral intelligence that many food memoirists display. Reading about others’ families may encourage in students a useful introspection about their own families. Finally, the most unseasoned and untraveled of student-readers…will learn through food memoirs about a variety of cultural practices and communities abroad that will encourage reflection about their own cultural practices and communities at home. This sounds like an educational banquet to me.”

(Note: This article is a “keeper.” The Library of America recently published an anthology of American Food Writing, edited by Molly O’Neill. RayS.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Rhetoric and Food

Food, cooking and rhetoric.

In a most unusual theme for a professional English education journal, a college English educational journal especially, the entire issue of the March issue of the NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English’s) College English is devoted to the art of writing about food and cooking and it is simply delightful.

Below, I am reproducing a very lengthy paragraph that will give you a taste of the writing in this issue of the journal. The article is entitled, “Consuming Prose: The Delectable Rhetoric of Food Writing” by Lynn Z. Bloom who has written many articles on English education, but I think this is one of her best. Enjoy! (You can purchase copies of the issue at RayS.

“Organization depends on the food writer’s aim, mood, and mode. In the 1950s and 60s editions of The Joy of Cooking Rombauer was an early organizer of the syntax of recipes, providing a step-by-step organization; Julia Child followed suit in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, grouping ingredients and utensils on the left, ‘as they were to be used; the directions were on the right’ (McFeely 121). Sentence syntax, however complex, must be a pleasure to follow. Lists likewise have to march along in parallel alignment, yet with variation…. Logic dictates layout. In food writing, the narrative structure often combines other plot elements with a process of harvesting, preparing, and eating food, as in Fisher’s pea-picking and Jaffrey’s and Twain’s watermelon-gathering. Or it follows the course of the meal, as in Morano’s introduction to the Queimada.

(Note: I’m breaking up the paragraph because its length is just too intimidating to read. RayS.)

“Inserts: Novelists, travel writers, and natural historians sometimes insert food scenes into a difficult matrix for contrast, like plums in a pudding. In Ulysses Leopold Bloom cooks his breakfast kidney; in Nothing to Declare, demoralized autobiographer Mary Morris and Lupe, her slum neighbor, pragmatic and pregnant, often cook together to keep depression and poverty at bay. Psycho/logical organization wends its own way to the heart of the matter. Amanda Hesser’s love affair with ‘Mr. Latte’ takes thirty-seven chapters and ‘more than one hundred tempting recipes’ (jacket flap) to move from ‘First Date’ to the preordained conclusion—the wedding.

“The ending: Food writing is full of happy endings. Food prepared from scratch emerges, delicious, from the oven—even amateur cooks, such as you, dear reader, can create your heart’s desire. Friendships are cemented; reconciliations effected; not only weddings but funerals are celebrated by feasts—Jaffrey’s grandfather’s is ‘nothing short of spectacular’ (236). Indeed, the concluding paragraph of Climbing the Mango Trees makes explicit the quintessence of food writing anywhere, any time, incorporating the entire life span, the bitter and the sweet, into an unforgettable mixture:

The innocent Indian honey of my infancy was now mixed with the pungencies of Indian spices, the sour and bitter, the nutty, and the tinglingly aromatic. Births, deaths, illnesses, caste, and creed had woven their way through the flavors like tenacious creepers and yet, somewhere in my depths, each bite, each taste of all I had eaten, lay catalogued in some pristine file, ready to be drawn up when the moment was ripe. (243)

Bon appetite!”

(Note: Why did I not think of writing about food in literature? RayS.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Timed Writing

Timed Writing

How prepare English-as-a-Second-Language students for timed writing assessments?

The author of this article talks about how to prepare students whose native language is not English for timed writings. On the use of the native language in preparing for timed writings, one suggestion: to acclimate them to timed writings, let students practice timed writings in the native language first, before attempting them in English. A second step would be to let them brainstorm in the native language and then do the timed writing in English. NE Pappamihiel, et al. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2008), 386-394.

RayS’s Suggestion: Long ago, I learned the power of daily ten-minute essays in preparing students for timed writings, including the SAT’s 25-minute writing sample. First, make sure students choose their most legible handwriting, whether it is cursive or printed text. Second, they should come to class ready to write on any topic they choose. Third, they write for ten minutes as well as they can and stop exactly at the end of ten minutes. They do not have to finish the essay in the ten minutes.

