Friday, July 31, 2009

Topic: Huck Finn

10-second review: Why the authors would never use Huck Finn as required reading in a majority white school with a small minority of African-American students.

Title: “Shoot the author, Not the Reader.” M Franek and N NiiLampti. English Journal (July 2005), 20-22. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The authors begin with the following quote: “We think that Huck Finn is an important work of art that should be available in every library I the world, but we don’t think that it should be required reading in any predominantly white high school where African American students are in a small minority.”

The authors then show that Twain’s novel is historically inaccurate, that Jim is a stereotypically illiterate black man with the mind of a child, that Huck is a stereotypically superior white boy who plays jokes on Jim that are downright dangerous, given the times when runaway slaves were subject to violent capture. And then there’s the N-word, more than 200 times, and in the context of pure white hatred.

How would you feel as a minority black in a white school with whites all around your classroom, conscious that you are the only black person in the room? That’s not a rhetorical question. How would you feel?

Comment: I agree with the authors of this article. I would never make Huck Finn required reading in a majority white school with a small minority of black students.

I’m reminded of a biography of Robert Kennedy by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Kennedy asked to meet in a hotel room with some of the most famous of black American citizens. Kennedy’s purpose was to discuss solutions to the problems of race in America. The black citizens in that room wanted only to tell their stories of their experiences so that Kennedy could understand what their experiences had been. Kennedy kept trying to shift the discussion, which became more heated by the moment, to solutions, and the black citizens just as adamantly wanted to tell their stories. They finally, in a burst of anger, left the room, with Kennedy wondering what he’d done to anger them.

Kennedy’s problem was failure to listen and failure to communicate. Reading Huck Finn will not help whites understand the experiences and problems of the black man in a white America. Some of those stories will be found in The Best American Essays of the [20th] Century, edited by Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Atwan, 2000.

Why should students read Huck Finn? A portrait of the times. The humor. The characters. As an example of a picaresque novel. But it should be balanced by such works as Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and many another essay from The Best American Essays of the Century. A summary of King’s letter follows:

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Letter from Birmingham Jail." 1963. In a letter that I think is as eloquent as anything I have ever read, King responds to white clergymen who criticize him for engaging in nonviolent, peaceful protest that results in violence and who urge black people to wait patiently while white society adjusts to accept them. In response, King quotes Aquinas and Martin Buber. He uses scathing logic. He uses plain statement of the treatment of blacks by whites. His message is, Why are not you, the white religious Christians, joining us in the march to justice on behalf of your black brothers to fulfill the Constitutional guarantees for its citizens? RayS.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Topic: Writing and Audience

10-second review: Write letters to two different audiences on the same topic.

Title: “Teaching English in the World: Writing for Real.” K. Lindblom. English Journal (September 2004), 104-108. A publication of the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Suggests the concept of “triangulation.” For example, write a letter to your parents encouraging their vote for the school budget. Then write a letter to the residents of a retirement home, urging them to vote for the school budget. Establishes clearly the concept of audience.

Comment: The author speaks disparagingly of “school writing” without a real purpose or a real audience. “Triangulation” using two separate and distinct audiences is one method of establishing real writing for real audiences in the writing classroom. I have to admit that I never emphasized audience much when I taught writing. The author’s suggestion, I think, is a good one. RayS.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Topic: How to Teach Writing

10-second review: The assignment—what have you learned about teaching writing? The answers? Ask students to reflect on your writing assignments. Teach them how to write—i.e., the steps in the writing process. Write along with the students.

Title: “Teacher to Teacher.” T Baechtold; B. Blaisdell; J Domuricki. English Journal (September 2004), 21-22. A publication of the National Council of Teaches of English (NCTE).

Quote: “I don’t know what to write.” “I hate writing.” “How long does it have to be?” “Is this for a grade?” “Do we have to do this?” “…by listening carefully to what the students were saying…by hearing their complaints about topics…I have come to better understand how hard it was for them to write.” p. 21. T. Baechtold.

Paraphrasing Tolstoy on teaching writing: give wide choice of topics; tell them how long and suggest the initial steps in writing. pp. 21-22. B Blaisdell.

Quote: “Now, when I teach students about writing, I can honestly share my frustrations and victories with them.” p. 22. J Domuracki.

