Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reading in the Content Areas

Question: How can students assess ahead of time the difficulties they will face with a content reading assignment?

Answer: The authors use an acronym, FLIP as a method for assessing the difficulties—or the readiness to read—an assignment in a discipline.

F – Friendliness—how friendly is my reading assignment? Does it contain the following features? Table of contents; chapter introductions; margin notes; key terms highlighted; pictures; index; headings; study questions; graphs; signal words; glossary; subheadings; chapter summary; charts; lists of key facts. The student then rates the “friendliness” of the text from 1 to 5, from (1) “boring” to (5)“friendly.” If there are some “friendly” features, they should rate it “3.”

L – Language: How difficult is the language in my reading assignment? “(5) means there are no new words and mostly clear sentences and (1) means there are many new words and complicated sentences.”

I – Interest—how interesting is my reading assignment? “Here students read the assignment’s title, introduction, headings and subheadings and summary and examine its pictures and graphics. A ranking of (5) would suggest that the student finds the assignment very interesting; (1) would suggest that the assignment seems boring.”

P –Prior Knowledge—what do I already know about the material covered in my reading assignment? “The quick survey completed during the ‘I’ step should let readers determine if they have prior knowledge of the assignment’s subject matter. A rating of (5) here means the reader has a great deal of prior knowledge about the topic, while (1) is fitting if the reader has never heard the information before.”

Comment: An excellent method for “previewing” a reading assignment in a content discipline. I wish I had known about this technique when I was teaching. Would give the teacher a clear understanding of students’ readiness for reading an assignment. Also tells the students a great deal about the nature of the text. RayS.

Title: “FLIP: A Framework for Content Area Reading.” JS Schumm and CT Mangrum. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 120-124.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Adult Literacy

Question: What are some problems with adult literacy training in the U.S.?

 Answer/Quote: “Adult literacy programs face a multitude of problems: In the United States they attract “less than 7% of the illiterate population and they must provide for widely differing reading levels among their adult students….; they suffer from lack of both funding…and age-appropriate materials….; their tutors, though dedicated and well intentioned, often lack the skills necessary to teach and motivate adults…; and the drop-out rate is extremely high, ranging from 50% to70%..... Moreover, instruction is strongly skill based, presented by tutors with little training who are usually encouraged to use only their sponsoring agency’s materials….” P. 108.

Comment: That’s a boatload of problems. FYI. RayS.

Title: “Interactive Computer-Assisted Instruction with Adults.” R Finnegan and R Sinatra. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 108-119.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Semantic Mapping

Question: What is semantic mapping and why use it?

Answer/Quote: “…Carrell, Pharis, and Liberto (1989) recommended semantic mapping to introduce key vocabulary from a reading passage and to provide teachers with a means of informal assessment of students’ prior knowledge. In their research, ESL (English as a Second Language) college students trained in semantic mapping showed increased comprehension of content area texts.

Quote: “The procedure begins with class brainstorming in which students generate associations on a topic. Because this type of associating triggers attention and builds on students’ prior knowledge, brainstorming serves as an advanced organizer for understanding the potentially related information that follows in the reading assignment. The teacher then conducts a discussion in which students organize in a map the information generated by brainstorming. Once reading is completed, students revise their maps, applying knowledge of text structure and important concepts in an organized, visual format.” P. 97.

Purpose of the activity: building background knowledge of information about the topic of a reading assignment.

 Comment: The more people know about the topic of a reading assignment, the better they will comprehend it. RayS.

Title: “Instructional Strategies for Second-Language Learners in the Content Areas.” M de la Luz Reyes and LA Molner. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 96-103.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Collecting Sentences

Question: What can be gained by students’ collecting and displaying sentences?

Answer/Quote: “Adolescents enter their middle school reading classroom…and begin reading sentences from charts on the walls. Occasionally someone hands the teacher a slip of paper with a sentence and the name of its author from their outside reading. A girl notices that the sentence she submitted yesterday has been added to a chart; a sentence that a boy wrote last week is also on one of the charts.” P. 92.

Quote: “Students comment on length and sentence structure, word choice and vocabulary, imagery and metaphor, and, of course, the book and its author. They hear their peers talk about what they have found interesting: information, ideas, language, images, illustrations, and the books themselves.” P. 95.

