Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Topic: Planning a Service-Learning Project

10-second review: Step-by-step model of how to plan a service-learning project.

Title: “Making the Switch: Light Bulbs, Literacy and Service-Learning.” LA Chiaravalleti. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 24-33.

Steps in planning a service-learning project:
.Choose a “do-able” project (start small).

.Generate school/community support for the project before the kids become invested.

.Establish clear goals for academic and social/emotional growth, as well as project outcomes.

.Plan ahead; adjust your schedule to accommodate your project.

.Establish a sense of purpose for the students (let them ‘own’ the project).

.Team up with other teachers if possible.

.Build in common planning time to reflect, regroup and plan the next steps.

.Get parents involved: send home a letter listing your needs.

.Make media contacts early and often.

.Plan to get the students into the community as much as possible.

Comment: As you can see, if you reflect in each of these planning steps, this is no slap-dash, feel-good activity. It will take a lot of work. RayS.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Topic: Why Service-Learning?

10-second review: Service-learning is one method of applying skills learned in school.

Title: “Making the Switch: Light Bulbs, Literacy and Service-Learning.” LA Chiaravalleti. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 24-33.

Quote: “In today’s standards-based reform climate, with its heightened expectations and narrow focus on standardized test scores, how can middle-level educators continue to help students see school as meaningful?”

Quote: “When curricular units are built upon the concepts of service-learning, educators demonstrate to students the power of knowledge and literacy by having them apply their skills to effect changes in their community. No longer are reading, writing and math just things students do at school while being told they will need these skills ‘some day.’ With service-learning, ‘someday’ is now, and the skills are immediately applied to real-life problems.”

Comment: Need to emphasize the academic skills to be learned along with the goals of the service-learning project. RayS.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Topic: Service Learning

10-second review: The biggest problem facing those who want to use service-learning as a link to academic learning is making and understanding that link.

Title: “Schoolwide Literacy and Service-Learning through the Millennium Development Goals.” A Wall and TS Edmunds. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 16-23.

Quote: “This past year was our first experience explicitly linking service-learning to any type of academic learning, so we have much reflection and work ahead of us. Some of the continuing challenges we face include integrating service-learning and literacy even more richly, developing students’ increased ability to understand and articulate the links and creating space and time to allow students to bring more of their service-learning projects to fruition.”

Comment: What precipitated this understanding of the links to academic learning was a student’s remark that in preparing the dining room for the diners, she could have done the same thing at home. Why here?

The academic connections to experiences in service-learning would appear to be rich, especially in writing—and especially in analyzing the situations and reflecting on the experiences and the people involved. RayS.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Topic: Service Learning

10-second review: Service-learning is academic learning applied to community service.

Title: “Tipping the Tipping Point: Public Engagement, Education and Service-Learning.” C Glickman and K Thompson. Voices in the Middle (September 2009), 9-15.

Quote: “Service-learning, an approach to and philosophy of teaching and learning that encourages meaningful connections between school curriculum and community issues, has been years in the making. For decades, dedicated educators in schools and universities have provided opportunities for their students to apply their academic learning in ways that improve their local communities. These educators know that students are more engaged in academic studies when their learning is for a real purpose, not just a contrived classroom simulation or an end-of-unit test. Service-learning makes curriculum relevant to young adolescents and helps them answer their frequently asked question, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ ”

Comment: I think the skills need to be learned in a coherent program and taught in the context of how they will be used in the service-learning project before being applied in the project. Otherwise they are being learned in a fragmented manner and, therefore, might not be learned at all. RayS.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Topic: Discipline

10-second review: A different view of discipline—not punishment, but controlled action.

Title: “Discipline or Punish? Some Suggestions for School Policy and Teacher Practice.” KW Yang. Language Arts (September 2009), 49-61.

Quote: Freire (1998, p. 86): “Discipline is a necessary condition for effective action in the social world. ‘True discipline does not exist in the muteness of those who have been silenced, but in the stirrings of those who have been challenged, in the doubt of those who have been prodded, and in the hopes of those who have been awakened.’ ”

Comment: Something to think about. RayS.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Topic: Critiquing Someone Else's Writing

10-second review: Some suggestions on how to tactfully criticize someone else’s writing.

Title: “The Art of the Critique.” M. Faith. The Writer (November 2009), 36-37.

Summary: Three of these five suggestions for criticizing seem promising. First, read the person’s work and then re-read and re-read it again. You will see things in it that you might have missed on your first reading. Second, follow the praise/ Suggestion/ Praise model. Critics of writing frequently begin with praise and then leave a bad taste by ending with “suggestions.” End with praise again. Third, remember comments that didn’t help when your teachers commented on your writing.

