Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Topic: Publishing in Professional Journals (5)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: Tips on publishing in professional education journals. To query or not to query; peer reviews; payment.

Title: “How to Start Writing for Publication.” RayS. Teaching English, How To…. 2004. Xlibris. pp. 273-278.

To Query or Not to Query
Most articles about writing for publication will suggest that you send query letters, but not the complete manuscript, asking the editor if he or she would be interested in an article like the one you are writing. [In writing a query letter, address it to a specific editor. You can find that information in the magazine’s instructions for publishing. A query letter should include your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.]

In your first paragraph give the title of your article and the reason for writing. Second paragraph should contain a short summary of the article. Don’t make it a “tease.” State exactly the main idea of your article. Your third paragraph should give your credentials, prior publishing history, professional memberships. Conclude by thanking the editor. Request a prompt reply. Try to keep to a single page. A query letter is not much different from the cover letter that accompanied my article on involving the public in reading and writing, but is sent without the complete article.

A Note of Warning. Submitting only an idea for consideration to a commercial publisher can lead to your idea’s being stolen. For example, “Would you be interested in a book that shows how to connect grammar and writing through sentence combining?” An unscrupulous publisher can reject your idea and then assign it to someone else within the publisher’s organization. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. Only works can be copyrighted. Be sure your idea is being or has been already incorporated in an article or book.

NOTE: Most publications in education will require the complete manuscript. You should read in the journal itself, or on its Web site, individual requirements for submitting articles for publication.

Peer Reviews
Many professional journals are “peer reviewed,” meaning that copies of your manuscript will be sent to two or more professionals who have expertise or special interest in the topic about which you wrote. These professionals could be primary or secondary teachers, depending on the level at which your article is aimed, or professional educators in colleges and universities.

The judgments of the peer reviewers will be most influential in the editor’s decision to publish or not to publish. However, in the case of my first published article, although the reviewers were less than enthusiastic about the article, the editor suggested some revisions and promised to consider it again if I resubmitted. I made changes because of the reviewers’ criticisms and followed the editor’s advice, resubmitted, and she decided to publish.

Sources of Topics for Publication
If you wish to write more substantive articles, beyond those on successful teaching techniques, you should consult the journals for “Calls for Manuscripts.” For example, a recent English Journal called for manuscripts on the following topics: “Talking Literature,” on discussing literature; “Being and Becoming a Teacher”; and “Popular Culture.”

Beginning Your Full-Length Article
Most full-length articles will require background information summarizing other articles that have been written on the topic. In writing your article, you need to lay the groundwork. In effect you are saying, “Here’s what has been written about the topic up to this point, and here is how my idea improves, modifies or extends what we know about the topic.” To find previous articles on the topic, consult ERIC at http://reading.indiana.edu/ where you will find summaries of articles published in the past and be able to purchase copies of those articles. You will find access to those articles in your college libraries.

Professional publications usually do not pay for publication. They often send the writer three to five copies of the publication in which the writer’s article appears.

Writing for publication will help teachers empathize with their students. Teachers who write for publication will not only contribute to the growth of their profession, but will engage directly in the writing process and will be better able to share the experience as they and their students both learn to write. I have continued to learn to write throughout my career. I never stop learning to write. In the case of my first publication, I learned how people can effectively review my writing by asking questions and not making judgments. I also learned from my second experience in publishing that the writing process takes some weird turns. Students will appreciate knowing that their teachers are also learning to write. RayS.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Topic: Publishing in Professional Journals (4)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: Tips on publishing in professional education journals. Submitting your manuscript.

Title: “How to Start Writing for Publication.” RayS. Teaching English, How To…. 2004. Xlibris. pp. 273-278.

Submitting Your Manuscript
In submitting the article to the journal for publication, always double space; include the required number of copies; and, unless told to do otherwise in the instructions for submission, send along a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of your manuscript. And, just in case, be sure to keep a copy for yourself in your files and on a CD, DVD or Zip disc.

Caution: You should not submit a manuscript to two or more journals at the same time, a practice that is considered to be unethical. Submit the article to a different journal only after you have received a rejection notice.

Your cover letter should include the following:

Title of your article.
Purpose of the article.
A one- or two-sentence summary of the article.
Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
Your position and school affiliation.
Past publications, if any.

Your cover letter should never be more than one page in length.

Here is the cover letter that I submitted for my article, “Reverse the Image: Involve the Public in Reading and Writing,” that was published in the English Journal in October 1982.

Title of Article: “Reverse the Image: Involve the Public in Reading and Writing”

Purpose of Article: Written in response to “Call for Manuscripts” concerning the “basics in English.” The specific purpose of this article is to respond to the question, “How do we talk to a public convinced it’s about time to get back to the basics?”

