Friday, December 11, 2009


This blog will resume on January 4, 2010. It consists of ideas taken from English education publications from the relatively recent past, with ideas that are relevant to today's world of teaching English. RayS.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Topic: Practicing Reading for ELLs, English Language Learners--Subtitles.

10-second review: Subtitling is available for the hearing impaired. It has proved to be good practice for reading in general to “catch an interesting phrase” or “settle an idea in the mind.”

Title: “Norwegian TV—A Continuing Reading Program.” FJJ Peters. Journal of Reading (December 1974), 200-202. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Comment: A good idea for practicing English for ELLs (English Language Learners). RayS.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Topic: Vocabulary

10-second review: The responsibility for vocabulary development rests with all school disciplines. “Creating the conditions for vocabulary development is a total school obligation.”

Title: “Learnin’ Words: Evaluating Vocabulary Development Efforts.” RA Bruland. Journal of Reading (December 1974), 212-214. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Comment; Every content area must take responsibility for two aspects of vocabulary development. First is teaching specialized words in the subject. Second, is pre-teaching words that are likely to be unfamiliar to students in assigned material to be read. The two steps will undoubtedly overlap. If you want suggestions for techniques to use in pre-teaching vocabulary from reading assignments, write to RayS. at

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Topic: Failure to Learn to Read.

10-second review: Teachers pass the buck when Johnny does not learn to read and Johnny? He knows he’s dumb and not college material anyway.

Title: “The Reading Alibi—A Major School Problem.” CB Ennis. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 320-323. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Summary: Johnny can’t read because….

First-grade teacher: Johnny can’t read. He lacks the proper background of language experience necessary for reading readiness. He should have received these experiences at home.

Second-grade teacher: He doesn’t know the basic sight words. He should have learned those in first grade.

Third-grade teacher: The vocabulary in the basal is too hard for him. He can’t attack words properly.

Fourth-grade teacher: He might have a severe emotional problem. He bites his finger nails. He needs a special education program for exceptionally slow learners. Then he could progress at his own rate.

Fifth-grade teacher: He should have been retained in the lower grades. I can’t go back and teach all the skills that he should have already learned. I have thirty-two other children to teach. He lacks comprehension skills, reading rate, word attack, study skills, everything!

Sixth-grade teacher: If a child has reached the sixth grade and has not learned to read, there is absolutely nothing anybody can do to help him learn to read. There is no need to waste time on Johnny. He will never be able to read.

Seventh-grade teacher: What in the world can I do to help him?

Eighth-grade teacher: The school can’t afford to buy special materials. I’ll let him color pictures.

Ninth-grade teacher: How in the world did Johnny ever get to high school? I’m not a reading teacher.

Counselor: I recommend vocational school for Johnny.

Comment: Stop me if you’ve heard all of this before. Olive Niles, a reading expert, once said, (paraphrased)“If every teacher in every grade in every subject used the directed reading assignment, there would be no reading problems in the U.S.” If you want to know what the directed reading assignment is, write to me at RayS.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Guide for Reading a Play

10-second review: Activities before reading, during reading and after reading.

Title: “Developing a Participation Guide for a Play.” Dan Donlan. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 316-319. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Summary: The sample play is Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

Quote: “Specifically, plays were meant to be seen and heard, not read; therefore, the conventions of dramatic writing are foreign to students’ ‘reared’ on narration and exposition.”

Quote: “The Before You Read section provides motivation and preparation for reading. The Read section provides questions to guide the student’s reading. The After You Read section provides assessment activities which allow the student 1) to react to what he has read and 2) to apply what he has read to given creative activities.”

Quote: “Discussion on how to read a play: 1) What are some obvious differences between a play and a novel or short story? 2) Glance through the first five pages of the play. What is the purpose of the material that appears in italics? Explain how you can keep track of who is speaking. 3) Are plays meant to be seen or read? Explain your answer.”

Comment: Another question. What are the values of seeing a play and the values of reading a play? RayS.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Topic: Response to Literature

10-second review: The two sides of the issue of response to literature: the New Critics vs. subjective and affective response (Rosenblatt). Focus on the rhetorical techniques vs. focus on the use of the reader’s experience in interpreting literature.