At night, I go over their ten-minute essays, correcting any mistakes in grammar, usage, spelling and punctuation. The amount of writing is short, making it easy to correct in a relatively short period of time. I do not merely label the mistakes. I make the actual corrections: if the student misspells the word, I spell it correctly and suggest methods for remembering how to spell it; if the student forgets commas around “interrupters,” I add the commas and explain why. If the student uses the passive voice unnecessarily, I recast the sentence in the active voice. If the student writes, “I should have went to practice,” I correct it and explain. I collect the problems and review the corrections with the entire class without identifying the students who made the mistakes. After I return the corrected ten-minute essays, I ask the students to rewrite, incorporating the corrections, for extra credit. This step helps students to visualize their writing at its best.

I recognize that five classes of 25 or more students would put an unmanageable burden on the teacher for correcting ten-minute essays every night. What works is that I assign the first class the daily ten-minute essays for three weeks and then do the same for each class in three-week intervals. In the second semester, I begin again with the first class. Three weeks of ten-minute essays seems to be the optimum amount of time for students whose native language is English to improve their writing significantly.

I ask students whose native language is not English to bring a ten-minute essay completed for homework every day throughout the entire year. Ten minutes a day of writing goes a long way to help non-native English speakers learn to write in English effectively. The biggest problem seems to be English idioms.

If students would like a list of topics to use in their daily ten-minute essays, I have included a lengthy list in my book, Teaching English, How To…., pp. 148 – 153. You will also find the list in my blog, “Q & A on Writing,”

The ten-minute essays are an adjunct to the regular writing program. In that program, I do not make corrections for the students. I ask them instead to use the textbook to find the solutions to their problems. Of course I show them how to use the textbook for that purpose.

All the best, RayS.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Teaching as Modeling

The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.

Teaching as Modeling

Modeling, i.e., demonstrating, is a powerful method of teaching. By modeling, teachers demonstrate to students how to perform a particular skill. In this article, the authors, D. Lapp, et al., explain how to use “think-alouds” to show students how to read a difficult text and how to solve unfamiliar vocabulary themselves.

Reading Difficult Text
“You can read this text—I’ll show you how.”

“…she [teacher] engaged them [students] in an interactive think-aloud in an attempt to model how to use one’s existing knowledge as the basis for constructing new knowledge.” The teacher then talks her way through the various methods she uses in reading a difficult text. [While I have never used “think-alouds” to show students how to read a text, I have long thought it was a technique worth trying. I suspect the technique will require practice before I am able to involve students in my demonstration. RayS.]

Vocabulary: “Teachers do not simply define a word during their interactive comprehension instruction. Instead, they solve unknown words as they read by using context clues, their understanding of word parts or related words [and, if all else fails] look it up.” [The teacher, therefore, models for the students how to deal with words with which they are unfamiliar . Modeling is a powerful teaching tool. Frazier in Walden Two said that the most valuable teaching practice is by example.] RayS.]

D. Lapp, et al. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2008), 372 and 380.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ideas from The Writer Magazine, April 2008.

The purpose of this blog is to share with my readers interesting ideas I have found in professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.

Some ideas from the April 2008 The Writer magazine:

Publishing. A “moveable feast” is a breakfast, lunch or dinner at which authors move from table to table to promote their books. 5 minutes per table. D. Sundblad. The Writer (April 2008), 13-14.

Warm up for Writing: To get yourself started writing a poem, try making a list poem. Choose a topic. Make a list of connected ideas and then you will see ways of making variations in the scansion. Kind of like a brainstorm, except that it is designed to produce a poem. M Taylor. The Writer (April 2008), 17-18.

Publishing. Advice from a successfully published writer: Don’t turn down any writing jobs. Make each job the best you can make it. M Perry. The Writer (April 2008), 23.

How to write a “how-to”: 1. Make a list of things you do or can do. 2. Study your market. What have people written about on your topic. Put the topic in Google. 3. Choose a theme and decide on your title. 4. Make a rough outline. 5. Start writing. D Bouziden. The Writer (April 2008), 30-31.

Writing and seeking to publish are two separate acts. Don’t write to publish. Write to write as well as you can. “The real dream [of writing] has nothing to do with dollar signs.” TM Juvik. The Writer (April 2008), 29.

