Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Topic: Preparing to Teach English Language Learners (ELLs).

10-second review: There do not seem to be any definitive answers as to how best to work with English Language Learners (ELLs, students whose native language is not English) when the teacher does not know the language of the students. One idea is to use pictures, photographs and posters to encourage the use of the  English language.

Title: “Addressing the Needs of English Language Learners in an English Education Methods Course.” LC DeOliveira and M Shoffner. English Education (October 2009), 96-111.

Summary: Using pictures, photographs and posters generates conversation and experience with the English language. Also, if a reading passage involves objects that can be demonstrated, use the objects.

Comment: These ideas seem basic and can’t be ignored. However as someone once said, when students are reading, the language is academic, not conversational. There is a considerable difference.

The same is true with writing. ELLs need to learn to use academic writing. I keep urging that English teachers have ELLs write for ten minutes each night. The next night the teacher literally corrects the students’ language, corrects the spelling, supplies the necessary word, changes the sentence structure, supplies the proper idiom and so forth. The students review the teacher’s changes, ask questions about the changes and rewrite, incorporating the teacher’s changes to help them visualize their writing as correct English. These ten-minute “essays” are only part of the writing program in which teacher correction is supplied in different ways. RayS.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Topic: Expectations for Teachers

10-second review: Teachers are expected to  perform miracles and they can’t. As a result they leave the profession.

Title: “Priest, Prostitute,  Plumber? The Construction of Teachers as Saints.” Catherine Carter. English Education (October 2009), 61-70.

Comment: I think the idea of impossible teacher expectations deserves some thought. RayS.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Topic: Why Be a Teacher?

10-second review: Why not instead be a doctor or lawyer or scientist?

Title: “Priest, Prostitute, Plumber? The Construction of Teachers as Saints.” C Carter. English Education (October 2009), p. 61.

Answer to the question from an ad, paraphrased by Kristy, a secondary English education candidate: “…without teachers there would not be any doctors, lawyers, scientists or members of any other professions.”

Comment: I like that answer better than “to change the world” which the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and International Reading Association (IRA) seem to promote in the pages of their professional journals.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Topic: Two Words I Hate!

10-second review: …I wish I would never read or hear again: “infrastructure” and “scaffolding,” as a synonym for helping students to learn.

Comment: I’d like to have a nickel for every time the word “scaffolding” has been used in the professional journals of the National council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA). There has to be a more direct way of expressing the meaning of that word. Every time I read it, I have to go through the procedure of changing the metaphor to its direct meaning.

The February 2010 issue of College Composition and Communication printed Victor Villanueva’s acceptance speech for the “Exemplar Award.” Among his comments, this one: “…to demonstrate in our own writing the principles we espouse for student writing, believing that rigor does not have to be displayed as rhetorical rigor mortis.” “Infrastructure” and “scaffolding” are symptoms of writing that is dead! RayS.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Topic: Ugly Writing

10-second review: “Contestation”; “Agonism.”

Title: “2009 CCCC Chair’s Address: The Wonder of Writing.” Charles Baserman. College Composition and Communication (February 2010), 571-580.

Context: “I have pressed this question of cooperation and agonism in part to contest (within this forum of disciplinary discussion) some common assumptions about rhetoric and suggest that cooperation is at the heart of rhetorical contestation.” p. 524.

Comment: And this guy is the editor of a journal devoted to the teaching of writing? For shame. I admit that I did not recognize the word “agonism” and had to look it up on the Internet. The Merriam dictionary said, “The word you’ve entered is not in the dictionary.” RayS.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Topic: Flash Fiction

10-second review: Fiction in fewer than 1,000 words. A guide book to writing flash fiction reviewed.

Title: “Flash-Fiction Masters Offer Tips on the Form.” Review by A Wallen. The Writer (December 2009), 44. The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers and Writers in the Field. Ed. TL Masih. Rose Metal Press. 168 pages.

Comment: Suggests that anyone interested in this format should begin by reading the volume reviewed. RayS.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Topic: Books That Writers Don't Want to Miss

10-second review: All four volumes of The Paris Review Interviews of well-known authors are now available for $45 from Picador Publishing Company. See

Title: “Legendary Interviews of Great Writers.” C Leddy. The Writer (December 2009), 42-43.

Summary: The reviewer concludes: “It [the four volumes of The Paris Review Interviews] may be the best gift any writer could receive, providing hours of wonderful conversations with some of the greatest writers of the last hundred years. As author interviews go, these are the all-time best.”

