Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Topic: Working Successfully in Small Groups (2)

Task and Self-serving Roles.

Secondary School

10-second review: Describes the roles played by various personalities in making groups work successfully or keeping groups from working. In this blog, I will describe “Task Roles” and “Self-Serving Roles.”

Title: “Small-Group Discussions.” Raymond Stopper. Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris. 2004.

Thanks to David M. Litsey, “Small Group Training and the English Classroom.” English Journal, September 1969, pp. 920-927. Copyright, 1969 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Task Roles
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.

Self-Serving Roles
1. Dominator: Interrupts; embarks on long monologues; is overly positive; tries to lead group; asserts authority; is autocratic; monopolizes.

2. Blocker: Interferes with the progress of the group by rejecting ideas; takes negative attitude on all suggestions; argues unduly; is pessimistic; refuses to cooperate.

3. Deserter: Withdraws in some way; is indifferent, aloof; excessively formal; daydreams; doodles; whispers to others; wanders from subject.

4. Aggressor. Struggles for status; boasts; criticizes; deflates ego or status of others.

5. Recognition-seeker: Exaggerated attempts 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.

Probably a good idea to take time to let students explore the implications of each of these roles. They need to describe each role in their own words. Also try to help students reduce the explanation for each role to a few, clear key words.

Next blog: Practicing the roles. RayS.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Topic: Working Successfully in Small Groups (1)

Topic. Working Successfully in Small Groups: Maintenance Roles. (1)

Secondary School

10-second review: Describes the roles played by various personalities in making groups work successfully or keeping groups from working. In this blog, I will describe “Maintenance Roles.”

Title: “Small-Group Discussions.” Raymond Stopper. Teaching English, How To…. Xlibris. 2004.

My experience with working in small groups as a student in graduate courses has been that it is 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 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 discussions 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 tasks as they work with the students provides models to follow.

David M. Litsey (“Small Group Training and the English Classroom.” English Journal, September 1969, pp. 920-927. Copyright, 1969 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission) suggests 18 roles that people can play in a group enterprise. He divides these roles into three categories: “Maintenance Roles,” “Task Roles” and “Self-Serving Roles.”

Maintenance Roles
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 cohesions.

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 function and production.

Probably a good idea to take time to let students explore the implications of each of these roles. They need to describe each role in their own words. Also try to help students reduce the explanation for each role to a few, clear key words.

Tomorrow: Task Roles and Self-serving Roles.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Topic: Disturbing Thought for the Day

Secondary School

10-second review: “The ‘classroom’ (structurally and aesthetically) is the least likely place to learn anything. It is set up for indoctrinating rather than educating.”

Title: "Individualizing in the Secondary Schools: It Can’t Happen Here.” English Journal (November 1975), 10-12. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Hard to argue with this statement. Most classrooms are set up with the teacher’s desk and the teacher in front of the classroom and four, five or six rows of chairs or desks stretching from the front to the back of the classroom. It implies teacher talk and students’ regurgitating the teacher talk. Change the arrangement of the room, but keep the teacher talk and nothing changes. Put students in groups and don’t teach them how to work in groups and nothing changes. Still no learning, only the ignorant working with the ignorant.

In tomorrow’s blog, I’m going to reprint from my book, Teaching English, How To…., my recommendations for helping students to work effectively in groups. RayS.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Topic: What Is "Poor" Reading?


10-second review: Author asked teachers who said they were poor readers why they felt that way. Their answers are interesting.

Title: “Everyone Learns to Read.” Yetta Goodman. English Journal (November 1975), 8-9. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Only about 30% to 40% of teachers in an audience raised their hands when asked if they were good readers. The author asked those who did not raise their hands why they thought they were not good readers. Here are their answers:

“My mind wanders when I read something I’m not interested in.” The author says that it is perfectly normal to reflect on related ideas.

“I don’t look up words that I don’t know in the dictionary.” Reading material is redundant and most words are learned by reading the words around the word you don’t know.

“I read too slowly.” If you’re reading the poems of Milton, you will need to read slowly. If you’re reading a mystery novel, you should be reading at a much faster pace.

