Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Critical Thinking

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: The Daily News Show with Jon Stewart

Title: “The Daily News Show with Jon Stewart: Part 2.” James Trier. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 2008), 600-605. [A publication of the International Reading Association]

Summary: The author analyzes the satiric material in The Daily News Show with Jon Stewart as a way of teaching critical thinking. Two techniques that Jon Stewart “turns on their journalistic [standard TV] news heads” are the sound bite usually wiped clean of grammar mistakes, etc. and the objective, unemotional point of view of the commentators. He also analyzes technological devices like interviewing President Bush by taking snippets from many different videos from many different sources and using them as answers to Stewart’s interviewing questions. The author offers sources on the Net for material to use in the classroom.

Comment: I'm afraid that until now, I have never seen the show. After reading this article I will explore the sources of material available on the Internet and I will try viewing the show. Sounds like an intelligent send up of TV news journalism. RayS.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Response to Literature

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: Response to Literature

Title: “Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Language in English Class Blogs.” Kathleen C. West. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 2008), 588-598.

Summary: Each week students in 11th-grade American Literature go to the computer lab where they write blogs in response to the literary works they are reading. It’s a free for all. Students can respond in any way they wish. Other students in the class enjoy reading their responses, but the freedom afforded to the students allowed them to go beyond academic requirement: “In doing this they absolutely called upon the tools of formal literary analysis that they had learned…but they also disrupted AP notions of language embedded in the curriculum of their school by incorporating out-of-school literacies into their work."

[Comments: I wish the author had written the last part of her title in English: “Hybrid” means simply using academic and out-of-school language. Otherwise, the idea of allowing students to respond freely to what they have read sounds good. They might not like doing the same thing on paper with the teacher as the only audience, but they surely will love doing it on the computer with other students as an audience who can enjoy reading unconstrained ideas about what they have read. RayS.]

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Assessment Tests

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: Assessment Tests

Title: “Are Assessment Data Really Driving Middle School Reading Instruction? What We Can Learn from One Student’s experience.” Danielle V. Dennis. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 2008), 578-587.

Summary: Author suggests that teachers receive much data from assessment tests, but they really do not understand the meaning or use of that data. We need to help teachers fully understand and learn how to use the data from assessment tests: “Teachers must be trained not only to understand the results of tests but also to make curricular decisions based on those results.” p. 588.

[Comments: I’ll never forget a very short little article by Morton Botel of the University of Pennsylvania in one of the journals of the International Reading Association. I’ll have to paraphrase because I can’t recall the specific diagnostic tests to which he refers. Botel said that reading specialists use many diagnostic tests to gather much detail about the reading problems of students, but whatever data they find, they always use the same materials to remediate them: The SRA reading series. The SRA reading series consists of cards with stories and questions. Each card is a generic “read-the-passage-and-answer-the-questions” technique that has little to do with the specific information found by the reading specialist after hours of testing.

I worked for many years with reading psychologists; I found the same thing true. The psychologists spent hours and hours diagnosing problems, and the methods for dealing with those problems were usually some standard useless techniques like playing a game of “Go Fish.”

I disagreed with Dr. Botel many times during my career—he doesn’t know it and couldn’t care less—but I salute him for his making clear that the medical approach to reading problems through diagnosis and remediation was a fraud. Botel’s article was both hilarious and devastating. RayS.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Metacognition

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: Metacognition or Modeling the Reading Processes

Title: “Does Feeling Come First? How Poetry Can Help Readers Broaden Their Understanding of Metacognition.” Amy L. Eva-Wood. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 2008), 564-576.

Summary: Adding to the technique of using “Think-alouds” while showing students how to read (metacognition), the author suggests that teachers use poetry to demonstrate to students not only how to read and respond intellectually, but also how to respond emotionally to the ideas, images and figurative language of poetry.

[Comments: The “think-aloud” is a technique used by teachers who read aloud while explaining how they understand and interpret what they read. I have to admit that I have never tried the technique, but the method has always intrigued me and including emotional response through poetry is an interesting addition. I think if I were teaching again, I might try the read-aloud and model my thinking involving short poems with difficult ideas that are hard to comprehend and to interpret. For example, try it with a poem by Emily Dickinson. Talk students through how you read, interpret and respond emotionally to a single poem. You will be showing students how you approach a difficult poem and they can try it themselves. RayS.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Teaching and Student Response

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: Teaching and Student Response

Title: “That Which Is Taught, That Which Is Learned.” Andrew R. Ratner. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (April 2008), 533-537.

Summary: A phone call from a student the author had had in his class sixteen years ago reminds the author that the ideas he and the class discussed had sometimes very different responses by individuals in the class and that he as a teacher will never really know what students have learned from what he taught.