Summary of Article: To reverse the negative image of public education projected by the media and to help parents understand the limited function of the “basics” in the processes of reading and writing, I involve the public in actual reading and writing activities. I describe two of these activities that I have used successfully.

Author Information: Name, position, school district, address, date of submission, phone and e-mail address.

This article has not been published elsewhere and has not been sent for consideration to any other publication.

Previous Publications: “Observations of an Instructional Consultant,” in Robert J. McCarthy, The Ungraded Middle School (West Nyack, New York: Parker Publishing Company, Inc.,1972), pp. 213-215.

“Increasing Elementary Teachers’ Reading of Professional Journals: An Inservice Program,” The Reading Teacher, 35 (January, 1982), pp. 390-394.

Next blog: Whether to query or not; peer review; sources of topics for publication. RayS.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Topic: Publishing in Professional Jounrals (3)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: Tips on publishing in professional education journals. Read the journal in which you intend to publish. Writing about teaching techniques.

Title: “How to Start Writing for Publication.” RayS. Teaching English, How To…. 2004. Xlibris. pp. 273-278.

Getting Ready
You have to read professional journals if you are going to submit articles for publication in them. Begin by typing “professional education journals” into the Google search engine. The amount of information you will find—links to journals, sample copies, full on-line articles, etc.—will amaze you. Recently, I typed “English education journals” into Google and was returned 57,500,000 hits in a matter of seconds.

Guide for Organizing an Article on Teaching Techniques
A good way to begin writing professionally is by describing teaching techniques that have worked for you. Publications like The Reading Teacher and Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy publish articles on teacher’ successful practices. The journal Teaching English in the Two-Year College even has a section entitled “What Works for Me.” The NCTE publishes a quarterly called Classroom Notes Plus, which consists of teaching techniques used successfully by secondary teachers.

You should read a sample copy of the journal to learn the format and the requirements for publishing in each journal, together with instructions for submission, including to whom to send the manuscript. Most of that information is also available on the Web sites of professional journals.

In describing your teaching technique, give the purpose for the activity, the materials needed, steps in completing the activity, problems to watch out for, and results of the activity—how you know it is successful. When published, articles on teaching techniques are usually short and grouped with techniques described by other teachers.

Some publications require that you begin by summarizing important ideas on your topic that have already been published. If so, begin with Eric at http://reading.indiana.edu/.

Next Blog: Submitting Your Manuscript. RayS.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Topic: Publishing in Professional Journals (2)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: The writing process produces some strange situations. Where was page 14?

Title: “A Second Experience in Publishing: The Vagaries of the Writing Process.” RayS. Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris. 2004. pp. 272-273.

My second experience in publishing showed me that I still had a lot to learn about the writing process.

Angered by the persistent criticism in the nation’s media of public school teachers and the public schools, I decided to write an article for the English Journal called, “Reverse the Image: Involve the Public in Reading and Writing.” I had learned that when I demonstrated how our teachers taught reading and writing, and involved the audience in actual reading and writing activities, they expressed respect for the efforts of our hard-working public school teachers, who, in my experience, were doing an excellent job of teaching their students to read and to write. I decided to put my experiences in writing.

I remember coming home on a cold, rainy spring evening after an exhausting day at school. My wife greeted me with, “You had a call from Arizona. The editor of the English Journal wants to publish your article.” I was elated. “However,” she said, “you must have left out a page. He wanted to know where page 14 was. And he wants you to send it right away.”

The Mysterious writing Process: Where Is Page 14?

I was puzzled. To my knowledge, I had not left out a page. I immediately found a copy of what I had sent the editor. I had typed it on one of the first Commodore computers. As I turned the pages, I soon realized that I had made a mistake in putting in the page numbers, which were not automatically numbered as they are today in most word processors. Somehow, I had skipped from page 13 to page 15 when numbering the pages. Still, since the article was complete, a missing page number should not have made a difference. The page numbers were simply wrong. But then, I began to read carefully. Sure enough, between pages 13 and 15 was a gap, a significant gap, a missing transition that I simply had not realized I needed.

What followed was difficult. I had to write that transition between the two topics on pages 13 and 15, and I had to make it exactly one page long—page 14. Somehow I succeeded, sent the “missing” page and the article was published in the English Journal of October 1982.

The writing process is a mysterious process. I had unintentionally left out material, but in putting in page numbers had not numbered the pages correctly. The page number I had left out proved to be the very place where important transitional information was missing from the manuscript. An interesting experience in professional writing—and in the process of writing.

If my readers have had some unusual experiences in writing, send them to me and I will publish them. RayS.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Topic: Professional Publication (1)

K-12 Topic

10-second review: The author studied who contributes to professional journals in English education—classroom teachers, university researchers, etc.

