Friday, March 30, 2012

A Challenge

Question: How do we need to change the standard English curriculum?

Answer/Quote: “Five hundred years after the Columbus expedition, discoveries can still be made. We know so little about the many cultures in our country and in the countries that share our  hemisphere.” P. 43.

Comment: The problem with multiculturalism is the tightrope between the American traditional tradition (white, heterosexual, Eurocentric and male) and the emergence of the many cultures now existent in America. Seems to come down to splintering the nation among the cultures and maintaining a unified American culture. We’ve had enough warnings about the problem. The solution won’t come easily. RayS.

 Title: “Golden Discoveries: Literature of the Americas.” Judith E. Petersen. English Journal (September 1992), 39-43.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Requirred Literary Titles

Question: What are the most frequently required literary works in public schools, 9-12?

 Answer: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Huckleberry Finn, Julius Caesar, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, Hamlet, Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies.

Comment: FYI. RayS.

Title: “Stability and Change in the High-School Canon.” Arthur N. Applebee. English Journal (September 1992), 27-32.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

AP English: Untracking High School Students

Question: What was the effect of opening students to AP classes in English who did not score very well in the SAT?

 Answer/Quote: “ ‘Opening up AP English to all students who were willing to commit to a rigorous summer and yearlong regimen of writing and reading allowed me to study firsthand what happens when students are given choices in their schooling. I discovered that students with combined SAT scores around 700 can learn with students whose combined scores hover around 1300, that students with SAT verbal scores of less than 500 can earn a  4 or 5 on the AP test; that students with SAT verbal scores as low as 300 can pass the University of California Subject A exam. I discovered that students of differing abilities can discuss sophisticated literature and can respond to one another’s writing in ways that lead to thoughtful revision. I discovered that giving students the chance to elect to work at the highest academic levels empowers them to see themselves as learners.’ ”

Excerpt from Joan Kernan Cone’s recent article in Kappan (“Untracking Advanced Placement English: Creating Opportunity Is Not Enough,” May 1992.)

Title: In “This World of English: Coming Untracked: One Teacher’s Story.” English Journal (September 1992), 13.

Comment: I am reminded by this teacher’s story about opening AP English to students whom the SAT suggested could not be successful of the way in which we (Conestoga High School, Berwyn, PA) allowed students to select the levels of their courses. At the AP level, we had guidelines that helped us to make a decision about whether students would be successful, including grade-point average, writing sample, teacher recommendation, etc. The criteria were flexible enough to allow students who demonstrated success in their classes, especially in writing, with teacher recommendation, to be accepted. The results were the same as suggested by the teachers in this article. RayS.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Evaluation of Student Writing

Question: What is a continuing concern with evaluating students’ writing?

Answer/Quote: “Alan Purves, in a recent article in Research in the Teaching of English (‘Reflection on Research and Assessment in Written Composition,’ February 1992) suggests that the claims we make about all writing assessment, including performance or portfolio methods, should be tempered by a recognition that ‘the fallibility of human judgment will always be with us.’ ”

Quote: “These new magical solutions still rely on personal judgments of quality, which are, as Pope noted nearly three centuries ago, problematic.”

Quote: “And, on the basis of these judgments, administrators label students as ‘remedial,’ ‘at risk,’ ‘proficient.’ Although the judgment may be…based on a single subjective rating of a single and perhaps unrepresentative task, the student is labeled and channeled.” P. 11.

Comment: Evaluation of students’ writing is subjective. Still, based on my experience in teaching in a community college, the assessment of students’ writing placed the students accurately into “remedial” and “proficient” classes. The difference in writing ability was significant from the “remedial” to the “proficient.” After all, the purpose of the distinction was not to label the students, but to provide the kind of instruction they needed at a level at which they could learn and succeed. It’s the purpose for making the distinction that counts. RayS.

Title: “This world of English: More Thoughts on Portfolios and Performance Assessment.” English Journal (September 1992), 11.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Question: Why is theory important?

Answer/Quote: “Theory has become a bad word among classroom teachers. In our minds it often is associated with ‘the ivory tower,’ na├»ve idealism, superciliousness, condescension, and the domination of high school teachers by their privileged university colleagues. We sniff when we speak of ‘theorists,’ as if we had gotten a whiff of a bad odor. But all reading and all teaching are grounded in theory. The only question is the extent to which one is aware or unaware of one’s theoretical base.” P. 100.

