Friday, February 27, 2009

Secondary Topic: Censorship

10-second review: Gore Vidal suggests that students substitute “good words” for obscenities like those in The Catcher in the Rye. A good way to neutralize them.

Title: “Holden Caulfield Is Alive and Well and Still Causing Trouble.” RL Page. English Journal (May 1975), 27-31. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “…Vidal’s solution: eliminate all ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ words, and replace ‘the missing bad words with some very good words indeed: the names of the Justices who concurred in the Court’s majority decision. Burger, Rehnquist, Powell, Whizzer White and Blackmun fill, as it were, the breach….’ I believe [Vidal continues] that these substitutions are not only socially edifying and redemptive but tend to revitalize a language gone stale and inexact from too much burgering around with meaning.” p. 31.

“Pretty soon he’ll be telling me to get my blackmun out of here. I guess I will.”

Comment: I’m still laughing. What a great idea. Should also help keep the discussion clean. RayS.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Secondary School Topic: The Relevance of Literature

10-second review: Why do we teach literature in the age of science and technology?

Title: “English Literature: The Enemy Within.” Adrian Peetoom. English Journal (May 1975), 10-11. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: “What is so beautiful about scientific knowledge is that it works. Just look around you. The impressive achievements of technology are not due to literary knowledge, of that, we can be sure.”

“Literature places people before choices about truth.” [That, my friend is an ambiguous sentence. RayS.]

“Literature is the opus of artists, and artists seldom build—they break apart the card houses of false notions and easy answers….”

“Literature divides man against man, for if it is good literature it expresses…that people are forever choosing new gods, new hopes, new anchors in life.”

“To be really confronted with literature is to be confronted with choices.”

“Literature dis-unites people. And literature slows down production of a higher standard of life. That is why literature is dangerous in schools in North America.”

Comment: In other words, literature puts people first. Literature slows the scientific, technological and affluent world down. How does literature compare to the productivity of business? Business downsizes. Business puts people dead last when it comes to a choice between people and profit. I would be very much interested in my readers’ answer to the question, “Why teach literature? Why read literature—in a scientific and technological world?” RayS.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

K-12 Topic: The Challenge of Censorship

10-second review: A vivid retelling of the 1974 Kanawha County, West Virginia, book banning case that led to bombings of school buildings.

Title: "What Happened in Kanawha County.” Lester I. Faigley. English Journal (May 1975), 7-9. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Begun in1970 with a local protest against sex education, exacerbated by outside right-wing extremist groups, well organized and funded, the book banning in Kanawha County led to the vandalism of school property, bombing of three elementary schools, and the dynamiting of the [school] board office building. Some of the literary works challenged: Catch 22, Plato’s Republic, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, The Deerslayer, Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea, Animal Farm, The Good Earth.

The author concludes with this challenge: “The time has come for educators to deal with the motives underlying censorship and to anticipate problems before emotion rules out rational solutions.” p. 9.

Comment: While banning books and censorship are not national concerns in 2009, they will be again, some time in the future, GUARANTEED. No strategy for dealing with censorship is ever a certain solution. Still the NCTE’s recommendations of questionnaires completed by book challengers and committees to discuss the challenges are sound ways to take care of the problem after the challenge is made.

Still, one other action needs to be taken to, perhaps, forestall well-intended challengers from setting in motion an emotional firestorm—rationales completed by English and other teachers for books that are required to be read in class.

Following are the NCTE criteria to be considered when preparing to teach a required book in class. Note that I did not say “required controversial book,” since any book can be censored by anyone and probably will be.

A brief summary of the book.
Objectives in reading the book.
Brief description of the controversial parts of the book.
Appropriate grade and maturity level of the students who will be reading the book.
A detailed plot summary.
Values of the book to the students who read it.
Literary qualities of the book.
Summary of the reviews of the book.
Teaching methods to be used in reading the book.
Assignments to be completed by the students while reading the book.
Possible objections to the book.
Professional educators’ opinions about the values of reading the book.

As a supervisor, I never set in motion this process of making sure that teachers know why they are teaching the required book. One more mistake I made in my career. RayS.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Evaluating Creative Writing

10-second review: What characteristics can you evaluate in creative writing?