[Comment: Which reminds me of an experience I had at one of my graduations when I was a young teacher. A student came up to me and said, “Mr. Stopper, I never forgot something that you taught me.” I was young and na├»ve and I fell for it. “What was that?” I asked, thinking that I must have said something profound. “Never chew gum in an argument,” he said, referring to the technique I had used to help him remember how to spell the word “argument” that is usually misspelled “arguement.” It was only much later that I read an article warning teachers, NEVER, NEVER EVER respond to a question like, "Do you know what I remember about your class?"

I have just inserted a little levity into an idea that is really quite profound: we never do know what our students have learned from what we have taught. RayS.]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Avid Readers

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: An Avid Reader

Summary: Some unorthodox ideas about the characteristics of avid readers.

Title: “The Bad Habits of Good Readers.” Carol Jago. Council Chronicles (March 2008), 36-37.

Carol Jago: What do avid readers do? “Based upon my personal reading habits and those of many wonderful book worm students, I notice that avid readers often….”

1. “…value speed over reflection.”

2. “… skip anything they find boring.”

3. “…care more about their personal reading than assigned reading.”

4. “… declare a text they don’t care for as ‘boring’ with great authority.”

5. “…can be poor writers and careless spellers. In their desire to get back to their books, avid readers often rush through writing assignments.” [In my experience, I have found that good writers rarely remember being taught to write in school, but always remember carrying a book to read. RayS.]

6. “… get stuck reading one particular kind of book for a very long time.” [Remember the Bobbsey Twins and other series books? RayS.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Fun of Teaching Literature

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: The Fun of Teaching Literature

Summary: To overcome the resistance of students to what they are reading.

Title: “Charles Simic: For the Love of Poetry.” Deb Aronson. Council Chronicles (March 2008), 24.

Quote. Charles Simic: “That’s the fun of teaching: that you have a sort of resistance in the group and you try to convince them of the value of what you are reading.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why Read Poetry?

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: Poetry

Summary: A concise statement on why students should read poetry.

Title: “Charles Simic. For the Love of Poetry.” Deb Aronson. Council Chronicles (March 2008), 23-24.

Quote. Charles Simic: “I tell them, ‘you don’t have to like every poem in this anthology. Some of them are boring. Some of them I don’t understand. Some of them I don’t care if I understand. But there are some that I love, that bring tears to my eyes. You’re going to find your own that do that to you.’ ”

[Yes! RayS.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

English Language Learners (English as a Second Language)

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: Research Recommendations for Effective English Language Learners’ Instruction. “English Language Learners = ELLs, formerly known as students who are learning English as a Second Language (ESL).

Summary: A series of generalized statements that will be good for thinking about, but not very helpful in specifics. [I’ve read the specifics that accompanied the statements. They aren’t. RayS.]

Title: “English Language Learners,” James B Squire Office for Policy Research. Council Chronicle [of the National Council of Teachers of English] (March 2008), 18-19.

1. “Present ELLs with challenging curricular content.”
2. “Set high expectations for ELLs.”
3. “Use technology effectively.”
4. “Recognize socio-cultural factors.”
5. “Use native languages and home environments as resources.”
6. “Teach ELLs in grades K-8 the basics of academic literacy.”
7. “Teach ELLs in secondary schools, like their K-8 peers, to simultaneously develop their skill with academic English and learn content in a variety of disciplines.” [Easier said than done. RayS.]
8. “Recognize the difference between ELLs and under-prepared students in higher education.”

[Although I am critical of the generalized nature of these statements, each IS worth thinking about. RayS.]

Thursday, April 10, 2008

English as a Second Language

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: Working with English Language Learners (ELLs) [which used to be called ESLs, or English as a Second Language learners. RayS.]

Summary: Suggests the following topics of techniques for working with "English Language Learners": Modeling, cognates, accessible texts, Internet videos, translators, hands-on projects, and encouraging teachers to study a second language.

Title: “The Importance of Academic Language for English Language Learners.” Lorna Collier. The Council Chronicle (March 2008), 10 – 13.

“Suggestions for Classroom Teachers”:
1. “Using modeling and guided lessons where teachers show how they arrive at a method of, for example, analyzing a piece of literature.”

2. “Using cognates for academic terms, especially those that share Latin and Greek roots.” [Definition of “cognate”: words in two language that have a common etymology. RayS.]

3. “Using accessible texts to engage students, even if this means searching for second-grade reading level books that won’t demean a tenth-grade English language learner.”

4. “Using the Internet to find videos to illustrate lessons.”

5. “Using the Internet’s translation capabilities, and providing students with pocket translators.”

6. “Doing hands-on projects, rather than multiple-choice worksheet, which allow English language learners to demonstrate what they know.” [What exactly does this mean? They will actually use language rather than rote memory? Makes sense to me. RayS.]

