Friday, July 30, 2010

Topic: Change in Blog

For quite a long while, I have been using my blog, “English Updates,” to give my readers a detailed look at the new national standards in English. In exchange, I have been publishing my reviews of recent professional articles on English at this site, “English Archives.” My work with the standards is finished and I am returning “English Updates” to reviewing recent articles. In turn, I will begin searching my archives for interesting articles from the 1990’s and before.

I began reading professional articles during my first year of teaching high school English in 1956. There are any number of interesting articles that still have staying power even from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. These are articles that I don’t think should be lost. Their ideas are still of interest  and useful today. So welcome back to "English Archives."


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Topic: What's Wrong with Writing Tests?

10-second review: They are more like first drafts than finished ;products.

Title: “Supporting Literacy: Teachers Apply Research Findings in the Classroom.” D Aronson. Council Chronicle of the National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE] (September 2009), 20-24.

Quote: R.B. Sipe: “While literacy is a complex topic in which individuals ponder questions, seek out information to find answers, and craft a meaningful essay or other kind of writing, including creating a final draft, writing tests are typically more like first-draft writing using none of the tools students learn. In addition, these tests measure discrete items, like semicolons, whereas many aspects of literacy are integrated and interrelated.”

Comment: Some truth in what Ms. Sipe says. In most writing tests students have limited time to brainstorm or to revise and edit. On the other hand, and in fairness to scorers, they are urged not to overemphasize grammatical errors. But the thoughtful kind of writing to which Ms. Sipe refers and which is required in college writing assignments, will take hours, not 25 minutes, which is all the time allowed by the College Board in its SAT. Another example of a simplistic solution to a complex problem: measuring the skill of writing. RayS.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Topic: An Opinion about National Standards by the NCTE President

10-second review: Kylene Beers, president of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) fulminates against the appearance of national standards in English created by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in collaboration with the College Board, National Governors and ACHIEVE. She is furious that organizations like the NCTE were not consulted in creating these recently published standards.

Title: “The Sound of Silence.” Kylene Beers, NCTE President. Council Chronicle (September 2009), 14-16.

Quote: “I was told that one Board member [of the Texas Board of Education] tossed [my] letter in the trash without even reading it, dismissing me, my credentials and this national organization with a telling remark: ‘I don’t need some teacher telling me what needs to happen in a school. I went to school and I got good grades because my teachers demanded I learn how to diagram sentences. Now teachers don’t even care if students learn to spell.’ ”

Comment: “Make your blood boil? Well, I should say” [cf. The Music Man].  How do you deal with that kind of simplistic statement? Tell him to put in writing. That’s what I did when a woman stood up in a school board meeting and praised the old days of grammar and diagramming sans writing. I was able to demonstrate that her “old-school” training wasn’t very good because her writing was shot full of grammatical errors.

On the other hand, I like these recent national standards in English. I have been providing them for my readers in my blog, “English Updates” []. I’m afraid that the standards produced by the IRA [International Reading Association] and the NCTE when published several years ago were not very well written or organized. Those standards were criticized by the New York Times, ridiculed by the reporter for the way they were expressed. She said something like, “If that’s the way English teachers write, no wonder our students can’t speak or write English.” RayS.

Check out these latest national standards at “CCSSI (Common Core State Standards Initiative) for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science.” March 2010. You will find the standards at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Topic: Goals of the National Day of Writing, October 20, 2009.

10-second review: To show the importance of writing. To encourage writing activities. To encourage teacher training in writing. To increase awareness of rhetorical principles.

Title: “Get Ready for the National Day of Writing.” L. Collier. Council Chronicle (for the National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE] (September 2009), 6 – 9.

Goals of the National Day of Writing
.To show the importance and pervasiveness of writing in almost every American’s daily life.”Supporting the notion that writing is a quintessential 21st century skill.”

.To fuel more writing and writing activities.

.To foster support for teacher training in writing practices.

.To increase awareness of rhetorical principles central to writing. Application to include a writing sample involves a section on why the writing is important to the student and the purpose and audience for the writing. Teachers will be able to pull writing examples from different sections of the country to share with their students and find examples of workplace writing.

Comment: Sorry this was so late. But there will be other Days of Writing, including in your own districts. The idea is worth thinking about. By the way, I haven’t seen any results of this past National Day of Writing. I’ll start looking for them. Rays.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Topic: Tips on How to Enclourage Your Children's Reading

10-second review: Primary-grade book activities. Independent Reader Activities. Develop a desire to be a lifelong reader.

