Friday, November 28, 2008

Topic: Sustaining Writing in Books and Projects

10-second review: How to keep up motivation in writing books and long projects.

Title: “No More Excuses—Make Time to Write.” Laura La Rocca. The Writer (December 2008), 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Some people find that detailed outlines help keep their writing on track; others like to leave off mid-scene (or even mid-sentence) so they know what’s coming next and can jump right in the next day. Figure out what works.” p. 37.

Comment: This is a topic I have not seen addressed often—how to keep up the motivation for writing when you’re writing a novel or nonfiction book or a long project. Mark Twain suggests stopping writing and giving the project time to recharge itself. Hemingway said to stop when you know what you’re going to write next and then you’ll be excited about resuming the next day.

I think outlines in school were a real drudge, emphasizing balancing the capital and subsumed letters and numbers, instead of ideas. I know of no better way to plan a major writing project than the outline. Tweaking the outline is necessary, but don’t let it become an excuse for not writing. I realize now how developing a detailed outline would have improved my book
. RayS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Topic: How to Find Time to Write

10-second review: Mentally write in your mind while doing some other task besides writing.

Title: “No More Excuses—Make Time to Write.” Laura LaRocca. The Writer (December 2008), 36-37. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “Writer’s block is the biggest time-waster of all. Instead of staring at a blank page, do a mindless task such as laundry. But as you do, keep yourself mentally parked in your chair and work out the [writing] problem. When you return to your desk, you’ll have the next bit worked out…. You’vepre-done’ another [writing] task.” p. 36.

Comment: Many successful writers say that they write mentally while doing something else: jogging, cutting the grass, listening to the sermon in church, shaving, etc. RayS.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Topic: Fiction, Nonfiction, Plot and Credibility

10-second review: Both fiction and nonfiction have plots.

Title: “Follow Fiction Techniques for Livelier Nonfiction.” Shelby Hearon. The Writer (December 2008), 24-25. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Quote: “In some ways, the two forms [fiction and nonfiction] are very different. There is the plot in fiction, and the writer must invent facts readers will believe. In nonfiction, the writer has all the facts and has to arrange them into a plot for the readers. But in their final effect, the two kinds of writing are not dissimilar. In both, the ultimate question the reader will ask is: Does it ring true?”

Comment: I never finish the articles in The Writer without having learned something new about writing, and without being encouraged to keep writing. RayS.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Topic: Learning to Write

10-second review: You learn to write by reading and paying attention to the world around you.

Title: “Tips from a Master Story Teller.” SA Johnson. The Writer (December 2008), 20-23. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Summary: Interview with fiction writer Elizabeth Cox. Question: What advice do you have for new writers…? Answer: “Read. Read. Read. And pay attention! Reading good writers will help you pay attention to detail: the way gestures reveal true emotions, the dialogue of people around you, the way an event unfolds in your life and in others’ lives. I read poetry every day because poets can see nature as a psychic landscape, can use detail to imply larger ideas or emotion. And when you begin to pay attention in this way, you’ll find ways of being amazed again—feeling the kind of discovery in everyday life the way a child does. You’ll never be bored.”

Comment: I read for ideas. I have had to learn how to read for technique, to see how writers achieve their effects.

One of the best writers I have discovered for awakening the reader to the miracles of everyday life is Loren Eiseley. His essays cause me to recognize the detail in life that I overlook when I go through life with other things on my mind, distracting me from the reality around me. You can go through life bored, distracted, uninvolved, unobservant, or you can focus on the world around you—and learn how to write. I’m not giving this advice just to my readers. I’m giving it to me!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Topic: Criticism of Your Writing

10-second review: If you’re going to learn to write, you’re going to have to learn to accept criticism.

Title: “How a Critique Group and Ad led to a Book Deal.” Susan Colebrook. The Writer (December 2008), 14. The Writer is a magazine with articles written by writers for writers.

Summary: The author discusses how she published her first book. Part of her advice is the following: “I left my ego at the door. In my critique groups, I really listened to others’ comments and tried to keep from defending my work.” p. 14.

Comment: Ouch! I’m thin-skinned. I don’t take criticism politely. I’m always defending my writing. And I’m losing the opportunity to learn. Will my readers tell me how they learned to shut up and listen dispassionately while others shredded their work, including editors and the readers of manuscripts for professional articles? I want to learn, but I’m emotionally unable to withstand criticism without fighting back.

While I think about my own weakness, I’m thinking also that maybe we need to help our students learn how to deal with criticism. I don’t think much of peer-response groups—ignorance sharing ignorance—but I could envision an experiment in which students conscientiously try to listen to others’ comments on their writing and evaluate what they have learned from those comments. For me, that’s an interesting thought
. RayS.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Topic: Writing--People Sources

10-second review: Keep a list of people who will explain research, give personal experience, provide background details and give useful, succinct quotes as sources for your writing.