Should you show your writing-in-process to others? “Better yet, don’t show it to anyone until the first draft is completed. There is one exception: sharing your work to a qualified editor, story analyst or writing teacher at any stage of your writing process can be a good decision, because professionals can work with writers even at delicate stages when the work isn’t yet fully formed. But you’re probably better off not showing your nascent work-in-progress to your writing group, especially when the group doesn’t have a professional writer or teacher leading the discussion.” S Rabin. The Writer (April 2008), 45.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ideas from The Writer Magazine

The Writer magazine contains articles written by published writers for writers. Although the editors do not explicitly say so, its mission is to encourage struggling writers not to be discouraged. The monthly magazine is chock full of news about writing, articles on how to write—including all genres—and information about where to publish. I find the magazine to be a cheerful, cheering and helpful companion piece in my own struggling writing career. RayS.

I found the following ideas of interest to me in The Writer for March 2008.

Writing Process: The writing process for fiction or nonfiction does not always start at the beginning.” M King. The Writer (March 08), 8.

Interviews: “I want my ‘I’ and my ear to be eager, open and attentive. I want to forget my own narrow views and give myself—my intelligence and spirit—over to my subject.” D Ritz. The Writer (Mar. 93). Reprinted in The Writer (March 08), 8.

Style: “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style.” Jonathan Swift from a letter in 1720. Reprinted in The Writer (March 08), 10.

Technical Writing: “But while technology will always be changing, the reason for technical writing stays constant: to make the complex simple.” J Carr. The Writer (March 08), 13.

Pen Name: Why consider pen names when publishing? For privacy and safety. To get very personal. To explore different genres. For maximum marketability (makes an author more noticeable). For pragmatic gender bending (when a female name might cause an editor to consider that technical writing can’t be done by a woman, for example). To address a problem of overexposure. To find anonymity. C Dray. The Writer (March 08), 16.

Clichés: “Avoid hackneyed expressions…like the plague.” M. Kurland. The Writer (March 08), 19. [A sidebar in an article on word choice. The author is being cute. RayS.].

Pre-writing: Write a “sketch” of your article, short story or novel. Brief. Like a preliminary study. B Krasner. The Writer (March 08), 33.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

ESL: Reading Comprehension

ESL (English as a Second Language); Reading Comprehension.

Technique for helping ESL students to read successfully. Teacher read twice aloud to ESL students two brief paragraphs summarizing an article they were about to read before students read the article. Students identified key points in the summary. Before reading the article they also discussed unfamiliar vocabulary and identified a question they were going to read to answer. Followed the reading by discussion of the ideas read. PC Manyak and EB Bauer. The Reading Teacher (Feb. 08), 433.

RayS: The good old directed reading assignment (DRA) with the background information’s becoming the two brief paragraphs that summarized the article. “The teachers are doing the work for the students,” you say? No, they are just giving an expanded “Tell them what you are going to tell them” from the formula for expository writing. Call the summary paragraphs expanded headlines and sub-headlines. The teachers help students define the main ideas. They pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary and the students decide on a question they are going to read to answer. Now they read and then discuss what they have learned.

I’d love to give this technique a try and I would use it not only with ESL students but with students having difficulty with reading for whatever reason.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Successful Literacy Practices

Success in Developing Literacy

In this article, the authors describe two common features of successful school practices in developing literacy: teachers who expect students to succeed and who collaborate with one another, their students and students’ families. In short: expect success and collaborate. D Walker-Dalhouse and VJ Risko. The Reading Teacher (Feb. 08), 422.

RayS: I think perhaps the most underrated “strategy” for helping students learn is that teachers want them to learn. Most people, I know, assume that teachers want their students to learn. I think this is true, especially in elementary schools. Elementary teachers, in general do all they can to help struggling students. But as soon as students arrive at middle school or junior high school, a not-so subtle change takes place. The teacher begins to present the material and the student is expected to learn it, and if the student does not learn it, the responsibility is the student’s. Often teachers will label students who don’t learn, who don’t know how to learn the material, as “lazy.”

I think that teachers, especially at the secondary level, need to try to understand why students are not learning successfully. They have to want all their students to learn.

And that brings up the second point by these authors: collaboration with other teachers, with the students and their parents. I think teachers can learn a great deal by discussing problem students with other teachers, working to help the student who is having the problem and discussing the problem with the parents of that student and offering suggestions for how parents can reinforce at home what is being taught at school.

Makes sense to me. RayS.

Friday, March 7, 2008


How do we decide that a young child is a nonreader and what are the consequences of such a label?

