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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: English Language Arts, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. "Hey, Teach!"


Some people are born teachers. Not me. From birth, the one thing I did not want to do, was teach.

Try telling my mother that. For some reason, she was dead set on my being a teacher when I grew up. If she caught me playing “school” with my Barbies and stuffed animals, she squealed with joy,“Oh, Cynthia!” (God, I hated that name. Still do.) “Someday you’ll have a class of your own!” she said. From that day on, I vowed never to grow up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love teachers. Mr. Donovan, my sophomore English teacher at Belleville High, greatly inspired me both as a student and writer. To teach us poetry, he shut off the lights, & we sat on the floor and listened to Simon and Garfunkel records. He had us write journals expressing all five senses. I was "eccentric,” even back then. In June I turned in this super-long, rambling “Diary of a Mad Teenager”-type saga. He called it “the most interesting thing I’ve read in years.” Maybe that’s why I became a writer.

But not a teacher. Thanks to my mother’s bullying, I actually spent my first twenty years mentally preparing to be what I dreaded most, a high school English teacher. I chose high school, since that seemed easiest. Teaching the parts of speech (I think there are eight) to little kids would’ve been horrible.

Then, right before I would’ve started Junior Practicum, I rebelled. No way! I thought, gleefully. Eventually, I wound up at AMSCO, where I’m now an English Language Arts editor. (And no, kiddies, editing test prep books is not just like teaching.)

Still, as much as I dreaded teaching, once I actually did take charge of a classroom. It was a creative writing class at New Jersey City University. I was called to fill in for “Professor X,” a friend and former mentor from when I went to NJCU (which was called “Jersey City State College” back then).

Mind you, as a pro writer (and egotist), I looked forward to this day. These were grown-ups, what I hoped were serious writing students. I pictured walking into a room of adoring fans. Their eyes would bulge when I showed them my two stories in the North American Review, one of the most prestigious literary magazines ever!

No such luck. Class was held in some science lab. The looks these students (grown-ups, all right, but some things don’t change) gave me made me want to go hide somewhere. “Where’s Professor X?” one demanded. When I told them China, they looked like I’d made that up, that there was no such place. I was shivering.

“Keep them the whole three hours,” Professor X had told me. No problem, I’d thought then. One thing I could do, was talk.

And I did. I talked, and I bragged, begging them to like me, and the whole time, sweat was pouring down my back. On the back wall was a clock you would’ve sworn had stopped, because by the time I’d talked myself silly, only forty-five minutes had passed.

The students were glaring. I think somebody growled. Then one woman got up. “I can’t believe this!” I think she said. “ ‘Professor X’ knew she wouldn’t be here this week, and she didn’t even tell us?” She gathered up her things. “Well, I feel I wasted my time!” Around her, the mob was muttering. “I’ve a mind to go down and report this,” the huffy one added.

I’m with you! I thought, giggling to myself. Class dismissed! Sure, I was insulted. But I wanted out as bad as she did. As bad as they all did.

Or so I thought . . .

“No,” somebody said. “Sit down. Stay.”

Then they were all saying it. My heart sunk. The huffy one got to storm out of there, and I was stuck for another two hours!

Somehow I made the best of it. I was so obsessed with that clock, I remembered a writing exercise, where you described your wristwatch, and what time actually meant to you. I actually got them working.

As they scribbled away, I pictured my proud mom watching me from somewhere. “Oh, Cynthia!” she squealed.

And I cringed.

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2. What We Can Learn from Dr. Seuss

In just a couple of weeks, educators across the nation will celebrate Read Across America Day. This event is held every year on the birthday of beloved children’s author Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

I’ve always been a big Dr. Seuss fan. I read his books as a child, and some of his books, like Oh, The Places You’ll Go have been inspirational for me even as an adult. And here is a fun fact: Dr. Seuss and I went to the same college, Dartmouth (though not at the same time!). The school is quite proud to have Dr. Seuss as an alum, and it does all sorts of quirky things to celebrate that fact. For example, Dartmouth College freshmen are served a green eggs and ham breakfast during orientation week! However, I didn’t know much about Geisel’s life and career until recently.

Here is one of the interesting things I learned. According to Random House, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat was a response to an illiteracy report that came out in 1954, entitled “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” The report said that one reason children had trouble reading was that their books were boring and “antiseptic,” and that the children portrayed in these books were “unnaturally clean.” Theodor Geisel’s publisher read this report, and sent Geisel a list of 400 words he thought children should learn. He asked Geisel to use 250 of these words in an entertaining children’s primer. Geisel followed the instructions, and the result was The Cat in the Hat. Schools were reluctant to adopt it as a primer, but it became a huge hit with children and parents. And it inspired, and continues to inspire, many children to love reading.

The lesson here is simple, but it’s one we often lose sight of in this test-prep age: fun is key to learning! Fun makes us pay attention, and it’s difficult for us to learn if we don’t want to pay attention.

Yes, there are standards to meet and tests for which to prepare students, but we as educators should do whatever we can to make that process fun. At Amsco, we try to make sure that the reading selections in our textbooks are not only high-quality and appropriate for teaching certain skills, but are also on very engaging topics. I know that not everything you have to learn to read in life is fun (tax forms, anyone?) but we can’t start readers off with dry texts. Reluctant readers, whether they’re in elementary, middle, or high school, need materials that will hold their interest. First, students must be engaged in the process of reading, and then, later, they can be introduced to more challenging or esoteric texts. Dr. Seuss and his publisher knew that this was the way to create life-long readers, and it’s something we should keep in mind on this Read Across America Day and always.

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3. The Good, the Bad, and the Uglies














Last night, as the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in New York City, I found myself hurrying through the cold and damp to the bookstore. They would be closing in just about ten minutes. Sure, I have the New Yorker to keep me busy; I could have waited a couple of days to buy my next book. And I had promised myself I would.