Title: “Evaluating Creative Writing: A Different Ball Game.” Ken Kantor. English Journal (April 1975), 72-74. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Convergent thinking has a pre-determined answer. Divergent thinking searches for a range of possible solutions. JP Guilford. Following are some characteristics that teachers can identify in their students' creative writing.

Playfulness and fantasy. Willing to create own reality.

Risk-taking and skepticism. Resist pressure to conform and take the risk of adopting an independent or unique stance.

Openness to experience. Original, concrete details.

Effective surprise.

Symbolic expression: metaphor and symbol.

Comment: Useful way of thinking about how to deal with creative writing. Identify one or several characteristics of creativity. RayS.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Writing Assignment

10-second review: Students select a picture from a folder. Then they choose a particular type of writing to write about the picture.

Title: “A Visual Approach to Writing.” N. Fahner. English Journal (April 1975), 71. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Types of writing include fables, myths, biographies, character sketches, directions, recipes, poetry, drama, want ads, questionnaires, dialogues, interviews.

Comment: Students have a chance to explore writing something different from the 5-paragraph essay. Don’t forget to tell students how to write these types of writing. Could be the beginning of a unit on how to write specialized types of writing. Use models to help students learn how to write them. RayS.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Two Approaches to Teaching Style

10-second review: Deductive and inductive teaching.

Title: “Instruction in Style.” RL Graves. College Composition and Communication (May 1974), 186-190. Quoted in English Journal (April 1975), p. 70. Both are publications of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Deductive. Give the name of the stylistic feature (alliteration). Then give three examples from published material. Define the stylistic feature. Students write their own examples. They look for other examples in their reading.

Inductive. Give three sentences with the stylistic feature (alliteration). Ask students what they see in common in the three sentences. Students then label the stylistic feature and define it. Write their own examples. Look for examples in their own reading.

Comment: Two basic approaches to teaching. RayS.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Topic: Speaking and Interviewing.

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

Interviewing is the art of asking questions that elicit responses and, on the other hand, learning how to make those responses, as in an employment interview. Training in interviewing begins when guest speakers are invited to the classroom. Students should prepare questions for the speaker. Students from grades 5 to 12 can practice interviewing each other in preparation for a class booklet that introduces each student—an activity to use early in the school year and one that helps the class to become a “community.

Older students can also watch interview shows on TV like Larry King Live and analyze the types of questions. By the way, when asked about how to conduct interviews, King had this advice: Keep the questions short, be a good listener and keep yourself out of it, meaning do not become involved in long speeches about your point of view and then pretend that they are questions. (King, however, as your students will note, does not always follow his own advice.)

Any unit on employment interviews should begin with the Internet. Type into the Google Search Engine the words “Employment Interview” and you will find 14,000,000 Web sites dealing with employment interviews.

Some of the interview questions I found on these sites are as follows:

1. Do you remember what attracted you to the ad for this position?
2. Tell me a brief history of your background and experience.
3. What are the key responsibilities for ………. position?
4. How do you use your time?
5. When have you been the most satisfied with your job?
6. Give me an example of when you’ve done more than your job required.
7. Do you have any questions? (Among suggested answers: “What is the best thing about working here?” “Why is the position open?” “Is there a job description?”)
8. Tell me about the most difficult assignment you had in your last job.
9. Why did you leave your last position?
10. Tell me about when you had to adjust to change.
11. What do you think are the key qualities for ………. position?
12. Tell me about a time you had a confrontation with a co-worker.
14. What is your past experience in ………. position?
15. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
16. In what way can you contribute to our company?
17. Tell me about a time you tried and failed.
18. What are some things you find difficult?
19. What are your short-and long-term goals?
20. What can you add that would make us want to hire you?
21. What do you know about our company?
22. What motivates you?
23. You have an employee who starts coming in late. How will you handle this situation?
24. How confident are you that you can perform successfully the duties of this position and why?
25. Tell us about a situation that would show ………

Recently the Wall Street Journal suggested that a “trap” question is “What is your greatest weakness?” The column gives one helpful piece of advice—always tell how you overcome the weakness.

Three helpful Web sites are “Monster.com,” “Job-Interview.net” and “Jobnext.com.”

Many of the Web sites give suggested answers to employment interview questions. They discuss the purpose of the question and the suggested purpose of the answer.