Title: “NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published.” A Whitney, Coeditor. English Education (January 2009), 101-113. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: By about 2 to 1, the articles published in the elementary school level publication of the NCTE, Language Arts, are by college or university faculty over classroom teachers. The number of classroom teacher authors increases steadily in the middle school publication, Voices from the Middle, until, in the high school publication (English Journal), the number of classroom teachers and college and university authors is about the same.

Comment: I thought this might be a good time to tell the story of my first publication. I find the story amusing today (2009), but I did not feel that way at the time I submitted the article for publication in 1981. I included this story of my first attempt at publishing in my book, Teaching English, How To…. 2004, Xlibris.

My First Attempt at Publishing

The Topic of My Article: Reading Professional journals Quickly and Efficiently
The topic of my first published article was how to find time in a busy schedule to read professional journals. Professional journals are a most valuable source of useful ideas and teaching techniques. They shed light on important issues in teaching English. However, as a teacher, I had little time for such reading, so I experimented and found a method that helped me gain the most from the limited time I could allow for reading professional materials. I learned early in my career that many professional articles were not worth my time, so I developed a method for sampling that helped me find quickly the main points of each article and just enough of the supporting details to answer my questions.

First, I would read the title, sub-title, the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the article. Usually, this brief minute or two of reading was enough to tell me whether the article was worth reading in more detail. If I had no more interest in the article, I would jot a brief summary at the beginning of the article to help me remember its essential idea and would move on to the next article.

However, if I wanted to know more, or if I had questions to which I wanted answers about the ideas in the article, I would read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph between the first and last paragraphs. Again, this sampling of the first sentences of paragraphs did not take long, but it often gave me the details that I needed to answer my questions.

If I still had questions, I would read the entire article. That did not happen often, maybe one article a journal, but usually my sampling was enough to give me the main ideas and supporting details of almost every article in the journal. In fifteen minutes’ reading I would gather any number of valuable ideas.

Having tried successfully this technique of reading professional journals with teachers in my school district, I decided to write an article on the technique and to submit it to The Reading Teacher, a journal for reading specialists and elementary classroom teachers.

A Judgmental Review of My Article: Not Very Helpful
I worked hard on the article, never having tried to write for professional journals before. When I finished what I thought was a really good article, I brought it downstairs for my wife, an elementary teacher, to read—a mistake. She was on the couch reading the newspaper. I asked her to interrupt what she was doing to read my article; then I sat on the stairs, waiting for her to tell me what a brilliant piece of work I had produced.

Instead, she showed every evidence of being bored. She started to read. Then she leafed through the pages to see how long it was. She shifted her position, put the article down, picked it up again, then obviously began skimming in order to finish in a hurry. I grew tense. I grew angry.

Finally, she held out the article to return it to me. “I’m not very smart,” she said. “I think this is written for people who are smarter than I am.”

“But it’s written for people just like you,” I blurted. “It’s written for elementary teachers.”

She shrugged and I exploded.

“All right,” I said, stomping back up stairs. “I’m sending this in, and you’ll see!”

It was I who would “see.” The article came back with whole chunks of text eliminated by the peer reviewers. In addition, one peer reviewer said, “Everyone knows this. Not recommended for publication.” However, the editor said that if I were to find information on how much professional reading teachers did and other articles on encouraging professional reading to which I could relate my idea, she would consider publishing it if I resubmitted.

I should have known to provide background information before launching into my idea. After all, I’d read a great number of professional articles and that practice is standard.

I had to go to my wife and admit, “You were right.”

“I need your help,” I said. “I need you to review what I write. But we’ve go to change the way we do it. The minute you started to make negative judgments about my article, I hit the ceiling. Even telling me it was great wouldn’t have helped me to improve it.”

How Readers Can Help in Revising
We finally agreed that she would read my articles, that she would make no judgments, negative or positive, but would ask questions any time something I wrote was not clear. It worked perfectly. Her questions were non-judgmental, simply asking what I meant when I said such and such. I clarified ideas that she asked about, included background information on teachers’ professional reading, and resubmitted the article, which was accepted and appeared as the lead article in The Reading Teacher for January of 1982.

In my next blog, I will tell you about my experience with the mysterious workings of the writing process. In the following blogs, I will give you some tips on how to publish in professional journals. RayS.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

General Topic: Professional Language

10-second review: I don’t like jargon. So when I see a piece of pompous prose in one of my professional journals, I usually collect it as an example of obfuscation, the usual result of jargon. Here’s an example. Can you rewrite it to make it clear?

Title: “NCTE Journals and the Teacher-Author: Who and What Gets Published.” A Whitney, Coeditor. English Education (January 2009), 101-113. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Can you improve this sentence?