You see, the book I was rushing out to buy was Scott Westerfeld’s Specials. It’s the third book in a trilogy (which has now become a four-part series) written for young adults. Although I do still consider myself a young adult, certainly, I am not who Westerfeld had in mind. I think he was aiming about 10 to 15 years younger. The thing is, when I finished Pretties, I just couldn’t wait to get the next book. In fact, I didn’t. I read the final chapter on my way to the book store.

I did a good job of holding off between Uglies and Pretties, the first two books in the series. I read two books in between. I had made myself the promise that if I was going to read adolescent literature, I had to punctuate it with more serious stuff. The plan for books 2 and 3 had been to read Portnoy’s Complaint and a book about post-postcolonialism in between. I couldn’t do it. I broke down.

Which brings me to a related experience I had in the movie theatre. A few weeks ago, as I watched previews before a movie, I saw the trailer for Juno, a movie about a sixteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant. Did I mention it’s a comedy? As I watched the young actress in the preview (by the way, she looks younger than sixteen), I was horrified. Have we really come so far as to make comedies about pregnant teens? However, I tried to reserve judgment, and found myself compelled to see the movie. Which I did. And it was great.




Between my movie watching and teen book reading, I realized something. We always talk about media—advertising, magazines, music, and television—that’s slowly corrupting our youth. It seems that the pernicious influence has crept into the one activity we thought harmless: reading. In the Westerfeld books, the main character deals with decisions about plastic surgery and how long she should wait to have sex. The issues in Juno sort of speak for themselves. And remember that controversial movie, Thirteen? Pretty scary stuff if you know it’s true.

Here’s the thing, though. This kind of exposure might actually be good. Although we might try to deny that these are issues our kids are facing, the fact remains that they are grappling with the questions raised. Like the characters in Westerfeld's novels, real girls also grapple with body-image issues; some even undergo plastic surgery at very young ages. As in Juno, teeneage girls do have unplanned pregnancies.

We want to protect them, but pre-teens and teens are going to encounter these problems no matter what we do. If you think back, texts that are almost taken for granted today contain the same kind of material. After all, many novels, such as Slaughterhouse V and Catcher in the Rye, which are widely accepted as part of the teen canon, contain material more mature than I can politely recount here.

I’m not saying that teachers should introduce books about controversial subjects into the classroom. Rather, I suggest that teachers encourage students to read the books out there in the young adult genre. Gone are the days of Sweet Valley High, when the biggest problem was figuring out who to take to prom. More and more, young adult authors are writing about serious issues like abuse, eating disorders, juvenile crime, and strained parent-teen relationships.

It turns out that whether or not teens are actually experiencing the same things as the characters, they want to read these books. There is that whole teen angst thing, you know? Teens like to listen to music about lost love and longing, and they want the same kind of anguish in their reading material. The payoff is that the books are worth reading. These books are really good.

After all, if I’m running out to buy Nancy Werlin’s Rules of Survival (a young adult book about abuse) when I finish Specials, there must be something there. I mean, I am punctuating these reads with political satire and literary criticism. That counts for something, right?

If you want to get the best recommendations for young adult fiction, check out these sites:

http://www.teenreads.com/

http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestbooksya/bestbooksyoung.cfm

http://www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/booklistsawards/popularpaperback/popularpaperbacks.cfm

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4. Words We Love to Hate

Human beings are irrational sometimes. We all have quirks. But if you’re a writer, or an English Language Arts editor (I’m both!), yours may show up in the most obvious place: language, or more specifically, words.

Some words we use every day, in casual conversation; some we’re urged to use, as part of our jobs. But how many do we avoid using? How many do we actually hate?

With me, there are tons. But I’m only going to share five with you. And they’re not all super-long, “two-dollar” words, like you’d think.

Well, one of them is. My all-time favorite word to hate: “discombobulated.” Every time I hear it, I cringe. My chest tightens; I even get nauseous. But, why? What is it about that word that gets me at gut-level? It’s not new. According to the Merriam-Webster OnLine dictionary, it’s been around since 1916. It’s not just the sound (dis-com-BOB-u-la-ted) of it that irks me; it’s its trendiness. It’s become the “common man’s” (or “woman’s”) big word. It’s almost like people of average intelligence use it to show how smart they wish they were. Since “discombobulated” means “confused,” why not just say “confused”?

Another word that affects me viscerally: “humongous.” Loathsome, isn’t it? Back in the early 1980’s it was as popular as “awesome” is today. What’s funny is that “humongous” was first used back in 1967. So what was the hold-up? And again, since “humongous” means “huge,” why not say “huge”?

The next two words that drive me crazy go hand-in-hand, since they mean pretty much the same thing: “grand” and “superb.” “Grand” is such a phony, highfalutin word, it even achieved literary fame. In my favorite book, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield pointed out “grand” as the one word he couldn’t stand! And doesn’t “superb” sound like you’re choking on it as you say it?

Last but not least is one of the most obnoxious words ever: “utilize.” You’ll find it on almost every résumé a potential employer gets: “I plan to ‘utilize’ my skills as a . . .” Since “utilize” means simply “to make use of,” and this word has been around for over two hundred years, why not just “simplify” our language? Say it like it is? Throw out these annoying “two-dollar” words instead of the two-dollar bill.

Are you with me?

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5. Children’s Books in the Secondary Classroom?