Title: “Reading Literature: Two Schools of Thought.” AC Yoder. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 312-315. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Quote: “There are two popular approaches to reading [literature] which are at odds in the literary world. The first is the residuum of the older New Criticism and the second is more contemporary, subjective or affective.” p. 312.

Quote: “Using the first approach, one evaluates literature in formalistic terms, free from extra-textual biases which might distort it. The reader’s first task is a close reading of the text, with a great deal of attention paid to formal elements such as narrative technique, diction and the various other devices of rhetoric and style. This approach tends to be impersonal, rational, scientific, objective, rigorously formal, text-centered and detached.” p. 312.

Quote: “Those using the second approach believe that reading and education consist of more than knowing objective rational truths. Another kind of education to be gained from reading is self-knowledge, understanding one’s own experiences, becoming aware of what one thinks, feels and values; in other words, of who one is. Reading should, then, be a vital affecting experience and the standards of good reading become internal and subjective, not external and objective. The end of reading is living, not reading…. Reading has more to do with emotional experiencing than rational knowing, more to do with living than learning, more to do with becoming than evaluating.” pp. 312-313.

Solution/Quote: “This method of reading requires the student to persistently keep in touch with his personal reactions to the work while at the same time forcing him back to an analysis of the rhetoric. It also provides a cure for the excesses of both approaches. The reader neither becomes trapped in his subjective reactions at the expense of the text nor does he become trapped in the text at the expense of his own personal response.”

Comment: You can’t have one without the other. You need to focus on the text and to relate your experiences to the text in order to learn both the skills of reading and to grow in personal knowledge which is the purpose of literature in the first place. Another of those annoying either/or issues in English education. RayS.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Topic: Reading Tests.

10-second review: If you can guess the answers without reading the passage for a test item, the item is not passage-dependent. In reviewing a reading test for adoption, make sure the items are passage dependent.

Title: “Passage-Dependence of Reading Comprehension Questions: Examples.” Fred Pyrczak. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 308-311. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Comment: I wonder if the SAT and the State Reading Tests (2009), are passage dependent? RayS.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Topic: Purpose of Reading

10-second review: Reading is a means to an end. Reading seeks information, enjoyment, understanding for the purpose of discovering one’s self.

Title: “Reading As An Existential Act.” RT Geenland and R Way. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 302-307. The secondary school publication of the International Reading Association (IRA), since replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Comment: Reading is growth of the mind and growth of the mind leads to self-realization. RayS.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Topic: Technique for Complete Recall

10-second review: Students read a passage. Turn it face-down when completed. Told that their goal is to remember everything. Class then brainstorms everything they remember. Teacher uses key words to record the ideas.

Title: “Guided Reading Procedure.” Anthony V. Manzo. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 287-291. Publication has since been replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy by the International Reading Association (IRA).

Comment: Helpful in stretching students’ recall. RayS.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Topic: Factors Contributing to Learning to Read.

10-second review: “Cultural background, home environment, intelligence, experience, sensory equipment, physical condition. level of aspiration, instructional material and teaching procedures.” p. 285.

Title: “Using Psycholinguistic Knowledge to Improve Secondary Reading.” NA Mavrogenes. Journal of Reading (January 1975), 280-286. Publication has since been replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy by the International Reading Association (IRA).

Quote: “But in the final analysis it is the teacher who makes the difference…. He must understand the learner, the nature of reading and the procedures for teaching and apply that knowledge; he can fill in gaps in background, environment and experience…and can inspire and motivate.” p. 285.

Comment: And the method that should be primarily used to involve all these factors is the directed reading assignment: build background knowledge about the topic; pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary; survey the chapter—title, sub-title, first paragraph, first sentence of each intermediate paragraph, final summarizing paragraph—establish purpose by the students’ raising questions about what they are about to read, read to answer the questions, discuss the answers to the questions and the students then apply what they have learned from reading the chapter. RayS.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Topic: Writing Five Lines

10-second review: Assign a topic and students write five lines—no more, no fewer—on the topic. Possible Topics: Patience, hollow, bananas, etc.

Title: “Five Lines.” JE Marine, Jr. Great Ideas from Learning [Magazine], Vol. 3, 1976, p. 9.

Here’s my example:

I lose my patience with commercials on TV. They usually occur right at the

moment that the Eagles are about to get the ball while losing by a touchdown

or a field goal. My biggest frustration is that I don’t understand the

commercials. A smiling woman flits by the camera and my patience is tested

because I can’t figure out what is being advertised. It’s a health care system!