You could give students the project of identifying the top ten Web sites for helping people prepare for job interviews. You could assign a paper on how to prepare for a job interview with possible questions and answers.

These last eight blogs on the subject of preparing to speak with confidence were taken from a chapter I wrote in my book, Teaching English, How To….. RayS..

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Topic: Speaking in Small Groups (5)

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

Discussion of these small-group roles is always interesting.

To familiarize students with these roles, Litsey suggests having students view a video tape of a group discussion. Each student in the class is assigned to observe one of the members of the group. After viewing the discussion, the students fill out the following evaluation form:

Name of rater:
Name of Participant:

Directions: Circle the number which you think most closely approximates the extent to which the “ratee” has been each of the following:

1. Initiating: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
2. Information Seeking: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
3. Information Giving: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
4. Clarifying, Elaborating: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
5. Summarizing: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
6. Consensus Testing: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
7. Encouraging: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
8. Expressing Group Feelings: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
9. Harmonizing: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
10. Compromising: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
11. Gate Keeping: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
12. Setting Standards: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
13. Blocking: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
14. Aggressiveness: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
15. Seeking Recognition: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
16, Playboy: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
17. Deserter: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal
18. Dominating: Not at all. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) A Great Deal

Another way in which to familiarize students with these roles would be to stage a small group discussion in which each student in the group plays one of the roles.

After participating in a group discussion or project, students could rate themselves, using the above scale, on which roles they think they played.

Litsey also suggests an evaluation form to be completed by each individual at the conclusion of a group discussion or project:

Our Effectiveness as a Group

Scale (from low to high): 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1. Members of the group felt free to state their real opinions: ……….
2. The group defined its task: ……….
3. All members accepted the responsibility for the outcome of the meeting or project: ……….
4. All members of the group were productive: ……….
5. All members of the group feel positive about the work in this session: ……….

Copyright (1969) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with Permission.

Teaching students how to work in small groups requires a complete teaching effort. Like it or not, participating cooperatively in small groups is how the work of business and democracy is accomplished. Students need to learn how to help small groups work cohesively.

Comment: After reviewing Litsey’s excellent discussion of roles in small-group work, I think I would initially take time to have students reduce each role to some kind of two or three key words that clarify Litsey's labels before beginning to practice rating the roles in a small-group discussion. RayS.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Topic: Speaking in Small Groups (4)

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

Self-serving roles in keeping small groups from working.

1. Dominator: Interrupts. Embarks on long monologues. Tries to lead group. Asserts authority. Autocratic. Monopolizes.

2. Blocker: Interferes with the progress of the group by rejecting ideas. Takes negative attitude on all suggestions. Argues unduly. Pessimistic. Refuses to cooperate.

3. Deserter: Withdrawn. Indifferent. Aloof. Excessively formal. Daydreams. Doodles. Whispers to others. Wanders from the subject.

4. Aggressor. Struggles for status. Boasts. Criticizes. Deflates ego or status of others.

5. Recognition-seeker. Exaggerated attempt to get attention by boasting or claiming long experience or great accomplishments.

6. Playboy type: Displays a lack of involvement in the group process by horseplay, inappropriate humor or cynicism.

Next: Evaluating roles in the group process.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Topic: Speaking in Small Groups (3)

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

Task Roles in making small groups work:

1. Initiating: Proposing tasks or goals; defining a group problem; suggesting a procedure.

2. Information or opinion seeking: requesting facts; asking for suggestions and ideas.

3. Information or opinion giving: offering facts; stating a belief; giving suggestions or ideas.

4. Clarifying or elaborating: interpreting or reflecting ideas and suggestions; clearing up confusion; indicating alternatives before the group; giving examples.

5. Summarizing: Pulling together related ideas; restating suggestions after the group has discussed them; offering a decision for the group to accept or reject.

6. Consensus testing: Checking with the group to see how much agreement has been reached.

Next: Self-serving roles that keep small groups from working.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Secondary School/College Topic: Small Groups (2)

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…. (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and constructing and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

Maintenance roles in making small groups work:

1. Encouraging: Being warm and responsive to others; accepting the contributions of others; giving others an opportunity for recognition.

2. Expressing group feelings: Sensing feeling and mood, or relationships within the group, and sharing one’s own feelings with other members.

3. Harmonizing: Attempting to reconcile differences and reduce tension by giving people a chance to explore their differences.