Comment: I’ve read one volume and will order the complete collection. They are the best. RayS.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Topic: Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)

10-second review: “Rather than assuming writing instruction to be a ‘transient’ need that could be met for all time for all students in pre-college or first-year courses…these teachers understood that writing instruction would continue as genres and demands became more specialized.”

Title: “The State of WAC/WID [Writing in Disciplines] in 2010: Methods and Results of the U.S. Survey of the International WAC/WID Mapping Project.” C Thaiss and T Porter. College Composition and Communication (February 2010), 534-570.

Summary: The article focuses on WAC as an organized program with a central committee and a leader. Further questions need to be answered about how the committee operates and how the leader is changed. Many courses are labeled “writing intensive.” The heart of WAC programs is faculty workshops.

Comment: The majority of this article, summary of a response to a survey, is reported in statistics. The results are so general that  I could gain little information on how the programs really work. Is the writing in the disciplines based on genres needed in specific disciplines? If it is not, then what types of writing are required in the disciplines? RayS.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Topic: Statistics as a Rhetorical Device

10-second review: We need to recognize that statistics are a method of persuasion and we need to teach students to understand what they really mean and imply.

Title: “Rhetorical Numbers: A case for Quantitative Writing in the Composition Classroom.” J Wolfe. College Composition and Communication (February 2010), 452-475.

Quote: “As new technologies continue to increase the ease with which we can collect, compile and compute large quantities of data, quantitative argument, will come to play an even larger role in our daily lives as citizens, professionals and individuals.”

Quote: “Moreover, there is a paradox in that on the one hand our culture tends to represent statistical evidence as a type of ‘fact’ and therefore immune to the arts of rhetoric, but on the other hand, we are deeply aware and suspicious of the ability of statistics to be ‘cooked,’ ‘massaged,’ ‘spun,’ or otherwise manipulated.”

Quote: “What I am calling for instead is a rhetorical education that examines how numbers are used and invented in the service of argument at public, professional and personal levels.”

Comment: Interesting point. What do statistics really mean? What is their purpose in the argument? Good article. RayS.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Topic: Clarity in Writing

10-second review: Ideas might be unclear because the writer is suggesting new ideas. Even jargon is permissible in order to express ideas precisely as understood by both writer and reader who are specialists in the field.

Title: “The Ruse of Clarity.” I Barnard. College Composition and Communication (February 2010), 434-451.

Comment: The author suggests that legitimate reasons exist for ideas when the writer is charged with problems in clarity. Perhaps we need to ask, “Why is the idea unclear?” when we are about to charge the writer with a problem in clarity instead of simply labeling it “unclear” and letting the writer figure out how to satisfy the teacher’s lack of understanding. Maybe asking “Why?” will legitimize what seems to be an obvious problem in clarity.

I have always believed that when the reader does not understand, it is the writer’s responsibility to make the idea clear. I don’t accept jargon—except in professional English education journals. I don’t expect it in those journals either, but it’s hopeless. The use of jargon when we are charged with teaching students how to write clearly is an oxymoron. RayS.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Topic: Doctors and Literature

10-second review: Doctors gain a greater sense of empathy by reading and discussing medical-related novels in book clubs.

Title: “Humanities for Doctors.” Alan Scher Zagier. West Chester, PA Daily Local News, (Monday, March 15, 2010), p. D1.

Quote: “A hospital in Bangor, Maine, held the first program in 1997 and has spread over the years to 25 states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Virginia.”

Quote: “A 2005 study by the Maine council showed that participants reported greater empathy for patients and colleagues, higher cultural awareness, increased job satisfaction and improved interpersonal skills.”

Quote: “Literature… has a lot to teach the health care world about medicine. Literature is messy. There’s not a black and white answer…. So much of the expectations on them [doctors and nurses] are black and white, to have an answer. This helps them fit into that hard space of not necessarily knowing the answer.”

Comment: After my experiences with doctors, I think all of them could benefit from such a reading program. RayS.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Topic: Problems with Reading English as a Second Language

10-second review: Two problems—written academic English is not conversational. The syntax is more complicated. The readers tend to read word by word, not structures.

Title: “Reading and ESL.” HS O’Donnell. Journal of Reading (February 1974), 404-406.

Summary: Suggests taking complex sentences similar to those in the reading material and showing students how to break them into the structures with which they are constructed—phrases, clauses, etc. Show the students how the same idea can be expressed in different ways. Suggests also working with idioms, words with multiple meanings and analogies.