Comment: Have students attach a sheet with reflections on the writing assignment and how they completed it. Teach the writing process: brainstorm topic; thesis; first draft with topic sentences and final, summary paragraph; introduction; revising and editing. Submit articles to professional publications. RayS.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Topic: Spelling

10-second review: 54% of students when asked how they spell, said they sounded the words out. The author of a book on spelling says to conduct mini-lessons on spelling based on students’ writing their own spelling histories. However, the reviewer of this book gives very general descriptions of what the mini-lessons consist of. Not helpful. You have to buy the book.

Title: “They Still Can’t Spell? Understanding and Supporting Challenged Spellers in Middle and High School.” Rebecca Bowers Sipe. 2003. Portsmouth, NH: Heniemann. 175 pp. Reviewed by HM Miller. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2004), 85-86.

Summary: Begins by having students write spelling histories and by using the writing in these spelling histories to understand the patterns of misspelling to use in mini-lessons.

Comment: The idea of having students write spelling histories is interesting. In this blog, May 13, 2009 to May 20, 2009, I explain a complete spelling program, including “invented spelling”; computer spelling checkers; in addition to sounding out, visualizing the correct spelling of words frequently misspelled; a complete list of frequently misspelled words by category; and ways to make spelling tests rewarding and even fun. RayS.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Topic: Reading in the Content Areas

10-second review: Social studies teacher—“I’m not a reading teacher; students should already know how to read when they get to middle school. My job is to teach them social studies content.” The authors of this article describe activities to help students read difficult or boring material—before, during and after reading.

Title: “Promoting Reading Comprehension in Social Studies.” DD Massey and TL Heafner. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (September 2004), 26-40. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Comment: The authors give an expanded method of helping students read a difficult or boring assignment that is, in my judgment, too complicated. The essence of their method is as follows. Any content teacher—with the possible exception of math—can do it, with only a minimum of preparation.

1. Build background information on the topic. The more students know about the topic, the better they will comprehend. Ask students what they already know about the topic. Ask if they have any questions about the topic. These questions can become part of their purposes for reading.

2. Pre-teach key vocabulary words, words that are crucial to the meaning of the assignment and that are likely to be unfamiliar to the students. Trust me. If the students don’t know the words, they won’t even see them. Use context. Use roots, prefixes, suffixes. As a last resort, use the dictionary, but have the students reduce the definition to two or three key words. Easier to remember the words.

3. Purpose. Students read the bold-face headings throughout the chapter. They summarize what they have learned. They raise questions. Students now read the first paragraph, the first sentence of middle paragraphs and the last paragraph. They summarize that they have learned and raise questions, which will be their purpose for reading.

4. Students read to answer the questions.

5. After answering the questions, students apply or extend what they have learned. They use the Internet. Students look up the topic on the Internet and gather related information. They will need to learn how to take notes. Students then summarize in writing what they have learned about the topic on the Internet. For example, students who searched the Internet for further information about the circulatory system were amazed at what was occurring in medicine, sports and other fields related to the circulatory system.

By using these five steps to successful reading, teachers of content area subjects (social studies, science, health, shop, English, etc. and subjects in which textbooks or reading material is used for instruction) will find that their students become involved in reading, will raise questions to which they want answers and will learn the topic’s important ideas. Olive Niles, a noted reading specialist, said that if all content teachers used this system of helping students to read, in every secondary grade, in every subject, there would be no reading problems in the United States. I believe her.

With these steps, content teacher are not teaching reading. They are helping students to read difficult or boring materials. RayS.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Topic: Computerized Grading of Essays

10-second review: Computers can be programmed to judge essays as accurately as two or three human raters, but they can be fooled. They can’t judge content. That’s why the human rater must be part of the evaluation.

Title: “An Apple for the Computer.” Faye Flam. Philadelphia Inquirer (August 20, 2004), Internet.

Summary/Quotes: “E-rater comes from Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Princeton-based outfit that creates the SAT.”

“They [computers] don’t understand insight or humor and can be fooled into giving top marks to complete nonsense if it uses the right words and the right types of phrasing.”

“The programs grade not only on spelling, grammar and usage but on content, style, organization and clarity. And they do it in three to six seconds.”

“When it comes to what is called ‘high-stakes testing,’ E-rater is always used with human graders…. The computer differs from its human counterpart less than three percent of the time…. And when it does, a second person settles the difference.”

“Jones’ essay may have outsmarted the computer because it used many of the types of words and phrases found in good essays.”

“What it [the computer] seems to lack is the ability to see context and relevance. The software doesn’t care whether you’re a meticulous writer who uses only well-reasoned and well-known facts or a glib writer who pulls ‘facts’ from the air.”

