Thursday, June 30, 2011

Self-Esteem and ESL Students

Question: How can monolingual teachers help ESL students build self-esteem in their classrooms?

Answer/Quotes: Success, Failure and Self-Esteem: “Most educators would agree that positive  self-esteem is critical to academic success for all students. It is generally regarded, however, as an individual personality trait that some students are fortunate enough to develop through interactions with family and peers or from past life experiences. Many teachers acknowledge that success and failure in school both affect and reflect a student’s self-esteem. ... But except for suggestions that they provide positive feedback and words of encouragement, little help has been given to teachers to guide them in fostering self-esteem in their students.” P. 65.

Authentic Language Use, Not Exercises. “Language develops through authentic language use, not language exercises.” P. 70.

Include Home Language in the Classroom. “There is widespread agreement that inclusion of the home language of monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual students in the classroom is integral to their success. If students’ home language is included in the curriculum and learning environment, they learn that this language is respected and valued…. For example, monolingual teachers in an Albuquerque elementary school recently enlisted the help of first-through fifth-graders to prepare multilingual invitations to a community curriculum-sharing night.” P. 73.

Assessment. “Teachers and students should collect language samples—such as journal entries, written reports and projects, published pieces, and letters—that demonstrate the students’ range of writing. Similarly, records of students’ reading may include books and novels read but should also include functional reading, such as use of phone books, informational materials, recipes, and directions.” P. 78.

Home Language: Asset, Not Obstacle. “Students must know that their home language and culture are viewed as assets rather than obstacles to learning.” P. 78.

Comment: Home language and culture must be communicated in the classroom throughout the school year. A basic principle. Maybe my readers knew all this. I didn’t. I’m learning. RayS.

Title: “Self-Esteem: Access to Literacy in Multicultural and Multilingual Classrooms.” B Altwerger and BL Ivener. Pp. 65-81. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Question: How can teachers deal with the diversity in every classroom?

Answer: “There is a wide range of abilities and needs in every classroom in every school. For this reason, no single method, strategy, or approach is appropriate for every learner or teacher.” P. 67.

Comment: One school district I am aware of asked teachers to use three or four methods consecutively in the same class period. I think that’s asking too much  of the teacher. On the other hand, teachers could try several different methods—in pre-writing, for example: brainstorming, free-writing, outlining—at different times and give students the opportunity to try them to decide which method works best in which situations.

We’re about one-third through this anthology of articles on teaching ESL students, and have yet to find a solid technique to try with ESL students. I’m beginning to doubt whether the editors will produce the practical techniques promised at the beginning of the book. RayS.

Title: Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Misconceptions about ESL

Two misconceptions about ESL students: “The first misconception entails drawing [negative] inferences about children’s ability to think logically on the basis of their familiarity with and command of English.” P. 37.

[Comment: In other words, because ESL students do not have command of English, they are considered “dumb.” RayS.]

“The second misconception is in many respects the converse of the first. In this case, ESL students’ adequate control over the surface features of English(that is, their ability to converse fluently in English) is taken as an indication that all aspects of their ‘English proficiency’ have been mastered to the same extent as that demonstrated by native speakers of the language. In other words, conversational skills are interpreted as a valid index of overall language proficiency.” P. 38.

[Comment: In other words, because ESL students are fluent conversationally does not mean they are able to use the English language in academic settings. I think this description of the two misconceptions about ESL students is useful. RayS.]

Title: “The Acquisition of English as A Second Language.” Jim Cummins. Pp. 36-62. In Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)

Question: What is a pressing need for the majority of teachers in the English-speaking world and who has the answers?

Answer/Quotes: “This volume begins to address the pressing need facing the majority of teachers in the United States and in other countries in the English-speaking world—how to teach children whose primary language is not English. Teachers—faced with exploding demographics, lack of knowledge about children’s cultures, and how languages (first or second or third, oral or written) are learned across different social contexts, lack of pedagogy to restructure the teaching of English language arts for children new to English, and fear of change—need concrete ways of teaching.”