Comment: Why do it? Part of the practice needed for quick response to given topics in standardized writing tests. RayS.

Note: Blog will resume on Monday, November 30, 2009.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Topic: Creative Writing Redux.

10-second review: Students take old topics and re-do them in different ways.

Title: “Creative Writings Revisited.” RH Weston. Great Ideas from Learning [Magazine], vol. 3, 1976. p. 7.

Summary: Go back to things that the students have already written and suggest ways to give the topics a new look:

Write the story so that the sequence of events is reversed; make it funny; write it as a telephone conversation; write it very formally; write it very informally; write in as few words as you can; write it for a particular person.

Comment: In this day of high-stakes testing, we probably do not have time for having a little fun with writing. Too bad. RayS.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Topic: Critical Thinking

10-second review: Students respond critically to current events.

Title: “Current Events Reaction Sheets.” R. Curwin and Geri Curwin. Great Ideas from Learning [Magazine], vol. 2, 1975, p. 19 – 20.

Summary: Teacher types and reproduces an editorial in a newspaper or magazine.

Students underline everything in the article that they agree with.

They circle anything they disagree with.

They rewrite the parts they disagree with to reflect their opinions.

Students compare and discuss these responses.

Comment: A good technique for responding to controversial issues. Preparation for debate? RayS.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Topic: Student Journals in Learning Math

10-second review: Students became more conscious of their learning processes when they kept a journal in mathematics.

Title: The Effects of Process Journal Writing on Learning in Mathematics: A Study of Metacognitive Processes. PW Human. Dissertation Abstracts International, 53, 3796-A. (University Microfilms No. 93-06, 920).

Summary: 14 students over 8 weeks. Demonstrated metacognitive awareness of their learning, and of mathematical processes, recognized their learning difficulties, and applied learning strategies. The metacognitive awareness of low ability students increased more than did that of the average or high groups.

Comment: I’m not a big fan of students keeping journals of personal experience for the purpose of gaining fluency in writing. Too personal. I’m an English teacher, not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I am a big fan of students’ keeping journals in subjects in which they record difficulties they are experiencing in learning the subject, descriptions of processes of learning and questions for the teacher. If the teachers regularly review these journals, they will understand more clearly how effectively they are teaching. RayS.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Topic: Peer Evaluation.

10-second review: Adults do not perceive peer evaluation as a way to improve writing skills. They prefer to maintain control over their own writing.

Title: The Self-perceived Impact of Peer Evaluation on the Writing of Adult Learners. LA Cross. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, 1193-A. (University Microfilms No. 93-12, 639, 1993.

Comment: Many students, young and old, in my experience, do not see the value of peer evaluation because, as they express it, it’s ignorance sharing ignorance. They also resent someone else’s dictating how they should write.

I prefer “peer review.” My students tell me that the following steps have been useful in improving their writing.

To test unity: Student writers fold a paper width-wise. On one side the writers summarize the main idea of their papers. The partners read the writers’ papers and, on the other side, write their perceptions of the main idea. If partners’ and writers’ versions of the main idea are close, then the papers are probably unified.

To test for clarity: Partners read the writers’ papers silently. Whenever the partners are confused about an idea in the writers’ papers, the partners put a question mark in the margin next to the idea that is confusing. Partners explain whey they are confused. The writers decide whether to clarify the idea by making it more complete or by clarifying the expression.

To test for smoothness: To combat those pesky “Awks,” the writers read their papers aloud. If they stumble (or go back and re-read) when reading aloud, they underline the place in which they stumbled or re-read. The partners also read the writers’ papers aloud and underline the places in which they stumbled or re-read. The writers decide if the underlined stumbles need to be expressed more smoothly.

Spelling: Even if the copy has been written on the word processor, the writers should read from the last word to the first word. Reading from first word to the last word causes the reader to read for ideas and not for the details of the words. Reading from last word to first word focuses on each word’s spelling. It’s tedious, but it works.

That’s what I mean by “Peer Review,” not “peer evaluation.” RayS.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Topic: Writing and Audience.

10-second review: Students in the group that received instruction in adapting writing to audience significantly improved in writing achievement; students in the comparison group, receiving no instruction about audience, did not.