Comment: A wonderful habit to attract students to language. I have been a collector of “significant sentences” for years and years. I still review the sentences from my collection from time to time, and I use them often in my writing. A good way to involve students in language. RayS.

Title: “Sentence Collecting: Authentic Literacy Events in the Classroom.” RB Speaker, Jr. and PR Speaker. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 92-95.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Technical Vocabulary

Question: When introduce technical vocabulary: before, during, or after reading?

Answer: Before and after reading, teachers presented the words in a sentence, using an overhead projector, and then discussing  meaning of the words in class. Students used a glossary during reading. No statistically significant differences in the three methods.

Comment: I still prefer pre-teaching technical vocabulary. Students are alerted to it and see and recognize it. I have done some experiments and found that students did not see or recognize the technical terms when reading if not pre-taught. RayS. 

Title: “Technical Vocabulary: When Should You Teach It?” Jeanne Shay Schumm. Summarizing the following research: DM Memory (1990) Teaching Technical Vocabulary: Before. During or After the Reading Assignments? Journal of Reading Behavior, 22, 39-53. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 90.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Middle School Instructional Practices

Question: What are some prevailing middle school instructional practices?

“More telling, mentioning, or assigning than actual teaching.”

“The lecture approach as the predominant means of conveying information.”

“Writing vocabulary words on the board and having students look them up in the dictionary.”

“Telling the class to open textbooks and begin reading.”

“Providing no guidance for learning from written/oral material.”

“Assigning reading with little or no preparation, direction, follow-up or discussion.” P. 85.

“Having students answer end-of-chapter questions.”

“Expecting students to work independently when textbooks are too difficult.”

“Assuming that students have the study skills necessary to complete assignments.”

“Asking mostly literal level questions.” P. 86.

Comment: See my book. Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper, Xlibris, 2004, for information on how to right these ineffective instructional methods. RayS.

Title: “The Case for Improved Instruction in the Middle Grades.” KD Wood and K D Muth. Journal of Reading (October 1991), 84-90.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Informal Adult Reading Assessment

Question: What is a technique to use with adults in literacy classes?

Answer/Quote: “Jones and Parker (1991) have explained how the Language Experience Approach (LEA) can be used as an informal assessment technique for adult beginning readers. The examiner asks the adult to tell a personal story and takes notes verbatim as the adult speaks. Next, the adult is to read aloud the story that he or she has just dictated. If the adult has difficulty with this task, the examiner reads the text while the adult follows along and then the student is asked to read the text independently. This procedure is recommended for gaining insights into general reading ability, use of reading strategies and general oral language facility. Evaluation of progress in a literacy program could be achieved by collecting and reading LEA stories over time.” p. 258.

Comment: There is no end to the usefulness of the Language Experience Approach in reading, at whatever level. I continue to be impressed by it. RayS.

Title: “Adult Literacy Assessment: Existing Tools and Promising Developments.” Alan M. Frager. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 256-259.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vocabulary and Context

Question: What are context clues friendly for readers?

Answer/Quote: “Bonnie Konopak and John Koonopak) 1986) of Louisiana State University identified four characteristics of contextual clue presentation that is more considerate to the reader: (a) a context clue in close proximity to the target word, (b) clarity of connection between target word and context clue, (c) explicitness of contextual information, and (d) completeness of contextual information.” P. 249.

Question: Suppose context clues are not reader friendly?

Answer: Be sensitive to context clues that don’t help much and provide assistance in understanding the word. In that case, students should use a dictionary, glossary, or thesaurus.

Comment: In my experience, many words are not context “friendly.” In that case, students should use a dictionary, glossary, or thesaurus. They should record the meaning in as few words as possible, a single word if possible. Easier to remember the meaning. RayS.

Title: “Beyond JR: Research from Elsewhere.” Jeanne Shay Schumm. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 249.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reading Books and Magazines

Question: Do you read every book that you buy?

Answer: No. We buy many more books than we read. And magazines, too. Do you have unread stacks of New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic and Smithsonian lying in various corners? What are you going to do about it?

Comment: You have to get into the reading material, overcome inertia.

For novels, try my technique of reading for ten minutes near the beginning, near the middle, three-fourths and near the end. When you lose interest, try reading a paragraph a page until you are caught again and want to read everything. Lose interest again? Try the
Information books: Read the foreword, the first and last paragraph of each chapter. Caught? Read everything. Try reading the first sentence of each paragraph in a chapter. Caught? Read everything.