4. Compromising: When one’s own ideas or status is involved in a conflict, offering to compromise, admitting error, disciplining oneself to maintain group cohesion.

5. Gate-keeping: Keeping communication channels open and facilitating the participation of others.

6. Setting Standards: Expressing standards for the group to achieve; applying standards in evaluating group functions and production.

Next: Task roles in making small groups work.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Topic: Speaking in Small Groups (1)

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and constructing and responding to interviews especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

A second skill in speaking is the small group discussion (related today to “cooperative learning,” or group projects), which, in my experience, at every educational level, has been a complete waste of time. Usually, “getting into small groups” meant “BS-ing” about irrelevant topics, and group projects usually became the responsibility of one or two people to complete the project. However, in the real world, group projects are the way in which the world’s business is completed. Group projects involve a variety of talents in producing results that could probably not be attained by any one individual. Teaching students how to work in groups needs to be taken seriously.

English teachers have the responsibility to train students in the skills and attitudes needed to participate successfully in small group discussion and projects. They need to teach students how to moderate a discussion and how to act as leaders in projects, how to take notes for later reporting to the larger group and how to analyze the roles of various participants in order to learn what helps a group to achieve its goals and what prevents a group from achieving its goals. As usual, the teachers’ performing these same tasks as they work with their students provides models to follow.

David M. Litsey (196) suggests 18 roles that people play in a group enterprise. He divides these roles into three categories: “Maintenance,” “Task Roles,” and “Self-Serving roles.”

Next: Maintenance Roles.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Formal Speaking

10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and conducting and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.

Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.

I truly feel for Lynn, who, in my previous reviewed article was stone-cold terrorized by the prospect of giving her speech in English class. In college, I was deathly afraid of public speaking,, so much so, that when the instructor in one speech class failed to call me up to give my speech, I said nothing. Being given an F was better than standing up and giving a speech. I remember my embarrassment when he addressed me in front of the entire class, telling me that I had failed to let him know I had been overlooked. But one of my most embarrassing moments became one of my memorable achievements because I was prepared for the speech. My topic was the ironies of college football. I remember standing in front of that class and holding my fellow students spellbound. I noted, also, as I talked, that a group of football players came in from the next room and stood listening intently to what I was saying. Public speaking may terrify me, but when I do it well, the reward is a feeling of ecstasy.

Over the years I have learned some techniques that help me speak effectively before an audience. I have also developed some procedures to help students learn how to work cooperatively in small groups and methods to prepare students for employment interviews.

Public Speaking

Public speaking has always been a stressful experience for me. I used to worry about my speech for hours before giving it, often not even eating because of my anxiety, and would replay the speech in my mind for hours afterward, assessing the strengths and problems in my performance.

In teaching public speaking, I identified with the students’ anxiety. I was honest with them in revealing my own fear of public speaking. I did my best to share with them the techniques I had learned to overcome the fear of speaking before an audience.

Of course, I practice the “Tell them” method of formal speaking and writing:
I use an interesting opening to introduce my topic.
I tell the audience what I am going to tell them.
I use clear topic sentences in “telling them” the details.
I summarize, or tell them what I have told them.

I usually write out my opening and closing paragraphs on note cards so that in case I become confused, I can at least begin and end clearly and confidently. Otherwise, I reduce my main points to key words recorded on cards. I also often display these key words on transparencies on an overhead projector, helping the audience to follow my thought and helping me to stay organized in my presentation. Microsoft’s PowerPoint, of course, gives speakers even more colorful methods for highlighting the details.

I let the students know that preparation is the key to confidence in public speaking—preparation and the desire to communicate an idea. Preparation means organizing the speech according to the “Tell them” formula for communication. The desire to communicate an idea comes from brainstorming. Often, when students brainstorm a topic, they discover the interesting part of the topic, the part that they truly want to communicate to the audience.

Public speaking to many people is as uncomfortable as going to the dentist. However, (1) discovering the ideas within the topic that they really want to communicate, (2) using the “Tell them” approach to organization, (3) the key-word approach to remembering the details and (4) writing out the opening and closing paragraphs help to keep the speaker and the audience focused and give the speaker confidence.