"I think this information can help us not only to know ourselves and our profession better but also, more importantly, to consider how we instantiate in our publications the priorities and problems of our field, how we invite teachers to make their work public, and how the different kinds of participants in language arts scholarship—classroom teacher, university researchers, and others—are variously situated within our literature." p. 102.

Comment: My first thought is, “No wonder teachers don’t read professional literature.” Who wants to read language like that? My second thought is, “Can I translate this pile of verbiage into plain English?” The context of the sentence is a worthwhile study of the grade levels of teachers who contribute to our professional journals.

Let me see if I can untangle this sentence:

"This information can help us know ourselves and our profession, gives examples of the important ideas and problems in our publications, encourages teachers to publish and reveals the contributors—classroom teachers, university researchers, and others—to our professional literature."

The original sentence was 67 words. I’ve reduced it by 28 words to 39. I have to confess that I’m guessing at the meaning of the words, “to consider how we instantiate in our publications the priorities and problems of our field.” Try as I might I was unable to understand what the author meant by that phrase.

I will continue to fight my puny little war against jargon in every pompous profession. Language does not have to be like that. Even PhD's can express ideas clearly and sometimes memorably. RayS.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Topic: Technology and Manners

Secondary School

10-second review: Don’t just ban technology in school. Teach students how to use it in a courteous manner.

Title: “Doing the Right Thing with Technology.” N Frey and D Fisher. English Journal (July 2008), 38-43. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The opening paragraph of this article sets the tone for its message:

“We were standing in line at Starbucks one morning before school and were shocked by the behavior that the cashier had to endure from a customer talking on a cell phone. When the employee asked, ‘What can I get for you today?’ the man held up his index finger to quiet her. Looking at the length of the line, she said again, ‘Sir, I can take your order now,’ to which he barked back, ‘I’m on the phone! Just hold on!’ Clearly the customer valued the phone conversation much more than his interaction with the cashier. The customer’s behavior was downright rude, acting as if the question the cashier was asking about the order was unreasonable and meant to interrupt his phone call.” p. 38.

The author suggests that teachers take the time to work with their students on defining courteous uses of technology. The authors and their students gave examples of how people should use technology (cell phones, e-mail, etc.) courteously and listing behaviors that are discourteous. In fact, they created a school policy stating the courteous and discourteous uses of technology in school.

Comment: Good idea. Just reading the first paragraph made me burn with indignation over remembered abuses of technology that I have observed. RayS.

Friday, March 20, 2009

K-12 Topic: Underperforming Schools

10-second review: Want to know what is going on in language arts in schools? Begin with the students. Ask them what is happening in their language arts classes.

Title: “Why Now, More Than Ever, We Need to Talk About Opportunity to Learn.” L Scherff and CL Piazza. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 343-352. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary. Examined students’ responses about frequency and duration in regard to (a) writing, (b) the number of major works read and (c) class experiences like working with a literature anthology, grammar book, writing textbook and newspapers. Asked students to provide their perceptions of their literacy instruction in an open-ended section.

Results: Teaching to the test. Student tracking by achievement levels. More opportunity for the higher tracks than for the lower. Writing limited to expository and persuasive, the forms of writing required in the state tests—no poetry or creative writing. Spent time in writing but were not taught how to write (writing process) or how to improve writing.

“It appears that the textbook, with its related activities, remains the primary focus of language arts classes, despite the advances in and availability of technology…. Students mentioned the inordinate amount of time spent on ‘seat work’ that was ‘boring’ and a ‘waste of time.’…..” p. 349.

Comment: Seems that teaching to the test and tracking students by achievement and the use, primarily of textbooks and seat work drill, limit the opportunities for a full, rich language arts curriculum. As a matter of fact, it sounds like the way it was when I broke into teaching. My other thought is that if you want to know what is really going on in language arts classes, you should ask the students. The picture presented from this students survey lacked imagination and creativity. RayS.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

K-12 Topic: No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

10-second review: Some people support NCLB. Some people oppose it. Why?

Title: “Why Now, More Than Ever, we need to Talk about Opportunity to Learn.” L Scherff and CL Piazza. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 343-352. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “Supporters [of NCLB] tout the salutary effects of providing rewards to successful schools—bonuses for teachers and administrators and public accolades. Detractors say that the consequences of legislative actions often result in punishments doled out to “underperforming” schools—prescriptive teaching methods [teaching from a script], state takeovers and public humiliation.”

Comment: Most of the “underperforming” schools are in the cities in which old buildings are crumbling (bathrooms unusable), resources (libraries, textbooks) are meager, social conditions (drugs, neighborhood violence) seemingly irreversible, and magnet schools which draw off all of the promising motivated and talented students. What’s left? Average students with learning problems, language problems, attendance problems, lacking motivation, and family problems most of whom are difficult to teach.