Comment: A recurring theme in articles in professional education journals is the degree to which teachers are aware of the theories under which they operate in the classroom. Ever take the time to analyze the theories that operate in your teaching of reading, grammar, writing and literature? Sure, you might use the occasion to justify your practices, but you’ll just be hiding the theories under which you really do operate. Time for an honest assessment. What are the theories that dictate your teaching? How do your theories differ from the school’s official practices? RayS.

Title: “Job and His Friends.” Ben F Nelms. English Journal (November 1992), 100.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Question: How can teachers help students enhance whatever topics they are studying in class?

Answer/Quote: “whether we are studying nouns or folk tales, visual interpretations allow students an outlet to express themselves and to obtain a stronger grasp of the subject. Flexibility, organization, and explaining that that there is no right or wrong will enhance the subject and the day for both teachers and students. P. 87.

 Comment: Pictures are everywhere, on U-tube, in newspapers, on cell phone cameras. Asking students to visualize a topic is sure to cause thought, analysis and better understanding of the subject. RayS.

Title: “Just Let Me See It.” Beverly Gilbert. English Journal (November 1992), 80-81.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Media and the Middle Schooler

Question: Why should middle-schoolers be trained to use camcorders to express themselves?

Answer/Quote: “Middle schoolers are children of the media. If after school in the evenings, on weekends, their caretaker happens to be a televisions set wired to a VCR [or DVD player], the children bring new expressions to school….” P. 30.

Quote: “We need to help our students become media literate because many of them exercise their imaginations in the field now, and will continue to do so in the future. Middle school is a fine time to put a camcorder in their hands and let them begin to film, then to edit their film, and show it to an audience. We taped our plays, our skits, our oral reports, and special days whenever we could. Those tapes [CD’s DVD’s] became a record of our good times and allowed sixth graders to become accomplished film-makers.” P. 30.

Comment: Although most of the examples given by the author are designed to keep a record of “good times,” you also need to show students how to plan their recordings, the use of story boards, as well as how to edit their visual recordings and how to record the sound. Not as easy as it sounds. They also need to be shown how to plan and use slide shows and to plan and incorporate PowerPoint presentations [“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you told them.”] RayS.

Title: “Children of the Media.” Elizabeth D Nelms. English Journal (September 1992), 20.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Response to Reading

Question: How help students understand that reading materials can be understood differently by different people?

Answer/Quote: “When I reflected on President Bush ending his speech on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor with what I could only assume to be an aside, ‘America, the greatest country the world has ever seen,’ I couldn’t help musing on two possible but contradictory readings or interpretations of the comment. Some would no doubt read it as patriotic while others would condemn it as jingoistic or chauvinistic.” P. 25.

Quote: “A simple but major change in my teaching strategy has come with insights from recent theory. After playing Geldof’s song, instead of asking students, ‘What is this song about?’ or ‘What do you think this song means?’ I now ask, ‘What are possible readings of this song?’ ”

Quote: Dominant Reading. “A dominant reading can be defined as either ‘that made by the majority of people or by the most powerful people in a society.’ The dominant reading of the traditional version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is probably something like this: The story ends happily with Little Red Riding Hood receiving a scare but learning a valuable lesson as a result of her terrible experience (Reading 1).”

Quote: Other Readings.  “Some readers, however, will read the story in other ways by emphasizing different things in the text. For example, some will be very aware of the grandmother’s death and so read the ending as quite a grim one. This could produce Reading 2: The story ends rather grimly, because although Little Red Riding Hood is saved, her grandmother has been killed b the wolf—as a direct result of Little Red Riding Hood’s disobeying her mother by stopping in the woods and talking to a stranger’ (Reading 2).”

Quote: Resistant Reading. A resistant reading is one in which the reader rejects the position which the text appears to offer. With this version of “Little Red Riding Hood,’ a resistant reading would be ‘What Little Red Riding Hood does is beside the point. The Wolf is the one who should be criticized. It is his behavior that makes it unsafe for females to be out on their own’ (Reading 3).”

Comment: Interesting. Instead of rejecting possible interpretations as invalid, the author suggests “possible readings.” The “correct reading,” becomes the “dominant reading.” Still allows for alternative interpretations. I like the idea. RayS.

Title: “Re-Reading Reading.” Peter Forrestal. English Journal (November 1992), 25-29.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reading Proficiency

Question: How can teachers help students develop greater reading proficiency?

Answer/Quote: “Students who reported discussing their reading had higher average reading achievement. Across the three grades (fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades) , 51 to 64 percent of the students said they were asked by their teachers to talk about what they read on a weekly basis or more often.” P. 11.