“When I read out loud I don’t read fluently.” Reading aloud and reading silently are two different processes. Reading aloud requires practice.

“I re-read sentences and sometimes sections of the material.” The need to clarify meaning requires that you re-read. Normal part of the reading process.

In short, the author says only slow reading is a real problem in these responses and that only if they read everything slowly all the time. The other “problems” are not problems, but only part of the normal process of reading.

Comment: Interesting question. Another interesting question is to ask parents who say in school board meetings that their children can’t read what they mean by “can’t read.” You will be amazed at the answers you will hear.

An answer I expected to this question of “why do you consider yourself a poor reader?” was “I don’t like to read.” That is a problem.

The solution to the problem of not wanting to read is to preview. The preview of written material is like the preview, coming attractions, of movies and TV shows. You have glimpses of the contents which will entice you to watch the movie or TV show or read the nonfiction book, novel, etc.

Preview of nonfiction (textbook) chapters: Read the title and subheading. Read the first paragraph, the first sentence of each paragraph in the body of the chapter and the last paragraph. What questions do you have? Read to answer the questions.

Preview of a nonfiction book. Read the first and last paragraph of each chapter. You will learn the main ideas of the book. Then go back and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. If you’re caught, keep reading.

Preview of a novel: If you are not motivated to read the novel, try reading a single paragraph on a page until you’re caught. Then keep reading.

Preview of a short story. Read a single sentence per page or column. Go back and read a single paragraph per page or column. Go back and read the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph. Whenever you are hooked, keep reading.

I follow my own advice. RayS.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Topic: February

High School Topic

10-second review: I know it can’t happen in this day of spending every available minute preparing for high-stakes tests. But we can all dream. What if we took one week in February—the doldrums month—cancel all classes and do something we want to do?

Title: “February Festival: A Dent in the Doldrums.” Warren Applegate. English Journal (February 1975), 71-73. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Cancel all classes. Throw out the plan books for a week. Brainstorm the students and the teachers: ‘If you had a week with no classes and total freedom, what kinds of programs would you like to present or see presented?’ What we sought and what we found was a new realm of previously hidden creativity.”

It all had to be planned, of course, and that started well before the February Festival. What were some of the programs?

A math teacher presented a program in cross-country skiing. A student brought n her dogs and presented a program on dog obedience. Another student presented a program on magic. Films, professional speakers, theater groups, bands, ecology, a professional naturalist.

Twelve-page schedule of events. 5 to 7 programs in the morning and 5 to 7 programs in the afternoon. Everyone is free to go where they want, but they must be somewhere. They can’t do nothing.

Comment: Sounds good if the logistics—attendance—can be worked out. Open the community, open he students, open the faculty to do something other than what they teach, etc. I’ll never forget that little girl in the back row who was an indifferent student, but who, I learned later, was a budding country singer. If we tapped the hidden resources of the community, students and faculty, we could have a lot of fun and learn a lot. I’d probably present a program on speed reading. An idea from the past. RayS.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Topic: Poor Teaching


10-second review: The author, Peter Sanders, gives quotes from teachers and excerpts from student writing that reveal questionable teaching practices. He asserts that reading problems are sometimes caused by poor teaching practices.

Title: “Some Things Worth Pondering.” Peter Sanders. English Journal (February 1975), 18-20. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Poor reading may reflect psychological, physiological or intellectual limitations; and it may to some degree reflect an inadequacy of materials. At least as much, we believe, it reflects teachers’ methods and attitudes.”

Comment: This article is a ready-made in-service program. The K-12 quotes and excerpts exemplify what the author thinks are poor teaching practices. Teachers could have an interesting time identifying the implications of the practices represented by the quotes and excerpts. Quite a few teachers could think there is nothing wrong with some of these teaching practices.

And speaking of poor teaching practices. I encountered with my daughter the absolutely worst teaching practice regarding vocabulary. The teacher gave 100 vocabulary words. The assignment: write a story in which my daughter had to use the 100 vocabulary words—in order. That’ll make kids love words.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Topic: Critical Thinking.

High School Topic

10-second review: On behalf of the Doublespeak program of the NCTE, Walker Gibson spends time reflecting on a recent insert in a bill from an electric company.