“But with today’s level of computer intelligence…there’s no way these grading programs can have enough common sense to evaluate the content of what they read. And that can be dangerous if the human judges are taken out of the loop.”

Comment: In 2004, at least, humans must still be used with computerized grading. RayS.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Topic: Citing Sources from the Internet

10-second review: How do you cite information from the Internet? The Chicago Manual of Style gives an example. You’ll spend more time writing the citations than you will in writing the paper. And you wonder why students plagiarize?

Title: “The End Matter: The Nightmare of Citation.” Louis Menand. The New Yorker (October 6, 2003), 120-126.

Example of citation from the Internet as suggested by the Chicago Manual of Style:

Hlatky, M.A., D. Boothroyd, E. Vittinghoff, P. Sharp, and M.A. Woolsey. 2002. Quality-of life and depressive symptoms in postmenopausal women after receiving hormone therapy; Results from the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS) trial. Journal of the American Medical Association 287, no. 5 (February 6), (accessed January 7, 2002).

Authors, last name first. Year. Title. Journal with Vol. and No. (Date). URL. Date of accession.

Comment: The author, rightly, says that the biggest problem most students have in citing sources is from the Internet. I guess there is no getting around a thorough citation. RayS.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Topic: Plagiarizing from the Internet

10-second review: A light-hearted look at a serious problem, students who pay as high as $250 for a ready-made term paper from an Internet site.

Title: “Dear Plagiarists: You Get What You Pay For.” Suzy Hansen. New York Times (August 22, 2004). Internet.

Summary: A $25 paper from an Internet site is probably going to be worth $25, with a boatload of grammatical mistakes and ugly sentence structure. But maybe that’s the point—the paper will be consistent with the way the student writes, but it probably will not earn what the student expected from the $25—a good grade. And the student can get caught, with some dire consequences. The author suggests that the quality of papers downloaded from the Internet could be very poor. You might as well write it yourself.

Comment: In small classes, I become familiar with the students’ writing and will probably be able to detect a mismatch with the student’s regular writing. But in a lit class with 100 students, I wouldn’t be familiar with students’ normal writing patterns. The moral of this article: pay your $250 for the best, a custom-developed paper. However, if it’s too good, even if the instructor doesn’t know your writing, the instructor might become suspicious. Better take the time to re-do the paper to make it more like your writing or, better yet, write it yourself and save yourself $250. RayS.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Topic: Depressing Young Adult Novels

10-second review: Why do teachers like kids to read books that make them cry?

Title: “Why Teachers Love Depressing Books.” Laura Miller. New York Times (August 22,2004), Internet.

Quote: “Most of the books chosen by the English committee at Alex’s school are problem novels, and the curriculum proves inflexible. ‘We can’t ever say we don’t like the books,’ Alex tells his mother, because, according to his teacher, ‘If you’re not liking the books, you’re not reading them closely enough.’ The books are so depressing—‘Everybody dies in them,’ he told me wearily.”

Quote: “She [Feinberg] sees the memoirlike problem novels as symptoms of ‘the drastic fall from grace that the imagination has suffered in popular understanding’ and her generation’s insistence on ‘making our children wake from the dream of their childhoods.’ ”

Quote: “Adults, she [Feinberg] suspects secretly resent the sheltered, enchanted world children inhabit and under the pretext of preparing them for life’s inevitable difficulties, want to rub their noses in traumas they may never actually experience and often aren’t yet able to comprehend.”

Quote: Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series: “…results from a ‘wrong-headed belief that the more misery there is, the more quality there is; that the most lurid, unvarnished stories are closest to the truth.’ ”

Comment: It does seem to be true that teachers like to read “problem” novels with even their younger students. Maybe we teachers should emulate Shakespeare: a dash of history, a dash of comedy and a dash of tragedy. Balances the point of view about life.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Topic: Censorship

10-second review: Recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of English to prepare for possible censorship incidents.

Excerpt from Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris. 2004, pp. 439-440; 433.

My Experience with Censorship

In my twenty years as K-12 English supervisor in a suburban Philadelphia community, I was faced with two cases of censorship. In the first case, the teacher had failed to read the book ahead of time and was unaware of several graphic scenes. In the second case, an African-American father was sincerely afraid that an inflammatory scene in a play would set off cross-burnings and even violence. Coincidentally, cross-burnings did take place in a neighboring school district.