Kids Come in All Languages fills a void with instructional practices that teachers need. It also addresses issues of cultural diversity, challenges commonly held assumptions, and marks a shift to viewing children whose primary language  is not English with more respect and dignity. Supporting teachers’ pedagogical change is one of the most formidable tasks facing our profession. We need more books such as this.” Barbara Flores.

Comment: I wonder if my reviews of the articles in this book will answer the questions about English as a Second Language (ESL) that “the majority of teachers” are asking? We’ll soon find out. In the next several blogs, I will review the best of the articles included in this book. RayS.

Title: “Foreword.” Barbara Flores. Pp. v-vii. Kids Come in All Languages: Reading Instruction for ESL Students. Eds. K Spangensberg-Urgschat and R Pritchard. Newark, DE: IRA. 1994.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Question: How would you improve inservice programs that would be helpful to you?

Answer the following questions that were a part of a survey provided by Karen M. Feathers at Wayne State University.

Have you attended a seminar or inservice session that you liked on secondary reading/language teaching in the last year? What was the topic of that session and what did you like about it? (Conversely, if the session was not helpful, why wasn’t it?)

If you could design a convention session that would help you do a better job teaching reading/language to middle/secondary students, what would be the topic of that session be and how would the session be organized (lecture, hands-on, groups, etc.)?

Comment: Your answers to these questions might provide you with the information you will need to seek better inservice programs to meet your needs. RayS.

Title: “Is Secondary School Reading Your Prime Interest?” Karen M. Feathers. Journal of Reading (November 1993) p. 245.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Learning about Teaching

Question: What is one effective technique to use when learning from your students?

Answer/Quote: “One thing that’s became  clear to me in over 3 decades of professoring is that I can learn a lot from my students…if I can just manage to keep my mouth shut a good share of the time. It didn’t take me long to realize that I could learn a lot: what took a while was managing to keep my mouth shut and to listen. We professors are, by nature, a chatty lot, and we are, by tradition, given to lengthy pontification.”

Comment: Guilty! If I were teaching a class of pre-service teachers, I would probably put this quote in plain sight. Listening to students is one way to help improve one’s teaching. Of course, you can “listen” in a variety of ways. One of the best is to develop “learning journals,” in which students jot down thoughts and questions on the day’s lesson. It won’t take you long to read them and the questions they raise could go a long way toward clearing up what is confusing in the lesson, course, etc. Another way to “listen” is to have students summarize on an index card in one sentence the main idea of the day’s lesson with a quick response to it. If the students have trouble formulating it, or responding to it, then the day’s lesson and/or purpose is probably not clear. RayS.

Title: “Language Confounded.” Wayne Otto. Journal of Reading (November 1993), 236-239.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Improving Reading Comprehension in College

Question: How can students learn to improve their comprehension in college-level reading?

Answer: By teaching them to summarize. At first, they write broad summaries and then reduce them to the essentials. The author suggests the following characteristics of good summaries:

Delete minor details.
Combine similar ideas.
Paraphrase accurately.
Reflect author’s emphasis.
Recognize author’s purpose.
Identify the topic.
Identify the main idea.
Stay within appropriate length.
Exclude personal opinion.

Comment: Teaching students to summarize is not easy. Defining a good summary is difficult. The author offers clues to the characteristics of a good summary. I think teaching students how to write an effective summary is a good method for improving comprehension. RayS.

Title: “Using a Model of Direct Instruction to Teach Summary writing in a College Reading Class.” ME Casazza. Journal of Reading (November 1993), 202-208.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Listening and Lecture

Question: How can students get the most from college lectures?

Answer: They ask questions about the topic before, during and after the lecture.

Comment: I wish I had known this technique when I went to college and graduate school. RayS.