It is my belief that complex problems need complex solutions. Buildings need to be refurbished. That takes money. Resources need to be provided. That takes money. Social problems need to be controlled—I don’t know what the solution is for social problems, but I do know that the vast majority of families in the inner cities want the best for their children. Learning problems and language problems need to be addressed. And the faculty, the entire faculty, needs to believe that their children can learn.

I’m on the teachers’ side in this one. I think the first step in solving the problems of inner city “non-performing” schools is to define clearly the problems that prevent teachers from teaching effectively. A second step is a student survey, which you will read about in my next blog. RayS.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Elementary School Topic: First-Grade Writing Instruction

10-second review: Young writers don’t learn to write simply by being required to write. They need instruction in how to write.

Title: “An Effective Framework for Primary-Grade Guided Writing Instruction.” SA Gibson. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), pp. 324-334. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “Young writers need instruction. They do not improve their writing skills simply because teachers require them to write.” p. 324.

Suggests 20-minute writing segments consisting of four steps: 1. Finding something to write about. 2. Teacher’s modeling a particular writing skill. 3. Time to write individually with teacher intervention as they write their drafts. 4. Sharing what they wrote.

Here’s an example of cards used to “cue” the writing process: 1. Pick one little interesting idea about your topic to write about. 2. Think of a good first sentence. 3. Think about the details your readers want to know. 4. Tell more about your ideas. 5. Add an ending sentence that helps your readers to understand your ideas.

Comment: Assumes first-grade students can read those instructions.

Addendum. I’m going to suggest a method for practicing first-grade writing. Take four or five 8 ½ x 11” sheets of paper. Fold them in half so that they are in the shape of a pamphlet. Staple along the crease.

Students write stories similar to picture books. The bottom half of each page tells the story based on either real or imaginary experiences. The upper half of each page is for pictures to illustrate the text on each page. Of course, the first page is the cover or title page.

When time allows, each student meets with the teacher to go over spelling and punctuation. At first the teacher makes the corrections, using an eraser. As the students become better at correcting spelling and punctuation, they do it themselves.

Hang the books around the room where students—and parents—can read them. The results are sometimes outstanding. The books are cute and interesting and the students are proud of what they have written.

Thanks to Barbara A. Stopper for the idea. RayS.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Teacher Quality

10-second review: Studies the path people take to become English teachers and suggests more needs to be learned about the schools in which they teach as influencing the development of the English teachers when they get there.

Title: “Standpoint: Perspectives on Highly Qualified English Teachers.” AR Gere and D Berebitsky. Research in the Teaching of English (February 2009), 247-262. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Here are some characteristics (some contested) of highly qualified English teachers. Earned BA degree in subject they teach; large gains in student achievement; wide variety of effective teaching strategies; product of traditional certification program; passed state proficiency test in their content areas; came into teaching via alternative certification; create safe, respectful and culturally sensitive learning environments.

Authors suggest that more research be completed on the role of the school or the teaching context in helping to produce effective teachers.

Comment: What do I think is an effective English teacher?

1. Wants every child to learn and tries to help them do so.

2. Keeps up with professional literature.

3. Reflects in writing on their teaching practices and experiences.

4. Does not believe that every underachieving student is “lazy.”

5. Uses the directed reading assignment with difficult reading materials: a. Builds background information on the topic; b Pre-teaches unfamiliar vocabulary; c. Helps students set purpose for reading in the form of questions; d. Has students apply or extend what they have learned from reading.

6. Encourages students to relate personal experience to interpreting literature.

7. Builds vocabulary through pre-teaching unfamiliar words before reading assignments; uses a vocabulary textbook like Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis; encourages students to keep a record of unfamiliar words on index cards with definitions as short as possible.

8. Teaches writing and grammar concurrently. Emphasizes revision through word processing.

9. Gives students confidence in formal speaking, speaking in groups, in debates and in preparation for and responding to interview questions.

10. Gives students the opportunity for independent study.

That’s my definition of an effective English teacher
. RayS.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Creative Writing Topic: Poetry and Rhyming

10-second review: Before rejecting rhyming in writing your poems, try using slant rhymes. They give you many more possibilities.

Title: “The Reason Behind the Rhyme.” Marilyn Taylor. The Writer (February 2009), pp. 15-16. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers.

Summary/Quote: “The basic question: Does the addition of line-end rhyme add something attractive and desirable to a poem, assuming that it’s done well? Can it provide a layer of inventiveness and artistry in an otherwise pretty ordinary block of language? Or should rhyme generally be avoided…because it’s too restrictive, too obvious and tends to prevent poets from expressing what they really want to say?”