Title: “Doublespeak in Advertising.” W Gibson. English Journal (February 1975), 14-15. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The insert was placed in a bill in 1975, but similar inserts appear in plenty of electric bills in 2009, as “caps” on electric bills are due to expire in the next several years. The insert says how much the company is doing to conserve energy and its generalized plans for the future and concludes with, “America will have come a long way toward assuring an ample supply of energy for generations to come.” But the real message in the soft-sounding, comforting verbiage is, “Let the electric company alone” and they will take care of you—and your money!

Comment: We all get those self-serving messages—and not just from the electric company. The length of such messages alone causes me to trash them. And then there are the inserts about change of terms in credit card regulations. They charge me more and try to make me feel that they are doing me a favor. Of course, I know what’s going on and the real purposes of such mouthwash. I just look at the length of the text and I throw the insert out. I can use my time better than to read page after page of fine-print with a lot of self-serving rhetoric, the vocabulary of which sends me reeling.

I actually read a credit card insert on change of terms once, noted the changes of terms, didn’t like them and promptly canceled the card. Of course, I had to write my request for cancellation and send it via the U.S. Postal Service. A telephone call would not do. The credit card issuer acknowledged my cancellation and in a sympathetic tone expressed concern that now, if I wanted to use their card, I would have to apply for it all over again. Sob!

I wonder what would happen if credit cards were required by the government to send inserts about terms of service in plain English? RayS.

Friday, March 20, 2009

K-12 Topic: Teaching

10-second review: Education does not reside in curriculums or plan books but in the personality of teachers.

Title: “Fight Fungibility.” Charles Weingartner. English Journal (February 1975), 11-12. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: In the middle of blasting the latest fad in education, behavior objectives, the author said this about teachers:

“A course or a syllabus or a curriculum or a school is not, and cannot be, any better than the people who translate it into a process of human communication. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ course or curriculum or school. There are good people….”

“The persona of the teacher, I am saying, is what is important, not a lot of crap written in a syllabus or a plan book or a manual of objectives. Anyone who is not dead from the neck up or the waist down will readily recognize and not only admit but enthusiastically testify to the fact that their memorable educational experiences are related to people, to teachers who had an impact on them as human beings.”

Comment: Yes, but. The curriculum, objectives and plan books are part of what help a teacher do the job. RayS.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

High School Topic: American Indian Poetry

10-second review: Why should American students study American Indian poetry?

Title: “Traditional Poetry of the American Indian.” Anna Lee Stensland. English Journal (September 1975), 41-47. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quotes: “Teachers in every country in the world accept the necessity of teaching the culture and heritage of the people of that country. In the United States we have seen our heritage as British-American, with literary roots in such British giants as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, as well as in American masters like Emerson, Hawthorne, and Mark Twain. Very few literary critics have bothered to separate the two and to ask, ‘What makes our American heritage different from that of the British?’ One answer to that question has to be our contact with the American Indian.

“Examine, for example, the names of our states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Dakota, Missouri, Iowa—all Indian names; the names of cities—Omaha, Bemidji, Shakopee, Peoria, Seattle—and the names of some of our lakes along the Canadian border—Saganaga, Kabetogema, Namakon, Winnibigoshish. Note the food, so common on our tables, all plants which were first cultivated by Indians: corn, beans, sweet potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, peanuts and squash. Politically, Benjamin Franklin gave credit to the League of the Iroquois when preparing his proposals for the union of the colonies in 1754, ideas which later found their way into the United States Constitution. And in our American literature, authors from Philip Freneau to William Faulkner have used Indian themes: Bryant, Whittier, Cooper, Longfellow, Thoreau, Willa Cather, to mention only a few.”

“Traditional Indian poetry, often difficult because it is so unlike poetry we know, is worth the effort because it will give students a different perspective on life and correct fragmentary and erroneous ideas about the first Americans.”

Comment: I can’t think of a better reason to sample and teach American Indian poetry. Samples of American Indian poetry are contained in this article. Contact NCTE to see if you can get a copy of this article. It’s a keeper. RayS.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Reading and Writing Poetry

10-second review: Uses Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology as models for writing epitaph poems.

