Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Topic: The Vocabulary of Mathematics (continued)

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: The vocabulary students need to know in order to solve the following math problem: “Find four consecutive odd integers when the first, second and third integers minus the fourth equal 26.”

Title: “Teaching the Vocabulary of Mathematics Through Interaction, Exposure and Structure.” AB Pachtman and JD Riley. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 240-252.

How to deal with students’ vocabulary needs in solving math word problems

.Select problems to be taught which represent the mathematical concepts you wish students to learn.

.Identify and list the vocabulary contained in the word problems that students need to know in order to read, and solve the problem: consecutive, odd, integers, equals, exceeds, adds, find, change, results, multiplying, compute, total, greater than, solve, product.

.Add to the list mathematical concepts implicit in the problem but which are not directly represented by vocabulary terms: properties, commutative, associative, distributive, operations, addition, multiplication, substituting, equivalent.

.Arrange the words in a diagram or structured overview which depicts the relationship among these terms:

Odd, consecutive, even

Commutative, associative, distributive

Addition: sum, add, greater than --total, more, compute
Multiplication: result, change, substitution, solve, equivalent, equal-- product, times, multiply

Comment: I confess I do not understand the language as a math teacher would. RayS.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Topic: The Vocabulary of Mathematics

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: Four types of vocabulary found in math problems.

Title: “Teaching the Vocabulary of Mathematics Through Interaction, Exposure and Structure.” AB Pachtman and JD Riley. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 240-244.

The Four Types of Vocabulary in Math
Quote: “Generally, in word problems students are asked to cope with four types of terminology: technical vocabulary, symbols, everyday vocabulary used in a mathematics context and general vocabulary.”

Example of a Math Problem and Its Vocabulary
“Find four consecutive odd integers when the first, second and third integers minus the fourth equal 26.”

Quote: “In this problem, some words have a general usage, such as ‘find’ and ‘equal.’ The meanings of the words are modified by the mathematical context. ‘Find’ implies that some mathematical operation is to be performed and that there is some solution to be determined. ‘Equal’ implies that there are two equivalent numerical quantities that must be found before the solution can be determined. ‘Odd’ implies not divisible by two.”

“There are also words that have meanings specific to mathematics, such as ‘integers’ and ‘consecutive.’ Compounding the difficulty of understanding such words is that no clearly identifiable context exists to give a clue to their meanings. The student merely reads these terms and is immediately expected to apply their meaning s in solving the problem.”

“To further complicate the problem solving process, there are mathematical concepts implied in the problem. Terms such as properties, commutation, association, operations, addition, multiplication, associative, and distributive are inherent in the problem and yet do not appear. Somehow, students are expected to know these terms and the concepts associated with them.”

Comment: No wonder I became an English major. RayS.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Topic: Purpose in Reading (continued)

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: How I learned that I did not have to read every sentence from first page to last page.

This excerpt is taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper, Xlibris, July 2004, pp. 325-328.

[The situation: I had let a book go unread until the day before I was supposed to make a report on it. I almost decided not to make the report, but then I tried an experiment in reading.]

I opened the book and read the foreword. In a page and a half, the author summarized exactly what she was going to say in the book. I was surprised at how much I learned about her point of view from only a page and a half. Since my assignment was to summarize the author’s point of view toward Johnson’s writing and to respond to that point of view, I thought to myself that I could almost write the paper with just the information from the foreword.

Then another thought struck me. I was teaching my students to introduce their topics in opening paragraphs and to summarize in closing paragraphs—wouldn’t professional writers do the same? I decided to read the opening and closing paragraphs of each chapter. As I did so, I began to realize that some chapters were more important than others, and I was learning about her supporting arguments. With some of those arguments, I needed more detail. Remembering that I taught students to begin paragraphs with topic sentences, I took the first “important” chapter and read just the first sentence of each paragraph, looking for the details of her main arguments.

