Thursday, June 30, 2011

Exclamation Mark!

Question: What’s wrong with using the exclamation mark?

Answer/Quote: “The exclamation mark is often the lazy writer’s way of conveying emotion. By using it, you’re telling the reader how to interpret the line. ‘Pay attention,’ you say to the reader, ‘this is going to be exciting.’ ”

“Instead of relying on this rascal of punctuation, you should choose your words precisely so that they carry the emphasis themselves. Focus on using vivid and striking nouns and verbs that capture the essence of the strong emotion you want to convey.” P. 8.

“While you might not need to limit yourself to the ration of three exclamation marks in a lifetime that editor and writer William Maxwell advised, you should use them sparingly and with good reason.” P. 9.

Comment: As a writing teacher, I’ve always had the habit of warning students to use certain words sparingly: “There,” “it,” “get,” “many,” “thing,” etc. But I don’t think I’ve ever warned students to use the exclamation mark three times in a lifetime. RayS.

Title: “Why Does the Exclamation Mark Have a Bad Reputation?” Brandi Reissenweber. The Writer (June 2011), 8-9.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Young Adult Fiction

Question: How low can it go?

Answer/Quote: “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

“Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail. Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it.”

Comment: The trend has been in this dark direction for many years. It reflects experience that is hell. The do-gooders toss it off as, “They know it isn’t real.” But is it to teen-agers? Does this depiction of reality extend to impressionable children’s acting on it? This article is written by someone who loves literature, children’s literature. And it provides evidence that maybe the censors should act on. And the author loves children’s literature.

The author does append some interesting fiction that can be recommended. I think. RayS.

Title: “Darkness Too Visible.” Contemporary Fiction for Teens Is Rife with Explicit Abuse, Violence and Depravity. Why Is This Considered A Good Idea? Meghan Cox Gurdon. Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2011), Internet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dual-Enrollment High School and College Programs in Writing

Question: What are some problems in promoting dual-enrollment programs involving high school students in college-level writing?

Answer: The standards for college-level writing are not clearly defined. Just read the discussions in the professional journals (College Composition and Communication, Teaching English in the Two-Year College and College English to understand the many points of view of what college writing courses should consist of.) College-level writing needs to be defined. And the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) should take the responsibility for defining those standards.

Comment: I predict that any attempt to define the standards of college-level writing will be difficult. Should the papers be long or short? What is the nature of the research paper? What about writing in disciplines beyond English? Defining college-level writing needs to be addressed. RayS.

Title: “Contesting the Space Between High School and College in the Era of Dual-Enrollment.” H Tinberg and J-P Nadeau. College Composition and Communication (June 2011), 704-725.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Key Questions about English Education

Question: Essentially, what questions should we be asking about English Education?

Answer: “What is English? How is English best taught and Learned? How are teachers of English best prepared for their professional work?” p. 690.

Comment: These questions might seem obvious until you begin to answer them. I think I know the answer to the first question. And I thought I answered the second question and third questions when I wrote a book, after thirty-five years in the English Education profession—Teaching English, How To—Xlibris, 2004—but that dull thud you hear is the sound of nobody reading it. So I guess I didn’t answer the questions satisfactorily. RayS.

Title: Preparing Writing Teachers: A Case Study in Constructing a More Connected Future for CCCC and NCTE.” ES Reid. College Composition and Communication (June 2011), 687-703.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Multi-lingual Classrooms in Writing

Question: How are teachers dealing with multi-lingual students in teaching writing?

Answer: “Interviews and survey responses from teachers do suggest, nonetheless, that many (if not most) teachers have a limited set of strategies for supporting multi-lingual students, whether through practices that explicitly incorporate their multiple languages or through English-medium practices that support language development.” 645.

Comment: Having multi-lingual students in classes can be viewed as a problem or as a resource in the teaching of writing. The question now is raised, how can teachers use multiple languages as a resource in the teaching of writing? RayS.

Title: “Enacting and Transforming Local Language Policies.” CM Tardy. College Composition and Communication (June 2011), 634-661.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Literacy Narratives

Question: What do narratives written by students reveal about their literacy training in school?

Answer: They reveal with honesty their problems in their literacy training in schools. In one case, for example, a student revealed how being forced to write and forced to use such techniques as pre-writing made her hate to write and she no longer writes her stories that came so naturally to her.