Magazines? Read the title, sub-title, first paragraph and last paragraph of the first article. Know enough? If it’s important enough, summarize. Need to know more? Go back and read the first sentence of each paragraph. Then summarize if it’s important enough. Go on to the next article.

Try reading fifteen minutes a day. RayS.
Title: “The Popular Passion for Pap.” Wayne Otto. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 246-249.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Report

Question: What is an alternative to a book report on novels like The Lord of the Flies?

Answer: At the end of every chapter, students draw a picture with 3 to 5 sentences describing the picture.

Quote: “So what happened? More than I expected. Besides the cooperation and enjoyment I observed during the unit, a student questionnaire indicated many gains. Most students responded that the pictures helped them to remember the story. Looking back at the pictures was a comfortable review. Also, ‘When you’re absent you’ll know the most important thing that happened in that chapter because students were eager to share their pictures with their peers”

Comment: Worth a try. Try it yourself first. RayS.

Title: “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Worksheets.” Beth Cox. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 244-245.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Code of Ethics for Reading Professionals

Question: What are some important issues in the International Reading Association’s code of ethics?

> “It is the obligation of all members to maintain relationships with other professional persons, striving for harmony, avoiding personal controversy, encouraging cooperative effort, and making known the obligations and services rendered by professionals in reading.”

> “It is the obligation of members to report results of research and other developments in reading.”

> “Members should not claim nor advertise affiliation with the International Reading Association as evidence of their competence in reading.”

> “Professionals in reading must possess suitable qualifications for engaging in consulting, clinical, or remedial work.”

> “Information derived from consulting and/or clinical services should be regarded as confidential….”

> Professionals in reading should recognize the boundaries of their competence….”

> “Referral should be made to specialists in allied fields as needed.”

> “Reading clinics and/or reading professionals offering services should refrain from guaranteeing easy solutions or favorable outcomes as a result of their work…..”

Comment: Just a reminder. Could refer to professionals in any area of the teaching of English. RayS.

Title: “International Reading Association Code of Ethics.” Journal of Reading (November 1991), 230.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Constructing an Argument

Question: What are the steps in constructing an argument?

Claim (Main idea)

Ground (Support)

Warrant (Inferences)

Backing (Justifications)

What is my main point? (claim)

How do I go about supporting it? (ground)

What makes me think that the support is appropriate? (warrant)

What additional support do I have to validate further my claim? (backing)

Claim (main idea): “The Philadelphia Phillies will not be able to repeat as National League baseball champions this season.” P. 201

Ground (support): “The Philadelphia Phillies are not likely to repeat as National League baseball champs because they have released or traded four veteran players who provided needed leadership down the home stretch last season. Furthermore, their young players who played unevenly last year have not proven themselves over the long haul. Finally, some of the older remaining veteran stars on the team had lackluster  seasons and show signs of decline.” P. 201-202.

Warrant (inferences): “A baseball team needs to have proven players providing experienced leadership in order t win the pennant in the highly competitive, evenly matched National League.” P. 202.

Backing (justifications): “…we might back the warrant that a National League team needs proven players to win the pennant by referring to the official records of major league baseball and to sabermetrics, the mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball records.” P. 202.

Comment: This is the Toulmin model for argument, broken down into steps, terms, explanation and example. Useful. RayS.

Title: “Developing Self-Monitored Comprehension Strategies Through Argument Structure Analysis.” Julia T0-Dutka. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 200-205.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Case Studies

Question: What are case studies and what should they consist of?

“A case study is not a human interest feature nor uninterpreted diagnostic notes but a professional analysis of one case that is illuminating to other professionals. It should provide useful, interesting information about the type of student, the techniques used with that individual and the results of interventions.”

“A rationale for selecting the case should be presented.”

“The case study should be tied to the professional literature.

“Full specifics about the student’s circumstances and abilities should be provided.”

“The instructor’s actions and their results should be specified.”

“Interpretations of events should provide new insights.”

“Recommendations should be made. The writer should sum up by saying why the case was worth looking at and what it suggests for other professionals.” P. 195.

Title: “Call for Case Studies.” Journal of Reading (November 1991), 195.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Reading/Writing Connection

Question: How are reading and writing connected?

