Friday, January 30, 2009

College Topic: Creative Writing

10-second review: What is the purpose of creative writing at the college level? Should there be a department of “Creative Writing Studies?”

Title: “One Simple Word: From Creative Writing to Creative Writing Studies.” Tim Mayers. College English (January 2009), pp. 217-228. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: There is apparently a growing interest in creative writing at the college level. What would be its purpose in departments of English? The author says that creative writing bridges the two major emphases in English departments, literature and writing: “That is, it may help bridge the traditional gap between literature and composition, a gap that has rarely been bridged thus far because it has been understood far too simplistically.” p. 227.

Comment: My problem with creative writing at any level has been defining it. At the risk of having my head taken off, I would like to define it now: understanding literature through practicing the genres of poetry, essays, fiction and plays. RayS.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

High School Topic: Reprimanding Students

10-second review: Editor of English Journal recounts a memorable moment in her career.

Title: “From the Editor.” Louann Reid. English Journal (July 2008), 11-13. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: While her class was engaged in another activity, she heard two male students call across the room to each other the words “fag” and “gay.” The second time they used these words, inappropriate for the class’s activity, she stood up and said, “You will not use those words again in this classroom.” She elaborated by saying that words hurt, and she told about a friend of hers who was dying of AIDS whose fear of these words made him unwilling to reveal his sexual orientation. At the end of her speech, the rest of the students clapped. And she wonders why.

Comment: I’m inclined to criticize the editor for her self-righteous behavior. But I’ve done the same thing. My disagreement with what she did comes from my experience. Words do hurt. And I learned long ago as a teacher not ever to reprimand students in public. They will resent it and they will never forget it. And who knows where their resentment will lead. RayS.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Middle School Topic: Central Theme with All Disciplines

10-second review: The theme was a circus fire in Connecticut in 1944. English, math, technology, science, history and gym participated.

Title: “Under the Big Top: Using the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 to Teach Literacy Strategies to Connecticut’s Content Area Teachers.” ML Morse. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 296-307. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: A detailed listing of activities to support cross-discipline participation in a single theme. Author says that these activities help develop comprehension by studying the many different aspects of a single theme, the circus fire in Connecticut in 1944. Sample activities:

English: Descriptive paragraphs about the fire.
Math: Chart/plot course from Florida where circus started to Hartford, Ct.
Technology: Compare technology used to create a circus then and now.
Science: How does gasoline catch on fire?
History of the circus in the world through the ages.
Gym: Fire Safety.

Comment: There are several ways to support “content-area reading,” reading that occurs across disciplines.

One method is that which is described in this article, in detail. Using a central theme, teachers in many disciplines have students study the theme using the skills taught in the specific disciplines. This method of studying all aspects of the theme requires cross-disciplinary planning, an interesting exercise. However, some of the activities are “stretches,” marginal activities for the particular discipline and may waste time needed to complete the curriculum. In general, these activities add up to an in-depth understanding of all aspects of the theme.

I [RayS.] still think the most consistent method for supporting reading in all disciplines is to use the directed reading assignment with all reading assignments in every subject:

1. Build background information on the topic of the reading assignment—the more the students know beforehand, the more they will comprehend what they read.

2. Pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary—in context, roots and the stories behind words, related words.

3. Set purpose for reading, usually in the form of a question—the teacher’s or the students’ from a survey of first and last paragraphs and first sentence of each middle paragraph.

4.Discuss what has been learned from the reading.

5. Apply the knowledge gained in some way or by extending that information through research on the Internet or in magazines and books.

Olive Niles, a reading expert from many years ago, said that if every teacher in every subject used the directed reading assignment there would be no reading problems in the United States. I still agree with her. RayS.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Elementary School Topic: Diagnosis and Response

10-second review: In the past, specialists spent so much time diagnosing the problems of problem readers that nothing was done about them. The new model for reading difficulties, “Response to Intervention” (RTI) mandates quick response to the problems of problem readers.”

Title: “Response to Intervention (RTI): What Teachers of Reading Need to Know.” EM Mesmer and HAE Mesmer. Reading Teacher (December 2008), 280-290. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Terms in RTI, “Response to Intervention.”

Discrepancy Model”: Significant difference documented between a child’s ability (IQ) and achievement.

Intervention”: Instruction in addition to regular classroom program.

Level Data”: How students are performing in comparison to peers.

Slope Data”: How a student is learning across time in comparison to previous learning.

Student Progress Monitoring”: Quick weekly assessments to gauge students’ improvement.

