Thursday, April 29, 2010

Topic: The Five-Paragraph Essay--Model vs. Process

10-second review: Interviews college teachers about the quality of instruction their high school graduates have received. The problem these college teachers perceive with their students’ writing is the model drilled into them of the five-paragraph essay with a thesis at the end of the first paragraph. Too rigid. Too limited.

Title: “Closing the Gap Between High School Writing Instruction and College Writing Expectations.” S Fanetti, et al. English Journal (March 2010), pp. 77-83.

Comment: It may be that students are being drilled in the five-paragraph essay, a model of the “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” pattern of organization for expository writing. Expository writing, whether it is fifty pages long or one hundred pages long, consists of a beginning, middle and end and skilled writers know that stating in the beginning what they are going to say, using mainly topic sentences to provide the details and summing it all up in the conclusion is a pattern of organization that works. Teachers who drill on the five-paragraph essay are confusing the model with the process. RayS.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Topic: Teaching Machiavelli's The Prince.

10-second review: Why teach Machiavelli’s The Prince (or any classic piece of literature)? It stretches the students’ minds.

Title: “Teaching Machiavelli, or How I Learned to Love The Prince.” Alan E. Miller. English Journal (March 2010), 72-75.

Quote: “So why should one teach Machiavelli’s The Prince? It incites students to reach…. It both activates and stimulates their store of background knowledge. It forces all students to read carefully and critically. It invites them to look closely at the worlds they inhabit. In addition, they gain a framework to help them understand social dynamics—not only on the political battlefield but also in school, in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. Machiavelli’s master work also introduces one of the enduring philosophical questions: Do the ends justify the means?”

Comment: Something like his justification for reading The Prince should be required of every teacher who plans to teach a classic or any work of literature. It is one of the best set of reasons for reading a work of literature that I have ever read. RayS.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Topic: Discussing Social Issues

10-second review: Nonfiction texts often involve unpleasant social issues and are therefore avoided by teachers.

Title: “Keeping It Current: Using Technology to Teach About Social Issues.” NB Sardone and R Devlin-Scherer. English Journal (March 2010), 61-64.

Quote: “In thinking about teaching nonfiction, we acknowledge that many contemporary and important nonfiction texts that students should be encouraged to read take up social issues that are not easy to talk about or even to think about.”

Comment: I present the problem. You need to think about reasons for discussing issues with the emotions that are likely to occur.

Long ago, I was present in a class that was designed to provide insights into group process. The instructor set up a simulation between an “administrator” and a “teacher” who had been given a bad review of his teaching. I watched in amazement as the “administrator” tried desperately to sugar coat the negative review and the “teacher” who literally exploded with anger as the situation became very real. The instructor did not know how to cope with the very real situation that that simulation had become.

I think one needs to consider very carefully how to deal with issues that will generate serious emotions. RayS.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Topic: Genre

10-second review: One purpose in choosing reading assignments is to provide texts from different genres.

Title: “From Hitler to Hurricanes, Vietnam to Virginia Tech: Using Historical Nonfiction to Teach Rhetorical Context.” Lisa Decklehimer. English Journal (March 2020), 55-60.

Quote: “…expanding their view of what counts as ‘genre’ helps them to see that rhetoric can take shape in any text—speeches, political cartoons or blogs. As teachers, we will always be able to draw in historical nonfiction as learning resources.”

Comment: In other words, rhetoric occurs regardless of genre?

Think of “rhetoric” as persuasion. Hard not to think of rhetoric in this sense as manipulative. It is not simply the display of rhetoric in genre but real emotions. An excellent source is Best American Essays of the [20the] Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Antwan. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Joyce Carol Oates, one of the editors, had to say about this collection of essays: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb and arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate or even wish.” Most of these essays provoke. They paint a vivid portrait of issues in the twentieth century.

In other words, art as propaganda?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Topic: Black Dialect and Oral Reading

10-second review: The author asserts that black students reading orally will shift what they read in standard English into their dialect. The author suggests that these miscues sometimes interfere with comprehension and sometimes do not. For instance, the student who reads “I did my work” as “I done my work” understands fully the meaning of that sentence and his use of the dialect does not interfere with his understanding of the meaning.