Answer/Quote: “Reading and writing are intimately and inextricably bound. Serious efforts to examine and improve students’ writing can be informed by careful inventory of the kinds of texts to which they have been and continue to be exposed. It seems clear, then, that teachers at all levels should give careful attention to the selection of reading material—particularly for non-or reluctant readers for they are the very students who have the most catching up to do. Students who rarely  read anything more challenging than popular magazines cannot be expected to write as well as students who have had exposure to more complex and varied texts.” P. 188.

Comment: As noted in previous research, even young students when writing books, copy the formats of the children’s literature books read to them by teachers, with text on one part of the page and pictures on the other part of the page. My experience has also been that people who have not been formally taught to write have become writers because “they were never without a book in their hands.” The formats of narrative and expository writing can be taught, but there is no question about the value of reading to the ability to write. RayS.

Title: “Good Readers Make Good Writers: A Description of Four College Students.” Mary C. Daane. Journal of Reading (November 1991), 184-188.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Reports

Question: How can teachers make book reports less painful and maybe even enjoyable?

Answer/Quote: “Most students I’ve had loathed book reports even more than tests. This is why I have rethought the whole concept of book reports. I asked myself, why should secondary students do them? What role do book reports play in improving reading and writing? How do they fit in with a disabled reader’s program? What alternatives can be offered that extend a student’s thinking about books? Does book reporting affect a student’s attitude toward reading?”

Three good reasons for using book reports:
> “Book reports teach students how to summarize information, an essential writing/Comprehension skill.

> “Book reports encourage students to reflect on their reading.

> “Book reporting gives students practice in identifying literary devises such as plot, setting and theme.”

 Helping students to write interesting book reports:
> “Always provide a model of a good report as well as a poor one before students begin writing. Have students identify the strengths and weaknesses in each report.

 > “Offer students a list of sentence starters to help develop their observations and commentary. Examples: One part I found confusing was…. The author did a particularly great job with…. The most interesting character is…. The message in the story seems to be….

> Show students how to spice up their reports, using quotations, strong verbs, or an attention-grabbing lead.”

Comment: Worth thinking about. RayS.

Title: “The Book Report Battle.” Evelyn Krieger. Journal of Reading (December 1991/January 1992), 340-341.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

ESL (English as a Second Language)

Question: How can teachers provide opportunities for ESL students to become active language users rather than passive language users?

Answer/quote: “As for the ways in which bilingual students’ language abilities are being stimulated, the study noted teachers’ common tendency to develop passive rather than active language skills in a class. Because teachers do most of the talking in both monolingual and bilingual classrooms, students’ passive language abilities grow more than do their active abilities to make comments, to discuss topics with each other or in the group, and to think aloud. Teachers could provide many more opportunities for students to practice formulating their own thoughts and expressing these in both the school and home languages.”

Comment: OUCH! We teachers talk too much. We need to give students opportunities to express their own ideas in their own words. We need to stop the passive listening to language and to have them use language actively. I’m guilty. I need to change! RayS.

Title: “Three Bilingual Education Methods Are Equally Effective.” Journal of Reading (December 1991/January 1992), 327. A review of Longitudinal Study of Structured English Immersion Strategy, Early-Exit and Late-Exit Transitional Bilingual Education Programs for Language-Minority Children. U.S. Education Department, Office of Planning Budget and Evaluation, Room 4049, 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington DC 202402. USA.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Question: How can I help children think about what they read?

Answer: The author suggests “dialectical journals.”

Headings for Three or Four Columns:
Interpretation Journal: What It Says. What It Means. What It Means to Me.
Character analysis Journal: What It Says. What It Means. What It Tells about the Character.
Application Journal: What It Says. What It Means. How I can Use It.
Problem-Solution Journal (Math): What It Says. What It Means. Operations. Solution.
Problem-Solution Journal: What It Says. What It Means. What It Means to Me. What It Means to the World.

Comment: The third column internalizes and applies the idea to oneself or to others. I would focus on “What It Says” and “What It Meas.” And “Application.” Seems to be worth trying. In addition, isolates key ideas that need clarification and application. RayS.

Title: “Using Dialectical Journals to Teach Thinking Skills.” Phyllis R Edwards. Journal of Reading (December 1991/January 1992), 312-316.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reading Assessment

Question: How assess reading achievement?

Answer/Quote: Suggests portfolios: “Achievement is not measured by a score on a test; achievement is a multidimensional, multipurpose process that should capture the complexity of the reading task.” P. 304.