Summary/Quote: “The hidden escape hatch in this apparent brick wall lies in the use of slant rhymes…rhymes that have in common some, but not all, of their final sounds. Some examples: green/rain; hill/fail; wait/flight, etc.

Summary/Quote: “…the practice has a long, rich history. Emily Dickinson herself was an early practitioner and used it a great deal….”

Comment: Sounds like fun to try. RayS.

Friday, March 13, 2009

K-12 Topic: Reading Response on State Tests

10-second review: State tests emphasize literal recall and teachers teach for literal recall. Therefore, teachers are not teaching students to think about what they have read—the real purpose for reading.

Title: “The Assessment of Thoughtful Literacy in NAEP: Why the States Aren’t Measuring Up.” AJ Applegate, et al. Reading Teacher (February 2009), 372-381. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “Finally, let us return to the hypothesis of Black and Williams (1998) who suggested that many teachers emphasize literal recall in their classrooms under the mistaken assumption that their students will perform well on accountability measures. Our analysis suggests that such literal-minded teachers may not be so mistaken after all, if we stay the course and continue to assess comprehension as if it consisted primarily of literal recall. But we run the risk of creating a growing number of students who perform well on state tests, yet continue to view reading as an exercise in literal recall of information, an exercise that does not require a spontaneous thoughtful response.” p. 381.

Summary/Quote: “Our analysis of the content of state tests and NAEP suggests that teachers who encourage their students to engage thoughtfully with text and attend to the ways that details support thoughtful conclusions will prepare them to do well on both state and national accountability assessment. But as literacy professionals, we must call upon our state accountability tests to do much more to assess higher order interpretation of text if more of our children are ever to achieve the vision of mature reading that stands at the very core of the field of reading and literacy instruction.”

Comment: I remember in one of my graduate reading courses, a professor, Dr. Sheldon from Syracuse University, assigned articles from professional journals for the students, all teachers, to read. All of the students in the class responded to the articles in the same way—they summarized the ideas in the articles. It took Dr. Sheldon half a semester to teach these teachers to respond thoughtfully to the summarized information, to reflect on it, to agree or not to agree with it, and to extend the ideas in the articles, the implications.

All of these teachers, I included, assumed that reading was gaining ideas and information; we did not think about using those ideas. It was a lesson about reading that I never forgot. Dr. Sheldon was a man who had thought about thinking and reading. For him, reading was thinking.

And that is why I think the last part of the directed reading assignment, using the ideas gained from reading, is not emphasized by most teachers. They build up the background information. They pre-teach the unfamiliar vocabulary. They set purpose or have the students set purpose. But they do not take the process one step further, using the ideas gained from reading. RayS.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

K-12 Topic: Definition of Mature Reading

10-second survey: Can you write the definition of mature reading without looking at the definition in the summary?

Title: “The Assessment of Thoughtful Literacy in NAEP: Why the States Aren’t Measuring Up.” AJ Applegate, et al. Reading Teacher (February 2009), 372-381. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “When it comes to a definition of the nature of mature reading (the ultimate goal of all reading instruction), there is a remarkable level of agreement. This agreement exists among proponents of opposing philosophical camps, among reading theorists from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries; and among assessment specialists charged with measuring reading achievement at state, national and instructional levels.” p. 372.

Summary/Quote: “Mature reading involves thoughtful literacy—an ability to link the text with one’s existing knowledge to arrive at a considered and logical response.” p. 372.

Comment: Let’s see if I can break this definition down so that I understand it: 1. Mature readers think about what they have read. 2. Mature readers relate their knowledge to the text. 3. Mature leaders arrive at a response they have thought about and can support by references to the text.

Well, that’s my attempt. I became stuck on “considered and logical response.” I’m guessing at what that phrase means.

I think the essence of this definition is that mature readers think about what they have read. RayS.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

High School/College Topic: Disciplines Working Together

10-second review: We have become so used to teaching as separate departments that we have not tried to find ways of working together—to the detriment of our students who do not understand the ways in which different disciplines relate to each other and thus experience a fragmented curriculum.

Title: “What We Say When We Don’t Talk about Creative Writing.” G Graff. College English (January 2009), 271-279. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “We have got so used to the separations between departmental components that these separations seem facts of nature or aspects of the academic condition, if not the human condition. The most damaging impact of these separations is on the curriculum and on students. Ultimately, the separations between departmental areas become reproduced in the separations between our discipline itself—and, by extension, academic culture itself—and our students who lose sight of the larger contexts of their studies as they move from one isolated subfield to another…. We are unlikely to start talking to each other until we start teaching with each other.” 278-279.

Comment: Two thoughts cross my mind—both, missed opportunities.