Earlier this week, I was looking at an educational calendar of events and holidays in January (trying desperately to come up with a post topic for today) when I noticed that A. A. Milne’s birthday is tomorrow (January 18). For those of you who don’t recognize the name, he’s the author of the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh books. Also in January is the birthday of another children’s writer, Lewis Carroll (January 27), the man behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Seeing Milne's and Carroll’s names got me thinking about a recent trend I’ve heard about in education toward using children’s books in secondary classrooms. Some educators feel that children’s picture books can be used to help older but struggling readers understand literary elements such as plot development, characterization, and theme. For example, the lesson “The Children’s Picture Book Project” by the National Council of Teachers of English has students analyze the plot and characterization in their favorite children’s books and then write their own children’s books.

I started thinking about this trend and admittedly felt turned off to the idea. I understand that children’s literature can be an entryway into more advanced reading, but the concept of using these books with middle- and high-school students struck me as very condescending. Adolescents who are reading below grade-level may lack confidence as it is—wouldn’t giving them these books, intended for a younger audience, make them feel worse? High-school students are concerned with their image, I thought, and if we make them feel stupid, they’re going to lose motivation to learn.

That evening, however, something happened to make me reconsider my position. I was looking at a compilation of possible readings for wedding ceremonies—I’m planning my upcoming wedding—when I ran across two selections from Winnie-the-Pooh books! It reminded me that a lot of children’s books are for adults, too. (In fact, according to some sources, A.A. Milne didn’t intend for his books to be for kids at all.) At that moment, I realized I was being too quick to reject the use of all children’s books in secondary classrooms. There are some types of children’s books that would be very appropriate for a secondary classroom and that wouldn’t seem condescending at all, because they were intended for adults to begin with! Teachers could make it clear to students that they’re not making students use baby books; they’re having students read books that are actually better understood by adults. (To further explain this point, ask students about the last time they saw an animated movie like Ratatouille or Shrek. Were they surprised at the kinds of jokes and references they got, that they would not have understood five or ten years ago? And yet five years ago, they would have still enjoyed the movie; they just wouldn’t have understood it at the same level.)

There are many adult children’s books—not just Winnie-the-Pooh books and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but also The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, many of the works by Dr. Seuss, and more—that would be quite effective in an English classroom. These books could be used to show students how literature can be read on different levels. Students can hone their critical thinking skills by pulling away the layers and thinking about the meaning behind the meanings in these stories. One of the best things about using these books is that they usually don’t have complicated plots or high-level vocabulary, so students won’t get bogged down by trying to decode the stories. They’ll be able to go straight to the critical thinking part. Then eventually students will be able to apply the critical thinking skills they learned with these books to higher-level texts. (Be careful of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, however—those do have sophisticated vocabulary words and word plays.)

Here are some additional ways you can use these kinds of children’s books in the classroom.


    In Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, Hoff talks about how Pooh is a Western Taoist; he uses the Pooh characters to give readers a clear understanding of what Taoism is all about. Have students pick their own book and write what they think the characters’ attitudes and philosophies are. They don’t have to ascribe a specific religion or philosophy to the characters; they can just write about it in general terms. This will help students improve their character analysis skills.

    Have students analyze what a book says about that author’s vision of childhood. This EdSitement lesson plan has students read Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and William Blake’s poem “Innocence and Experience” to analyze and contrast the different visions of childhood.

    Use picture books to help students understand satire. This ReadWriteThink lesson plan has students use Dr. Seuss as a jumping off point into a unit on Jonathan Swift.

As always, let me know if you have any other ideas!

Lauren

P.S. Here are the two Pooh excerpts on my wedding ceremony reading list. Not sure whether I’ll use them, but I find them quite sweet.


from The House At Pooh Corner
A.A. Milne (1882-1956)

"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"
"Ninety-nine." Pooh nodded.
"I promise," he said.
Still with his eyes on the world, Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's
paw.
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I - if I'm not quite" he stopped and tried again "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?
"Understand what?"
"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"
"Where?" said Pooh.
"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.


Us Two from Now We Are Six
A.A. Milne (1882-1956)

Wherever I am, there's always Pooh,
There's always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
"Where are you going today?" says Pooh...
"Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too.
"Let's go together," says Pooh, says he.
"Let's go together," says Pooh.
"What's twice eleven?" I said to Pooh,
"Twice what?" said Pooh to Me.
"I think it ought to be twenty two."
"Just what I think myself," said Pooh.
"It wasn't an easy sum to do,
But that's what it is," said Pooh, said he.
"That's what it is," said Pooh.
"Let's look for dragons," I said to Pooh.
"Yes, let's," said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few...
"Yes, those are dragons all right," said Pooh.
"As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That's what they are," said Pooh, said he.
"That's what they are," said Pooh.
"Let's frighten the dragons," I said to Pooh.
"That's right," said Pooh to Me.
"I'm not afraid," I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted "Shoo!
Silly old dragons!"... and off they flew.
"I wasn't afraid," said Pooh, said he,
"I'm never afraid with you."
So wherever I am, there's always Pooh,
There's always Pooh and Me.
"What would I do?" I said to Pooh,
"If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said... "True,
It isn't much fun for One, but Two
Can stick together," says Pooh, says he.
"That's how it is," says Pooh.

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6. Banned!

On November 16, I attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual convention in New York City. Not only was I never a teacher of English—or of anything—I’d never been to a convention before. I envisioned zillions of teachers crammed into a windowless room, listening to boring speeches for hours. So when I got there, my stomach was in knots.

But I chilled fast. My English language arts director had assigned me the most un-boring session possible: “Speaking Out: Three Authors Discuss Their Experiences With Censorship.” Being a writer who’s dealt with censorship issues, I knew this was right up my alley.

All three authors, Robie Harris, Carolyn Mackler, and Maryrose Wood, had their young adult novels “challenged” due to controversial topics. All stand by their books. They’re not afraid to speak out in defense of these “real-life” topics.