I was becoming excited. In a relatively short time I was feeling confident that I knew the author’s argument. Since all I had to do in the speech was to give the major points of her arguments and then respond to them, I already felt that I knew almost enough to begin writing my speech. I quickly read the first sentences of paragraphs in the remaining three or four “important” chapters, and began to write.

Within an hour I was finished. The paper did not have to be typed until a later date. I had summarized the critic’s argument and then I had responded, somewhat sarcastically, to her point of view about Samuel Johnson. It was 11:00 p.m., and I was soon in bed, feeling wonderfully confident that I had accomplished what the instructor wanted from a review of this piece of literary criticism.

I still had a feeling of confidence when I moved behind the desk on the dais in that classroom at the university the next afternoon. I read my speech. I gave the author’s point of view in some detail, and then I launched into an attack on that point of view. You see, Samuel Johnson was one of my favorite authors, and I did not like at all the critic’s opinions of his writing and ideas.

Finished speaking, I stood, but was stunned when the entire class began to clap. The instructor, his face in a broad grin, said, “Mr. Stopper, that was an exquisite speech.” I almost sat down again, in complete disbelief. One thought kept running through my mind: “But I didn’t read the book.”

Of course I had read the book—enough to achieve my purpose. The book was not worth reading cover to cover. It was not a masterpiece of criticism of the work of Dr. Johnson. I read what I needed to read, found the gist of the author’s argument, and completed the task of responding to it. That’s what the professor wanted and that’s what I accomplished. I learned for the first time that all books do not have to be read from cover to cover and to do so could be a monumental waste of time. I now understood Francis Bacon’s advice about reading: “Some books are to be tasted….”

Maybe all of your students know not to try to read everything from cover to cover. Maybe some of them are like me, thinking I needed to read everything. Telling them about how you read could make them real scholars. RayS.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Topic: Purpose in Reading

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: How I learned that I did not have to read every sentence from first page to last page.

This excerpt is taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…. By Raymond Stopper, Xlibris, July 2004, pp. 325-328.

In my first year of teaching, a dramatic example of the power of setting purpose for reading changed forever the way I read for information. Suddenly, I understood the meaning of Bacon’s 1625 advice that some books need to be read only in parts. At no time in my schooling, from first grade through college, had anyone ever suggested that “you don’t have to read everything.” I almost always read as if I had to read every word from beginning to end, and the only alternative, I thought I had, was, frankly, to decide not to read long assignments at all.

My first year of teaching English was very busy, I needed time to plan my lessons, to mark tests and compositions, and to find interesting ways to teach difficult subjects like writing and grammar. In addition, all teachers were required to oversee an extracurricular activity and, in the spring, I became co-director of the Junior class play. Still, in addition to the duties associated with teaching, I picked this particular spring to enroll in a master’s degree program in English. One afternoon a week, I had to drive many miles down to the university, which was just outside Philadelphia, to attend a class, and then turn around and drive back again to southern Lancaster County to be in time for play practice, usually held in the evening after supper.

The course in which I was enrolled was called The Life of Johnson, Dr. Samuel, that is. In addition to the texts of Johnson’s poetry and essays and Boswell’s biography, the instructor required that we read one book of criticism of Johnson and to report on it in class.

With everything else I had to do, that book went on the shelf. Occasionally, I looked at it and said to myself,” I really need to get to it or I’m going to be in trouble.” But I didn’t “get to it.” Weeks passed, then months, and, suddenly, it was the day before I was scheduled to report on that book in my graduate class. I was desperate. I had not even cracked the cover.

After play practice that evening, I came back to my room, took down the book and thought about what I could do. I was tired. I had just completed a full day of teaching and play directing, faced the same prospect tomorrow and with no break, needed to drive down to the university immediately after school for my class on Dr. Johnson. And this time I needed to report on a book I had not read.

At first, I thought about calling the professor and telling him I was sick. “No,” I decided, “that’s ‘bush league.’ He’d see through that excuse in a minute. This is not an undergraduate course,” I told myself.  “This is a graduate course. Faking illness on a day when an assignment was due would be a bad strategy in the first course of my master’s degree program.”