Title: “Tips for Parents, Primary Caregivers and Educators.” IRA/CBC Liaison Committee. J LaBounty and J Reynolds. Reading Teacher (October 2009), G-15 and G-16.

Primary-Grade Book Activities
.Continue to spend time reading with the child; set aside a specific time and place.

.Become aware of the interests of your children.

.Encourage children to share books read in school with parents and caregivers at home. Parents and caregivers should encourage children to share books they read at home with their teachers and schoolmates.

Independent Reading Activities
.Challenge readers to compare and contrast books.

.Encourage children to read books related to careers.

.Seek a balance between school book activities, home and school reading activities and familiarity with newspapers, magazines that address contemporary social, cultural and civic issues.

Develop the Desire to Be a Lifelong Reader
.Have students bring what is read to bear on what is viewed on film, television and computers.

.Relate what is read to the solution of problems.

Comment: Why do I feel that we are losing the battle to maintain a significant portion of time devoted to reading in our society? RayS.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Topic: Tips on How to Enclourage Young Children's Reading

10-second review: Beginning reading[level activities.

Title: “Tips for Parents, Primary Caregivers, and Educators.” IRA/CBC Liaison Committee, J LaBonty and J Reynolds. Reading Teacher (October 2009), G-14 – G-16.

Beginning Reading-Level Activities
Note: Children at this level should be encouraged to browse through books and pretend to read the story—an initial step toward becoming an independent reader. Children may tell the story to themselves or attempt to read frequently highlighted words.

.Read the story as the child points to the pictures on each page.

.Let the child pretend to read the story as the adult points to the pictures.

.Read alternate pages, ask each other questions, and discuss the story. The adult models what he or she thinks of when reading the page so the child gets a variety of perspectives on the ways words have different meanings.

.Use computer programs to expand a child’s interest in specific topics.

Next:  Primary-Grade Book Activities. Independent Reader Activities. Develop the Desire to Be a Lifelong Reader.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Topic: Tips on How to Enclourage Young Children's Reading

10-second review: Tips on initial book activities.

Title: “Tips for Parents, Primary Caregivers and Educators.” IRA/CBC Liaison Committee, JL LaBonty and J Reynolds. Reading Teacher (October 2009), G-15-G-16.

Initial Book Activities
.Set aside a regular time and place for books so that reading books becomes as natural as eating and sleeping.

.Browse through books to help the child  become familiar with books and how they are handled.

.Read the story while the child points to the pictures. Adults and child can repeat interesting sounds, repetitive word patterns and distinctive word features.

.Have the child tell the story using the illustrations while the adult reinforces the telling. The two can predict outcomes, discuss how the characters feel. And relate the events to their own experiences.

.Read the book to the child. Re-tell the story together and talk about the characters, setting, plot and life experiences.

.Make regular trips to the library and attend story telling sessions. Visit book stores together to begin a personal library for a child.

Next: Beginning reading-level activities.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Topic: Children's Choices in Recommended Books, 2009 (2)

10-second review: Brief descriptions of books recommended for grades K-2.

Title: “Children’s Choices, 2009.” Reading Teacher (October 2009), G-2—G-5.

Sort It Out! Barbara Mariconda. Sherry Rogers. Mount Pleasant, SC: Sylvan Dell Publishing. Packy the Pack Rat needs to sort out his large collection. Models categorizing.

Those Darn Squirrels! Adam Rubin. Daniel Salmieri. New York: Clarion Books. Children are mesmerized and laugh out loud at the antics these contriving squirrels go through to reach birdfeeders.

‘Twas the Day Before Zoo Day. Catherine Ipcizade. Ben Hodson. Mount Pleasant, SC: Sylvan Dell Publishing. Clever adaptation of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; all the animals are preparing for Zoo Day.

Twenty-Six Princesses. Dave Horowitz. New York: GP Putnam’s Sons. Rhyming alphabet book.

The Way Back Home. Oliver Jeffers. New York: Philomel Books. One boy and one alien both crash land on the moon. A friendship begins as they figure out ways to get back to their homelands.

We’re Going on a Lion Hunt. Margery Cuyler. Joe Mathieu. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Teacher takes kids on an imaginary safari.

What a Trip! Arthur Yorinks. Richard Egielski. New York: Michael di Capua Books. As Mel is walking, he trips and lands in another dimension where everything is pointy.