Title: “Black Dialect Shift in Oral Reading.” KR Johnson. Journal of Reading (April 1975), 535-540.

Comment: I guess I wonder if speakers of black dialect do make that shift from standard English in reading to the same idea translated into black dialect. If they do, and the meaning is essentially the same, then obviously that speaker is reading very well—able to comprehend the meaning of the sentence so well that he or she can interpret it using the black dialect.

For me, the significance of this problem is correctness in using standard English. That is not a reading problem. It’s a social problem. RayS.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Topic: The Junior or Young Adult Novel

10-second review:  The junior novel or Young Adult literature is “transitional” between children’s literature and adult literature. As a result, topics in the novels have become, according to this author, more “sophisticated,” by which he is referring to “premarital sex, death, drugs, street life, and so on.” The result of using these “sophisticated” topics is also an increase in “artistic sophistication,” or literary techniques.

Title: “New Reading Material: The Junior Novel.” A Muller. Journal of Reading (April 1975), 531-534.

Comment: If we plan to use these newly sophisticated novels with questionable topics and with more sophisticated literary techniques, then teachers are going to need to prepare rationales for teaching them, The National Council of Teachers of English suggests rationales to prepare for possible censorship challenges. These rationales require the following:

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 will read it.
Literary qualities of the book.
Summary of reviews of the book.
Objectives for 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.

Comment: In other words, the NCTE is suggesting careful preparation for using the book in the literature program. RayS.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Topic: Comprehension Defined

10-second review: How would you define comprehension? The authors’ definition is an interesting starting point.

Title: “The Concept of Comprehension: An Analysis.” TE Wheat and RM Edmond. Journal of Reading (April 1975), 523-527.

Summary/Quote: “The reader must be totally involved in striving to reconstruct the author’s message. He uses all his past experiences and learning as well as his knowledge of the structure of the language.”

Comment: This brief summary of comprehension implies a concentration on the act of reading that I don’t think is necessary for everything we read. RayS.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Topic: Positive Statements about Reading

10-second review: The following statements express the values of reading.

Title: “Measuring Attitudes: An Extra Dimension.” LD Kennedy and RS Halinski. Journal of Reading (April 1975), 518-522.

Positive Statements about Reading and Its Purpose:

Reading helps me form opinions. Reading broadens my imagination. Reading helps me find a better way to communicate with people. I can learn much about my future from reading. Reading broadens my mind. I like to read to learn about people. Reading keeps me informed. Reading improves my vocabulary. Reading helps me understand problems that other people have.

Reading helps me understand my personal problems. Reading stimulates thought. Reading helps me to identify with people I want to like. I like to read about other people’s experiences in life. I sometimes become a character in the book I am reading. I like keeping up on new ideas. By reading I meet people and places I have never met before. Reading helps you think about things in a new way.

Comment: These statements reveal readers who have thought about why they read. Helping students understand why they read could change their attitudes toward reading. RayS.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Topic: Reading Attitudes--Negative.

10-second review: Negative statements that students are likely to make about reading.

Title: “Measuring Attitudes: An Extra Dimension.” LD Kennedy and RS Halinski. Journal of Reading (April 1975), 518-522.

Negative Statements about Reading:

Reading is difficult for me. I read only what I have to. Authors seem to like words that are hard to understand. It takes me a long time to read anything. There are very few things that I find interesting to read. I dislike reading because most of the time I am being forced to read. I read too slow. It’s hard just to sit and read. I don’t care to take the time to read.

Reading bores me. I usually do not understand what is happening in a story. Reading is too  complicated. Reading just doesn’t appeal to me. When I read, I can’t keep my mind on the subject. I can’t sit still long enough to read. Reading turns me off. Reading is difficult because of those big words. I am seldom in a mood to read. I get tired when I read. I have to read material over and over to get something out of it. It’s hard to get interested in reading things which are assigned. I hate to read. I seldom get any new ideas from reading. Reading takes too much concentration.