Finally, I decided to spend two hours learning as much as I could about the book, taking another two hours to write my speech, and then, regardless of how good or bad it was, to take my chances. It would be late, but I needed to have some sleep before trying to teach the next day. l was no longer capable of pulling “all-nighters.” I would allow myself four hours to do what I could. Not a second more. I planned to be in bed at 1:00 a.m., no later.

To be continued.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Topic: Reading in the High School

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: Reasons for teaching reading in the high school.

Title: “Toward a Realistic Rationale for Teaching Reading in Secondary School.” W.S. Palmer. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 236-239.

Summary: The one reason that stands out for me is the following idea: “Textbooks too difficult for many students to comprehend serve as the principal source of school learning.”

Comment: The Directed Reading Assignment (DRS) is designed to help students deal with difficult-to-read material. In the Search feature at the top of this blog, type DRA and you will find an explanation of the Directed Reading assignment (DRA) in one of my previous blogs.

I think there is an even more important reason to discuss reading in the high school with your students. You just might help them become more efficient readers. All my life I read everything, from the first sentence and page to the last sentence and last page. No one ever told me I did not have to read everything from the first sentence and first page to the last sentence and last page. And the results of my forcing myself to plow through every page of every chapter in every book, was that I often yawned and quit reading altogether.

And then I discovered Francis Bacon’s famous advice published in 1625 that I paraphrase: Some books are to be tasted, or read in parts; some books that don’t take much effort can be read rapidly and all at once. Some few books must be read slowly and carefully all the way through from first sentence and first page to the last sentence and last page. [Italics mine RayS.]

It was not until I was in graduate school that I learned the truth of Bacon’s advice. I will tell you about what happened in my next blog. It changed the way I read forever.

To be continued.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Topic: Community College

10-second review: Defines the purpose for a community college

Title: “A Community College Reading and Study Skills Program: What Is It? What Does It Do?” H Aron. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 231-235.

Quote: “The American Community College was designed to provide an opportunity for higher education for all persons without regard to their previous educational achievement, social class, religion, race, ethnicity or age.”

Comment: I taught writing in a community college for three and one-half years. I’m no expert. The students varied. Young people who had partied too often at a four-year college which had accepted them and they failed were especially prominent in September, trying to start over again. Another type of student was the older person—women whose fathers did not think they were worth a college education and now, after raising their children, wanting to gain the education they had missed; men who wanted to change careers;  people in the professions like police officers, who wanted a degree. Still another type of community college student was the young person who wanted to save money at the relatively inexpensive two-year college and then to transfer to a four-year college. The most heart-rending community college students was the learning disabled student.

All of these students had different needs, but they all needed to be encouraged. They needed a teacher who did not give up on them. RayS.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Topic: A Problem with Reading

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: No one reads.

Title: “An Approach to Teaching Oral Reading to Eighth Graders. JM Romjue. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 221-223.

The Problem:
“Western society seems to be moving away from private reading both as entertainment and as a source of information. Instead, people now turn to movies and television for entertainment and to computerized sources of information, requiring little more than pushing a button. In the face of such attractive, effortless competition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to motivate young people to read.”

Comment: The author frames the question well. How do we motivate kids to read again? Only she doesn’t answer that question. She, instead, writes about an oral reading activity. What is an answer, any answer, to this question that grows more important every day as devices like cell phones, computer games, Ipods, Tweets, etc. create increasingly distracting activities to young people. How do we show students that books are different from information. How do we show students how to use books. How do we show them that books are a source of ideas and worth taking the time to read? RayS.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Topic: Readers' Theater.

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: The purpose of readers’ theater is to transform a short story into an informal play. Why? The students learn to read aloud with expression, to aid in the story’s interpretation, and learn how to prepare when reading  aloud in public.

Title: “Introducing: Readers Theater.” P Tahsliik. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 216-220.