Title: “With Thanks to Edgar Lee Masters.” M Bramer. English Journal (September 1975), 39-40. Publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “Some years I have had students write imaginary epitaphs for characters of their own invention; some years I have suggested they imagine their own ends and write personal epitaphs; some years I have encouraged staging one of Masters’ epitaphs.”

Comment: I enjoy reading The Spoon River Anthology. I can read it over and over again. There’s that little twist in each epitaph that makes me think. All those epitaphs add up to Life. RayS.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Topic: Responding to Literature

10-second review: Students construct three questions for a test after reading a literary selection.

Title: “Test Question.” T. Hipple. English Journal (May 1975), 83. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: One question should be easy. One should be of medium difficulty. One should be hard.

Comment: I’m assuming the teacher will show students how to write one of each difficulty level. RayS.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Middle School Topic: Writing Dialogue

10-second review: Three activities in which students write dialogues.

Title: “Dialogue in Mime.” “Dialogue as Debate.” “Interior Monologue.” Thomas New Kirk. English Journal (May 1975), pp. 78-79. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Two students mime a confrontation. Rest of class writes the dialogue that goes along with their gestures and expressions. “Pick debatable topics like gun control laws and have students write a dialogue as though two people were arguing the point.” Interior monologue: Students select an inanimate object and have that object tell its story. “A day in the life of a pencil, an eraser or a piece of chewing gum,” etc.

Comment: Perhaps in this day of testing, teachers can’t take the time to have a little fun with writing. That’s too bad. However, the two dialogues involved in argument and debate can lead to serious assignments involving argumentation—and a serious interior monologue: see Shakespeare and Robert Browning, for example. RayS.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Writing Character Sketches

10-second review: Students begin with an adjective or adjectives and write a composition showing a character demonstrating the adjective. They do not include the adjective or synonym anywhere in the composition.

Title: “Writing Character Sketches That Show Rather Than Tell.” A Dodd. English Journal (May 1975), p. 74. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: Make up a list of adjectives that describe personality traits. Give an adjective to each student, but they are not to share it with anyone else. “Students should then invent a person who fits the adjective and write, showing the character in situations which serve as examples of the adjective. The adjective itself, or any synonym for it, may not be used anywhere in the paper. Encourage use of conversation and the interaction of the character with someone else.” p. 76.

“After students have finished their character sketches, have them read the sketches to the class. Tell the other students to try to guess what characteristic was emphasized.” p. 76.

Comment: Purpose? Have students as they read fiction note how the author has revealed character. Their attempts at characterization should increase their interest in how professional authors have done the same thing.

Give students a model of a character sketch that you have created. Tell them that the model is a starting place, but that they can feel free to deviate from it in any way they wish.

Finally, Be sure to have the students practice reading their character sketches before actually reading them. Reading aloud does not come naturally to everyone. Practicing reading aloud with expression helps the reader who usually stumbles, and gives confidence to readers who do not read aloud well. RayS.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Thematic Teaching

10-second review: One way of uniting the various part of the language arts is organizing the English curriculum by themes.

Title: “Getting It All Together…Thematically.” JH Bushman and SK Jones. English Journal (May 1975),54-60. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: No matter what the theme, students will not only read the literature, view the films and even participate in drama, but they will be also learn to write and to speak, thus working with most of the language arts concurrently.

Comment: In an earlier review of an article from the archives of English education professional journals, I mentioned that, when I was a K-12 English supervisor, the teachers and I developed individual strands of the language arts curriculum. I never got to stage 2, unifying those strands, writing, speaking, literature, working together, etc.

I have to confess that I never really saw the purpose of the thematic organization of the curriculum. Theoretically, at least, I now see another of my many lost opportunities—using themes as a way of unifying teaching the language arts.

One of the reasons I never saw this opportunity is that I always merely summarized the articles I read in my professional journals, including this one. I never did, as I am doing now that I am retired, reflect on the ideas—what they mean, their implications and applications. If I had reflected on the ideas in the articles in professional journals, I might have recognized the possibilities of organizing curriculum by themes.