 Comment: To me, this finding is thought-provoking. Somehow I don’t think of this activity as highly structured in which teachers are looking for right answers to their questions. Rather, I sense it is an exploration of meaning, a real discussion, whether in response to assigned reading or reading done by individual students chosen by themselves. RayS.

Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data. Report: Reading In and Out of School examines a variety of factors that affect how well students read, based on findings from the 1988 and 1990 assessments.

Title: “New Report on Reading In and Out of School.” English Journal (November 1992), p. 11.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Question: How help children keep conversations going?

 Answer: “Bores talk mainly about themselves and their own interests. A good conversationalist listens to what the other says, asks questions about that information, and tries to relate-self-disclosures to the topic.” P. 54.

 Comment: The teacher needs to be a model conversationalist. RayS.

Title: “Talk in the Middle: Two Conversational Skills for Friendship.” Karen Shafer. English Journal (January 1993), 53-55.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Class Discussion

Question: What usually occurs in classroom discussions?

Answer/Quote:”I begin by asking the class, ‘Can you describe what often happens in class discussions?’ They tentatively raise their hands and respond with such comments as, ‘The teacher does most of the talking’; ‘one or two smart kids do all the answering’; ‘No one wants to talk’; ‘Kids are rude’; ‘Discussions are boring’; and, worst of all, ‘We never learn anything; we just don’t understand the stuff we’re supposed to be talking about.’ ” p. 43,

Question: How should students respond to other students’ ideas in a class discussion?

Answer/Quote: “Discussion Cue Sheet”:
> Can you say something similar using other words?

> What did you like about the previous contribution?

> What new ideas did that contribution give you?

> What puzzled you about the last statement?

> What in the last statement had not occurred to you before?

> How did the person who made the last statement arrive at that conclusion?

> Can you elaborate, explain, or give another example of the last statement?

> What puzzled you as you were trying to think of an answer to this question?

p. 44.

Question: How can students evaluate their contributions to the class discussion?

 Answer/Quote: Self-Evaluation:
> Did I contribute to the discussion?

> Did I encourage others to contribute or clarify ideas?

> What would I like to do in the next discussion? How can I do this?

> Who was the person who contributed the most interesting or valuable comments?

> Who was the Most Valuable Player in keeping the discussion going?

> Who encouraged me the most in the discussion?

p. 45.

Question: How might teachers “wrap up” a class discussion?

Answer/Quote: “It is critical to conclude the discussion session on a positive note by summarizing what students have said, by adding my own comments about what I would like to see next time, and by making a final ‘uplifting’ statement, usually beginning with the words, ‘I was really pleased….’” P. 47.

Comment: A lot of interesting ideas for managing a good class discussion. I was guilty of all of the comments by students in response to the question, “What usually happens in a class discussion?” But I did learn how to use student questions to develop a good format for class discussions. RayS.

Title: “Teach Each Other: Connecting Talking and Writing.” Margo Sorenson. English Journal (January 1993), 42-47.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Teaching and Discussing a Poem

Question: What is one method for teaching a poem?

Answer/Quote: “In order to prove to your students the efficacy of class talk, try this: have the class read a poem for homework, assigning a third of the class to return with two or three questions they really want answered; assigning the next third to return with pictures or objects (magazine cut-outs, drawings, collages, tactile things and the like); assigning the last third to return with connections they have made between the poem’s ideas and their personal lives: the similarities they see between the poem and the contemporary world, the memories the poem conjures. Questions, images, connections—these are the things that occur in our minds as we read.”

Quote: “Discussion begins with a volunteer reading the poem aloud. Then the students parade around class showing their pictures or objects before individually explaining their selections. The class may then question individuals. The next set of individuals may offer their questions or connections to the class, spurring dialogue. That is, class talk may begin anywhere.” P. 37.

Comment: A good method for turning the interpretation of a poem over to the class, thus reducing the teacher’s participation in—I almost said “domination” of-- the “discussion.” Believe me, I’m guilty of that kind of “discussion.” RayS.

Title: “Talk for the Mind.” JI Tsujimoto. English Journal (January 1993), 34-37.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Small Groups

Question: When should teachers use small groups in their classrooms?

 Answer/Quote: “If the objective on a given day requires presenting a lot of new information, a lecture is probably better than small-group work. Or if teachers want students to practice some particular skill, recitation and seatwork may be better than small-group work. On the other hand, if teachers want students to compare ideas, develop a train of thought, air differences, or arrive at a consensus on some controversial issue, then the forum of small groups may be just the right setting for most students to carry on intensive conversation and discussion, especially for students too shy to say much in the larger setting of the whole class. Teachers must always remember, however, that they cannot merely put students in groups and expect them to ‘go to it’ with positive results. For group work to succeed, teachers must carefully design collaborative tasks that are interesting to students (and not just to the teacher).”