Comment: I would be surprised if even good and successful readers have not had these same negative comments on reading at some time. I think one thing we can say to reluctant readers is that what they think about reading is true. Changing these attitudes about reading, focusing on what can occur through reading, rather than on the process of reading itself, is what teachers need to emphasize. RayS.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Topic: Reading in the Content Areas

10-second review: Content teachers—teachers of subjects other than reading—must help students learn the special vocabulary of their subjects and the special skills needed to read their subjects successfully. They can begin by showing the students how they, the teachers, study the materials in their subject.

Title: “Reading in the Content areas.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Dechant, pp. 358-376.

Comment: Teachers of content subjects—social studies, science, etc.—cannot be expected to “teach” reading. Teaching reading means learning to find the main ideas, supporting details, inference, etc., directly. However, content teachers can HELP students read their subjects successfully.

1. They can find out what students already know about the topic of the textbook chapter. They can add information to increase background knowledge of the topic. The more students know, the more they can comprehend.

2. Content teachers can introduce key vocabulary from the reading selection, words with which the students are likely to be unfamiliar. Students will then see words they would usually pass over because they don’t know them.

3. Content teacher can have the students survey the chapter—the title, sub-titles, the first sentence of each paragraph and the last paragraph.

4. After this survey, students can formulate questions they will read to answer.

5. After reading and discussing what they have learned, the students can apply what they have learned, often extending their knowledge of the ideas in the chapter by using the Internet to find what is thought about the topic in the world of today. RayS.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Topic: Reading to Learn

10-second review: Learning to read is not an end in itself. Reading must become a tool for learning. All teachers need to teach students how to study; students need to learn how to learn. They need to move from dependence on the teacher to independence in reading.

Title: “Reading in the Learning Process.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Dechant, pp. 326-352.

Comment: A basic study skill is SQ3R, Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. It’s a good example of how students move from a teacher-directed technique for reading to its use independently by students in studying a textbook chapter.

Teacher directed: Teacher directs students in the SURVEY to read the title and speculate about it, to read sub-titles, the first paragraph of the chapter, the first sentence of each succeeding paragraph and the last paragraph. The teacher then provides questions to answer as they READ. (The first paragraph introduces the topic of the chapter, the topic sentences introduce important details and the last paragraph summarizes the chapter.) Students then discuss what they have learned (RECITE) and REVIEW.

Student directed: The student reads the title, reflects on it, reads the first paragraph, the first sentence of each succeeding paragraph and the last paragraph. The student then raises questions to read to answer. RayS.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Topic: Reading and Motivation

10-second review: “Developing the habit of reading: children who will read rather than children who merely can read. Reading proficiency builds reading interest and, in turn, reading interest fosters reading proficiency.” In other words, children learn to read by reading. “We must offer…a ladder of materials that lead him to become a more competent and discriminating reader.”

Title: “Motivation and Reading Interests.” Psychology in Teaching Reading. HP Smith and EV Dechant, pp. 269-295.

Comment: Students have the ideal that they become absorbed in their reading. They want to become lost in their reading. However, they usually start reading on page one and read everything. They soon learn that not all parts of a book are equally interesting. And then they quit. Students need to be shown how to re-connect to the book or chapter or story in order to renew their interest.

1. Preview chapters and magazine articles by reading the title, subtitles, first paragraph, the first sentence of each following paragraph and the last paragraph. This “survey” will raise questions in their minds that they will read to answer what they want to know. They read to answer their questions.

2. Preview nonfiction books by reading the first and last paragraphs of each chapter before they begin to read each chapter. Begin reading the first sentence of each paragraph in Chapter One. When they are “caught,” they keep reading. “Uncaught?” They go back to the first sentence of each paragraph until they are again caught up in their reading.

3. Preview novels. Read for ten minutes near the beginning. Read for ten minutes half-way through the novel. Read for ten minutes three-fourths through. Finally, read for ten-minutes near the end. Questions? Go back and begin reading to answer the questions. Bored? Ready to quit? Read a paragraph a page until they are caught. Uncaught? Go back to a  paragraph a page until they are caught again. And they will be “caught.”

Short Stories. Read a paragraph a page or column to determine whether the story is worth reading in its entirety.