Title: “Using Self-questioning to Get the Most from Lectures.” HA Spires (1993). As reported by JS Shumm and L Saumell in Journal of Reading (November 1993), 200.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reading Compositions Aloud

Question: What are the advantages of having students read their compositions aloud?

Answer/Quote: “One of the most successful techniques I use in the classroom is to require my students to read aloud their written material. After 28 years of teaching English, I’ve come to value this requirement because it accomplishes so many course objectives. It lessens the fear of public speaking. It instills a sense of ownership and pride in the creation of a written work. (Students’ concern for their writing increases dramatically when they know the class will hear and critique their work.) It helps students comprehend content. It increases vocabulary. It improves language and speaking skills. It has been found to raise reading test scores…. It forces students to proofread, and we all need to hear our work to understand and appreciate the flow of language.” P. 184.

The author goes on to discuss principles of presentation:

. “The speaker must not begin reading until the listeners are ready, settled in, and looking at the speaker. Listeners are not to take notes or do other work during students presentations. Listeners are encouraged to provide feedback in two areas either orally or in writing: content of material (did it accomplish the purpose of the assignment) and presentation (did it maintain the audience’s attention).”

. “If any parts are especially entertaining, the speaker should wait for the audience to finish reactions….”

. “The speaker needs to make eye contact often, as people like to be read to, not at.”

. “The reading rate must be slower than in conversation.”

. “The presenter needs to speak in a voice loud enough to reach every corner of the room.”

. “The speaker should use facial expressions: smile, frown, gasp, show surprise, anger, suspense.”

. “Reading aloud is a performing art, and the reader must bring some sense of enthusiasm and energy to the work.”

Comment: I think one of the forgotten skills in the secondary classroom is learning to read aloud effectively. The author’s idea of having students read their compositions aloud is excellent—and functional. But don’t forget to teach students how to prepare for reading aloud-through practice, practice and practice. RayS.

Title: “The Reading-Aloud of Ninth-Grade Writing.” KA Megyeri. Journal of Reading (November 1993), 184-190.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Middle-Schoolers and Planning

Question: What adjustments must  middle-schoolers make in order to deal with demands on their time?

Answer: Teachers must help middle-schoolers learn how to organize their time for study, for projects, for writing assignments. They need help in dealing with the greater demands on their time.

Comment: We used to call it “study skills.” The fact is long-term assignments require planning and organization. Productivity depends on how well middle-schoolers plan for and organize long-term assignments. Teachers rarely taught such planning in the “old days” either. RayS.

Title: “Helping Middle-School Learners Succeed with Reading Assignments: A Focus on Time and Planning.” Beth Davey. Journal of Reading (November 1993), 170-173.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the Editor of English Journal

Question: What is the policy of English Journal toward ideas and articles that might be unpopular?

Answer: Leila Christenbury was the editor of English Journal at the time a program called “Pacesetter English” was initiated by the College Board. It aimed at involving ordinary students from diverse backgrounds in a program that required assessments that gave students  an opportunity to show what they could do in many different contexts and gathering activities that could be a resource for such a program.

An unpopular article appeared in English Journal written by Harvey Daniels dealing with “Pacesetter English.” A number of people from both within the National Council of Teachers of English and from non-members urged that the article not be published. Leila Christenbury, the editor of English Journal,  responded to criticism of her publishing the article as follows:

But to the larger issue: Disagreement, discussion, argument is the stuff of our profession, and the honest exchange of views is the essence of what we do, what we teach, in fact, of what we live. EJ has over the years remained a responsible forum for ideas. And, I might add, when it ceases to be such, it will no longer be the journal that has served our profession so well for these eight decades.

One would hope, in all areas of reform…that our ideas are not so fragile nor our principles so shaky that they cannot withstand honest scrutiny and forthright discussion. Accordingly, all are invited, as always, to write English Journal and express popular, unpopular, wrong-headed, right-headed, dissenting and assenting views. While threats, lawsuits, demands and diatribes are not welcome, good articles always are. P. 59.