Title: The Effect of Audience Adaptation Activities on Writing Apprehension, Writing Achievement, and Awareness of Audience. D. Walker. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54-115-A. (University Microfilms No. 12-35, 089), 1993.

Comments: I have to admit that I did not, as a teacher of writing, emphasize audience as I should have. I can accept that emphasizing audience and methods of adapting to it in writing will increase writing achievement. RayS.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Topic: Portfolios.

10-second review: 32 second-grade students using portfolios identified both cognitive and affective changes in their work, recognized both strengths and weaknesses in their reading and writing and progressed from broad goals to focused goals for their work.

Title: The Impact of Portfolios on Second-Grade Students’ Self-Assessment of their Literacy Development. BJ Hillyer. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, 446A. (University Microfilms No. 93-16, 246). 1993.

Comment: Of course the teacher is going to need to help students review their work. I think portfolios, consisting of students’ work in reading and writing, are valuable for self-assessment of their learning. They should be part of grading. Like it or not, parents understand letter or numerical grades. RayS.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Topic: Teachers' Reading of Professional Journals.

10-second review: Surveyed 913 K-12 teachers. These teachers say they do not have tome to read educational journals. Don’t believe such reading contributes to their classroom practice.

Title: Professional Reading Habits of Public School Elementary and Secondary Language Arts Teachers in Northwest Iowa. CH Hughes. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, 1216 (University Microfilms No. 93-22, 972), 1993.

Comment: There is an awful lot of wasted verbiage and redundancy in articles in educational professional journals and if teachers try to read them from cover to cover, they will have wasted a great deal of valuable time.

I learned to sift through the articles quickly to find promising ideas. I begin by reading the first and last paragraphs in the article. The first paragraph should, and almost always does, introduce the main idea of the article and the last paragraph summarizes it. Usually, I don’t need to learn more about that main idea. If the idea is interesting, I simply briefly summarize it and keep it for later reflection on what the idea means to me and my teaching. Reading the first and last paragraphs takes just a few minutes.

If the first and last paragraphs do not arouse my interest, I go on to the next article.

If the first and last paragraphs raise questions about the details of the idea, I read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph until my questions are answered. Then, I briefly summarize the article and keep it for later reflection on what the ideas mean to me and my teaching. Again, reading the first sentence of each paragraph in the article takes only a few short minutes.

Don’t ignore the step of reflecting on the idea, thinking about what the idea means to you and your teaching. That is a most important step. Otherwise, the idea remains an isolated. inert piece of information.

I almost never read the entire article, although, on occasion, the idea is so compelling that I want to read the whole thing. RayS.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Topic: Models of Prose Forms

10-second review: The use of prose models of writing is an effective method of teaching writing.

Title: “Prose Modeling and Metacognition: The effect of Modeling on Developing a Metacognitive Stance Toward Writing.” Elizabeth A. Stolarek. Research in the Teaching of English (May 1994), 154-174. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Definition: “Metacognition” means simply thinking about thinking,” thinking about what you are doing when you are learning something.

Quote: Models show students how to organize a type of writing with which they are not familiar. “Those who support modeling assert that style can be improved through the modification of classical imitation exercises….; that models acquaint students with complicated structural conventions and patterns they have not previously used in their writing….” p. 154.

Quote: “This would suggest that instruction in which modeling works best would be characterized by a clear conception on the part of the instructor of what, exactly, is to be modeled, along with the presentation of a model which clearly exemplifies the characteristics which are to be modeled.” p. 173.

Comment: There are two types of modeling. In teaching writing, one type of modeling involves the use of prose examples and the other involves the instructor’s modeling a behavior as in demonstrating how to construct a thesis sentence. Both are important parts of writing instruction.

For example: I always give students a model of a completed expository composition with an introduction, thesis, middle paragraphs begun by topic sentences and a concluding summary paragraph. I also demonstrate with them how to brainstorm, how to write a thesis sentence, how to write a draft, including how to construct an introduction as the last step before revising and editing. RayS.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Topic: Mentoring Students in Revision Via Telecommunications.

10-second review: Using telecommunications in this cross-age mentoring by graduate/undergraduate students with high school students worked because even though each had different schedules they were able to communicate when convenient. One problem was that the mentors did not know which comments were most productive in helping the high school students improve their writing.