So far as the “ladder” to reading discrimination is concerned, G. Robert Carlsen in Books and the Teen-age Reader recommends children’s literature, young adult books, popular adult books, significant modern literature, and the classics as a hierarchy of levels of reading. He claims that students who have climbed this ladder become successful readers of the classics. RayS.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Topic: Rhetoric Defined

10-second review: “Rhetoric” is one of those slippery terms that can mean almost anything to anybody, so that when authors use the term in professional publications in English, one has to first define its meaning before one can understand the author’s message. It can mean anything from simply communication, to emphasis on purpose and audience to persuasion. The latter is the most agreed-upon meaning.

Source: RayS.

Summary: Rhetoric is most often defined as persuasion and the study of the methods of persuasion. Rhetoric can also refer to those who are pretentious in using language or can refer to someone who uses apparently fine language that doesn’t mean anything.

Comment: The topic came up in my reading the English Journal issue for March 2010, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). This issue of the journal was devoted to teaching nonfiction in secondary classrooms. Several articles used the term “rhetoric” with different meanings,  from emphasis on purpose and audience (“rhetorical reading”) to persuasion (propaganda and critical reading). RayS.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Topic: Why Read Essays?

10-second review: To find out what other human beings think about their experiences.

Title: “Eavesdropping on Contemporary Minds: Why We Need More Essays in Our High School classrooms.” KH Campbell. English Journal (March 2010), 50-54.

Summary: Notes the series of essays published each since 1915, The Best American Essays.

Sue Orlean, editor of The Best American Essays, 2005: “That they [essays] continue to be written and read is enduring proof of that, all indications to the contrary, our voices matter to each other; that we do wonder what goes on inside each other’s heads; that we want to know each other and we want to be known. Nothing is more meaningful—more human, really—than our efforts to tell each other the story of ourselves, of what it’s like to be who we are, to think the things we think, to live the lives we live.”

Comment: I write a blog in which I summarize essays from a variety of sources. RayS.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Topic: "Rhetorical Reading."

10-second review: On analyzing essays: what are the authors’ purposes in writing essays and how do they achieve them? Write a précis.

Title: Teaching Nonfiction Through Rhetorical Reading.” MR Lamb. English Journal (March 2010), 43-49.

Summary: Strategies for reading “rhetorically.” Teach students to annotate. Use stickies if the text belongs to the school. Outline the text. Write their questions. Ask themselves, “What did I already know? What surprised me? What do I agree with? What do I disagree with.” Write a summary of the essay.

Write a précis:
Sentence 1: Name of author, genre and title of the work, date in parentheses; a rhetorically active verb (claims, argues, asserts, defines, explores, or suggests); and a “that” clause containing the major assertions, main idea or thesis statement of the work.

Sentence2: An explanation of how the author develops and supports the thesis (i.e., evidence) usually in chronological order.

Sentence 3: Statement of the author’s apparent purpose.

Sentence 4: Intended audience.

Comment: It’s helpful to give a model of the précis in step-by-step order. Frankly, I’m going to need to try this version of a précis myself. RayS.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Topic: Wrting Sets of Instructions

10-second review: Let students design creative ways to write sets of instructions.

Title: “Poetry, Visual Design, and the How-To Manuals: Creativity In the Teaching of Technical Writing.” KD Welch. English Journal (March 2010), 37-42.

Comment: At the high school level, students could take on the challenge of transforming the fine print on credit card instructions. But it would be fun to take manuals for anything and try to make them more readable. RayS.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Topic: Some Memorable Words about Writing

Topic: Memorable Words about Writing

10-second review:
“The concept of flawlessness masks the rigors of craft.”

“I make them show all their work in math. And hide it on their final drafts.” Taylor Mali, “What Teachers Make.

Title: “Tucking the Pigeons Up Your Sleeve: Ten Personae Teach Our Nonfiction Course.” BS Sunstein. English Journal (March 2010), 13-21,

Comment: “Rewriting is…a constant attempt on my part to make the finished version smooth, to make it seem effortless.” James Thurber in Cowley, ed., Writers at Work.

“The purpose of grammar in writing is to polish expression.” Raymond Stopper. Teaching English, How To…. RayS.