Comment: Seems to provide tools to determine problem readers’ progress. Emphasizes action once discrepancy has been documented. Charts the action and progress. Sounds good, but it could produce more assessment than instruction like its model “No Child Left Behind (NCLB).” I’m waiting to see more details. RayS.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Topic: Blog Change

Beginning tomorrow, I am going to reorganize my English Updates to reflect my K-12 background. I will indicate in the heading the grade level for which the update is intended. For example, “Elementary School Topic: What Teachers of Reading Need to Know.” Regardless of the level, I encourage my readers to note the idea because ideas at one level might be equally valuable at other levels.

I subscribe to professional journals for different grade levels, K-12.

Elementary: Language Arts; The Reading Teacher.

Middle School: Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

High School: English Journal; Classroom Notes Plus.

College: College English; College Composition and Communication; Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges.

K-12: Research in the Teaching of English; Reading Research Quarterly.

Professional Writing: The Writer.

Each day I will report on an article from a specific level, starting with elementary and continuing each day, with the middle school, high school, college, K-12 and professional writing, to give my readers the concept of the progression from kindergarten to college.

I have been reading these publications at all levels since 1964, the year I began my master’s degree in English. Reading these journals prepared me for my role as English Supervisor, K-12. They expanded my understanding of all levels of English instruction. I gained ideas from one level and was able to apply them to other levels. I saw the continuum from kindergarten to college and beyond. I was fascinated by issues at every level. This reading gave me an understanding of the type of instruction my high school students had come from and where they were headed.

I hope my readers will enjoy this somewhat different perspective on K-12 English. RayS.

Friday, January 23, 2009

College Topic: First Year College Composition

10-second review: Does the first-year college composition course meet the students’ writing needs in other disciplines?

Title: Review of College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction. Anne Beaufort. (Utah State University Press, 2007). Reviewed by Linda Brender and Jeffrey Klausman. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 196-205. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “…the engineering faculty requiring a more objective writing style than the writing style preferred by the history faculty. The engineering assignments contained data to be analyzed concretely, whereas the history assignments required a more subjective perspective from the students.” p. 197.

Summary/Quote: “Freshman writing, if taught with an eye toward transfer of learning and with an explicit acknowledgement of the context of freshman writing itself as a social practice, can set students on a course of life-long learning so that they know how to learn to become better and better writers in a variety of social contexts.” Anne Beaufort.

Comment: Maybe the emphasis should be on analyzing the type of writing required in other disciplines. Students use models from other disciplines, analyze them and then set up guidelines for constructing them. RayS.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Topic: Student Questions

10-second review: Students given index card at end of week. Write any questions they have about the course or its ideas.

Title: “Questions and Quotations.” K Dirk. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 195. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Discovered that students had questions they didn’t ask because in his graduate class, he had questions he was afraid to ask. The resulting student questions were many and good. If students do not have questions, they must submit a quotation from any source. These quotes were fun for the class and for the teacher who also collects them.

Comment: Useful activity. Students are afraid to ask questions. The end-of-the-week index card gives them the opportunity to ask them. I wish I had thought of that. RayS.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Topic: Reading a Shakespearian Sonnet

10-second review: Projects large image of the sonnet on a screen. Three readings aloud by students of the sonnet before discussion.

Title: “Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, Not Once But Thrice.” R Diguette. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 192-193. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Author says this technique appeals to students who are not readers. I think it increases focus on the text. I also think that having three students read the sonnet aloud helps the entire class focus on the meaning. I hope students who are to read aloud have time to prepare themselves before reading. I like the idea. RayS.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Topic: Internet Research

10-second review: Student is “researcher” in class; when question is raised, finds information on Internet using laptop.

Title: “ ‘Whose Knowledge? Our Knowledge!’ ” S Erickson. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 192. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “In my literature classes, I ask for a student volunteer with a laptop to be the ‘researcher.’ Some students are eager to take on the role regularly; in other classes, it moves from student to student. When questions come up about the texts we are discussing—Edgar Allen Poe’s biography or the publishing history of War of the Worlds—the ‘researcher’ can locate information and share it with the class.” p. 192.

Comment: Does not say whether the student researches during or after the class. Probably depends on the type of question. RayS.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Topic: Pre-writing

10-second review: Teacher of freshman college composition discovered that students could tell her what they wanted to write, but then would ask, “What did I just say?” The author has an answer to that question.

Title: “Leave Your Paper at the tone….” Carrie DuPre. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 191-192. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students dial their own cell-phone numbers and then talk out their compositions on their voice mail. Can then hear what they have said and fashion it into a written composition.