What Does Mrs. Claus Do? Kate Wharton. Christian Slade. New York: Tricycle Press. Ever wonder what Mrs. Claus does while Santa is away on Christmas Eve?

Who Ate All the Cookie Dough? Karen Beaumont. Eugene Yelchin. New York: Henry Holt. Rhyming, repetitive text makes this book an instant favorite among young readers.

Note: This list of books recommended for children in grades K-2 is typical of lists that appear regularly in journals of the IRA and NCTE for all elementary grades and middle school children. These journals help to keep adult readers up to date on recently published books. However, I have learned not to buy books that appear interesting in these lists without reading them first. Check the library for new additions and read them yourselves before reading them to young children or having older children read them by themselves. What sounds interesting might not be. RayS.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Topic: Children's Choices in Recommended Books, 2009 (1)

10-second review: Brief descriptions of books recommended for grades K-2.

Title: “Children’s Choices, 2009.” Reading Teacher (October 2009), G-2—G-5.

Bandit. Karen Rostoker-Gruber, Vincent Nguyen. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Moving can be stressful for anyone, but Bandit the family cat is totally confused.

Bats at the Library. Brian Lies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Cottonball Colin. Jeanne Willis. Tony Ross. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Colin, the smallest mouse child in the family, is not allowed to go outside to explore.

Doctor Meow’s Big Emergency. Sam Lloyd. New York: Henry Holt. Dr. Meow, who works at Kiss-It-Better Hospital, is a busy feline doctor.

Don’t Worry Bear. Greg Foley. New York: Viking Children’s Books. Friendship between a bear and a caterpillar.

The Donut Chef. Bob Staake. New York: Golden Books. A creative donut chef tries to outbake his new neighbor.

Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody. Michael Rex. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Parody of a classic tale familiar to many children. A naughty goon is sent to sleep under the bed.

I’m the Best Artist in the Ocean. Kevin Sherry. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. Beautifully illustrated.

Katie Loves the Kittens. John Himmelman. New York: Henry Holt. Katie is a dog and she gets into trouble as she howls and chases the kittens, but she lets them sleep on her.

A Kitten Tale. Eric Rohmann. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. This is the story of kittens discovering snow for the first time.

Maybe a Bear Ate It! Robie H. Harris. Michael Emberley. London: Orchard Books. Imagine you’ve lost your favorite book and then discover that a bear ate it.

No Hugs Till Saturday. Julie Downing. New York: Clarion Books. Felix the dragon is reprimanded by his mama for misbehaving. He is determined to give her no hugs for a week.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy. Mo Willems. New York: Disney Book Group. When a puppy arrives, he changes his mind and asks for a walrus.

Princess Baby. Karen Katz. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books. This baby wants to be called “Princess Baby.”

Red Truck. Kerstin Hamilton. Valeria Petrone. New York: Viking Children’s Books. Red truck saves the day when a school bus full of children spins out and is unable to climb the hill. Like The Little Engine That Could.

Sally and the Purple Socks. Lisze Bechtold. New York: Philomel Books. Sally has ordered a pair of purple socks.

The Sandman. Ralph Fletcher. Richard Cowdrey. New York: Henry Holt. Reveals who the Sandman is and what is sprinkled into your eyes to help you sleep. Fantasy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Topic: Historical Fiction (2).

10-second review: Brief reviews of recent historical fiction in children’s literature paired with nonfiction texts.

Title: “The Return of Historical Fiction.” MT Rycik and B Rosler. Reading Teacher (October 2009), 163-166. Topics include the values of using historical fiction. Responding to historical fiction with modern technology. The importance of historical fiction.

List of Recent Historical Fiction in Children’s Literature.
Good Masterl, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village Schlitz, 2008. Medieval England. 22 monologues describing life in an English village ranging from a lowly milkmaid to the son of a Lord. Nonfiction: Life in a Medieval Village. Gies, 1991.

Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859. Avi, 2008. A young boy runs away from home, heads west to find gold and saves his family from ruin. Nonfiction: Gold Fever! Tales from the California God Rush. Schnazer, 2007.

Day of Tears. Lester, 2005. The author writes in dialogue to recreate an account of the largest slave auction in history. Nonfiction: Slavery in America. Schneider and Schneider, 2006.