From both these cases, I learned that censorship events are complicated, emotional and that a censor’s point of view can have a grain of truth about which the sincere censor feels very strongly. I also learned that any one can censor any book or piece of material for any reason and that logic does not help to alleviate the situation.

If teachers cannot avoid censorship incidents, at least they can prepare for them, that is, be ready if the situation arises. The National Council of Teachers of English has been a leader in helping schools prepare for censorship. Their recommendations?

1. Questionnaire. Ask people who are challenging a literary work to complete a questionnaire, explaining their objections to the work. Such a questionnaire helps to determine how much thought has gone into the challenge. For example, one question from such a questionnaire asks if the person making the challenge has read the work in its entirety. You will find an example of a questionnaire at the Web site of the NCTE,

2. Committee. Submit the challenge to a committee consisting of teachers, administrators, parents and older students to evaluate the challenge and to make recommendations for the work’s future use in the curriculum or in the library collection.

3. Rationales. Teachers should prepare rationales for reading controversial books. Since all books can be challenged by someone, perhaps all books to be taught as part of the English curriculum should have rationales developed by the English department. Preparing rationales should help teachers decide on the appropriateness of the literary works they plan to teach. Rationales for many standard literature selections can be found at the Web site of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE),

Here is an example of what a rationale would consist of:

A brief summary of 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.

Objectives in using 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.

4. Alternative Literary Work. Explain to students and to their parents the reasons for reading the play, novel or short story and discuss possible objectionable issues. Provide an alternative work for students who are uncomfortable in reading about and discussing a particularly sensitive issue.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Topic: Censorship

10-second review: Am I Blue, a book discussing homosexuality is challenged by a parent who cites a moderately sexually “enticing” scene as inappropriate for middle schoolers. The book was available in the library and was not required reading in class.

Title: “Defending Am I Blue.” WJ Broz. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (February 2002), 340-350. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: The author, now teaching at the college level, but who had taught in the school district in which the incident occurred, tells about a censorship incident concerning Am I blue, a book that reveals personal stories about homosexuality. It was not required reading. The parent who challenged it wanted the book removed from the library. A committee had reviewed the book as a whole and recommended that the school board take no action about removing it from the library.

Comment: The author wrote a letter to the members of the school board concerning the book challenge. In my opinion the paragraphs and the letter were too long, the language was verbose, and he took too long to get to his points. Further, he insulted the members of the board by asserting that their decision would be influenced by the number of books they had read. True, but his comment implies that members of the board were uneducated or probably not well read. He also suggested that if the book were removed from the library, the precedent would initiate a procedure of combing classrooms and libraries for materials to censor, perhaps an unwarranted assumption.

His main point was that if a policy was in place to organize a committee to read, comment on and recommend retention of the book, or its removal, the board should follow the policy and accept the recommendation. The board did, by a vote of 5 to 2. The board members were critical of the author’s letter as condescending.

I think it was helpful of the writer to retell this incident in such detail in this article. The reader can learn from the experience and from his efforts to influence the decision.

In the next blog, I am going to review what the National Council of Teachers of English suggests for preparing for censorship incidents. RayS.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Topic: English Usage

10-second review: The author, Philip Dunne, a screenwriter and director, admits that language must change, but then he launches into a tirade about what he calls destructive changes.

Title: “Just Between You and I.” Philip Dunne. Newsweek (February 13, 1978), p. 18.

Summary: What language doesn’t he like? Adding -ize to verbs (“finalize,” etc.). “Media” as singular. “Criteria” for “criterion.” “Disinterested: for “uninterested.” “Lady” for “woman.” “Home” for “house.” “Flaunt” for “flout.” “Everybody is entitled to their rights.” “Last night she cooked dinner for she and I.” “Hopefully” as a dangler. And “y’know” for “uh….”

He concludes with this summation:

“But, hopefully, some man or lady writing or speaking for a media, some, you know, commentator, editorial writer, or, you know, politician or preacher, will read this article and will adopt a, you know, new criteria and realize that they must stop flaunting the, you know, basic rules of the language, which, like I just explained, is now creating so much bad blood between them and I.”

Comment: I’m with the author. RayS.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Topic: Questions about Poems for Elementary School Children

10-second review: A selection of questions about poems likely to cause older elementary school students to respond.