It’s Perfectly Normal, by Harris, is a nonfiction book which talks about sex as part of everyday life. Harris feels kids need to learn about their bodies, and that this knowledge will keep them healthy. “Is this in the best interest of the child?” Harris asks herself, when she’s writing. If the answer is “yes,” she keeps writing.

One of the problems Harris faced was her book being pulled from libraries. She fears the librarians who defend her works may lose their jobs.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is Carolyn Mackler’s novel about a plus-sized teen girl who comes into her own . . . without losing weight! Mackler herself had felt alone during her teen years, and turned to books as friends. Because the narrators and protagonists were so honest, she wanted to write honestly about real teen emotions.

Besides the usual reasons for The Earth . . . being banned ( i.e., sexual content and offensive language), Mackler said the book was accused of being anti-family! The excerpt she read to us proved how ridiculous that was.

Mackler advised us to be loud about book challenges, and probably quoted from AS IF! (Authors Support Intellectual Freedom) when she told us, “For every book that’s challenged, four or five go unreported.” It’s scary how books are quietly pulled off shelves.

The last speaker, Maryrose Wood, talked about how her Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love was reviewed as being “squeaky-clean” but then showed up on the banned book list of a local school board! She talked about PABBIS (Parents Against Banned Books in Schools), a site which goes through books and picks out controversial scenes or words, taking them out of context. It turns out that Wood's book was challenged on its title. But in the end, all was OK.

What I learned from these three dynamic women, I’ll never forget: If your book is challenged, don’t give up! You’re not alone.

And above all: “If a book offends you, defend it. Don’t ban it; discuss it.”

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7. "But I’m finished!” Motivating Students to Revise

As English teachers know all too well, most students dread revising their work. Once students have completed a draft, they want to hand it in and be done with it. Some grade-conscious students may be happy to revise if it means a higher score, but even then, it doesn’t mean they know what they need to do to improve their work. How can teachers show students the whys and hows of revising?

Your answer may be that teachers should show students that revising is part of the writing process. It’s not just an optional thing you can do at the end, if you’re unhappy with your grade or with a particular sentence. It’s something you should do every time you write. You may say that teachers should have all students revise everything they write, so revising becomes natural. But many teachers do this—they teach the full writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing—and yet they still have a tough time motivating students to complete the revision stage. Students will agree to reread their papers, but they probably won’t want to change anything, except a period here or there. They don’t really revise, or re-think, their work. So what else can teachers do to help students become motivated to revise and learn how to do it? Here are some useful strategies for teachers presented at last month's National Council of Teachers of English annual convention in New York, at a session entitled “The Grammar Goddesses' Guide to Clear Thinking and Writing” (taught by two teachers who amusingly call themselves “The Grammar Goddesses” ).

1. It’s not enough to just hand students a checklist of things to look for when they revise (e.g., precise nouns, action verbs, varied sentence structures, logical organization). Teach specific lessons that show students how to look for and create precise nouns, action verbs, etc. The Grammar Goddesses demonstrated one such lesson at the session. The lesson proceeds as follows: First, students write notes on a particular topic, such as what they did over the weekend. Then, they turn these notes into sentence summaries. Finally, they turn these sentences into headlines. When students have to turn a sentence summary into a short, catchy headline, they learn how to replace boring verbs with more exciting ones, and they learn to remove unnecessary words and be concise. The next time students write an essay, they can use what they learned during this lesson and revise their writing for stronger verbs.

Another lesson idea, one I created myself when student teaching, is to play a game with your class where you have students imagine their writing is going to be featured in a popular magazine, but there’s a problem—the magazine’s art director wants to include huge photos, so there’s less room for the students’ writing. Students have to figure out how to cut their pieces for the layout to work. You can assign all students the same number of words to cut, or write different numbers on sheets of paper and have each student draw one from hat. This lesson shows students to look carefully at each word, to see which ones are holding their weight and which ones are just weeds, cluttering the writing. (First, you can do a minilesson on the kinds of “weeds” to look for, and/or read students the chapter on clutter from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.) I also like this lesson because it shows a real-life context for revising.

For additional revision lesson ideas, see the National Writing Project site.


2. Motivate students to revise by encouraging them to go public with their writing. When students know that a “real” audience will read their work, they have more motivation to make it as clear and interesting as possible. The Grammar Goddesses suggest that teachers have students submit their writing to the following places. See the individual Web sites for submission guidelines.


    Teen Ink (grades 7–12). This monthly print magazine features creative writing, reviews, and personal essays from teens.

    Writer Publications’s High School Writer (grades 9–12) and Junior High School Writer (grades 5–8). These national publications are published monthly during the school year and accept writing in all genres.

    Writing (grades 7–12). This magazine offers writing resources, prompts, writing contests, and more.

    Scholastic’s Scope (grades 7–12). This magazine accepts reviews, creative writing, and opinion pieces.

    Voices from the Middle (grades 5–9). This is a National Council of Teachers of English magazine for middle school teachers. It has a monthly section of book reviews to which students can submit.

    Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Students can submit in all genres. Deadline is in January each year.

    WriteIt. This Scholastic Web site provides writing resources and gives students opportunities to publish their work on the site.

Create a publishing center in your classroom with sample copies of these publications and post the submissions guidelines on a bulletin board. Also consider having students send letters to government authorities. Some students won’t be interested in submitting to magazines because they’ll think that’s just for people who want to become professional writers. But if you have students send writing to authority figures, they’ll realize that good writing does not just give you prestige (i.e., a byline) but it can bring about real action.

3. Be more sensitive when commenting on students’ papers. Avoid vague, comments, like “awk,” which will mean nothing to students. In addition, teachers shouldn’t just point out the negative, but should mention what is working. Students need to see what they’re doing well so they can repeat it.