Comment: Ever had someone read your piece of writing and the only comment was about some misspelling, completely disregarding your ideas that you worked so hard to shape? Infuriate you? It’s happened to me. You might ask the writers who want your opinion what they are looking for. If they mention grammar or spelling, then offer the advice, If they don’t feel they need advice on grammar, then don’t mention it. They may consider what you are reading a work in progress.

You need to give careful thought to what you say when someone asks for a critique. The deadliest question about writing is “What do you think?” RayS.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Topic: Ending a Story or Article

Ten-second review: Put as much emphasis on your ending as on your beginning.

Title: “Telling a REAL story.” Kelly James-Enger. The Writer (November 2009), 26-27.

Quote: “When it comes to ending the story, use as much care as you do in writing the lead. Don’t just stop. Look for a twist, insight or quote to show how this experience changed the person…. That will give your story—and your readers—a sense of resolution.”

Comment: Just a reminder. There were many problems with the book that I self-published—Teaching English, How To….—one of which was that I did not pay the same attention to the endings of my chapters that I gave to their beginnings. RayS.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Topic: Word Counts and Publication

10-second review: A fact of life is the necessity to use the required numbers of words when you publish. Word counts force you to cut or expand. If you are using Word, click on “word count” under the Tools menu.

Title: “Word Counts” Blessing in Disguise.” Stephanie Dickinson. The Writer (November 2009), 10.

Comment: Preparation for publishing. Estimate the number of words your piece should include. Use copies of the magazine or journal to estimate the expected length of its articles. Word counts should help to shape your article. RayS.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Topic: Internet Aids to Writing

Topic: Internet Aids to Writing

10-second review: Two programs that break writing a novel into manageable parts.

Title: “Writing Applications Could Help You Reach Your NaNoWriMo Goals.” Susan Johnston. The Writer (November 2009), 10, 12.

Summary: NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation for writing a novel in thirty days. It takes place in November The abbreviation stands for National Novel Writing Month. Two of the suggested Web sites to aid in writing a novel are Write or Die ( ) and Blovel Spot (

Write or Die lets you set a word or time goal and you have to write or it starts to delete characters if you stop writing for too long a period. Blovel Spot (Blognovel) lets you write blog-like blogs, one chapter a blog. They are published online and people can read them and respond to your work in progress.

Comment: Both Web sites force you to write. So get up and write. RayS.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Topic: Timelines in Writing Fiction

10-second review: Timelines in preparing to write a work of fiction.

Title: “Timelines Help You Develop Plot and Character.” Nancy J. Sanders. The Writer (November 2009), 8.

Quote: “First I draw a blank timeline on a piece of typing paper and divide it into about a dozen equal segments. Then I photocopy this.”

Quote: “I make a separate copy of the timeline for each of the main characters and track how they are changing from beginning to end of the story.”

Quote: “I make a separate copy of the timeline for historic events that happened either locally or worldwide during the era my story takes place.”

Comment: One of my inadequacies as an English teacher was in creative writing. The Writer is a magazine by writers for writers. Each month it is a handbook full of techniques for writing fiction—and all other genres. I wish I had known about this publication when I was an English teacher. It could have filled in one of the gaps in my curriculum. RayS.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Topic: On setting in Writing Stories

10-second review: “Stories that lack ‘a sense of place’…seldom advance from the depths of the slush pile. In contrast, stories with a strong sense of place do.” Philip Martin.

Title: “A Place to Remember.” Jeff Reich, editor. The Writer (November 2009), 6.

Comment: And a sense of place is equally important in films. Vincente Minnelli was a master at it. RayS.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Topic: High School and College Continuum in Writing

10-second review: Suggests that the problem with writing at these two levels is that they need to agree on a continuum in writing and the authors think that that continuum is in teaching argumentative writing.

Title: “An Immodest Proposal for Connecting High School and College.” Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein-Graff. College Composition and Communication (May 2009), p. 289.

Comment: I had to go to the Internet address,, “The Extended CCC,” in order to complete the idea from this title/author/first paragraph truncated “hybrid” version of the article. It worked, The complete article is available to both members of the NCTE and non-members. But make sure, whether you use the author or the title, to spell it correctly when you search. RayS.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Topic: Undergraduate Research in College Writing Programs

10-second review: Focuses freshman college writing programs on research.

Title: “The Student Scholar: (Re)Negotiating Authorship and Authority.” L. Grobman. College Composition and Communication (May 2009), 178.

Comment: Another truncated article to be found on the Internet at:, “The Extended CCC.” Again I thought the idea was interesting.

By the way, one advantage of these title/author/first paragraph entries is not to have to read it if you don’t want to, The writers had better well do as we tell our students to do—attract the reader into wanting to read it—or it won’t be read. RayS.