Separating the language arts. We (representative K-12 teachers and I) defined our K-12 curriculum as separate elements: reading, writing, speaking. literature, vocabulary, work-study skills and media. As far as this type of organization went, teachers knew what they were supposed to teach in each element of the language arts and were happy. For some reason, I never saw that there was a Part II to that separated language curriculum—to find the connections among the separated elements. Sigh!.

Interdisciplinary team teaching. The middle schools in Liverpool, New York, in the late 1960s reorganized their teaching. Six interdisciplinary teams were formed, consisting of one English teacher, one science teacher, one social studies teacher and one math teacher. Each team was given the opportunity to meet together for half the school day for planning and then to teach during the other half of the day.

We (the administrators) had hoped that the teachers of the four major disciplines, meeting together each day, would discuss similarities and differences between and among the disciplines. One team did just that and their teaching reflected their mutual ideas. One team did to some degree. The other four teams continued to teach as four separate disciplines and showed little willingness to communicate. I’m still thinking about the lessons I learned from that experience
. RayS.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

College Topic: Questions about Writing in College

10-second review: Some basic questions about college writing that are apparently never discussed.

Title: “What We Say When We Don’t Talk About Creative Writing.” G. Graff. College English (January 2009), 271. A publication of the National Council of teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “You would think that we would occasionally come together to discuss such questions as ‘Is writing in the sciences fundamentally different from writing in the humanities or are there important areas of convergence?’ And ‘What is good academic writing anyway?’ The answers to such questions are far from self-evident, and you might suppose that we would feel the need for some consensus on them, to help us cope with our own writing challenges if not to help our students with theirs. Yet I’ve never seen or heard of any college faculty meeting to discuss such questions. It’s evidently assumed that we already agree on them and thus don’t need to discuss them or that we disagree on them, so discussing them would probably get us nowhere.”

Comment: I know I missed golden opportunities when working as K-12 English supervisor. I had two opportunities and did not take advantage of either: 1. To bring the English faculty together to agree on what we meant by good writing. 2. To bring the entire faculty together to discuss similarities and differences in writing in their disciplines and in English. Sigh! RayS.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Ethics of Teaching English

10-second review: The teachers’ ethics can be summed up as the Seven Golden Virtues: faith, hope, charity (love), prudence, temperance, courage and justice.

Title: "A Consideration of the Ethics of Teaching English.” L Christenbury. English Journal (July 2008), 32-37. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Antique as these may first appear, all are relevant today. Ethical teachers have faith in the efficacy (effectiveness) of their work in the classroom, hope that their teaching makes a difference in students’ lives, love for what they do and also for those with whom thy do it. Ethical teachers exercise prudence and temperance in their work within the educational system and in their words and actions; they exhibit courage to resist what is misguided or wrong; and, above all, they are dedicated to justice for all students in all educational settings and classrooms. These are not impossible goals or unrealistic ideals.”

Comment: I never thought of the Golden Virtues in quite that way. But they do apply to teaching. And, in my opinion, they are effective ethical guides for me as a teacher. The implications of these values for teaching will, for me, extend well beyond my reading them in this article. I’m afraid I didn’t always follow them as I should have. RayS.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Discussion Technique

10-second review: At any time, while reading an assigned novel or short story in class, students can say out loud, “Stop!” And ask to discuss anything they don’t understand, are surprised at or find confusing.

Title: “Walking the Talk: Examining Privilege and Race in a Ninth-Grade Classroom.” K Sassi and EE Thomas. English Journal (July 2008), 25. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: I think if I were using this technique, I would have students read certain key passages together from the short story, novel or whatever. I like the idea. The questions for discussing are coming from the students. RayS.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Students as Readers

10-second review: Ask students to write about and discuss their lives as readers.

Title: “Re-readings and Literacy: How Students’ Second Readings Might Open Third Spaces.” TL Lynch. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 341. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary/Quote: “The single suggestion that I have for classroom colleagues is to create a space and time to ask students about their lives as readers. See what you hear. [Now that’s an interesting sentence for foreigners to parse.] What were your students like as readers in elementary school? Do they remember being read to as children? What was the effect of that? Did they ever enjoy reading? Do they still? What happens to our joy of reading as we age? I know that opening up a dialogue about whether students actually read their assigned readings is intimidating and uncomfortable. But it might also offer a new trust and dialogue to the classroom culture.”

Comment: One of the shocks of my life occurred recently when a student I taught in high school English, many years later, told me that he never read a book that I had assigned.

Of course, that was before I learned myself and taught my students the following.

1. Establish a purpose for reading.

2. Nonfiction chapters in textbooks. The directed reading assignment: build up background information. Pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary. Set purposes in the form of questions after reading the first paragraph, the first sentence of intermediate paragraphs and the last paragraph and using or extending the ideas they had learned from reading.