Comment: While the NCTE has usually adhered to these guidelines about controversial ideas, it does take sides, for example, the non-connection between grammar and writing, the brouhaha over process vs. product in writing and the present-day dismissal of the five-paragraph essay as a relevant technique in writing instruction.  Oh, and also disagreement over the intelligibility of standards in English published by the NCTE and IRA. The editor of EJ said, (a paraphrase) Time to put an end to discussion of the quality of those standards, [which the NY Times blasted as unfit for publishing by an organization that prides itself as a model for clear writing.] RayS.

Title: “Pacesetter Revisited.” Lila Christenbury, ed. English Journal (January 1995), 59.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spelling Bees

Question: What is the purpose of spelling bees?

Answer/Quote: “Perhaps no other public exhibition typifies the traditional image of education better than the spelling bee. Somewhere in the collective cultural conscious is the tableau of two diminutive finalists dueling it out center stage for the glory of being the best speller in Our Little House of the Prairie Elementary School and for the recognition that comes with it. We tend to see this competition over who can spell the most unused words the best as evidence of our successful struggle for academic excellence.” P. 55.

Comment: I hate spelling bees. I was never good at competitive spelling. I have enough trouble remembering the difference between “believe” and “receive” without adding the pressure of competitive spelling, especially when the words to be spelled are the likes of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”The point of this article is “What’s in it for the losers?” And I add, what’s in it for the winners? One helluva lot of wasted time memorizing words that no one will probably ever use. RayS.

Title: “The Game Game.” Ralph Maltese. English Journal (January 1995), 55-58.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

English Teacher Stereotype

Question: What kind of English teacher are you?

Answer/Quote: “Many students apparently see English teachers as guardians, enforcers, correctors, as those who look for errors and who relish castigating those who make them.”

Comment: Ouch! Been there, done that. I admit it. What caused me to change? A focus not on me, but the desire for students to master the language. I learned that true leadership empowers others.

I learned to teach students how to read difficult material—independently—through the directed reading assignment.

I learned how to use discussions of literature successfully, involving the entire class, by focusing on the students’ questions about what they did not understand.

I learned how to teach writing, from brainstorming, through establishing the thesis, to  drafting, revising and editing.

I learned to teach grammar by establishing clear purposes for teaching it, related clearly to writing.

I showed students how to speak formally without fear and how to use small groups to accomplish clear goals.

Yes, it took a career lifetime. But I couldn’t have accomplished the change without the assistance of professional articles and publications from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and International Reading Association (IRA) and other publications like The Writer, a magazine written by writers for writers, in which professionals shared their ideas with me. RayS.

Title: “Pun and Games.” WJ Vande Kopple. English Journal (January 1995), 50-54.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Self-concept and Reading

Question: What is the effect of a negative self-concept on reading success?

Answer/Quotes: “Aware teachers have probably always known that emotional factors  play an important part in a child’s success in learning to read. Nearly thirty years ago, Arthur Gates (1941) estimated from his clinical experience that 75 percent of the children with severe reading disabilities showed personality maladjustment.”

Quote: “Of all the areas of personality correlated with reading achievement, one factor, self concept, seems to be particularly useful for reading teachers.”

Quote: “According to Sullivan, the self is made up of ‘reflected appraisals.’ These ‘reflected appraisals’ come from the child’s parents, teachers, and significant others. A child who, for whatever reason, develops negative self perceptions may see  himself as an inadequate reader, incapable of learning, or just generally inadequate. Children with negative self images may be filled with fear of failure and terrified of new experiences. Some may be restless, unable to concentrate, and anxious under pressure of time limits. Others may be quiet and withdrawn. Failure in reading may be among these behavioral manifestations of poor self concepts.” P, 232.