Title: “7 New Ways to Find an Expert Source.” L Palmer. The Writer (December 2008), 13. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Begin with the people you know, doctors, writers, teachers with avocations, a Verizon lineman who also knows plumbing, electricity and uses books to fix up his house, etc., etc. They may be your friends, but they are also sources of information for your writing.

Comment: I never thought of this idea. Among my friends, associates and acquaintances are civil, mechanical and electrical engineers; an engineer who owns a number of patents; a retired sports writer from the Washington Post; a lawyer who graduated from West Point, fought in Vietnam and is now practicing elder law; housewives who specialize in certain kinds of cooking; and the list goes on. My doctor, my dentist, a tax expert who is also a former minister. Funny, I seem to look at my friends as my friends, not as sources of valuable information for my writing. A useful idea. Rays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Topic: Writing Style

10-second review: Most writers adopt either the sentence or the paragraph as the smallest unit of meaning in their work.

Title: “How I Write: Kevin Brockmeier.” The Writer. (November 2008), 58. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Quote. Kevin Brockmeier: “I think most writers ultimately end up adopting either the sentence or the paragraph as the smallest unit of meaning in their work, the component by which their stories move forward, and it can be helpful to discover which kind of writer you are and embrace that style of writing.”

Comment: Frankly, I never thought of writing style in that way. I’m not exactly sure what it means. Of course, Emerson and Thoreau used the sentence as the core of their writing. Eiseley seemed to combine the two, sentence sometimes, paragraphs at other times. I guess most writers are like Eiseley. Eric Hoffer in The True Believer seemed to write with paragraphs. He just didn’t connect them. I need to think more about this concept of writing style and what it means to how people write.

I’m reminded of a book written by a former student of mine on the joys, hard work and cruelty of farm life. It was by Tom Smith and entitled, Liberty Square Observed and Noted (Xlibris, 2007). He wrote in paragraphs of course, but it was the individual sentence that popped up in the paragraphs that jolted me. They were placed almost anywhere in the paragraph, the beginning, the body, the final sentence. The ideas in the sentences stood out. He was definitely a “sentence writer.” Just reflecting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Topic: Memoirs

Topic: Memoirs

10-second review: There’s a journal devoted to memoirs

Title: "Memoir (And).” M Hart. The Writer (November 2008), 44. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Biannual. Check Website for types of memoir writing: Address: Memoir Journal. P.O. Box 1398. Sausalito, CA 94966.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Topic: Memoirs

10-second review: When not to write a memoir?

Title: “When Not to publish.” A L Turpin. The Writer (November 2008), 34-35. The Writer is a magazine written by writers for writers.

Summary: When writing a memoir, be careful not to write something that will tear apart your family. It’s not worth the bitterness that will follow.

Comment: If you have to be negative toward someone’s actions or words, find a nice or neutral way to say it. As I advise with problematic items of usage, “Write around it.” RayS.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Topic: Writing Exercise

10-second review: Give students a copy of one or two doctored paragraphs from a story or novel and ask them to revise it.

Title: “Learn to Lie.” M Winegardner. The Writer (November 2008), 19. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: Teacher rewrites (“butchers”) one or two paragraphs from a short story or novel. Students try to revise. They then compare to the original source.

Comment: Sounds like an interesting exercise. However, what’s the point? The author never really says. I suppose, word choice. RayS.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Topic: Purpose for Writing

10-second review: If you’re reading something and you think, “I can do better than that,” do it. Take the challenge.

Title: “ ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ Became Her Mantra.” Barbara Nefer. The Writer (November 2008), 14. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary: The author took up her challenge on a topic she knew a great deal about, found the right publication [ topic was horses], Horse Illustrated, and gained her first writing contract. She wasn’t cocky. She knew her field and she was confident in her knowledge.

Comment: I’ve read that some authors wrote a book because the book they wanted to read did not exist. This motive, “I can do better than that,” is similar. They both motivated writers to write. RayS.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Topic: Celebration of African American Language and Culture

10-second review: The meaning of Dean Myers’ The Blues of Flats Brown, a picture book for children from pre-school to grade 3.

Title: “ ‘The Blues Playingest Dog You ever Heard of’: (Re)positioning Literacy Through African American Blues Rhetoric.” C Kynard. Reading Research Quarterly (October/November/December 2008), 356-373. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “Like the narrator tells you, some people have not believed in new possibilities. So when you face them, just you be like Flats: Don’t you never mind all that. In the end, folks like Flats’s narrator will always remember and go out to spread the word, the rhythm and the rhyme.”

Comment: I can’t begin to summarize all of the information contained in this research article on a picture book about a dog who escapes from the mean owner of a junk yard, writes a blues song and succeeds in New York. For ages 3 through 8. Check out for reviews of the book and its accompanying CD. The author of the article shows how the book celebrates black language and culture. Fascinating. RayS.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Topic: Fluency in Learning to Read

10-second review: There is a relationship between early oral reading fluency and comprehension.

Title: “A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children.” J Miller and PJ Schwanenflugel. Reading Research Quarterly (October/November/December 2008), 336-354. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “Decreases in the number of pausal intrusions between the first and second grades and early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension later.” [I think this means that few pauses in oral reading with good expression between first and second grades predicts better comprehension in later grades. RayS.]