Title: “Questions to Ask about Poems.” Patrick Groff. Elementary English (January 1975), 119-122. Elementary English preceded Language Arts as the elementary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Sample Questions:

Why is this a poem? Is it different from a story?

Why do people write poems? Why don’t they write stories instead?

Why did this poet write this poem? What kind of person do you think he or she is?

Are there people in this poem? If not people, animals, mineral material or vegetable life)?

Where does this poem take place?

Is this poem funny, fast, light, frightening, exciting, happy? What other word does this poem make you think of?

What things are there in this poem to see?

What things are described in this poem?

Did this poem try to teach you something?

What might make this a better poem? What part, if any, would you change?

Are there any words or ideas in this poem you do not understand?

Find a word in the poem you think is interesting.

What words rhyme in this poem?

Are there some words in one line of this poem that begin with the same sound?

Are there words in this poem that sound like what they mean? (whiz, pop)

Are the lines in this poem short or long? Can you guess why?

Are there any sentences in this poem that look as though they were twisted around?

Is there something said in this poem that is intended to mean something else than what it says?

What poetry language (figures of speech) is in this poem?

Can you say in one sentence what this poem is all about?

Comment: See if you can find other articles by Patrick Groff. He is a maverick. His articles are almost always interesting and unusual. RayS.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Topic: Literary Criticism

10-second review: Analysis of the story of the Three Little Pigs from the point of view of psychological, sociological, historical, ethical, formal and archetypal criticism.

Title: “The Three Little Pigs: From Six Directions.” RD Robinson. English Journal (March 1968), 356-359. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Summarizing this article is difficult. I can’t do justice to explaining each critical point of view. I’ll try.

The story: Mother Pig’s home is too small. Three little pigs are told to build their own homes. One is of straw, the second of sticks, the third of bricks. Wolf blows down the straw and stick houses, but can’t budge the brick house to which the other two pigs have fled. The wolf is killed.

Psychological: The generational differences between the children and the mother and their unwillingness to go out on their own.

Sociological: Institutions. Mother Pig represents the failed educational system. Failed to tell her children about the technology needed to build a solid wolf-proof house.

Historical: Similar to the historical record of the barons in England vs. King John of Magna Carta fame.

Ethical: Good vs. evil.

Formalist: Prevalence of three: pigs, houses, and other situations throughout the story.

Archetypal: Plot re-enacted ceaselessly over the years. The uninitiated expelled from the source of food, comfort and safety—the Garden of Eden, for example. Homer’s Odyssey: hero leaves safety on the island of Calypso and crosses the dangerous sea.

Comment: Terrific idea to take a simple Mother Goose tale and apply the various critical points of view to it. Good way to illustrate the ideas in the critical perspectives. RayS.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Topic: Misinterpretation in Reading Four Short Stories

10-second review: Failure to grasp the meaning. Stock responses. Happiness binding. Critical predispositions. Irrelevant associations. Search for certainty.

Title: “Sources of Difficulty in Literary Interpretation.” James R. Squire. [No Source] [No Date], 37-49.

Summary: 52 adolescents read four short stories: “However, all six of the barriers to sound interpretation are sufficiently prevalent in the transcripts to justify the assumption that such difficulties must be rather widespread if these 52 subjects are in any way representative of readers in this age group.” p. 49.

Six Sources of Misinterpretation in Reading Four Short Stories:

Basic Understanding

1. Fail to grasp obvious meanings. [One of my teachers began discussions by asking, “What does the story say?”]


2. Stock responses: Assumes from stereotyped view of experience that certain things are true in life and therefore any deviation cannot be true in the story: Good looking guys have good looking girls. When they argue, adults are usually wrong and teenagers are usually right.

3. Happiness bound: Cannot accept an ending that is not happy. Will not accept an unhappy interpretation.

4. Critical predisposition: Questions probability of the situation. “A landlord would not act like that.”


5. Irrelevant associations. Distracted by references to situations the students have experienced, preoccupied by memories of experiences which are not significant to the total meaning of the short story.

Rush to Judgment

6. Search for certainty. Pre-judge the conclusion without waiting for the entire story to be completed, reflected upon and discussed.

Comment: Need to clarify the meaning of each category of misinterpretation. Could produce a good discussion about the interpretation of literature by the students.

Based on IA Richards’ Practical Criticism. Richards used poetry. Squire used short stories. RayS.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Topic: Junior Novels/Young Adult Literature

10-second review: The junior novel/Young Adult literature as a bridge from children’s literature to the classics.