Comment: If I seem to be highlighting articles of the past that reflect the problems of problem readers, it is because of the simplistic notion established in No Child Left Behind that the teacher is solely to blame for the failure of children to learn to read. The problems of children who fail to learn to read are complex and real. Failure to take into account the emotional problems of children who fail to learn to read is one reason that No Child Left Behind is simplistic. The goal is wonderful, but until the many problems keeping children from learning can be dealt with realistically No Child Left Behind will be impossible to achieve. These articles from the past give some realization of the difficulties faced by the teacher in helping children learn to read successfully. RayS.

Title: “Self-Concept Development in the Reading Program.” Shirley Berretta. Reading Teacher (December 1970), pp. 232-238.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Learning Disabilities "Defined."

Question: When is a definition not a definition?

Answer: “Learning disabilities are now defined in federal legislation. Public Law 910230, dated April 13, 1970, states:

“The term ‘children with specific learning disabilities’ means those children who have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

“Such disorders include such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia.

“Such term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the results of visual, hearing or other motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental disadvantage.”

Comment: A whole lot more needs to be defined before this “definition” makes any sense to the “layman,” meaning “me.” For example, what does “disorder,” and “imperfect ability” mean? What is the meaning of “perceptual handicaps,””minimal brain dysfunction,” “dyslexia” and “developmental aphasia”? The problem of understanding technical terminology is staggering. I invite anyone to attempt to express these terms in plain, clear and intelligible language to do so. You will be doing this “layman” (and a large number of others) a considerable service. And you might add “ADD” and “autism” to the mix. I know. You can’t make complex conditions simple. But I do believe they can be explained so that ordinary, fairly well educated human beings can begin to understand them. RayS.

Title: “The Clip Sheet.” Ed. Eleanor M. Ladd. Reading Teacher (January 1971), p. 383.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Orangutan Score

Question: If you’re going to write a multiple-choice test, what’s one way you can assure a valid and reliable score?

Answer: An orangutan, says the author, will punch the correct answer out of four possible answers, about 25% of the time. Of course, orangutans cannot read, so make sure that your students can’t guess randomly correctly 25% of the time.

Comment: Try it yourself on a standardized test. I’ve even tried it with the Advanced Placement (AP) literature test. I was surprised how many correct answers I could figure out without reading the test passage. In some groups of questions, I had 9 out of 10 answers correct. I never read the given passage. RayS.

Title: “The Orangutan Score.” Edward Fry. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 360-362.

Note: The author spelled “Orangoutang” this way. My spelling checker said it was “Orangutan.” I accepted the spelling checker. RayS.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More on Norm-Referenced and Criterion-Referenced Tests

Question: How do norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests differ? What are their purposes?

Answer/Quote: “Standards used for judgment of the adequacy or inadequacy of an individual’s performance are quite different in norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests. In the former, the standards arise from an examination of the performance of a standardization  population chosen to represent all the students who might appropriately be asked to respond to the particular test items. The standards are the usual or ‘normal’ performances for students at a particular age or grad level. The essential question is ‘How well is this individual doing compared to how others are doing?’

“In the latter, the standard is absolute rather than relative, arising from a specified task and the individual’s ability or inability to complete that task. The standards, therefore, relate only to the individual and the task. The essential question to be answered by a criterion-referenced test is ‘Can this individual accomplish this task?’ No consideration is given to comparison of what that individual can do with what others can do. It seems quite obvious for this reason, that careful analysis of the task in which adequacy is to be evaluated is a true prerequisite to the building of criterion-referenced tests.” P. 355.

Comment: This article further clarifies the differences between norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. RayS.

Title: “Task-Analysis for Criterion-Referenced Tests.” Marjorie S. Johnson and Roy A. Kress. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 355-359.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Norm-Referenced and criterion-Referenced Test Score Interpretation

Question: Which is more useful—norm-referenced or criterion-referenced testing in helping to understand student achievement?

Answer: Both forms of testing are useful.