3. Fiction—novel: Read for ten minutes in four different parts of the novel—near the beginning, half way through, three-fourths through and near the end. After each ten-minute reading, share what has been learned and raise questions about the ideas that have been read. Formulate a list of questions to answer from reading. If the going is slow, read a paragraph a page until you are again caught up in reading everything.

4. Fiction—short story. Read a single sentence on every page or column. Read a paragraph a page or column. What have you read? Questions? Read the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph. What have you learned? Questions? Read to answer the questions.

5. Nonfiction books. Read the foreword or preface. Read the first and last paragraph of each chapter. Then read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph. If you’re caught, keep reading.

All of these techniques are designed to draw the reader into reading, to become absorbed in reading, to become immersed in reading. RayS.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Re-reading Favorite Books

10-second review: Students brought to class favorite books from their childhood and/or elementary and middle schools.

Title: “Re-readings and Literacy: How Students’ Second Readings Might Open Third Spaces.” TL Lynch. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (December 2008/January 2009), 334-341. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: First the author asked the students—without re-reading the book—to write down everything they remembered about the book. Then he asked them to re-read the book and to write what they thought of it now. He gave a model of the essay format. The result? An understanding of how one’s reading changes with age and experience.

Comment: A lesson worth teaching. RayS.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

K-12 Topic: Vocabulary

10-second review: Teachers’ uncertainty about how to teach vocabulary consistently, especially across disciplines.

Title: “What Reading Teachers Say About Vocabulary Instruction: Voices from the Classroom.” JL Berne and CLZ Blachowicz. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 314-322. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary of a survey of 72 educators, K-12 to college, with 56% from elementary schools. In last place in the category of “Most Successful Instructional Strategies,” were “Using Context” and “Pre-teaching Vocabulary Prior to Reading” with 3 people out of 72 listing them. The most successful practice with 13 people was focusing on word parts.

Comment: 72 people is not a very large sample, but if that sample represents a great number of educators, I am completely stunned by the scarce attention given to context and pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary before reading.

One of the major questions from the respondents was consistency in vocabulary development across the disciplines. Piecemeal examples of successful practices can’t do it. Pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary before reading does provide consistency in every discipline as part of the Directed Reading Assignment (DRA)—1. building background information on the topic; 2. pre-teaching unfamiliar words; 3. setting purpose and 4. applying or extending what has been learned from reading.

Among other reasons for pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary before reading, is that students will not see words that they do not know. Try this experiment. After students have read the chapter or article, ask students for the meaning of words you are pretty sure they will not know. They will not have any answer, mainly because they avoided words they did not recognize. Call their attention to the words before they read and they will at least see them and, depending on your work with the words, will understand their meaning.

I repeat again Olive Niles’s challenge to American educators: If every teacher in every discipline used the directed reading assignment, there would be no reading problems in the United States.

And not using context? That’s the second approach to consistency in developing vocabulary across the disciplines. How else do students comprehend on their own unless they learn to use context to guess at the meanings of unfamiliar words?

Migosh! Did the directed reading assignment and learning words from context go away with whole language, like every other consistent approach to helping kids learn to read systematically? How on earth did the whole- language people teach students to read? I’m beginning to think that they used the “think system” borrowed from Professor Harold Hill’s The Music Man. RayS.

Monday, March 2, 2009

K-12 Topics: Interesting Research (4)

10-second review: Variety of topics and findings in recent research.

Title: “Annotated of Bibliography of Research in the Teaching of English.” ed. R Beach, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (RTE) (November 2008), 188-235. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

1. Knowledge of Writing. Do students who have knowledge of writing write better? “Finds that fourth-grade skilled writers were more knowledgeable than their less skilled peers.”
[Comment: Seems like a no-brainer. Still it shows that teaching writing pays off. Nice to know that. RayS.]
B Saddler and S Graham. (2007). “The Relationship Between Writing Knowledge and Writing Performance Among More and Less Skilled Writers.” Reading and Writing Quarterly, 23 (3), 231-247. RTE (November 2008), 230.

2. Writing Scores. How are 2007’s students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing assessment doing when compared to other years’ tests? “Finds that the average writing scores of eighth- and twelfth-graders were higher in 2007 than in previous assessments in 2002 and 1998.”
[Comment: Doesn’t say by how much. These summarizing snippets of research don’t give the reader much detail. Still the information is encouraging. You can read the entire report online as listed below. RayS.].
D Salahu-Din, H Persky and I Miller. (2008). The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2007. Washington DC: National Assessment of Educational Progress. Retrieved June 22, 2008, from http://nationsreportcard.gov/writing_2007. RTE (November 2008), 231.