Comment: The point here is “talking out” the composition as a pre-writing activity. The same idea appeared long ago when teachers had students use tape recorders. RayS.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Topic: College Writing

10-second review: Massachusetts writing teachers established goals for the freshman English composition course.

Title: “CONNECT: Breaking Down Barriers in Public Higher Education.” M. Olendzenski. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 186-190. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: Here are the goals.

Writing: “Students will move through the processes of writing: inventing, composing, revision and editing according to the conventions of standard written English.”

Critical Reading: “Students will critically read and respond to a variety of texts.”

Audience, Purpose, Voice: “Students will compose in a voice appropriate to the audience and to the purpose of the writing.”

Thesis: “Students will formulate a thesis and support it with evidence.”

Organization: “Students will compose coherent and cohesive essays and other texts.”

Research, Documentation: “Students will locate, evaluate, integrate and document primary and/or secondary source materials to support a position.” p. 188.

Comment: It’s a beginning. Some terms need to be defined: revising; standard written English; critically read; voice; thesis; coherent; cohesive. The definitions are “out there”; we just need to agree on the definitions. Anyone care to try? RayS.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Topic: Freshman English

10-second review: One way in which freshman college English is being taught—through literature.

Title: “Linking Composition and Literature Through Metagenres: Using Business Sales Letters in First-Year English.” B Devet. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 177-185. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “…first-year English composition courses, where literature is often the basis for teaching students how to write. Every English instructor recognizes this course. Although it is supposed to emphasize composition, the course frequently morphs into an ‘introduction to literature.’ And, then something is lost.” p. 177.

Summary/Quote: “These first-year English classes often devote too much class time to interpreting literature rather than to writing so that ‘the consumption of texts inevitably engulfs the teaching of writing and the production of texts.’ ” p. 177.

Comment: That’s the way freshman college English was taught when I had the course in 1952 and, apparently, that’s the way it is still taught at many colleges today. I didn’t learn anything about writing then and today’s students won’t learn anything about writing either if freshman English is taught the same way.

Just a reminder to college teachers of freshman English: introduction, thesis, topic sentences and concluding summary paragraph. Teaching the organization of expository writing is that clear. For heaven’s sake teach them to write. RayS.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Topic: Writing in Different Disciplines

10-second review: How is student writing similar across disciplines?

Title: "Linking Composition and Literature through Metagrnres: Using Business Sales Letters in First-Year English.” Be Devet. Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges (December 2008), 177-185. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Idea/Quote: “…in spite of differing surface details, similar ways of thinking underlie genres in the disciplines. Fundamental, for instance, to a zoology lab report and to a political science term paper alike, are the common processes of analysis and synthesis.” p. 177.

Comment: I’m going to engage in some research related to writing across the disciplines in 2009. One reason I believe freshman writing courses are not very effective from the students’ perspective is that the usual five-paragraph essay approach does not apply to certain types of writing in other disciplines. At least students do not recognize the writing in other disciplines as related to the writing assignments in English.

During 2009, I am going to find out how writing in other disciplines relates to or differs from the five-paragraph essay type of writing in English
. RayS.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Topic: Rubrics and Evaluation of Composition

10-second review: The purpose of most rubrics—statements that describe the good paper, average paper and poor paper, etc.—are usually designed for quick and easy assessment. The author suggests how to give them more meaning to students.

Title: “Scoring Rubrics and the Material Conditions of our Relations with Students.” D Martins. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (December 2008), 123-137. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The Author suggests that teachers develop the rubrics in collaboration with the students. Could change the teacher’s initial ideas on the purpose and format of the rubric.

Comment: Makes sense to me. RayS.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Topic: Professional Writing

10-second review: Submitted articles to this journal, Teaching English in Two-Year Colleges, are subjected to “blind review.” What is “blind review” and why is it used?

Title: “The Limits of Blind Review.” J. Sommers, ed. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (December 2008), 121. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)

Summary/Quote: “…‘blind review’ of a journal means that each manuscript will be sent [to reviewers] without any identifiers so that reviewers do not factor into their decision the identity or even the academic affiliation of the authors. Thus each manuscript stands on its own merits, separated from any influence that knowing the author’s name or affiliation might have on readers.” p. 121.

Summary: The author enjoys sending acceptances to writers whose work will be published, but has a more difficult time writing to those whose manuscripts are rejected—or need revision for possible re-evaluation. As much as possible, the editor says, he asks for revision. RayS.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Topic: Questions

10-second review: Encourages students to ask good questions rather than typical “stupid” questions.

Title: “Stupid Questions.” J Hudson. English Journal (November 2008), 105-108. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: “A good question…is one aimed at acquiring information that matters to us.” p. 105.