Please! Don’t do as I did. Take the time to reflect on your experiences as a teacher and on the ideas you gain from your professional reading. RayS.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Science Fiction

10-second review: Why read science fiction?

Title: “Why Science Fiction?” J Kafka. English Journal (May 1975), 46-53. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “In his novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has his main character, Eliot Rosewater, address a convention of science fiction writers:

“ ‘I love you [science fiction writers, but what he really said was SOB’s]. You’re all I read anymore. You’re the only ones who’ll talk about the really terrific changes going on. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us…. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die….’

“This statement, from a writer who has frequently been accused of trying to divorce himself from the science fiction brotherhood, is for me the best possible answer to the question, ‘Why Science Fiction?’ ”

Comment: The author has attached an extensive science fiction bibliography to the article. If my readers are interested, write to me at raystop2@comcast.net, and I will send you a copy. RayS.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secondary School Topic: First Ten Minutes of Class

10-second review: Probably the worst part of the daily classroom routine is the first ten minutes of class. What to do?

Title: “The Newspaper: Medium Rare.” RE Dehnke and AW Ely. English Journal (May 1975), 39. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “The halls of a high school are seething and vibrant before class starts. The visitor needs fast footwork sometimes, but we who like teenagers don’t mind. The high excitement of the young is infectious. They’re alive; they’re discovering the world….

“Five minutes later, it’s all gone. Through open doors we see rows of blank faces and limp bodies. Life stops at the classroom door.”

Comment: The author suggests filling that first ten minutes with reading the newspaper. I have filled it effectively by having students write for ten minutes on any topic of their choice. That night, I rewrite each paper—short, only ten minutes of writing—correcting mistakes in grammar. I have used spelling tests, each day a test on a particular spelling problem. I have used a sentence with problems including problems similar to the SAT Writing Test. Or I have used that first ten minutes to read aloud from a book in an effort to encourage students to read it. RayS.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Middle School/High School Topic: Newspapers

10-second review: A series of questions and projects about reading newspapers. Published in May of 1975, even more relevant today when newspapers are going into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia Inquirer and the West Chester Daily Local News are two of the latest to go into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Title: “The Newspaper: Medium Rare.” RE Dehnke and AW Ely. English Journal (May 1975), 39-45. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Some examples of the kinds of questions based on those suggested in the article:

Compare the appearance of newspapers today and ten years ago.
Compare the appearance of a local paper with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Compare a piece of literature [“Auto Wreck” by Karl Shapiro] with the same topic in the newspaper.

Have the students complete a written survey:
1. How often do you read a newspaper? Daily_____ Once or Twice a Week _____ Never _____.

2.Turn the pages of your newspaper. What sections would you read, at least in part? World News_____. Local News _____. Business News _____. Reports of Accidents and Disasters _____. The Newspaper’s Editorial _____. Op-ED Page Columns _____. Letters to the Editor _____. The Comics _____. Sports _____. Dear Abby (or something similar) _____. Astrology _____. Word games like crossword puzzles _____.

Finally: How does reading the print edition of the newspaper differ from reading the paper online?

Comment: Sign up for a class set of newspapers. In the first ten minutes of class, have students read their newspapers. This is important! Newspapers are dying. We need to make the newspaper a habit for a new generation of readers. RayS.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Preparation for Drama and Writing

10-second review: A series of questions that stimulate the imagination.

Title: “Involving Students I the Drama Process, K-12.” Sheila Schwartz. English Journal (May 1975), 35-38. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “One of the best techniques for this category is ‘Synectics,’ a technique developed by William Gordon to help businessmen become more creative…. Exercises in this synectic series ask questions such as, ‘What fruit is like you? What flower is like you? What animal is like you?’ Since there are no right answers, students are free to let their imaginations roam. One question…asks, ‘Why is a picket fence like a dragon’s teeth?’ Most students answer by saying that they look alike. One student, with a delightful sense of humor, came up with this imaginative response, “Because you can’t sit on either.’ ”

Comment: I guess I am too prosaic, but I would want to be very clear in my mind and make clear to my students why I am doing this exercise. I had a superintendent once who did these kinds of cute, gimmicky exercises in our administrative workshops. I kept thinking, “Why the hell am I doing this stuff?” What’s the point? I’m not saying there isn’t a point. I just want to make clear to me and the students what it is. RayS.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

K/12 College Topic: Freedom of Speech

10-second review: All ideas, whether dangerous or repulsive, must be allowed in the “Marketplace of ideas.”