Quote: “Overall, we should be deliberate and intentional as we design our literacy narrative assignments, for it is our role to ensure that the process of composing a literacy narrative teaches students about their literate lives….” P. 629.

Comment: At several points during the school year, students should write narratives about their training in literacy in school. Will help the teacher learn what works and will also learn how individual students respond to this training. RayS.

Title: “Successes, Victims, and Prodigies: ‘Master’ and “little’ Cultural Narrative in the Literacy Narrative Genre.” KP Alexandrete. College Composition and Communication (June 2011),608-633.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life-long Literacy

Question: When do we stop learning to be literate?

Comment: When we are dead—and maybe (hopefully), not then. RayS.

Answer: “We must recognize literate activity as always on a lifelong continuum, from birth to death, and extending across generations. Only when the age continuum is recognized in full can we sufficiently appreciate the active and changing of literate lives.” P. 603.

Comment: I always knew that learning to write was a life-long learning experience. With each new format, and each new writing situation, I knew I would be learning to write all over again.

My most recent change in literate practice came when I purchased a Kindle from I had already rejected the scrolling of print on a computer screen. Someone once said that human beings had rejected the scroll in favor of pages long ago. Scrolling made me uncomfortable, unable to do the kind of skimming and scanning I used to uncover ideas quickly.

But with Kindle, as with other E-readers, I could turn pages. Again, however, the medium of the E-reader made skimming and scanning and jumping from page to page, from beginning to end and back again difficult with the Kindle. I also found highlighting clumsy and time consuming. With a book, I could quickly jump from topic sentence to topic sentence, from paragraph on a page to a paragraph in the next page easily, and I could jot notes in the margin with speed and ease.

What I discovered, however, was that the E-reader was perfect when I was not searching for new ideas, but re-reading the books I had already read. I found myself turning page after page of Sarah Orne Jewett’s A Country Doctor that I had read long ago, relaxed, savoring the ideas, the description, the story telling.

So I have adjusted. Whereas I almost never re-read a book that was a physical book, with the Kindle I am now re-reading Dickens, Twain, and even “Bitter Bierce,” relaxed and reflective. With new books, I continue searching for ideas by skimming, scanning, first paragraph, last paragraph, topic sentences, etc. for ideas. It’s also how I read my professional journals. But every day I take time to peruse in relaxed fashion books that I have read in the past. I learned at age 76 to change my practices in literacy. RayS.

Title: “Resisting Age Bias in Digital Literacy Research.” Lauren Marshall Bowen. College Composition and Communication (July 2011), 586-607.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Question: In professional journals, what is a constructive meaning for the word “confrontation”?

Answer/Quotes: “The June 2011 issue of CCC is rich in topic, in genre, and, perhaps most especially, in confrontation—which may appear to be a strange claim. In invoking the word confrontation, I’m not thinking of antagonistic exchanges between opponents, but rather of confrontation as a mechanism for questioning our assumptions and for situating our perceptions, practices, and beliefs into a wider set of contexts.” P. 581.

“As I indicated at the beginning of this introduction, I appreciate the idea of confrontation as inquiry, of confrontation as calling a received idea into question.” P. 584.

“Perhaps the very ideas that seem so common-sensical, as John Mayher had it in his award-winning Uncommon Sense: Theoretical Practice in Language Education, are indeed the ones that most demand confrontation.” P. 585.

Comment: I like the idea of “confronting” common-sense ideas, ideas that we accept without thinking. RayS.

Title: “On Confrontation.” Kathleen Blake Yancey, editor of College Composition and Communication (June 2011), 581-585.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Question: What is an editor looking for in order to publish?

Answer/Quote: “Tom Dooley, Eclectica’s managing and fiction editor, wants to see submissions with zing. ’I define zing as the special quality of a piece of writing that grabs a reader’s attention,’ he explains, ‘makes her forget she is reading, and rewards her with an indelible emotional payoff, whether it be laughter, sorrow, anger, something else or all of the above.’ ”

Comment: Isn’t “zing” what ordinary readers are looking for? Sometimes it helps student writers to know what the end product of their writing should be. RayS.

Title: “Send Stories with Zing to Eclectica.” Melissa Hart. The Writer (July 2011), 47.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Structure of Writing: Intros and Endings

Question: What are some basic methods for teaching the structure of an essay?

Answer: Use models. Quote: “We believe that the department should be directive and concrete in terms of teaching structure. We should provide examples … [from students and the teacher] of what we mean by an engaging introduction, a strong thesis, clear topic sentences that link to that thesis, effective transitions and a strong conclusion.” P. 373.