Quote: “The basic procedure for readers’ theater is quite simple: a group of students selects a short story or other reading material, rehearses it as if it were a play—by choosing ‘parts’ and deleting certain phrases or passages that would interfere with an oral presentation (like ‘he said,’ or ‘she replied’), and then presents the story to the rest of the class. It is not necessary to memorize the parts although a thorough familiarity with the part is recommended to permit eye contract with the audience…. Props are not needed and staging is minimal.”

Comment: Takes a lot of preparation to do well. It seems to me that one of the forgotten skills in English is oral reading. I’m not talking about “round-robin reading,” in which each student in the class reads spontaneously without preparation in order to waste time. I’m talking about oral reading which the student prepares in order to read effectively to an audience. The skill is needed in civic meetings as well as informal presentations. And readers’ theater is an introduction to skillful oral reading to hold an audience. RayS.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Topic: Helping Content Teachers Teach Reading

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: Teach the alphabet to facilitate using the index in textbooks and teach the specialized vocabulary of the subject.

Title: “Teaching Teachers to Teach Reading in Secondary School Content Classes.” R. Baird Shuman. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 205-211.

Comment: I always bridle at saying content teachers should teach reading. I believe they should support the students’ reading skills by using the Directed Reading Assignment (DRA) which is designed to help students read difficult textbook material, to help in reading textbook chapters:

Step #1: Build up background information on the topic. The more students know about a topic, the better they will comprehend it. Begin by asking the students what they already know about the topic. I demonstrated to a 9th-grade science teacher how to use the DRA with a chapter on the circulatory system. When I asked the students what they already knew about the topic of the circulatory system, they knew almost everything that was in the chapter.

Step #2: Pre-teach specialized, probably unfamiliar vocabulary that the students will meet in reading the chapter.

Step #3: Survey the chapter. The students read the title, the first and last paragraphs and the first sentence of each intermediate paragraph.

Stop #4: Purpose. Either give the students a purpose for reading or ask the students to ask questions for which they want to find the answers.

Step#5: Discuss the answers they have found in the chapter to their questions

Step #6: Apply the information they have learned.  Have the students apply what they have learned in some way. With the Internet available, they can look up the topic in Google or Bing. They are likely to find interesting additional information on the topic.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Topic: Variations on CLOZE.

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in past professional English education journals.

10-second review: Explains the Cloze procedure and offers variations that might be useful in helping students complete the exercises.

Title: “Cloze Modifications.” HJ Quillen and EJ Dwyer. Journal of Reading (December 1978), 200-201.

Quote: “It is advisable…to construct Cloze passages in the traditional manner.”

Summary: 1) The initial sentence is left intact. 2) One of the next five words is deleted. 3) Every fifth…word is deleted and replaced by a numbered blank.

Variation #1: If the deleted word is “three,” the place on the response sheet looks like this __ h __ ee.

Variation #2: Put the exact number of spaces for the deleted word in the blank space. If the deleted word is “transforms,” put ten spaces in the blank for the word __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Comment: Again the technique is fun and involving, but what is its useful purpose? RayS.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Topic: Problems in Comprehension

10-second review: Reasoning and prior experience are elements in comprehending. But how we use these processes in comprehending is unknown.

Title: “ERIC/RCS: Schemata: An Approach to Understanding Reading Comprehension.” MK Monteith. Journal of Reading (January 1979), 368-371.

Quote: “Reading comprehension remains a most elusive concept. As long as we do not know how it is that we comprehend written passages, we cannot know which instructional methods do the most to promote improved reading comprehension. Thorndike (1973, 1974) has pointed out that reading with comprehension is reasoning and psycholinguists such as Goodman (1973) have emphasized the need for readers to use their experience in making sense of printed work. Yet, how we reason and how we relate what we know to what we read are among the unknowns of comprehension, intelligence or verbal ability.” P. 368.

Comment: Another example of framing the question clearly, but the accompanying article is not much help in answering the question. RayS.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Topic: Reading on the Job

10-second review: Divides reading tasks on the job into reading-to-learn and reading-to-do. The latter is most needed on the job.