Out of the Dust. Hesse, 1997. Great Depression. A young girl endures dust storms and family tragedies in the Oklahoma dust bowl. Nonfiction: Children of the Great Depression. Freedman, 2005.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. Civil Rights Movement. A family travels to Birmingham and witnesses a tragic event in Civil Rights history. Nonfiction: Witnesses to Freedom: Young People Who Fought for Civil Rights. Rochelle, 1997.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. Campestine, 2007. 1972 China. The daughter of two doctors experiences oppressive changes in her life during the Chinese Revolution. Nonfiction: The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A History. Clark, 2008. 

Comment: I know you don't need to be told this, but NEVER suggest one of these books unless you have read it first. RayS.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Topic: Historical Fiction (1)

10-second review: Brief reviews of recent historical fiction in children’s literature paired with nonfiction texts.

Title: “The Return of Historical Fiction.” MT Rycik and B Rosler. Reading Teacher (October 2009), 163-166. Topics include the values of using historical fiction. Responding to historical fiction with modern technology. The importance of historical fiction.

List of Recent Historical Fiction in Children’s Literature.
Pilgrim Cat. Peacock, 2004. Colonial America. Cat and a young Pilgrim girl on the Mayflower. Both begin their lives in the :Plymouth settlement. Nonfiction: Life in Colonial America. Copeland, 2002.

The Blue and the Gray. Bunting, 1996. Flashback to the U.S. Civil War. Nonfiction: For Home and Country: A Civil War Scrapbook. Bolotin and Herb, 1995.

Grandfather’s Journey. Say, 1993. Emigration from Japan to America. Nonfiction: Ellis Island. Lauday, 2008).

Across the Blue Pacific. Borden, 2006. Flashback to World War II. Nonfiction: World war II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities. Panchyk, 2002.

The Cats n Krasinski Square. Hesse, 2004. Warsaw, Poland, 1942. A young girl and her friends devise an ingenious plan to smuggle food into a Jewish ghetto. Nonfiction: Ten thousand Children. Fox and Abraham-Podietz, 1999,

Players in Pigtails. Corey, 2003. 1940’s America. A girl tries out for a female professional baseball team.  Nonfiction: A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League,  Macy, 1995.

Brothers in Hope: The “Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Williams, 2005. 1980s Sudan. During the Sudanese Civil War, refugees are forced to walk more than 1,000 miles to safety. Nonfiction: Sudan in Pictures. DePiazza, 2006.

Comment: One of the values of reading professional journals consists in keeping up to date with children’s books that might be of interest. RayS.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Topic: Recommendations from a struggling Male Reader

10-second review: Five recommendations from the struggling student’s point of view as retold by his teacher.

Title: “How to Maintain School Reading Success: Five Recommendations from a Struggling Male reader.” S Jenkins. Reading Teacher (October 2009), 159 -163.

Recommendation #1: Adult teamwork. Quote: “Above all else, Derek’s suggestions reveal the importance of teachers, after-school staff, reading specialists , tutors, students and parents working together as a team…a united front….”

Recommendation #2: Build on the student’s past successes.

Recommendation #3: Connect book reading to my world.

Recommendation #4: Allow me to help select books, topics and activities.

Recommendation #5: Provide me with a variety of texts on a single topic.

Comment: I think the most significant recommendation is the first. But if you haven’ tried the other four, try them.

The Directed Reading Activity (DRA) should be especially valuable for Recommendation #3: 1. Build background information (prior knowledge); the more you know about a topic the better you will comprehend it. 2. Pre-teach unfamiliar vocabulary. 3. Survey by reading title, headings, pictures, diagrams, tables; read the first paragraph, first sentence of each paragraph and the last paragraph. 4. Set purpose by raising questions you will read to answer. 5. Discuss answers to the question raised by the students. 6. Apply what you have learned in some way—use the Internet to find related information. RayS.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Topic: Fluency and Vocabulary

10-second review: Timed repeated reading of poems for increased fluency and intensive vocabulary study provide rapid recognition of words.

Title: “Intensive Word Study and Repeated Reading Improves Reading Skills for Two Students with Learning Disabilities.” DH Staudt. Reading Teacher (October 2009), 142-151.

Aspects of Word Study
Words with multiple meanings: create a word web with separate areas for each meaning.

Words that function as more than one part of speech: draw a ;picture of the words, demonstrating each part of speech.

Words that have a prefix, suffix and/or a root: list other words with the same prefixes, suffixes and roots.

Words that show similarity or contrast: link adjectives to nouns, like knobby knees and knobby trees.