Comment: I continue to suggest 10-minute essays for ESL (English as a Second Language) students. At night the students write in English for ten minutes—no longer. The teacher the next night corrects the spelling, syntax, usage, punctuation—and I mean “corrects.” The teacher writes in the correct spelling, rewrites the sentences in English formats, provides accurate vocabulary. The student then asks questions about “why?” the teacher made the changes and re-writes, incorporating the teacher’s changes to help them visualize their writing as correct English writing. RayS.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Topic: Motivating Junior High Readers

10-second review: Suggests that teachers read books and share passages from what they are reading with the students.

Title: “Motivating Junior High Readers.” M Hovious. Journal of Reading (February 1974), 373-375.

Quote: “Entering kindergarten or first grade, all they want to do is read. But before leaving the middle grades they’re not interested in reading and the situation mushrooms through the remaining school years.”

Quote: “Some place within the structure of a child’s education, there has to be a way to get children to want to read.”

Comment: From 15 minutes a day to previewing textbooks chapters, magazine articles, nonfiction books, novels, short stories, this course is needed to show students how to become involved in reading when they really don’t have any desire to do so. RayS.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Topic: Boredom and Difficulty in Reading (4).

10-second review: RayS.’s ideas for helping students deal with boredom and difficulty in reading books and other reading materials.

Previews will stimulate interest and reduce the difficulty of material.

Previewing Short Stories
The previous technique that I suggested when you become mired in boring parts of novels actually came to me when I was reading short stories in The New Yorker magazine. So many of the New Yorker’s short stories were pointless, meaningless and of little interest to me, that I became frustrated at wasting time reading them. How could I learn if the story was worth my time?

That’s when I discovered the one-paragraph-a-page-or-column technique. In relatively little time, I was able to sample the story, gain an idea of the plot and decide if the story was worth reading in its entirety. It never failed. I tried an experiment. If I decided the story was not worth reading in its entirety, I would try reading it all the way through and found that, sure enough, it wasn’t. If the preview of one paragraph per page or column interested me, I would read the entire story. So now I test every short story I read to see if it catches my interest and spend relatively little time doing it.

Finally: Reading Difficult Materials
The preview will help. Even with highly technical textbooks, previewing gives the reader an “overview” of the important ideas. But now you have to go back and read every chapter as if it is to be memorized. In How to Study in College, Walter Pauk (Houghton Mifflin, 1984) says that there is only one way. Take it one paragraph at a time and summarize each paragraph.

Comment: Readers can stimulate interest in what they read by previewing. They can break down the difficulty of difficult books by previewing. But if they have to read a book as if it is to be memorized, the best method of study is to summarize every paragraph in the chapter—after having previewed it by reading the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph. RayS.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Topic: Boredom and Difficulty in Reading (3).

10-second review: RayS.’s ideas for helping students deal with boredom and difficulty in reading books and other reading materials.

Previews will stimulate interest and reduce the difficulty of material.

Previewing Novels: Sampling.
Probably you are going to be interested and want to read everything when you first open a novel. However, if you have some doubts about whether the novel is worth your time, try sampling. Read for five minutes near the beginning of the novel. Then read for five minute in the middle of the novel. Next, read for five minutes about three-fourths through the novel. Finally, read for five minutes near the end. This sampling should raise a number of questions in your mind and you will want to go back and read.

Knowing the plot will give the novel away? I think you will find the opposite. The sampling will usually raise questions about what is going on, giving you a reason for wanting to read it. If the sampling does give away the plot entirely, then you won’t want to spend time reading it because you will already know all you want to know about it.

Previewing Novels: What To Do About the Boring Parts?
Novels are usually long. They tend to become less interesting in certain parts. They have highs in which you are absorbed by the scenes and lows in which you start turning pages to see how much you have to read before reaching the end of the chapter.

Try an experiment. Start reading one paragraph a page. You won’t lose your sense of the plot; you will find that you are moving rapidly to the next scene that captures your interest. And then you are back to reading everything. Try it. It works.

To be continued: Previewing Short Stories.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Topic: Boredom and Difficulty in Reading (2)

10-second review: RayS.’s ideas for helping students deal with boredom and difficulty in reading books and other reading materials.

Previews will stimulate interest and reduce the difficulty of material.

Previewing Articles in Professional Materials and Magazines.
Read the title, sub-title, first paragraph and last paragraph. Know enough? Summarize briefly and go on to the next article.