Title: “Research: Reading on the Job.” Mary Seifert. Journal of Reading (January 1979), 360-362.

Quote: “The further away from a school-like setting, the less an individual reported engaging in reading-to-learn tasks.” P. 361.

Quote: “Information sought in these reading-to-do tasks was either to find data (fact finding) or to find out how to do something (following directions)…. The information sought was displayed as text, tables and figures. About one-third of the information was displayed in text and about another third displayed in figures.” P. 362.

Comment: Points out the need to help students read figures and tables. RayS.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Topic: Free Modifiers and Writing

10-second review: Review of a book that emphasizes “free modifiers” (or absolutes) in constructing sentences.

Title: Review of Selected Techniques for Teaching Writing: A Handbook for Teachers, Grades 4-12, by Wm. S. Palmer. Reviewed by RL Cramer. Journal of Reading (January 1979), 379-379.

Quote: “In Part Two Palmer sets forth a series of techniques for teaching writing based on the use of free modifiers.” P. 278.

The following explanation from the Internet tells what is meant by “free modifiers,” a sentence technique characteristic of professional writers:

Free Modifiers
--From Process and Procedure by Harold Harp and Walt Klarner
“When revising, the writer adds detail in free modifiers. When editing the writer expresses detail in free modifiers. Free modifiers are added to a base sentence and set off with commas. They may be added to the beginning of a sentence (initial modifiers), within the sentence (medial modifiers) or at the end (final modifiers).

Initial modifier: Tossing her books on the table,  she ran into the kitchen.
Medial modifier: The test, a comprehensive history final, lasted a full two hours.
Final modifier: She looked around the room, her eyes reflecting her confidence. “

Comment: I have read research which has shown that “mature” writers and professional writers make frequent use of free modifiers (or “absolutes,” which is the formal grammatical term). I believe that that research is true and I find it interesting that the author of this book concentrated on the use of free modifiers for the purpose of improving sentence structure and therefore improving writing. This, after the first part of the book makes the case that grammar is not much use for improving writing. Call it what you will, free modifiers are  grammatical constructions that improve writing. And I would add the careful use of parallel structure, avoiding dangling modifiers and the use of active voice as other grammatical structures that improve writing. RayS.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Topic: Readability vs. Comprehensibility

10-second review: The problems with readability measures and guidelines for comprehensibility.

Title: “Readability and Comprehensibility.” N Marshall. Journal of Reading (March 1979), 542-544.

Quote: “…readability formulas (measuring sentence and word length) fail to measure meaning. Since comprehension is the process of dealing with meaning, readability and comprehensibility are not interchangeable. Instead of determining the readability of textbooks, educators should be determining their comprehensibility.

Quote: “Determining Comprehensibility….
.Are the major points the author wished to make clearly stated?
.Are the key vocabulary terms defined clearly?
.Are all the new concepts introduced in the context of familiar concepts?
.Are ideas clearly related to each other?
.Are pronouns used unambiguously?
.Has the author of the book addressed an audience of readers with backgrounds similar to those students who will be reading the book?”

Comment: A significant distinction. RayS.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Topic: A Writing Project That Is Guaranteed To Be Fun.

10-second review: Write to the postal service, mayors, chambers of commerce regarding the origins of unusual place names, like Scratch Ankle, Alabama.

Title: “Uneeda Helper Ina Reading Center?” JE Cook and DM Swanson. Journal of Reading (March 1979), 531-533.

Summary: Distribute maps of the United States and have students scour them for unusual place names and collect them. Then write to the Post Office, mayors or chambers of commerce inquiring about the origin of the towns’ names. Today, of course, you can get the same information on the Internet. This article was published in 1979. For example, look up in Google or Bing “No County, Missouri”; “Wytopitlock, Maine”; “Accident, Maryland”; “Blue Eye, Missouri”; “Democrat, Kentucky”; “Dwarf, Kentucky.” RayS.