4. Spend time teaching the difference between revising and editing. Teachers should break down the word revision on the board: re-vision, to see again. Revision is not just about spelling, punctuation, and grammar corrections but about re-seeing and reconsidering.

5. Talk about how professional writers revise. Look for examples of before and after manuscripts online. Also have students submit questions to their favorite writer (by mail or on the writer’s Web site) asking the writer about his or her own revision process.




A revised draft of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence


Additional resources for teaching revision:
The Revision Toolbox by Georgia Heard
Making Revision Matter by Janet Angelillo

Good luck! And by the way, I revised this twice before posting.
--Lauren

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8. Frontline Report: NCTE Storms NYC

The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)conference came to New York this year, and Amsco editors were out in full force! Aside from the hyperventalive feeling that consumed me as I walked into the exhibition hall and saw the vast empires that were the displays for the “big boys” of publishing, and aside from the feeling of icy needles piercing my legs as I fought my way toward the Javits Center along the Hudson River, my umbrella turning inside out multiple times along the way, the convention proved to be truly enjoyable.

The theme for this year’s conference was literacy, and the myriad forms of media our students face every day. Embracing new technologies and what we formerly thought of as “the enemy” (iPods and the Internet), the conference helped show teachers what they can do to foster an academic use of the weapons firing from across the trench. Some of the more creative applications of said tanks and rapid-fire machine guns included using iPods for poetry slams, creating curricula for the online teaching of writing, the debate over whether to use software for detecting student plagiarism, using films for reading, writing, and composing, and using iPods (the teacher’s own personal heat-seeking missile) for reflection.

Of course, no convention is complete without the terrible fast food and $4.00 bottles of water, but at least there was Starbucks, serving their traditional fall favorite: the gingerbread latte, without which this attendee would not have survived.

Our team divided and conquered the convention in one of the most graceful and precise military formations to date. We each tackled a strand—reading, writing, vocabulary—to maximize our convention potential. My strand, writing and research, was a particularly nuanced one. I attended sessions about writing mentors, where I got to meet Chris Crutcher and Mike Harmon J, and sessions involving one set of Ph.D students’ research study into the prevalence of plagiarism. That last one left me with a feeling of shrapnel in my stomach. Even more tummy twisting was the session on AP vertical articulation, although this was more of the chocolate-and-coffee-in-the-middle-of-the-jungle-while-your-feet-are-rotting-inside-your-boots-because-you-forgot-to-dry-your-socks variety.

At any rate, this was a tremendous growth opportunity and my very first convention. Also, my very first experience with severe weather since moving to New York City. Now I own one of those coats that make you look like the Michelin Man, or like you’re wearing a comforter. But back to the point…It’s good to know that the leading national association for English teachers is not completely clueless. It seems that for once, those in the ivory tower actually get what’s going

on in the muck.

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9. Test Prep Heaven



The year was 1996. After six decades of publishing review texts for the New York State Regents, Amsco put out its first out-of-state test prep reading series, Florida’s HSCT.

Other states followed: Ohio (Mastering the OGT: Reading), Massachusetts (MCAS English Language Arts, Grade 7 and MCAS English Language Arts, Grade 10), California (Mastering the California English Language Arts Standards), etc.

Since then, HSCT became FCAT, and we now have a Florida test prep series for Grades 6–13+. We have books for North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Louisiana as well.

Why are our test prep series so successful? First, they’re terrific! Second, economical. And third, they’re “state specific.” In other words, we try to include reading selections that are of local interest.

One of the best examples of this is Amsco’s Preparing for the LEAP Grade 8 English Language Arts Test. “Louisiana’s Disappearing Coastal Marshes,” “Creole Traditions,” and “Festival of the Bonfires” enriched an already superior book. That LEAP was released shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck made these readings more powerful.

In the two years I’ve been an English Language Arts editor, I’ve put out Preparing for the FCAT, Grade 6 and Mastering the FCAT Reading Retake. Both included readings that would appeal to Florida students.

In the 6th grade book we featured “Seminole History,” “The Pressure of Scuba Diving,” and “How to Be a Dolphin Trainer.” In Reading Retake, we struck gold, with an excerpt from Surf’s Up, and “On the Trail: Iguana Invasion.”

“On the Trail . . .,” by reporter Tom Williams, first appeared in the Marco Islander Weekly. Our author, Dana Chicchelly, had found it in naplesnews.com. Mr. Williams was thrilled we wanted to use his article, and later, so grateful for a copy of the book itself, word got out to Marconews.com writer Don Farmer.

On August 29, 2007, Mr. Farmer’s story “On the Town: Could Florida Democrats’ Feud Affect Marco’s Elections?” appeared in Marconews.com. It featured a section on “Tom’s Iguanas and the FCATs”! A great write-up about Mr. Williams and how his local piece appeared in Amsco’s book was followed by a photo of Mr. Williams himself (and a handsome devil, he is!), holding a copy of Mastering the FCAT Reading Retake for all the world (or, at least Marco Island residents) to see!

Maybe I’m narcissistic, but Amsco deserves it!

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10. Welcome to New York...Now Get Out!

Times change, people change. . . even New Yorkers change. The old rudeness for which New Yorkers were famous is now an thing of the past. I will leave it to social historians to determine when this revolution of attitude occurred. Suffice it to say for now that those English language arts educators who are flooding into Midtown Manhattan this week for the NCTE Annual Convention will be welcomed warmly.