Quote: “Our department should provide students with models of great introductions (and great conclusions) to offset the mechanical five-paragraph model introduction and conclusion. We would like to see students move away from the mechanical, basic introduction toward more ‘creative,’ engaging, reader-friendly introductions. To help promote this process, our committee developed a new rubric for assessing introductions.” P. 373.

Comment: Models themselves might not complete the task of demonstrating the structure to students. Modeling, however, will also help. I asked students to try their first thesis. I then guided each student on the board through completing an effective thesis. After twenty-five examples of modeling the thesis begun by students, they were very close to understanding how to construct an effective thesis. RayS.

Title: “An Outcomes Assessment Project: Basic Writing and Essay Structure.” David Caldwell, et al. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (May 2011), 363-376.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Basic Writers and Reading

Question: Why include readings in the basic writing course?

Answer: The students should read at least one book in the course. That book should become a source for quotes and bibliographic entry that would be an introduction to the research paper.

One suggestion from a survey recommended that the teacher assign a book that the teacher has enjoyed.

Comment: A good idea for introducing the research paper at any level. Would enable the teacher to focus on the basics of attribution, direct quotes, indirect quotes, and bibliographic entry. etc. RayS.

Title: “An Outcomes Assessment Project: Basic Writing and Essay Structure.” David Caldwell, et al. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (May 2011), 363-376.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peer Editing

Question: How can students turn a negative critique of their writing into a positive?

Answer: “Know what you want to be critiqued in your writing.”

. “Be open to change.”

. “Put emotion on the back-burner.”

. Ask questions about the criticism and the material being criticized. Be specific. Students will probably have to learn how to ask for helpful responses.

. “Turn negative feedback into positive action.”

Comment: After each peer-editing session, ask students to reflect on the effectiveness of the session, probably in writing. Help students to learn how to put criticism in positive language. RayS.

Title: “5 Tips to Get the Most from critique.” BA Taylor. The Writer (July 2011), 12.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Academic Writing

Question: What does academic writing across the disciplines have in common?

Answer: The author acknowledges that we have emphasized the differences in academic writing across the disciplines, but says that there are some commonalities. She gives six of these academic commonalities:

. “Academic writers respond to what others have written about their topic. When academics write, they join a conversation. To show they understand this they refer to what others have already written about their subject.”

. “Academic writers state the value of their work and announce a plan for their papers. One reason academics refer to what has been written about an issue is to establish that the issue matters. Another reason is to show that their research addresses an aspect of the issue unresolved.”

. “Academic writers acknowledge that others might disagree with the position they’ve taken.” In short, they hedge and qualify their statements.

. “Academic writers adopt a voice of authority.”

. “Academic writers use academic and discipline-specific vocabulary.” [Comment: And that intimidates the non-specialist who wants to read about the topic. RayS.]

. “Academic writers emphasize evidence, often in tables, graphs and images.”

The author suggests that students read authentic journals from various disciplines. Encourage them to note and discuss differences.

Comment: The author addresses academic writing in professional journals. Academic writing occurs beyond professional journals, as in executive summaries, etc. Still, her principles of academic writing apply in some ways. An interesting way to provide discussion on writing. RayS.

Title: “Teaching the Conventions of Academic Discourse.” Teresa Thonney. Teaching English in the Two-Year College (May 2011), 347-362.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Question: Who is the most rejected published novelist?

Answer: DickWimmer, author of Irish Wine. “His first novel, Irish Wine, was published in 1989 after being turned down by publishers and agents 162 times over 25 years. He once claimed to be history’s most-rejected published novelist.” But “The New York Times raved about the book the year it came out, calling it a ‘taut, finally written, exhaustingly exuberant first novel.’ ” “At the time, his closest official competition was Steven Goldberg’s The Inevitability of Patriarchy, which sold after 69 rejections, the Guinness Book of World Records said in 1989.”

Comment: How’s that for a useful piece of trivia? RayS.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, May 25, 2011, p. B6.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dealing with Those in Leadership Roles

Question: When you have a request or an idea for something, how should you approach the principal, supervisor, assistant superintendent or superintendent?

Answer: Three little words. KEEP IT SHORT!