“…a poor question seeks information that does not matter.” p. 105.

“Better questions lead to new knowledge and meaning and to more questions.” p. 107.

Comment: Some ideas about questions that I will think about and try to apply to myself. Teaching the students the differences between good questions and “stupid” questions should encourage students to think more deeply and to ask more interesting questions: For example, Why does Jane Austen view marriage as the way to perfect happiness and married people as mismatched and unhappy? A “stupid” question: May I sharpen my pencil? The questions could also be controversial: Why are male justices of the Supreme Court and religions controlled by men making decisions on abortions? Or, Why do we need to learn this stuff? RayS.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Topic: Plagiarism

10-second review: The only way to defeat plagiarism is to involve students in writing or projects about which they truly care.

Title: “Prompt Attention: What I Learned from the Plagiarists.” Barry Gilmore. English Journal (November 2008), 102-104. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “The ultimate goal should not be to create a prompt that produces original writing but to create an environment that leads students to devise prompts and arguments of their own.”

Summary: Example: Ask students to brainstorm a list of possible topics on Hamlet.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Topic: English Language Learners (ELLs)

10-second review: Some methods to help the mainstream teacher work with older students who are learning English as a second language.

Title: “Modifying Lessons for English Language Learners.” M Dellicarpini. English Journal (November 2008), 998 – 101. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Learn the world and culture of the ELL student. Use abridged editions of novels as supplements to the unabridged novel. Use poetry, art, music and short news articles related to the theme of the literature the class is reading.

Comment: Part of a regular column in the English Journal and, this month, written by its editor. For me, most of the articles written about ELLs are piecemeal approaches. I keep looking for some basic, underlying ideas that techniques like these can fit into. (Of course, learning about the world and the culture of the ELL would certainly be basic.) RayS.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Topic: Productive Assessment

10-second review: Having taught the “perfect” lesson on recognizing iambic pentameter, the author asked students to copy just one line of iambic pentameter from any source on an index card. One-third of the class was able to do so. If she had not had the students attempt this application of what she had taught them, she would never have known that her lesson had failed as much as it did. Two-thirds of the students could not reproduce a sentence from any source in iambic pentameter. That’s “formative” assessment.

Title: “Formative Assessment: Can you Handle the Truth?” J Gorlewski. English Journal (November 2008), 94-97. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “Formative” assessment is used after interim activities. It shows the teacher how well the students understood what had been taught. If the class does not succeed in the “formative” assessment, the teacher can use additional activities to help the students to understand. “Summative” assessment is a final assessment that does not allow for further teaching, as in “high-stakes” testing.

Comment: “Formative” assessment is only common sense—if the teacher can “handle” the truth that a number of students have not succeeded in learning what has been taught. RayS.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Topic: New Teachers

Question: What are some tips for new teachers?

10-second review: How to relate to parents, colleagues and supervisors.

Title: “Mentoring Matters.” TM McCann and L Johannessen, Eds. English Journal (November 2008), 86-88. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Subhead: “Retaining Quality Teachers Is the Real Test.” Gives advice on how to relate to parents, colleagues and supervisors.

Parents: Be accessible through phone, e-mail, conferences. Put yourself in the parent’s place. Recruit parents to be partners in helping their child’s growth. Be active and attentive listeners. Acknowledge fault when you make a mistake. Make homework instructions clear. Be careful what you send home; somebody will be scrutinizing and criticizing it.

Colleagues: Learn background of colleagues. Gravitate toward positive people. Enlist everyone as your mentor. Respect dignity of every school employee, including custodians, secretaries, food staff, etc.

Supervisors: Assume supervisor is interested in your professional growth. Show interest in long-term professional development. Ask how your supervisor defines the behavior of good teachers. Invite your supervisor to troubleshoot. Alert supervisor about possible difficulties with student, parent.

Comment: Good advice, to which I add, for the secondary teacher, some advice on classroom management. The first ten minutes of class time are critical for settling students down for work. Engage the students in an activity for the first ten minutes. Give extra credit for completing and rewriting. Examples of activities:

1. Write as well as you can for ten minutes on the topic of your choice. Good for one of your five classes. Three weeks. Then shift to next class. Ten minutes of writing will be easy to mark for one class. Clean up individual grammar problems.

2. Spelling test. I used to use a single spelling problem for the ten words: multi-syllable words; rules; words frequently misspelled because of the indefinite vowel; “C”/”S” confusion; -sede, -ceed, -cede words; words frequently misspelled because of mispronunciation, etc.

3. Put grammar problem in a sentence on board and have students correct. Use the format of the SAT?