7. “Encouraging teachers to study a second language….”

[Comments: All of these techniques are useful. However, I keep looking for underlying principles of teaching “English Language Learners,” whereas most of the articles I encounter on this problem are piecemeal techniques, rather than principles of instruction. I find this lack of a coordinated, systematic approach to the problem of working with students who are learning English as a second language to be frustrating.

I long for a course that models exactly how to work with students whose second language is English. However, maybe this problem is best dealt with by trial and error, depending on the native language, background, and intelligence of the learner. RayS.]

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Declining Reading Skills

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: A significant reading problem.

Title: A Flannagan. “The Role of Research in Improving Adolescent Literacy.” Council Chronicle (March 2008), 6-9.

Summary: Declining students’ reading skills and habits between elementary and secondary schools is a serious problem.

Quote. Literacy in the media: “When stories about literacy appear in the media, the news is often not good. Recent reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) show a drastic drop in reading skills from elementary to secondary school, as well as a sharp decline in voluntary reading among adolescents. Experts in adolescent literacy agree there is a significant problem.” p. 6.

Quote. Approaching reading through inquiry: “Adolescent literacy expert Jeff Wilhelm thinks the most effective method teachers can use to engage young readers is to re-frame the text as a form of inquiry. In his own work with adolescents, for example, Wilhelm doesn’t say, ‘We’re going to read Romeo and Juliet.' He tells his students, ‘We’re going to explore what makes and breaks relationships.' ” p. 8.

Comment. I suggest a more systematic approach to inquiry with assigned reading. My experience in observing teachers when they introduce students to literary works has usually been that they give a list of assignments with dates on which they are due and tell them to open the book and begin reading. That’s not much motivation. So far as it goes, Wilhelm’s approach to Romeo and Juliet offers some motivation for reading. In my book, Teaching English How To…., I offer a more systematic approach to inquiry to motivate students to read.

My most radical suggestion—the novel: Five-minute samplings. Students read for five minutes near the beginning of the novel. They raise questions, which the teacher records as key words on the white board, blackboard, etc. Next students read for five minutes in the middle of the novel. Again, students raise questions about what they have read. Next, students read for five minutes about three-fourths through the novel. Again, they raise questions about what they have read. Finally, the students read for five minutes near the end, including the exact end if they want. Once again they raise questions about what they have read. Together, students and teacher organize the questions into questions of fact, questions of interpretation, questions of criticism. Now they read to answer their questions.

[Objections: If you know the plot, why bother to read it? Any novel that is worthwhile raises questions when sampling, rarely provides definitive answers. If one learns the entire plot by the sampling, the novel is probably not worth studying. If you have read a plot summary, don’t worry, you will still have many questions about what happened, why it happened and the value of what happened as well as style. I guarantee it.

Why five minutes a section? If you have students read for five or ten pages at a time, students who are slow readers will hold everybody else up.

What do you do when students become bored with reading the entire novel? When they become bored, tell them to start reading a paragraph a page. It won’t be long before the students become “hooked” again. Even if they don’t become hooked, they will have gained a great deal of information from reading one paragraph a page, enough to deal with the questions they have raised from the sampling.]

Nonfiction. Students read the first and last paragraph of the first chapter. Raise questions. Then either skim to find the answers or read the first sentence of each paragraph in the chapter to find where the answer is located. Keep in mind that several questions will have to do with the meaning of the text after the answer has been found. Do the same with each succeeding chapter. I could give the students questions to read for, but when students find their own questions, they are much more motivated.

Short stories: Students read one sentence a page or column and raise questions. Students read a paragraph a page or a column and add questions. Students read the first sentence of each paragraph. Students raise questions, organize the questions and re-read to find the answers, if necessary. Begin to discuss.

Poetry. Read the poem aloud, if it is short. Students read it silently several times. Students list questions, including vocabulary, images, phrases, literary techniques, the meaning of the whole. Organize the questions and start discussing.

I have tried every one of these techniques and they have always resulted in almost 100% involvement in the discussion. As a teacher, work to involve as many students as possible. Keep yourself out of the discussion until after the students have done their best to answer their questions.

RayS.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Avoiding Plagiarism

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: Another approach to avoiding plagiarism

Title: Review of Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques. Laura Hennessey DeSena. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2007, 117 pp.

Summary: Author believes that most high school students come to college using what amounts to summaries of books or “book reports” as their method of responding to the literary works. Suggests that students “free-write” their responses to literary works, including analysis and reflection, beyond summarizing, that will enable them to identify a research project. Should help to eliminate the need for plagiarism as they work out their own project through the free-writing. L H DeSena. Reviewed in Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 313-315. [By the way, my definition of “free writing” is to begin writing on a topic, then shifting to related topics, work them out, then shift again to other related topics.] RayS.]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Alternative to the Research Paper

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: An Alternative approach to the research paper and a method of avoiding plagiarism.