The following paragraph in the Feb. 08 issue of The Reading Teacher should give my readers an interesting insight into how teachers determine the level of reading at which students begin instruction in reading. The paragraph goes on to suggest the negative consequences of the label “nonreader.” The paragraph is from an article entitled “The Cultural Divide of Discourse: Understanding How English-Language learners’ Primary Discourse Influences Acquisition of Literacy.” L. Hayes. The Reading Teacher (Feb. 08), 415.

“On his first day of kindergarten, Juan (a pseudonym), a five-year-old English-language learning child, was administered a standardized test that assessed his ability to read. He was asked to identify letters and parts of a book, to independently “read” a passage in the story, and to discuss the main idea of a teacher-read passage. At the end of the day, according to his test scores, the teacher labeled Juan as a nonreader.

“As a consequence, Juan was placed in a reading group comprised of all the lowest scoring children in the class, assigned a seat in the back, and labeled ‘At-risk.’ Juan will eventually be called upon less than his classmates, who perform more successfully on tests and classroom assignments. He will also experience a disconnect with the activities his classmates are engaged in and the opportunities they are afforded. Juan has joined a rapidly growing population of children who are, in fact, being left behind.”

RayS: All of this sounds very familiar. Juan’s problem is that English is not his native language. But this sort of treatment of troubled readers has been going on for a long time. If it is not a problem with native language, it’s a problem that English-speaking students are reading disabled, learning disabled, dyslexic, you name it.

I am going to try to look for methods of working with students whose native language is not English in my professional journals. What do my readers think about this “case history”? Eventually, I will collect the ideas, suggestions and techniques for dealing with troubled readers in one place.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Reading Aloud

The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in professional publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.

Improving Comprehension Skills Through Reading Aloud

The authors of this article say that reading aloud has two purposes. 1) The students listen just for the sake of enjoying the stories read aloud. 2) Improving comprehension skills. An example of the latter: students can learn the differences between narrative and informational materials.

The authors suggest a form of the directed reading assignment when materials are read aloud to improve comprehension: provide background information in preparation for reading; pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary; setting a purpose for reading; and providing active discussions of the material read. [RayS. Makes sense.] LE Santoro, et al. The Reading Teacher (Feb. 08), 396-408.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

English as a Second Language

English as a Second Language

How can young students whose native language is not English prepare themselves for reading English?
One of the so-called “research-supported” skills in preparation for reading is “phonemic awareness.” The authors of this article suggest that pre-schoolers and kindergartners who don’t speak English prepare for learning to read English by playing with the sounds of their native language. Rhyming words are an example. [RayS: Phonemic awareness, familiarity with the sounds of language, is one of the building blocks in preparing for learning to read.]

How can older students learning English as their second language have some fun comparing their native language with English?
Many words in Spanish, for example, sound very much like the same words in English, “muchas” and “much; “libros” and “library.”

H.K. Yopp and L Stapleton. “Conciencia Fonémica en Español (Phonemic Awareness in Spanish).” The Reading Teacher (Feb. 08), 374-382.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Skills and Strategies

The purpose of this blog is to share interesting ideas I have found in recent publications dealing with the teaching of English at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.

Skills vs. Strategies

One of the words most frequently used in the professional jargon of English educators is the word “scaffolding.” I think it means something in the neighborhood of “preparation for learning” or support for students’ learning. Has anyone ever defined “scaffolding”?

A close second to “scaffolding” in professional English education journals is the term “strategies.” The authors of this article admit that no one has clearly defined the differences between “skills” and “strategies,” that many writers interchange the two and that the time is right to try to establish distinctions in the meaning of each term. They help a little, but not all that much. Skills, they say, are automatic. Strategies are conscious and deliberate attempts to solve problems in reading. Following is a direct quote from the article:

Reading strategies are deliberate, goal-directed attempts to control and modify the reader’s efforts to decode text, understand words and construct meanings of text. Reading skills are automatic actions that result in decoding and comprehension with speed, efficiency and fluency and usually occur without awareness of the components or control involved. P Afflerbach, PD Pearson and SG Paris. "Clarifying Differences Between Reading Skills and Reading Strategies.” The Reading Teacher. (Feb. 08), 364-378.

I guess skills are like phonics, sounding out words that become automatic when taught. Strategies are used to solve problems, like how to succeed in reading a difficult article, chapter or book. What do my readers think of this distinction between “skills” and “strategies”? RayS.