Words with degrees of difference: make a continuum of words that demonstrate shades of meaning.

Words that function figuratively: compare literal and figurative meanings.

Comment: Preparing for this level of vocabulary study will not be easy, but these activities demonstrate what the author means by intensive vocabulary study. RayS.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Topic: Teaching Comprehension.

10-second review: Assessing comprehension through asking questions about what students have read is not the same thing as teaching comprehension through instruction in comprehension strategies. Here’s an example of one comprehension strategy for young (1st- through 4th-graders) elementary students when reading information texts.

Title: “Reciprocal Teaching for the Primary Grades: ‘We Can Do It, Too!’ ” Reading Teacher (October 2009), 120-129.

Steps in the Strategy
Picture walk: Look at the title, pictures, headings, graphs and diagrams in the text.

Prediction: A smart guess about what the text is about.

Set purpose: Why we want to read the text. What we are trying to find out.

Clarify: Look for words that are hard to read or that we don’t understand.

Ask questions: Ask questions about things that happened in the text.

Visualize: Draw a ;picture of the most important part of the text.

Summarize: Telling what the text is about in a shorter way.

Comment: Sure sounds like SQ3R and the Directed Reading Assignment to me. So what? It works. RayS. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Topic: Action Research

10-second review: Recently, in this era of No Child Left Behind, teachers have had to guide their activities by the validated recognized research of others. It is time to reinstitute action research, the research performed by classroom teachers with their own students.

Title: “Are We Producers or Consumers?” C Gilles. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 54.

Quote: “It is time that, as a profession, we start listening again to the voices of the teachers who work with students day in and day out. It is time that teachers begin to produce the research that drives our practice instead of just consuming the research of others.”

Comment: One of my bigger omissions as a K-12 English supervisor, was my failure to emphasize action research. RayS. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Topic: Statistics on Students' Writing

10-second review: From a study entitled Writing, Technology and Teens from the National Commission on Writing and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Title: “I Hear America Writing: NCTE’s National Day on Writing.” Sandy Hayes. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), pp. 46-47.

What encourages teens to write? Topics relevant to their own lives and experiences. When teachers and adults challenge them. When detailed feedback on their work is provided. Having an audience for their work.

Outside of school, in what format do students write? 64% in a journal. 32% short writing. 35% write creatively. 16% audio, video or use presentation software. 8% essays.

For the National Day of Writing, what could students write? Interviews. Reviews of books, movies, video games. Sports-related pieces. Blogs. Personal essays. The first chapters of novels.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Topic: Examples of Service-Learning Projects

10-second review: A list of service-learning projects. The key is to learn communication skills while engaged in service-learning. The author provides a planning guide and some disappointing suggestions for useful skills to be learned during the projects. I suggest that readers note the types of projects and brainstorm their own list of suggested academic skills.

Title: “Service-Learning: Using the Language Arts to Make a Difference.” Nancy Shenkin. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 41-43.

List of suggested service-learning projects:

.Collect food and deliver it to a shelter.

.Prepare a meal or make blankets for a shelter.

.Gather coats or toys for those in need.

.Raise donations and plant a garden or trees.

.Start a recycling or other green project.

.Start a paperback book swap for the whole school, including parents.

.Read to write to, or perform for people in a nursing home.

.Read or write with younger children.

.Help younger children to publish their own texts and learn to read them.

.Write letters to soldiers and gather care packages.

.Sponsor an event (run/walk, talent show, poetry slam, reading….) and donate the money for _______,

Comment: I still believe careful thought needs to be given to planning the service-learning project and the skills to be learned in performing the service-learning project. You need two sets of goals—for the academic skills and for the service-learning project. RayS.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Topic: Essential Role of Teachers

10-second review: Put into the hands of each child one good book—and that child will become a reader.

Title: “Mission Possible.” P. Kittle. Voices from the Middle (September 2009), 39-40.

Quote: Nancie Atwell (2007) said: “For students of every ability and background, it’s the simple miraculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it’s the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child’s hands.”

Comment: How you help students find that one good book differs. Almost no one would agree with how it happened to me. When I was a junior in high school, I was practically a non-reader. My father was a Joseph Conrad fan and one afternoon when I had nothing to do, he sat me down and said, “Read this book. All the way through. I insist.” The book was Lord Jim, the story of a coward turned into a courageous human being. I struggled with it. It took me several days, but I read it all the way through and I became a reader because that book became an experience that made me think. RayS.