 Comment: Purpose, Purpose, Purpose. And then show students how to conduct themselves in a small-group setting. What works to help the group succeed? What doesn’t help the group succeed? As the author says, the teacher can’t just say, “Get into small groups” and expect them to succeed. RayS.

Title: “Using Small Groups for Response To and Thinking About Literature.” M Nystrand, A Gamoran, and MJ Heck. English Journal (January 1993), 14-22.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Question: How do supporters of multiculturism and opponents differ in their points of view?

Answer/Quote: [Note: I have removed the quotation marks in order to shorten the expression of the speaker’s ideas. RayS.] Concern for what constitutes America. Belief that America is tied to Western civilization’s values of individual freedom and tolerance. Advocates of multiculturalism attempt to incorporate into the curriculum…the wide range of cultures that coexist in the United States. Those who oppose multiculturalism are promoting the idea of America as something fixed and given that has not changed in the last 200 years. Defenders of multiculturalism are content to retreat to an identity politics that defines isolated groups and cultures within America. Seem to welcome fragmentation and deride cultural unity as a myth.

Neither side is right.

Our insistence on a multicultural curriculum is…an effort to rethink and renegotiate the relationship between our sense of what is individually distinctive and a common culture that may somehow encompass all of us. The goals of multiculturalism open the possibility of conceiving a democratic culture as a process in whose transformation we are all invited to participate. –From a speech by Alice Kessler-Harris, president of the American Studies Association, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 1992.

 Comment: Fair enough. We have to think about democracy as a process in which we must define what is individual and traditional that unites us and to do this, we must all participate. RayS.

Title: “Multiculturalism and the Common Culture.” From a speech by Alice Kessler-Harris. Reprinted in English Journal (January 1993), 9.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prior Knowledge and New Knowledge in Reading

Question: What is an important element in reading instruction in the content areas?

Answer/Quote: “In sum, although we, as researchers, have acknowledged the importance of prior knowledge, we, as teachers, have yet to place the acquisition of new knowledge and the integration of prior knowledge firmly at the core of content area reading instruction.” P. 61.

Comment: One way to begin assessing prior knowledge is to ask students what they already know about the topic to be read. When I did that in a science class dealing with the circulatory system, the teacher for whom I was demonstrating a lesson, discovered that almost everything in the assigned chapter was already known by the students from previous grades. She and I were both surprised. In the end, the students needed to answer only four questions from the chapter. Combining the old and new knowledge should be a priority. RayS.

 Title: Learning from Exposition: Extending Prose Comprehension through Knowledge Modeling.” PB Mosenthal and IS Kirsch. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 58-61.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting to Know Your Students

Question: How can you learn your students’ personal preferences?

Answer: “To start, the instructor can hand out cards or small sheets of paper showing the following list of preferences. Let every class member check yes or no for each item.

I usually PREFER to….

> Do things quickly.            Yes         No

> Act alone.          Yes         No

> Act with a group.              Yes         No

> Get to the point quickly in a conversation. Yes         No

> Engage in extended discussion.     Yes         No

> Involve all members in a small group discussion.      Yes         No

> Speak rather than listen. Yes         No

> Observe rather than speak. Yes     No

> Use gestures when speaking.          Yes         No

> Use brainstorming frequently.       Yes         No

> Do something rather than talk or read about it.         Yes         No

 > Plan rather than carry out events or activities.           Yes         No

Quote: “Then, on the chalkboard, tally everyone’s responses. This will show the distribution of preferences among the class members and group tendencies.”

Comment: Teachers, of course, can add their own ideas on preferences. RayS.

 Title: “Assessing Students’ Personal Preferences.” Journal of Reading (September 1991), 53.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Study Skill

Question: How should students prepare to read a chapter in a textbook?

Answer: Combine two steps: On a “What I Know” sheet, students brainstorm for five minutes what they already know about the topic to be studied. Next. They  survey the chapter by reading the title of the chapter and subheadings. Next: The teacher pre-teaches vocabulary that is likely to be unfamiliar, using context and word roots. Then: The students read the first and last paragraphs of the chapter, and the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph. Finally, students discuss what they have learned about the chapter and raise questions about what they want to learn from the chapter.

Comment: Good idea to have students brainstorm or free-write what they already know about the topic. Then they survey. A combination of K (What do I Know Already?)—W (What do I want to know?) and L (What have I learned?) and the survey part of SQ3R. Why didn’t I think of that? RayS.