Title: Response to “Connecting the Dots: Timed Writing Tests and Prewriting Activities.” Nancy Lawson Remler. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 312.

Summary: The author suggests that students write an initial timed essay based on a prompt like that of the SAT, a prompt that relates to the topics of their reading assignments. After every three weeks, they revise the essay, which is read by the teacher, but without its being graded. Near the end of the semester, they expand their essay into a full-fledged research paper, which is evaluated. Should result in students’ finding their own idea to expand into a research paper without having to resort to canned research papers on the Internet. Suggests that the technique is also practice for the SAT 25-minute timed essay.

[As an alternative to the standard research paper, I think I would try this idea. As practice for the SAT 25-minute essay, I think frequent practice will lead to better success.. RayS.]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Literary Discussions

(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: Discussions in the College Classroom

Title: “Look Who’s Talking: Discourse Analysis, Discussion and Initiation-Response-Evaluation Patterns in the College Classroom” Maureen Neal. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (March 2008), 272-280.

Summary: College teachers’ attitudes and language prevent any true literary discussion in the college classroom.

[This article is a “keeper.” RayS.]

This college teacher believes that no real student-teacher “conversation” can occur in the college classroom because of the professors’ attitude of authority and, especially, because of their language.

Quote. Not much discussion? It’s the professor’s fault. “As a result of my study of classroom discourse, I have become aware of a speech that I believe to be especially alienating for students: the use of evaluative language, the use of the common ‘we’ when it really is students alone who are intended to do the work, the presence of exhausting monologues without interruption, the use of elongated sentences packed with qualification, intrusive phrases, and multiple negation, the use of context-dependent frames of reference without meta-discursive explanation/guidance (“Vygotskian?”), the assumptions that complex matters ‘of course’ are ‘obvious’ or clear to all, and most importantly, the largely unconscious and unquestioned sense that students will forever be ‘outsiders’ to academic culture and community.” (p. 276)

What is the usual boring college classroom [and secondary school] literary discussion technique? The author is attacking the usual classroom “discussion,” the IRE or initiation-response-evaluation pattern which begins with an instructor’s initial known-answer question, followed…by student response, which seems to require an instructor’s evaluative judgment or commentary involving interpretation of the answer or a simple, “Right.”

[Comments: The “IRE,” a boring pattern that I experienced in college and that I repeated when I taught, boring my students, until I learned something about real discussion, discussion that resulted in almost 100% students’ involvement.

What can we learn from the Great Books program about discussing literature? In Chapter 23, pp. 420 to 430, “Organizing a Discussion of Literature,” in my book, Teaching English, How To…, I described how The Great Books program trained its leaders never to ask a question unless the leader was not sure of the answer. Such an approach caused leader and students to try to arrive at tentative answers together.

While I had some questions about the approach, especially the requirement never to introduce a work of literature and only to allow leaders to ask questions, the uncertainty that had to be part of the question struck me as making a great deal of sense. Therefore, I modified the approach. We began the discussion with the students’ questions and encouraged the students’ attempts to answer. As the teacher, I stayed out of the discussion except to involve as many students as I could. Only one requirement: no one was to ridicule anyone’s comments or questions.

What is at the heart of an enthusiastic literary discussion? The technique of encouraging students to ask their real questions about what they did not understand and the students’ attempting to explore the answers. Involvement was almost 100%.

An example of how I “blew” it: But even I could not always withhold myself from taking over the discussion. One evening, I spent considerable time trying to interpret a difficult poem. Finally, I figured out my answer. We began the next day with the student-generated questions and the discussion flowed enthusiastically. But I could not help myself. I knew the answer to that one question, in my opinion the central question to the entire poem. I had figured out the answer. The minute the students knew I knew the answer, the discussion stopped cold.

Follow-up to students’ discussions: By the way, when students’ questions were pretty well finished, we would direct ourselves to the questions at the end of the chapter to see what we had left out. Then I would add any questions that had not been introduced by the students and we concluded by reading excerpts from literary criticism, yes, including the famous yellow and black books. The students enjoyed comparing their questions and answers to the “experts’.”

Begin with students' real questions about what they did not understand. The author’s description of the “IRE”—Initiation by instructor to known-answer question; response by student; and evaluation by teacher—certainly reminded me of my own experiences and my bored feelings about literary discussions. Until I had learned about the Great Books method of discussion, I always used the IRE, with little involvement, usually limited to three or four people, and usually with the “right” answer’s being mine. Doesn’t work. Little student involvement. Student-initiated questions and student-initiated answers do lead to real discussion and real student answers. Try it. RayS. ]