Quote: “…there is a correlation between reading fluency and comprehension skills.”

Quote: “In fact, research has suggested that children who do not develop fluency early on in the schooling process are likely to experience difficulty learning and comprehending important material from texts introduced in later grades.”

Comment: For me the important message in this piece of research is that training students in oral reading fluency correlates with good comprehension in silent reading in later grades. The oral training should occur with prose—I’m guessing material in science and social studies. RayS.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Topic: Varied Presentations of Content Area Concepts

10-second review: Students learn to present science, social studies, etc. concepts in various modes of writing.

Title: “Moving Beyond the Page in Content Area Literacy: Comprehension Instruction for Multimodal Texts in Science.” A A Wilson. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 153-156. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Students learn how to present concepts in content materials in a variety of modes: report, story, diagram, description, argument, dialogue, etc.

Comment: This idea is worth thinking about. Generate a list of modes of expression and have students try the different modes in expressing concepts learned in content area reading materials. RayS.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Topic: Interactive Writing

10-second review: Students take turns completing a composition on the whiteboard.

Title: “Interactive writing Beyond the Primary Grades.” H Wall. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 149-152. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Demonstrate how to write a composition by having different students begin, continue and conclude the composition on the white board.

Comment: Why didn’t I think of this? It’s one thing to present a model of an expository composition. It’s another to have the entire class of students complete a composition themselves together as a group. Demonstrate the process to the group by having the group construct a composition. A worthwhile idea. RayS.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Topic: Kindergartners, Pretend Stories from Books and Comprehension

10-second review: Kindergartners retell stories that have been read to them and by using props act out scenes from the story.

Title: “Playing Within and Beyond the Story: Encouraging Book-Related Pretend Play. JG Welsch. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 138-148. A publication of the International Reading Association.

Summary: Teachers read stories to the kindergarten students. Students then, as a group, re-tell the story. Next, the teachers distribute props to the students who act out scenes from the story. Improves the children’s comprehension of the story.

Comment: Sounds like fun for children and adults. I remember when my wife and I gave props to our two young daughters one boring Sunday afternoon in January. They acted out “Red Riding Hood.” Even though the girls are adults now, they still remember when we made a movie of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Much of their dialogue was improvised. RayS.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Topic: Teaching Comprehension

10-second review: Comprehension instruction should fall into three categories: pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading.

Title: “The Comprehension Matrix: A Tool for Designing Comprehension Instruction.” SR Gill. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 106-113. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The author begins by summarizing the research on comprehension: “For years we have tested comprehension but rarely taught it.” She then suggests that teaching comprehension occurs before reading, during reading and after reading.

Comment: Useful for remembering that there are three parts to comprehension instruction. In my experience, it is the third category—after reading—that gets short shrift—especially in the secondary schools. Building background knowledge, pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary and setting purpose are often referred to as pre-reading activities. Reading to accomplish the purpose occurs during reading. But applying what has been learned from the reading does not seem to be emphasized in professional articles as often as pre-reading and during-reading. Especially missing are creative approaches to using the material gained from reading. RayS.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Topic: Teaching Success

10-second review: Teachers need to analyze successful teaching units to determine why the unit was successful.

Title: “March of the Penguins: Building Knowledge in a Kindergarten Classroom.” L Fingeret. Reading Teacher (October 2008), 96-103. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: This idea of analyzing teacher successes came as part of an article in which children were exposed to read-alouds and films on the topic of penguins.

Comment: We all have success stories on units or teaching episodes that work. Ever think about why they work? What are the underlying characteristics that made your teaching successful? How do you know it was successful? Can you build a list of the characteristics that make your teaching successful? RayS.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Topic: "Basic" Writers

10-second review: Defines the “basic” writer not as deficient, or remedial, but as never having been taught to write.

Title: “Before Mina Shaughnessy: Basic Writing at Yale, 1920-1960.” K Ritter. College Composition and Communication (September 2008), 12-45. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: A review of “basic” writing courses in the distant and not-too-distant past. In general, “underprepared” writers were not allowed into the mainstream writing curriculum in college. The courses were usually noncredit. Course descriptions were/are meager and gave no promise of really teaching the underprepared writers what they needed to know.

Comment: Are these basic writing courses any better today? Who are the underprepared and why are they underprepared? Looking back at my experience, I can identify some who were what we call today “learning disabled,” otherwise very bright students, who could not spell or organize their writing, but who had been taught to write. They just had not learned. In most of these cases, the students were not lazy. They simply could not put words together in an organized format. Their frustration must have been great.

Other students who were underprepared had not been taught how to write. In fact, I was one of those students. Why wasn’t I taught to write? Because my English classes focused on grammar rather than writing and never distinguished between the two.

I think part of the solution to how to help underprepared writers is to define more clearly the types of underprepared writers and their characteristics. Don’t teach them all in the same way. RayS.