While New Yorkers are now kinder and gentler, they are still as fast talking, fast paced, and busy as ever. So, from me to you, a few DOs and DON'Ts for getting along with the native inhabitants of the Big Apple:


Don’t
Cause a delay
Block the doorway
Jump in the cab I hailed
Saunter along slowly six abreast
Wear a sweat suit and sneakers to the theater
Stop in the middle of the sidewalk to consult your map

Do
Look up
Tip the cabbie
Venture out of Midtown
Ask, if you need directions
Decide what you want before you get to the front of the line
Know that the $20 purse you buy on the street is worth $10
Ask the subway booth attendant for a free map of the MTA system
Visit the Amsco School Publications booth (239–241) in the Exhibition Hall at the Javits Center

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11. Back-to-School Shopping Spree

It is back-to-school time! For Amsco editors, that means publishing books that teachers and students will use in the classroom. For teachers, it means planning—short-term, long-term, first-day, first-week. . . For students, it usually means tearing through the last of the summer reading list, assembling the all-important outfits, and shopping for school supplies. After browsing online, here is my back-to-school wishlist:

WordLock($5.98)
Instead of struggling to remember a tricky three-digit combination, with WordLock, an innovative letter-based lock, students can pick a word to remember instead. The locks are available in six colors.

Zwipes ($3.86–$23.59)
The name evokes antibacterial handwipes, but Zwipes are actually a cool new line of notebooks. They have rewritable plastic covers, an erasable marker that clips onto the notebook, a privacy flap, and pocket dividers. Zwipes come in assorted colors and in sizes ranging from small planners to one-subject notebooks to big 6-ring student organizers.







Book Sox (about $4)
After all the creative work we put into designing attractive books, it is a
shame that students have to cover them, but that is the rule in many schools. Students can make covering books fun and easy with these stretchable, washable, reusable fabric covers. The bright, colorful designs are available in a range of sizes to fit all textbooks.


Splat Calculator ($6.29)
This kooky calculator may not be able to graph a quadratic equation, but it can perform the four basic functions, as well as calculate percents and square roots (if you know what buttons to push!). It comes in pink, green, blue, and purple. Throw it against your locker door and—splat!—it will stick because it’s magnetic.

Dr. Grip Pens ($9.95, refills $1.95)
Students who constantly lose pens may want to opt for a twelve-pack of Bics, but for those who can hang onto one long enough to get their money’s worth, Dr. Grip is the “prescription for smooth writing.” It comes in electrifying neon barrel colors, but with black ink that teachers will appreciate. (Colorful ink refills are available for writing journal entries and love notes.) The ergonomic cushion grip makes responding to extended constructed-response questions a little less painful.




Pilot Pencil #2 ($0.95)
No one loves bubbling in answer sheets, but with all the standardized tests on the calendar, students should have a couple of these long-lasting, inexpensive mechanical #2 pencils in their backpacks. They come in 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm sizes, have a cushioned tip, ribbed finger grip and are refillable. Who doesn’t love the classic yellow?

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12. A Romance with Words

Can a slim, attractive four-book vocabulary series establish a romantic relationship with a standardized test?

Vocabulary for Success, Courses I – IV, is the perfect match for state assessments and college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT! This charming program builds students' vocabularies and teaches them how to use words more effectively. Through poems, paragraphs, or dialogue, students encounter unfamiliar words in context--as they do in the real world. Then, through concise writing and skill-builder activities, students deepen their understanding of the new words and master their usage in both writing and speaking.

A vocabulary program that gives students the tools to figure out unknown words and to write concisely will strenghten their performance as test-takers.

But don't put a limit on your students' success! Remember that reading a wide range of materials (novels, short stories, nonfiction, newspapers, poetry, magazines, etc.) will improve students' reading comprehension skills, enhance their vocabulary, raise their scores, and lead to success. Vocabulary books and test-prep books are valuable resources, and, if they’re high quality, they will improve students’ key skills. They are not, however, a substitute for reading for pleasure. Both approaches are necessary, and they compliment each other.

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13. Gearing Up for the SAT Essay

Don’t use “I.”

Use personal examples.



Write five paragraphs.

The five-paragraph essay is too formulaic.



Practice neat cursive.

Handwriting doesn’t count.


High school students preparing to take the SAT this October will be faced with a deluge of conflicting advice about how to succeed on the writing section, added to the exam in 2006. Some teachers and test-prep tutors say that students must use examples from literature and big vocabulary words in order to achieve a high score. Others say that personal examples are fine, even preferable to literary ones, and that simple, concise language is better. Some say that students should have an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion, while others say that the number of paragraphs doesn’t matter, as long as the thoughts are organized.

What’s a student to do?

I went directly to the source—to the test’s creators themselves, the College Board—to see what they have to say about what makes an effective SAT essay. The College Board’s Web site offers three tips for the essay. Here are the tips, and how I think they should be interpreted:

1. Don’t oversimplify.
According to the College Board, this means that it is better for students to have a few solid examples they can explain in detail than a big list of examples they breeze through. The College Board is looking for critical thinking and analysis skills. Students should think through their examples. Remember, the SAT is designed to measure how a student will succeed in college, where high-level thinking is key.

2. It’s okay to use “I.”
The College Board says that students are allowed to include their own reactions and experiences in their essays. Scorers have been trained to accept personal examples in addition to or instead of literary ones; students won’t be penalized if they don’t talk about books they’ve read. Some educators may argue that literary examples sound more scholarly and collegiate, but I think it’s better for students to pick something they can talk about comfortably, with details, than to choose something that sounds "smart," but that they can’t say much about. Better for a student to talk about his uncle’s whale watching trip, if he can really prove how the trip gave him a new perspective on family, than to name drop The Scarlet Letter just because he knows it’s a well-known book, if he can’t say who wrote it or fully explain how it proves his point.