Title: “Journeys: Another look at the Junior Novel.” Journal of Reading (May 1976), 627-634. Aimed at middle school, junior high school and high school. JR was replaced by the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL) by the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Junior novels or, as this type of literature is known today, Young Adult literature, represents a bridge from children’s literature to popular adult books and the classics. The books are attractive to teen-agers, have their own cult classics—The Outsiders—and deal with serious issues in nonfiction and fiction.

“The major goal is to provide a transition novel for young people to read and explore and help them on their journeys to self-definition, maturation, value determination, and an understanding of others. There is a wealth of materials at varying levels of difficulty and literary merit from which to choose.” p. 634.

Comment: G. Robert Carlsen wrote a book in which he suggested that students who enjoy the classics of literature have progressed through a sequence in their reading from picture books, chapter books, children’s literature, Young Adult literature, popular adult books and the classics. I don’t know if that theory holds up. Certainly what we want to make available to students is all types and levels of books that can be read profitably. RayS.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Topic: Problems in Comprehending Poetry

Topic: Problems in Comprehending Poetry

10-second review: IA Richards’ famous study about problems that prevent readers from understanding poetry.

Title: “The Practical Criticism of IA Richards and Reading Comprehension.” RE Shafer. Journal of Reading (November 1970), 101-108. The Journal of Reading was renamed Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy from the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: IA Richards tried to find out why people had difficulty reading and interpreting poems. Some of the reasons were failure to understand the plain sense of the poem, failure to recognize its rhythm, and failure to visualize images in figurative language. He also found a variety of personal distractions, including prior beliefs about the nature of poetry and emotional personal experiences that distorted the poet’s overall meaning.

Comment: As a result of Richards’ Practical Criticism, the “New Critics” eliminated outside distractions like the lives of the poets and the readers’ personal experiences from the interpretation of literature. Thanks to Louise Rosenblatt, the use of personal experience in interpretation has been restored to literary criticism. As is often true in education in “either/or” situations, the combination of both points of view is helpful: the focus on poetic technique and personal experience. RayS.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Topic: Research and Reform

10-second review: Educators designed a program in teacher training in English for a specific locality—three rural communities. The educators soon learned that they were in a situation way over their heads. Moral: Recognize that reality will destroy idealism every time.

Title: “Everyone to the Rescue.” A O’Regan. English Education (Spring 1971), 165-172. A publication concerning the preparation of teachers of English by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: When the educators arrived on the scene of the three separate rural communities, they found that the communities’ problems were simply too complex to be resolved. The educators beat a hasty retreat without, mercifully, causing any serious social problems.

Quote: “Pend Oreille [the school for the rural communities] was made for saving. On our very first visit, heroic images crowded the mind. Here was a place that needed a steersman, a healer, a diviner, a law giver; here was a chance to give, to fulfill, to expiate—that above all; whatever kind of obligation education owed to society could be paid off here.” p. 168.

Comment: This is the kind of article that I see only rarely—an attempt to analyze what went wrong. In this case the problem was an idealistic view of the community, soon corrected by experience and reality. The people and the issues were much too complex. The educators needed to learn from Carol Kennicott in Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. They cannot change people. If anything the people and the community will change the educators and the educators’ theories. RayS.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Topic: Oral Culture and Writing

10-second review: Ten minutes a day enabled me to help students eliminate the influence of an oral culture on writing.

Comment: What are the elements of an oral culture? Repetition. The over-use of “it,” “get,” “thing,” “there,” and demonstrative pronouns without clear antecedents. Unnecessarily repeated words.

My purpose was to introduce students to “formal style.”

Students came to class prepared to write on a subject of their choice. They wrote for ten minutes as well as they could write. At the end of ten minutes, I collected the papers.

That night, I rewrote their original 10-minute essays, showing them how to eliminate “it,” “get,” “thing,” “there” and any unnecessarily repeated words. I also showed them how to make clear the antecedents of the demonstrative pronouns, “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.”

Example: “That was what I meant” became: “That negative attitude was what I meant by alienating his audience.”

10 minutes a day. 10-minute essays. I returned them corrected. They rewrote, incorporating any changes. The results? By the end of the semester, they wrote clearly, specifically and precisely. They had eliminated the influence of the oral culture from their writing.

Of course, I pointed out that increasing repetition also made their writing less formal. And informality in writing has some advantages, depending on the audience. Now, if they needed to write formally—or informally—they could do so. RayS.