Title: “Responding to Ninth-Grade students Via Telecommunications: College Mentor Strategies and Development Over Time.” A H Dunn, et al. Research in the Teaching of English (May 1994), 117-153. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: College students inserted comments within the composition and at the end.

Comment: Teachers really need to ask students whether their comments on writing are helpful. Rays.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Topic: Remedial Reading.

10-second review: 17 fourth graders served as actors, characters and critics.

Title: “Learning to Act/Acting to Learn: Children as Actors, Critics and Characters in Classroom Theatre.” SA Wolf. Research in the Teaching of English (February 1994), 7 – 44. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote: “The children began with a warm-up to prepare both voice and body, followed by mental preparation…to practice the necessary skills of an actor’s trade…script interpretation, rehearsal, performance and follow-up critique.”

Summary: Students moved from a “perception of drama as a free-for-all to a greater understanding of…theatrical interpretation.”

Comment: The focus was on meaning, thus, beyond phonics and word-calling. They read, interpreted, acted and critiqued the performance. Reminds me of the recommendations by the Folger Shakespeare Library that scenes from Shakespeare’s plays be acted in order to help students appreciate Shakespeare’s language (English Journal, September 2009). RayS.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Topic: Research Manuscripts

10-second review: Practically speaking, manuscripts of 50 to 60pages are not as focused as they should be and readers will not read long manuscripts. Suggest 35 typewritten pages. Articles in journals are the best method for conveying research, better than informal talks, e-mail or even formal presentations.

Title: “From the Editor.” Sandra Stotsky. Research in the Teaching of English (February 1994), 5-6. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Topic: Some Thoughts on Knowledge and Meaning.

10-second review: Knowledge and meaning are socially constructed, historical, partial, multiple and political. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t quit. Keep reading.

Title: “The Paradigm Misfit Blues.” JW Solsken. Research in the Teaching of English (October 1993), 316-324. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Knowledge and meaning….

…are socially constructed interpretations and practice, i.e., used in social practices.

…historical…located and embedded in the moment as it emerges from the moments that preceded it.

…partial, i.e., incomplete and never “completable.”

…multiple, i.e., differ across groups and situations and within them—inherently unstable.

…political, i.e., biased toward particular interests.

Comment; What are the practical consequences of this view of knowledge and meaning? Knowledge is used, is influenced by the past, is never complete, is interpreted differently by different people and interpreted by people with special interests.

I guess all of this applies to ideas in education, especially the fads in educational thought and practice. It’s comforting to know that “this too shall pass.” RayS.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Topic: Changes in Teaching Writing

10-second review: From emphasis on the product to the process or how the germ of an idea is developed into the finished product to recursiveness in the writing process.

Title: “Competing Paradigms for Research and Evaluation in the Teaching of English.” Richard L. Larson. Research in the Teaching of English (October 1993). pp. 283-304. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The article deals, actually, with alternative approaches to research, but part of the article discusses the changes in the teaching of writing from emphasis on the writing product to the writing process and recursiveness in the writing process and I thought these ideas would be useful. RayS.

Quote: Maxine Hairston on the changes in teaching writing: “…some changes she saw occurring in the teaching of writing and in research on that teaching. She asserted that the teaching of writing had undergone [a]…shift, from an emphasis on the achievement of the final text to an emphasis on the complex route by which the final text came into being—on how writers compose (i.e., their composing process).” p. 283.

Quote: “…though the research on composing did highlight what came to be called the recursiveness of writing. (The term refers to the fact that writers can engage in any act of composing—finding ideas, thinking about ways of organizing them, imagining ways of expressing them—at any time during their writing and often perform these acts many times while writing.)” pp. 283-284.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Topic: Writing Across Disciplines

10-second review: A single college course is not going to teach students all they need to know to write in all situations, particularly in all disciplines.

Title: Suggested by “Genre and Rhetorical Craft.” Jeanne Fahnestock. Research in the Teaching of English (October 1993), 265-271. A publication of the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: I think we need to define clearly for our colleagues in college in other disciplines what exactly we do when we teach the freshman writing course. It makes sense that one course is not going to teach everything students need to know about writing in other disciplines and in the real world. If teachers in other disciplines understood clearly what it is that we teach in Freshman Writing, then the teachers in other disciplines can teach their students what they need to know in order to write successfully in their particular disciplines, usually involving formats. And that will probably not include the fine points of grammar. RayS.