Title: “Freedom of Speech.” Ruth McGaffey. English Journal (April 1975), 14-15. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The usual test for censoring ideas is whether the idea presents a “clear and present danger” to the public… “that some ideas might cause violent reactions from opponents, and that other ideas may cause violent actions by supporters.” p. 15.

“The flaw in these as well as other tests, of course, is that the judgment is a subjective one. People disagree as to what constitutes a clear and present danger and people disagree in how they balance individual rights against societal interests.” p. 15.

“These ideas we hate must, however, be Constitutionally protected if the market place of ideas is to survive for those ideas we love to survive.” p. 15.

Comment: To put this discussion of Freedom to express ideas into the context of literature:

Oedipus Rex is an example of how literature deals with the ideas we hate: kills his father, marries his mother. Does that play cause young readers to copy Oedipus’s behavior? Or does the young reader understand the tragedy that results from his behavior even though he did not know what he was doing? The complexity of human motivation, causation and consequences even though neither act was consciously motivated.

The same is true of Lolita by Nabokov. People censored it because of the situation of a middle-aged man trying to seduce a pre-teen, but ignoring Nabokov’s treatment of the situation—the pure enjoyment of playing with the American language and culture
. RayS.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Literature and Writing

10-second review: Students turn poems into another form of writing.

Title: “Placing Poetry into a New Medium.” English Journal (April 1975), 69. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of Writing (NCTE).

Summary: After reading and discussing a poem (“Auto Wreck,” by Karl Shapiro, for example), students turn the poem into an essay, a short story, even a one-act play, a newspaper account or feature story.

Comment: Should deepen understanding of the poem. RayS.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Using the Class Textbook

10-second review: Let individual students choose the chapter they want to read.

Title: “Individualizing the English Curriculum.” C Morrison. English Journal (April 1975), 54. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “A good place to start [individualizing] is with the conventional English textbook. Allow the students to choose individually, which chapters of the book, they wish to study. This is much more workable than you might guess. You will find that the students will be anxious to avoid two areas of study: those with which they are already acquainted, and those which are too difficult for them to grasp. The result is that each student is working on material that is meaningful and useful to him. Do not be concerned about the lack of skill sequences. A knowledge gap may necessitate the use of index, table of contents, dictionary and other useful resources, and the learning experience is further enlarged.” p. 54.

Comments: Double the learning by having students teach what they have learned from the chapter to the other students. But teach them how to teach the chapters. Have them develop lesson plans. And encourage them to check out the topic of the chapter on the Internet. They will find a number of useful techniques on the Internet for teaching the topic(s). RayS.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Why Teach Speaking and Writing?

10-second review: To connect people.

Title: Presidential Address: “Making Connections.” Stephen Dunning. English Journal (April 1975), pp. 47-51. A publication of the National council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: “He said the best reason for practicing talk and writing was to connect people.”

Comment: I constantly wonder why I do what I do when I teach English. Dunning’s statement about using speaking and writing to connect people is so clear and so loaded with meaning that I will remember it forever as one reason that I teach speech and writing.

But Dunning is also being idealistic. Certainly we need to focus on connecting people. But people speak and write on different levels and for different purposes—and it is not always to connect people. People speak and write to hide their meaning; to persuade for personal gain, as in advertising and sales pitches; purposefully to confuse; to argue in order to make a point at the expense of another—and to disconnect from people. We don’t just practice speaking and writing. We practice speaking and writing by establishing audience and purpose. And that purpose is not always to help people connect.

I’m probably nitpicking. If so, I’m sorry, but my examples only highlight how important it is to focus students on one purpose for practicing speaking and writing: to connect people, to bring people together. My examples of other purposes do not invalidate Dunning’s point. We need to teach students how to use speaking and writing to connect people. By the way, how do we do that? RayS.