Title: “SQ3R + What I Know Sheet + One Strong Strategy.” Patricia E. Call. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 50-52.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Context Clues

Question: What are some types of context clues?

Answer: Definition. Synonym. Comparison/contrast. Example.

Title: “Extending Context Clues to Composition and Cooperative Learning.” Juanita Tipton. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 50.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teamwork and Listening

Question: What is “basic” in teamwork?

Answer/Quote: “In my judgment, the capacity to be a good team member and to work cooperatively with coworkers should be one of the ‘basic skills’ we try to develop in our … education programs….”

Quote: For example, we hear a lot these days about developing student ‘communication skills.’ But how shall we define those skills? If we gave more attention to the social and value implications of the concept, I think we’d move beyond a focus on writing and speaking to look at the art of good listening. This neglected skill is not only of great practical importance, it also emphasizes the essence of cooperative spirit.” P. 43.

Comment: Amen! But you won’t learn good listening skills on TV. RayS.

Title: From Alexander W. Astin, “Competition or Cooperation? Teaching Teamwork as a Basic Skill,” Change, Sept-Oct. 1987, pp 12-19. In “Listening—A Teamwork Skill.” Journal of Reading (September 1991), 43.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Question: Are middle school and high school students informed about what constitutes cheating in school?

Answer/Quote: “Ellis Evans and Delores Craig surveyed 358 middle school and 1,405 high school students to determine their knowledge about different types of cheating. There were no statistically significant differences between middle school and high school students in their knowledge of academic ethical issues. In other words, students’ knowledge of what constitutes cheating is probably formed by middle school age. Students at both levels exhibited confusion about academic misconduct. They appeared to be most uninformed about passive forms of cheating (e.g., permitting another student to copy from your work) and plagiarism.”

Quote: “The researchers recommended direct instruction in what constitutes cheating, with the cautionary note that teachers clarify their own misconception first. The researchers also surveyed 107 secondary teachers to investigate their knowledge about cheating. While the teachers were generally more informed than students, between 20% and 25% of the teachers exhibited confusion about some aspects of cheating (most notably plagiarism).” Evans, E.D., &

Title: Craig, D. (1990), Teacher and Student Perceptions of Academic Cheating in Middle and Senior High Schools. The Journal of Educational Research, 84, 44-45. Summarized in “Beyond JR: Research from Elsewhere: Cheating: What do Teachers and Students Know?” Jeanne Shay Schumm. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 43.

Comment: At this point, I’m not so sure what constitutes plagiarism myself. RayS.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Case Study

Question: How did a 44-year-old who could neither read or write learn to do so in less than one year?

Answer/Quote: “This is the story of a remarkable man. At 44, Norman decided he wanted to learn to read and write. In less than one year, he has progressed from being a man who could not read or write his own address to a man who enjoys reading the newspaper and social studies books. This is also the story of a team of adult educators and a Student Literacy Corps volunteer who nurtured, supported, and learned from Norman.” P. 38.

Quote: “Norman was never asked to memorize high frequency vocabulary words from a sight word list. He was never subjected to workbooks and skill sheets. His reading and writing were always in the context of his life.” P. 42.

> “Norman’s reading and writing always had a purpose and an audience. His journal writing…was real; he used it to express his joy, his anger, and his feelings.”

> “Norman was provided with lots of demonstrations of how language works. Sharon, David, and Val constantly read and wrote to Norman. In doing so, they provided  him with role models of reading and writing.”

> “The context of Norman’s instruction always included the expectation that he would be successful.”

> “Norman’s approximations in reading and writing were accepted and rewarded. When he wrote ‘I did nutting but get mat,’ Val responded to his anger, not his spelling.”

> Norman spent ample time employing his new skills. He became actively engaged in reading.” Pp. 41-42.

Comment: Real reading and real writing, not exercises. RayS.

Title: “Case Study: Norman: Literate at Age 44.” V Meyer, SL Estes, VK. Harris and DM Daniels. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 38-42.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pre-reading Preparation

Question: How can teachers help students become involved in reading fiction?

Answer: Provide the theme of the story and ask students to write briefly how the theme has been reflected in, or related to, their lives.

Comment: I never tried this idea. It certainly beats “Open your books to page 22 and read the story.”  The next question is what do you do with this autobiographical material? Before they read the story and/or after they read the story? RayS.

Title: “Making Connections: “The Power of Autobiographical Writing Before Reading.” LS Hamann, et al. Journal of Reading (September 1991), 24-28.