Comment: I once knew a principal of a high school who used to say to me when I had an idea, “You’ve got three minutes.” In order to sell the idea, I had to organize my thoughts, my pitch, and make a presentation within three minutes. Promptly at three-minutes, the principal would bring the interview to a close, with his answer: “Yes.” “Think about it some more and come back to see me later.” Or “No, I’m sorry.”

Leaders are busy people. They cannot be bothered with long-winded, disorganized salesmanship.

Have an idea? KEEP IT SHORT! RayS.

Title of the article that suggested this advice: “The Basics of Writer Etiquette.” Staton Rabin. The Writer (May 2011), pp. 30-31.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Advice on Writing

Question: “What advice can you offer developing writers?”

Answer/Quote: “Let your stories ‘rest’ after completion and before sending them out. Getting feedback from a trusted reader or writing group can help you to see your manuscript with fresh eyes. You may not change more than a few lines, but the story can benefit from a more objective look.” P. 24.

Comment: I think a key point is “trusted” reader or group. The point is to provide an objective view of what you have written. RayS.

Title: “Find Your Story’s Emotional Core.” An interview with Kathi Appelt. Mary Quattlebaum. The Writer (May 2011), 22-24.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Psychology for Writers

Review of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately about Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior by Carolyn Kaufman. Quill Driver Books, 230 pages.

The reviewer, Susan Hart Hellman, asks, “Where can writers who don’t know a fugue state from a red state, or the difference between social phobia and social networking, turn? The answer is Carolyn Kaufman’s The Writer’s Guide to Psychology. With a B.A. in English and psychology and a Psy.D. in clinical psychology, Kaufman helps authors assure the accuracy of characters and events related to mental health.”

Comment: Without having read this primer on mental health, I can guess that this primer could be helpful to teachers, as well as writers. As the diseases of childhood proliferate, a reference that offers accurate information on the mental health problems of children could be enlightening. It may show that ADD and Autism are so much BS or not. RayS.

Title: “A Helpful Psychology Primer for Writers.” Susan Hart Hellman. The Writer (May 2011), p. 21.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Review of a book about euphemisms: Euphemisms: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms. Ralph Keyes. Little, Brown and Company, 288 pages. The origin and proliferation of euphemisms.

The trouble with euphemisms: “They are frequently the enemy of clear writing. We writers must avoid euphemisms or at minimum, slay them when they worm their way into our early draft.”

An anecdote about euphemisms: “Keyes includes a wonderful anecdote about the British politician Winston Churchill. During a dinner party, Churchill asked a server for a breast of chicken. A woman next to him scolded him for uttering the vulgar word ‘breast.’ He wondered how he should have phrased the request to the server. ‘White meat,’ came the reply. The next day, Churchill sent the woman a corsage along with a message: ‘Pin this on your white meat.’ ”

Comment: Of course, in another context, euphemisms are a component in “doublespeak.” Terms like “surgical strikes” are meant to color over the fact that bombing kills civilians. RayS.

Title: “A Clever Look at Managing Taboo Subjects.” Review by Steve Weinberg. The Writer (May 2011), 20-21.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writers on Writing

Question: How do real writers write?

Answer/Quote: “The most effective way for me to work was to identify the ‘getaway quote’—the comment that sums up the story—from my interviews and notes, set that on my computer screen as the conclusion, and to write my way there, …. I knew where my story was headed, and I charged confidently toward my destination.” P. 15.

Comment: Similar to writing the final sentence and then starting at the beginning. RayS.

Title: “Writing Without a Map.” Jessica Handler. The Writer (May 2011), pp. 15-16.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Peer Editing or Critiquing Groups

Question: What is the goal of peer editing or critiquing groups?

Answer/Quote: “In a writing workshop or critique group, a writer hands out pages that represent…heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, hopes and dreams. As fellow students or group members, our job is to provide feedback and constructive criticism that will support the writer and improve the final product.” P. 8.

Comment: It might be a good idea to put this quote in your classroom where it is plainly visible. RayS.

Title: “How to Give Good Feedback.” Vicki Hudson. The Writer (May 2011), 8-9.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Talking Pennsylvanian: the Strange Langwitch

Question: Time to have a little fun. How do Pennsylvanians talk? You know who you are. RayS.



baby coach –noun. Chiefly Eastern Pennsylvania and Chesapeake Bay . A baby carriage.

Lunch meat –noun. Called "cold cuts" elsewhere.

For those who think we Pennsylvanians 'talk funny' or use 'big words', here's why ...