3. Read the prompt carefully.
The College Board says that students should be sure to read and understand the prompt. To this, though, I would caution that students be careful not to get too bogged down by the entire prompt. An SAT prompt contains two parts, a quotation and a question. The quotation is usually about a big concept, such as progress, creativity, or intelligence. It often contains esoteric language and may be difficult for students to understand. If students become too concerned with analyzing and comprehending every single word in the quotation, they will lose precious time for drafting. (They are only allotted 25 minutes, from the time they turn to the prompt to the time they must stop writing.) The most important thing is for students to make sure they understand the second part of the prompt--the question they have to address in their essay--and respond directly to that.


In addition to following these tips from the College Board, there are several things that students preparing for any timed, standardized essay should do.

1. Practice writing on demand. Students should practice writing timed essays in response to prompts. It is important for students to learn how to budget their time and write under pressure.

2. Analyze prompts. Teachers who don’t have time to assign full practice essays in class can at least go over some sample prompts with students, to demonstrate how to choose a position and stay focused on the question asked.

3. Look at models. Students should read sample essays. Teachers can provide models and also have students read one another’s work.

4. Create an arsenal of examples. Before the big day, students should sit down and make a list of things they know a lot about and can use to answer “big questions.” First, they should go through books they’ve read or movies they've seen, and write down the titles, major themes, characters, and events. Popular movies and books often have more than one theme, and could be used to answer a variety of prompts. Students should also reflect on and write down events/periods in history they know a lot about, and significant events in their own lives. Students need to have a sense of what they could write before going into a timed essay. They cannot spend 10 minutes brainstorming or feeling stuck searching for examples.

5. Remember that this is a timed essay. Students won’t have time to fully complete every stage of the writing process as they learned to do in English class. They should brainstorm, but they probably won’t have time to create elaborate spider diagrams or outlines. Students should wear a watch to make sure they don’t spend too much time on the prewriting stage. Most time should be spent drafting. Students also won’t have much time to do revising and editing, though they should at least briefly check over their work at the end. Scorers won’t mind seeing crossouts or erasing; such marks show that a student is thinking and paying attention to details.

6. Write neatly. Handwriting doesn’t officially count, but students should still write as neatly as possible. The essays will be scanned in and read by scorers online, which may make them slightly more difficult to read. Scorers have only three minutes to spend on each essay, so they may become frustrated with an essay that is difficult to read.

7. Create strong sentences and paragraphs. Before the exam, students can practice writing varied sentences. Students should stay away from beginning every sentence the same way. Sentence variety is something easy to achieve and will show a student’s maturity and sophistication as a writer. In addition, each paragraph should have topic sentence to show how it relates to the thesis. The thesis should of course be focused on the prompt.

8. Include a catchy opening and interesting ending. They shouldn’t tie their essay up by saying, “In summary…,” or “In conclusion…” But students should remember that this is a standardized test essay, so it’s not the place to take a lot of risks.



Teachers or students seeking resources for SAT-preparation courses may be interested in Amsco’s Preparing for the SAT in Critical Reading and Writing, which contains thorough, reader-friendly instruction and practice exercises. The book's section on writing includes helpful lessons on varying sentence structures and composing well-organized, focused paragraphs. To order the book click here.

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14. Blocked!

Writer’s block. We all get it, both famous writers and the rest of us, who’re not famous enough.

I bet even Stephen King gets it, as prolific as he is. One of his methods for promoting creativity is blasting rock music as he writes. But there must be times when even that doesn’t work.

For writers, there’s no greater feeling than writing up a storm. You lose track of time, forget to eat. If workers are tearing up the street outside your window, you vaguely hear something going on. If the phone rings, the caller wonders what’s wrong with your voice. You sound all gaspy, and confused. The point is, you’re in an altered state of mind and intend to stay there.

Then there’s the opposite. Staring at a blank sheet of paper or computer screen for hours. Heart pounding, sweat creeping down your face and back, though the a/c is blasting. The a/c is dripping, you realize. Plop, plop, plop. Despite fluffy cushions, your chair never felt so uncomfortable. It's like in that fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” where she felt one small pea through a zillion mattresses. You actually wish the phone would ring.

You want to write, but the words just won’t come. You feel like a complete failure.

But who are you failing? Not you, yourself. Eventually the words will come, in their own time. In fact, the story may write itself. The point is, you can’t rush “genius.” You can’t force out the right words like you can squirt the last of the toothpaste out of the tube.

Since I was five, I’ve been writing . . .my way. Growing up, I read a lot of books by so-called professionals who had plenty of advice for budding writers. My favorite was the dreaded, “You must write every day.”

I didn’t. I still don’t. Years of sitting, staring at that blank page, counting those drops of icy water, taught me one thing: I don’t have to do anything. And I realized something else: those periods of “not” writing, of sitting there thinking of anything but what belongs on that page, are times of planning. Plotting.

Years ago, I heard Joyce Carol Oates speak. She told us something I never forgot. If a writer is just sitting, staring out the window, daydreaming . . . that’s writing. She said if your friend calls & asks, “Am I interrupting you?” you have the right to say, “Yeah, you are!”

Now, why argue with the best?

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15. Technology in the English Classroom

It’s easy to see how technology has a place in science and math classes, but it’s harder to envision how technology fits into an English course. How can computers be used—beyond word processing and online research—to teach English language arts skills?

To answer this question, consider why English courses usually include peer editing, small group work, and discussions. It’s because it has long been known that students learn when they are able to share and communicate ideas and make meaning together. Now think about some of the major uses of technology—to help us gather, share, and construct information together. Technology actually fits quite well with the goals of an English course.

Here are some specific ways teachers can use technology in the English classroom.