Quote: “Most test authors probably would agree that criterion-referenced interpretation of test performance can provide information helpful in the guidance of pupil learning and in the evaluation of instruction. It should not, however, be thought of as  a replacement for norm-referenced interpretation. The latter still provides essential information concerning a pupil’s performance on a body of material carefully selected to be representative of what is being taught nationally within a given subject matter field and at a particular grade level.” P. 354.

Comment: You can’t learn everything about education in your education courses. That’s why you need to read professional journals in education and to belong to your professional organizations, in English education—the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA). The information they offer, if read critically, can be very helpful in succeeding as an English teacher and a teacher of reading. RayS.

Title: “Criterion-Referenced Test Interpretation in Reading.” George A. Prescott. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 347-354.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Criterion-Referenced Test Interpretation

Question: How does one interpret criterion-referenced tests?

Answer/Quote: “In criterion-referenced…test interpretation, no attempt is made to compare the performance of an individual with that of others. Rather, one seeks to evaluate performance in terms of whether an individual has achieved or has failed to achieve specific instructional objectives. It seeks to answer the question ‘What specific skills, knowledges, and understanding has a pupil acquired?’ Can he, for example, spell the word believe? Can he use the word dormant in a meaningful sentence? Can he suggest an appropriate title for a story? In its most elemental form, the response of each pupil to each test item is evaluated as correct or incorrect; the skill or ability, or whatever, measured by a test item has either been mastered or it has not. The criterion is 100 percent mastery.” P. 348.

Comment: This explanation reduces the terminology to manageable form. RayS.

Title: “Criterion-Referenced Test Interpretation in Reading.” George A. Prescott. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 347-354.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Interpreting Norm-Referenced Test Scores

Question: What are norm-referenced test scores and why are they useful?

Answer/Quote: “In most instances…the frame of reference for interpreting the test performance of an individual is the ‘typical’ performance of some defined group. In other words, the reference is a ‘norm.’ ”

If the student are fourth graders, the test norms would be typical fourth-grade students who performed on the test. Comparing the fourth-grade students to the norms on the test should give some idea of how the target students are  performing against their peers.

Comment: I’m not an expert on testing, so an article like this one helps me put the vocabulary of testing into some intelligible framework. Another reason why I read professional journals in English education: to understand the technical language of education.  RayS.

Title: “Criterion-Referenced Test Interpretation in Reading.” George A. Prescott. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 347-354.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Labels That Can Hurt

Note: I am trying once again to publicize ideas in teaching English from past professional articles in publications of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)  and the International Reading Association (IRA). I am beginning with a disturbing problem, the problem of defining problems in reading and learning. RayS.

Question: What exactly do labels involving reading difficulty mean?

Answer/Quotes: “Professor Higgins of musical comedy fame (My Fair Lady) comments, ‘The French don’t really care what they say so long as they pronounce it properly.’ One sometimes gets the feeling that this same attitude permeates people involved in diagnosing and theorizing about youngsters with reading or learning problems. Terms such as dyslexia, minimal brain damage, specific learning disability, and others with similarly formidable implications are being tossed around with greater frequency not only among educational specialists but also among teachers and the lay public. Such diagnostic categories when used with the same precision which went into their initial formulation can be of great help in simplifying communication between specialists. There is, however, real danger in the inexact application of diagnostic categories, and a number of problems are created by the use of diagnostic labels as the end product of a diagnostic evaluation.” P. 331.

“Conferences which involve discussion of reading and reading disability grow more numerous each day. It would seem high time to organize a symposium to develop some standard terminology which could have broad acceptance among educators and facilitate communication abut, and understanding of, learning problems. That this would be an extremely arduous task is clear to the author on the basis of a two-day conference which attempted, without success, to arrive at a definition of the term ‘severe reading disability.’ ” P.335.

Comment: Add “ADD” and “Autism” to the mix. The problem is the same. Do specialists and doctors agree on what they mean? RayS.

Title: “Word Games in Reading Diagnosis.” Stanley L. Rosner. Reading Teacher (January 1971), 331-335.