About PowerPoint
Microsoft’s PowerPoint can be a useful aid to making a presentation. PowerPoint can provide guidance in assembling and using visual aids. However, PowerPoint is like word processing in which technology makes writing and revising easy, but is no substitute for an interesting idea, organization, choosing precise words and polishing expression through revising and editing. So, with PowerPoint. Speaking is aided by technology, but technology is no substitute for clear organization, an interesting idea, an interesting opening, a clear statement of what the speaker is going to tell the audience, articulated details and a summary of what has been said. Slides and animation will enhance, but will not substitute for clearly organized and expressed ideas.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Formal Speech

10-second review: The greatest fear in school--giving a formal speech.

Title: “Thursday Morning.” Emily Auerbach. English Journal (April 1975), 43-46. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: In a short story, a teen-age girl awaits, terrified, her turn to give her speech before an audience that consists of a teacher who uses clich├ęs—“It’s not so bad; we’re all friends here”; “You can start at any time”; “Speak louder and look at your audience more”; “Speak up, or the people in the back won’t be able to hear you”—and uninterested students with no sympathy or empathy for their struggling classmate.

“Lynn collected her note cards and walked back to her seat. Nobody clapped. Mrs. Stanley clapped and looked expectantly at the class. There was a small, unconvincing applause. Lynn sat in her seat and stared straight ahead of her. Her heart thumped and she couldn’t swallow. Mrs. Stanley scribbled something on a piece of paper. ‘Ron, I think you’re next….’ ” p. 46.

Comment: I empathize with Lynn. I was that same terrified (I was going to write “scared,” but that does not describe my feeling) student when I faced the same apathetic audience in my college speech class, a meaningless experience that taught me nothing, with a teacher who could not himself speak effectively. I’ll never forget it.

In the article, Lynn’s speech lacked fire and conviction. Her topic was study skills. The best solution to that problem I found in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People Through Public Speaking. Seems a group of real estate agents in his class said that they were required to give a speech on a topic that they could not care less about. Carnegie counseled them to brainstorm the topic until they reached an idea they really did care about and to make that idea the center piece of the speech. I found that that technique works every time. When you care about what you’re expressing, you can’t miss.

I wrote a chapter on speaking in my book, Teaching English, How To…. (July 2004), in which I suggested how to help students gain confidence when giving a formal speech, when working in groups and when interviewing, particularly job interviews. I will break the chapter into three parts and re-publish it on several successive days. RayS.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Singular subject and Plural Reference

10-second review: “Everyone has a right to their own language.” We use it when we speak. We avoid it when we write. What’s wrong with that?

Title: “Everyone’s Right to Their Own Language.” M Kolln. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 100-102. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “So citing Cardinal Newman’s—or, Shakespeare or Addison’s or Swift’s—use of everyone as plural probably convinces no one of its acceptability.” p. 101.

Summary/Quote: “We do not serve our students well when we automatically mark as ungrammatical their use of the plural pronoun in reference to everyone and everybody. Such a policy does not reflect standard English. We cannot defend it on the basis of grammar rules or logic, nor on the grounds of efficiency. We cannot look to the past; history does not support us. There is simply no reason why the written language should follow one practice and the spoken language another in the matter of everyone/their.” p. 102.

Comment: Martha Kolln is one of the few English educators who makes sense when she writes about grammar. This time, however, I disagree with her. Since half the educated population will not accept the author’s reasoning that "everyone/their" is acceptable in writing and speech, why bother wasting energy? Beginning in the plural—“The partygoers returned to their homes” or “Students have a right to use their language any way they wish” —is both clear and precise and doesn’t offend the language purist. Or people who respect women as equal members of the human race.

Staying in the plural sounds better anyway. Avoids the string of “he/she” “his/her” constructions that English educationists like to use in their journal articles along with other creative devices like using “he” in the first reference and “she” in the next reference, all of which make me grit my teeth like chalk grating on a chalkboard. RayS.

Friday, February 6, 2009

High School/College Topic: Maxims about Writing

10-second review: Such maxims are half-truths and we should show students that they are not always followed.

Title: “A Pox on Pithy Prescriptions.” Erwin R. Steinberg. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 96-100. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of Education (NCTE).

Summary: Every writing teacher has them. Pithy, concise maxims to help students learn the do’s and don’t’s of writing: “Never split an infinitive.” “Don’t use ‘I’.” All compositions should have at least five paragraphs.