Have questions? Read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph. Know enough? Summarize briefly and go on to the next article.

Still have questions? Read the entire article—which will happen rarely. This technique takes you almost immediately to the ideas that will be of interest to you. It will also cut out almost all of the boring detail that you don’t need.

To be continued: Previewing Novels.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Topic: Boredom and Difficulty in Reading (1)

10-second review: RayS.’s ideas for helping students deal with boredom and difficulty in reading books and other reading materials.

Previews will stimulate interest and reduce the difficulty of material.

Nonfiction Preview: First, read the first and last paragraph of each chapter. The first paragraph introduces the topic, the last chapter summarizes it.

Second, read the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph. If you’re “caught,” keep reading. If you become bored, go back to reading the first sentence of each paragraph. The majority of first sentences of paragraphs are usually topic sentences, so you will be gaining the main ideas and supporting details. And you will almost certainly be “caught” and want to continue reading at some point in the chapter.

When chapters seem particularly important, you will need to read the entire chapter, but the first and last paragraphs and the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph will ease the difficulty.

To be continued: Professional Materials and Magazines.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Topic: Readability and Legibility

10-second review: Readability means “understandability.” Legibility refers to comfort level in reading: illumination, type size, spacing, etc.

Title: “Basic Reading Skills: Comprehension and Rate Skills.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Deschant. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1961.

Comment: In addition to requiring that materials have built-in interest for all readers, some people in the field of reading feel that readability formulas must dictate whether materials are appropriate for the reading grade level of each student. If the book is too difficult, students should not read it because they will become frustrated. I have even seen reading specialists who have re-written entire chapters so that children will read materials at their reading level. As a result the students are robbed of the challenge of reading difficult material and, in the case of literature, appreciating the beauty of the language.

The typical readability formula counts words, syllables and length of line to determine the grade level of the material. I’m unaware of any judgments on readability that include difficulty in ideas. The assumption is that average number of syllables per word will demonstrate difficulty if many multi-syllable words are used. What about the poems of Emily Dickinson? The words are simple. The ideas are complex.

I think we have to recognize that materials are not always of interest to every reader, and that difficulty level in most materials fluctuates. Students need to learn what to do when the material becomes boring and what to do when the material becomes difficult

My solution to maintaining interest and dealing with difficult materials will appear in my next blogs. RayS.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Topic: Interest and Reading

10-second review: “The more interesting the materials to the reader, the better his comprehension tends to be.” p. 236.

Title: “Basic Reading Skills: Comprehension and Rate Skills.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Deschant. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1961.

Comment: I think some people in the field of reading believe that material itself  must be of interest to the reader in order for the reader to be successful. Therefore, the fault is in the material, not in the reader. The world is not like that. In fact, much of what we read in school is of little interest to most readers. And, in addition, as with a long book, interest rises and falls during the course of reading it. Rarely is a book of absorbing interest from beginning to end.

Students can be motivated to find interest in materials that they do not know is of interest to them. The more they know about a topic, the more they will understand and be interested in what they read about it. In the Directed Reading Assignment (DRA), the teacher builds background information on a topic with which the student has little familiarity. The teacher also pre-teaches key words that otherwise students might ignore if the words were not called to their attention. Finally, either the teacher or the student sets a purpose for reading. This means that not always is it necessary to read every word on every page as some readers assume and soon become distracted, and bored.

With a textbook chapter, for example, the teacher finds out what the students already know about the topic. Pictures and information are added to the students’ background. Secondly, the students read the title, sub-headings, bold-face print and pictures and diagrams in the text and then read the first paragraph, the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph and the last paragraph, more background information. And then students identify questions about the topic they want to answer from the text.

The more the students know about the topic, the greater the students’ interest will be in reading about the topic.

What do you do about novels in which the topic is not clear? I have an answer for that, too. Write to RayS at my e-mail address:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Topic: Reading Flexibility

One-minute review: “Flexibility is an important criterion of reading excellence. Good comprehenders adjust the rate of reading by slowing down as the material increases in difficulty, whereas poor comprehenders read both easy and difficult materials at much the same rate.” p. 235.

“Slower reading generally is positively associated with achievement in science, in medicine, in mathematics and in Latin.” p. 236.

“Rapid reading is positively associated with achievement in English and in languages.” p. 236.

Title: “Basic Reading Skills: Comprehension and Rate Skills.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Deschant. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1961.

Comment: Knowing when to speed up and slow down is one of the characteristics of the skilled reader. RayS.