Once a Pennsylvanian, ALWAYS a Pennsylvanian!

About Pennsylvanians: You've never referred to Philadelphia as anything but ‘Philly’ and New Jersey has always been ' Jersey .'

We don't go to the beach -- we go ‘down the shore.'

You refer to Pennsylvania as 'PA' (pronounced Pee-Ay).

How many other states do that??

'You guys' (or even 'youze guys', in some places) is a perfectly acceptable reference to a group of men and women.

You know how to respond to the question ‘Djeetyet?' (Did you eat yet?)

You know that the Iggles play football and so do the Stillers.

You learned to pronounce Bryn Mawr, Wilkes-Barre , Schuylkill , the Poconos, Tamaqua, Kutztown, Tunkahannock, Bala Cynwyd, Kishacoquillas, Duquesne and Monongahela, also Conshohocken.

And we know Lancaster is pronounced Lank-ister, not Lan-kaster.

You know what a ‘Mummer’ is, and are disappointed if you can't catch at least highlights of the parade.

At least five people on your block have electric 'candles' in all or most of their windows all year long.

You know what a 'State Store' is, and your out-of-state friends find it incredulous that you can’t purchase liquor at the mini-mart.

Words like 'hoagie,' 'crick,' 'chipped ham,' 'dippy eggs', 'sticky buns,' 'shoo-fly pie,' 'lemon sponge pie', 'pierogies' and 'pocketbook' actually mean something to you. (By the way, that last one's PA slang for a purse!)

You not only have heard of Birch Beer, but you know it comes in several colors.

You know the difference between a cheese steak and a pizza steak sandwich, and you know that you also can't get a really good one anywhere outside of the Philly area. (Except maybe in Atlantic City on the boardwalk.)

You know that Blue Ball, Intercourse, Paradise, Climax, Bird-in-Hand, Beaver, Moon, Virginville, Mars, Bethlehem, Hershey, Indiana, Sinking Spring, Jersey Shore, State College, Washington Crossing, Jim Thorpe, King of Prussia, Wind Gap, and Slippery Rock are all PA towns ... and the first three were consecutive stops on the old Reading RR! (PS - That’s pronounced Redd-ing.)

You can identify drivers from New York , New Jersey , Maryland or other neighboring states by their unique and irritating driving habits.

A traffic jam in Lancaster County is 10 cars waiting to pass a horse-drawn carriage on the highway. (And remember ... that’s Lank-ister!)

You know several people who have hit deer more than once.

Driving is always better in winter because the potholes are filled with snow.

As a kid you built snow forts and leaf piles that were taller than you were.

You know beer doesn't grow in a garden, but you know where to find a beer garden.

You actually understand all this and send it out to other Pennsylvanians or former Pennsylvanians. It's scary, isn't it!


And send it to people that never lived in PA and confuse them, because nice matters.

Youn's all play nice now once. I hafta make dippy eggs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Note: Excuse the interruption in my blog. My last entry was on May 24. It wasn't my fault. The wizards at Blogger decided to do maintenance and proceeded to botch up everything. I could no longer post anything. I won't tell you all the troubles I've had in trying to fix the problem. Enough to say that I wasted the better part of a day--after the wizards allowed me to access the blog-- before deciding to try another browser. Why can't techies leave well enough alone? If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it!. RayS.

Question: Why is it a waste of time to “teach” vocabulary?

Answer: The best way to develop vocabulary is, according to the author of this article, to encourage wide reading. Here are the principles he has formulated for developing extensive vocabularies:

. Students have to have a genuine need to know, an interest in what they are reading.

. “Contextual clues, e.g., pictures on a page, titles, the font and layout, the table of contents and lots of other, subtle helpers….”

.”Prior knowledge of the subject, which often means using films, the Internet or other ways to give students enough context to enjoy their reading.”

In short, the author of this article believes that reading is the key to developing extensive vocabularies.

Comment: I can’t argue with that. However, I still say that Norman Lewis’s Word Power Made Easy is the best vocabulary book on the market. Go to and look it up and see what people say about it. Their responses are as glowing today as when I used it with 9th- and 11th graders in the late 1950’s and mid-1960s. Lewis treats words as ideas, and his basic principle is, along with the author’s, making students interested in the words they are learning. He builds his vocabulary training on the many Latin and Greek roots. RayS.

Title: “Why I No Longer Teach Vocabulary.” Jerry Heverly. English Journal (March 2011), 98-100.