Quote: “For example, students can develop literature logs in which they record their readings and react to what they have read…. Finally, a strategies journal can be developed that contains a student’s written responses to study skills methods used to learn content area materials from college textbooks.” P. 300.

Comment: Defining reading achievement is the challenge. Then comes measuring it. RayS.

Title: “Portfolios: Collaborative Authentic Assessment Opportunities for College Developmental Learners.” M Valeri-Gold, JR Olson, and MP Deming. Journal of Reading (December 1991/January 1992), 298-305.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Teacher Education

Question: How is teacher education taught?

Answer/Quote: “If the adage ‘we teach as we are taught’ is true, pre-service teachers must experience current views of literacy in their college classes before they can be expected to practice them in primary or secondary school classrooms. However, many teacher educators who profess beliefs in holistic [whole language] learning still use a transmission model of teaching, simply passing along information to students in traditional style. Such practice results in conflict between what is taught and how it is taught.” P. 276.

Quote: “The way students learn in teacher education classrooms will shape the way they teach in their own classrooms.” P. 281.

Comment: If you’re going to teach prospective teachers to teach whole language, use whole language techniques in your teacher education classes. Let the students test the theories about the whole language program of teaching reading and writing. I once wrote a paper when individualizing was the fad in education, challenging the professor not to tell about individualizing, but to actually individualize his own instruction, showing teacher education students how to do it by demonstrating it with them. His response? “It’s hard.” RayS.

 Title: “Moving Toward a Whole Language College Classroom.” EP Ross. Journal of Reading (December 1991/January 1992), 276-281.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Professional Writing 7

Chapter 14 of Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper (Xlibris, 2004).

Question: How can I get started writing for publication in professional journals?

 Answer: 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. Then try “NCTE” (for National Council of Teachers of English) and “International Reading Association.” You will have an opportunity to review sample issues of their leading journals.

You really 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 available on Web sites of individual professional journals.

Beginning Your Article
Most 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 or modifies what we know about the topic.” A good place to begin to look for such articles is “ERIC” (Education Resource Information Center). The format is easy to use. Abstracts for each article or book are available.

Submitting Your Article
Most educational publications require the completed article to be submitted. Note the process of submission for each journal.

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.

Statement that the article has not been submitted to another publication. [To submit the same article to two or more publications is considered unethical.]

Past publications, if any.

Try to keep your cover letter to a single page, if possible.

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:

 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.

Sources of Topics for Publication
You should consult the journals for “Calls” for manuscripts in future issues of the journal.

Professional publications usually do not pay for publication. They often send the writer 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 identify with their students as they learn how to write. My experience has been that I have continually learned to write throughout my career. Circumstances for writing change with each writing experience, causing me to adapt to those circumstances.

Students will appreciate knowing that their teachers are also learning to write.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Professional Writing 6

Chapter 14 of Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper (Xlibris, 2004).

Question: What could I, a teacher of writing, learn about the writing process?

 Answer: 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 from school on a cold, rainy spring evening after an exhausting day. 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. Page 14.

An interesting experience in professional writing—and in the writing process.

Next Blog: Getting started in writing for publication.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Professional Writing 5

Chapter 14 of Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper (Xlibris, 2004).

Question: How can other people help a writer revise?

Answer: 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 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. [I also received letters of thanks for the advice on reading articles efficiently from quite a few people, including staff members at the International Reading Association, the publisher of the journal.]

This experience in writing for professional journals was a valuable lesson, which I share with my students when I am working with them on revising their work. I encourage them to have others read their drafts, but I insist that the rules be very clear: No judgments. No “This is great,” or, worse, “This is awful.” And no comments on misspellings, mistakes in grammar or punctuation. Only questions when ideas are not clear.

Many professional writers say that they refuse to let others read and comment on their work while it is in progress. My experience was different. If I had not tried to write an article for professional publication, I don’t think I would ever have learned how important it is to have others respond to my work while I am still in the process of revising it. But that response had to be controlled in order to be helpful.

I have found that judgments do not help. Questions do.

Next Blog: A second experience in publishing: The vagaries of the writing process.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Professional Writing 4

Chapter 14 of Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper (Xlibris, 2004).

Question: What are the effects of others’ passing judgment on one’s writing?

Answer: 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 lying 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, storming 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 got 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 the article.”

Next Blog: How readers can help in revising.