The reality is that these maxims are half-truths, sometimes true and sometimes not. You and the students can find examples in published work of when the prescriptions are followed and when they are not—and why. “Instructions should adequately reflect the complexity of the matter on which they instruct. Pithy prescriptions oversimplify.”

Comment: Ouch! I have my own set of pithy prescriptions and they are just what the author says: half-truths. As a matter of fact, over my career I have been addicted to them. “Don’t use ‘get,’ ‘many,’ ‘thing.’ Don’t begin sentences with ‘there.’ ” And so on. And when I read published material I find as many writers using them as don’t. Punctuation? Most people think punctuation is a science. However, as many published writers do not use commas after introductory expressions as do. He’s right. Show students that these prescriptions are sometimes followed and sometimes not. Depends on the situation. RayS.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

High School/College Topic: Grammar

10-second review: Students pick significant, recurring mistake from their compositions. Research the problem in textbook. Teach the solution to the problem to small groups of fellow students.

Title: “Helping Students to Help Themselves: An Approach to Grammar.” C Viera. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 94-96. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: After students have researched the problem in grammar or style, using the textbook, they become the “expert” for a group of six students. “The expert’s mini-class listens to a presentation of the problem, asks questions, and takes the expert’s quiz. (The quizzes can be graded by the group….) The mini-class then rotates to the next expert, and the process is repeated until the students have listened to the explanations of all six experts. Then six new ‘experts’ are chosen.”

Comment: The students research their particular recurring grammatical problem in the textbook. Well, they should start with the textbook, but if they go to the Internet, they are likely to find MILLIONS of Web sites dealing with the problem and some pretty clever ways of presenting it. A good idea in 1986. A better idea with the Internet in 2009. RayS.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Secondary/College Topic: Guidelines for Writing Groups

10-second review: Author developed a set of guidelines for participation in small-group (four or five students) discussion of student papers.

Title: “Improving Students’ Responses to Their Peers’ Essays.” N. Grimm. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 91-94. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary. Guidelines for Writing Groups:

Always begin by having the writer read his or her piece aloud while you follow along on your copy, marking places you want to discuss.

Allow for silence after the oral reading. Give people time to formulate their response.

Begin discussion by encouraging the writer to ask questions about what he or she wants responses to—what she is not satisfied with or where he had difficulty.

Ask the writer questions. These questions may be to elicit more detail, to see why the author made certain choices, to clarify the writer’s intention.

Elaborate on one another’s responses.

Point to specific parts that seemed strong to you.

Guidelines for writers: Take notes on peers’ responses. Decide what changes you want to make. Restrict your defense. Listen to your readers and ask them questions.

Comment: So many times I observed peer response groups that had no such guidelines. The result was usually a waste of time. These guidelines are likely to be productive for the student writer. RayS.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

High School/College Topic: Responding to Student Writing

10-second review: How should writing teachers respond to powerfully motivated student writing?

Title: “ ‘Is Anybody Listening?’: Responding to Student Writing.” M. Robertson. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 87-91. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “A student writes a narrative of a rock-climbing expedition on a wind-swept cliff, an adventure which ends abruptly when her boy friend falls to his death. Her composition teacher’s written end-comment: ‘Your conclusion is much stronger than your previous essay and nicely continues a metaphor from the preceding paragraph.’ ”

Comment: Well, what would be your end-comment? RayS.

Monday, February 2, 2009

High School/College Topic: Using Visual Cues in Writing

10-second review: The writer can attract the reader by using visual cues.

Title: “Seeing the Text.” SA Bernhardt. College Composition and Communication (February 1986), 66-78. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Students study the visual cues they find in textbooks and other publications including advertisements that are attractive to readers and then apply them to their own writing. Charts. Diagrams. Varied sizes of paragraphs and text. Use of boldface headings. Placement of a relevant picture. Use of bullets. Columns.

The author has a good idea, but the majority of his own text is plain with practically monotonous paragraph size. He does offer two demonstrations of text taken from a textbook with visual cues that would interest readers.

Comment: Teachers and students should collect examples of text with attractive visual cues. Writing teachers should encourage students to experiment with visual cues. Another technique I wish I had used when I was teaching. With today’s computers and publishing programs, these techniques are easy to apply. RayS.