Writing

    Bulletin boards for peer conferencing. In-person peer editing sessions are great, but why not take a few of them online? The NCTE journal Voices from the Middle recently ran an article, “Technology Took Kit: Improving Writing: Online Bulletin Boards,” about how online bulletin boards such as Nicenet can be used to help students respond to one another’s writing. Online bulletin boards are useful because they allow students to read each other’s work at their own pace (whereas a student might only get five minutes to read a peer's essay in class), because they allow students to read multiple writing samples, and because they allow students to converse using computers, a medium with which they’re very familiar and comfortable (due to all their practice with IMing and e-mailing, of course).

    Online poetry tools. The Poetry Forge allows students to create poetry together. Students can experiment with the site’s metaphor tool and found poetry tool.

    Blogs or personal Web sites. Students can create their own blogs on specific ELA topics (e.g., a specific genre of writing), or a class can create a blog together, with a different student posting each day. A popular and easy-to-use blog hosting site is Blogger (yes, the one used by AmscoExtra!). You don’t need to know html to be able to do this.

Reading

    Discussion boards for literature conversations. Through Blackboard, students can have online discussions (moderated by teachers) about books they’ve read. This is a great way to spark new discussions or continue discussions started in class but cut short by the bell.

Research


    Web Quests. Teachers can create WebQuests that lead students through different sites to gather knowledge on a specific topic. Popular sites for creating WebQuests are WebQuests and Filamentalit. These work especially well for interdisciplinary projects.

    Wikis. A wiki is a collaborative site that allows people to construct knowledge together. (The most famous one, of course, is wikipedia, an encyclopedia whose entries are submitted by the public.) English teachers can create a free wiki with their class through Pbwiki for Educators.




If you’re an English teacher who uses technology in the classroom, write a comment and tell me about it!

Lauren

1 Comments on Technology in the English Classroom, last added: 9/13/2007
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16. Meet Author Dana Chicchelly!

If a rolling stone really gathers no moss, there’s not a speck of moss to be found on AMSCO author Dana Chicchelly.

Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Dana graduated from Coe College with a degree in English and French. She promptly joined the Army with the express purpose of getting out of Iowa. “I always tell people that Iowa is a nice place to be from,” she says. “Actually, when I go back now to visit my family, I appreciate it much more than I did growing up.”

While in the Army, Dana lived in South Carolina, California, and Arizona. After leaving the Army, she went back to school and received her teacher’s certification in French and English through the University of Arizona at Tucson. She taught middle-school French and English in Phoenix for several years before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her future husband, Albert Henricks, had accepted a chef’s position.

Dana searched for opportunities outside of Michigan. She accepted a challenging position in an inner-city school in Austin, Texas. Her attempts to make learning fun led to great success in some classes, and complete anarchy in others! Finally she decided to leave teaching and pursue a career in editing.

She became an editor at a secondary school textbook publisher, also in Austin. As a textbook editor, she felt she was still contributing to the field of education.

However, after several years of big-city Austin life, Dana and her fiancé Albert heard the “call of the wild.” They decided to move once more, this time to Missoula, a college town nestled in the mountains of beautiful western Montana.

While living in the “wilds” of Montana, Dana wrote three test prep books for the state of Florida: AMSCO’s Preparing for the FCAT Reading, Grade 6, Preparing for the FCAT Reading, Grade 7, and Mastering the FCAT Reading Retake
. She is soon to venture into another state for a new test prep series.


And, after living in Missoula and Florence, Montana, for over eight years, and since acquiring a menagerie of two German Shepherds (Pooch and Stella), a fifteen-pound cat (Smidgen), and two donkeys (Lewis and Clark) it seems this rolling stone may have come to rest. After all, a little moss is a small price to pay for finally finding a place to call home.

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17. Reality Check: "Math Scores Rise, but Reading Is Mixed"


Can you find the literacy resources in this picture?


The New York Times reported this Wednesday that

America’s public school students are doing significantly better in math since the federal No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2002, but gains in reading achievement have been marginal, with performance declining among eighth graders, according to results of nationwide reading and math tests released Tuesday.


What’s going on with our eighth graders? Why are their reading skills in decline? This is a question for educators nationwide. To gather insight into it, the English language arts department at Amsco has been paying attention to current research into adolescent literacy. Here are some of the main findings:
  1. “I hate reading” may mean that the student just doesn’t feel successful at it.

  2. Reading is not a technical skill acquired once and for all in elementary school, but rather an ongoing developmental process.

  3. Most adolescents do not need instruction on phonics or decoding skills. Instruction should focus on understanding texts and increasing students’ ability to generate from them ideas and knowledge for their own use.


  4. Conversations about how, why, and what we read are strongly linked to student achievement.

  5. Adolescents do read--clothing labels, CD liner notes, magazines, poetry, MySpace pages, text messages, comics, etc. It is important for teachers to recognize and value these texts, and then to push students toward diverse (in interest and range of difficulty) texts.

  6. Students have to read a lot in order to read faster. Rate is an issue because slow readers cannot finish tests.

  • Teachers can’t improve students’ reading with books they don’t want to read.

  • Allowing student to choose some of the books they read in the classroom can help improve motivation.



  • The research indicates that sometimes teachers should let students read what they want to read. What do they want to read? The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) called for nominations from teens for their favorite books of 2007. The nominations, ranged across genres into fantasy, mystery, and science fiction, but the largest number fell into the category of realistic fiction. The realistic nominees, with synopsis and teen reviews are listed below. During Teen Read Week (October 14–20) students can vote for their favorites at www.ala.org/teenstopten/.


    Firegirl, Tony Abbott
    Tom tells about the arrival of Jessica, a new student who was badly burned in a fire. Little by little Tom begins to look beyond her exterior.
    Teen Reviewer: “It shows that small daily gestures from others can lift someone’s spirits and also your own. People will remember this book long after it’s over.”

    Secrets of My Hollywood Life, Jen Calonita
    What if everyone in America wanted to know what you were doing when you weren’t filming your TV show? Kaitlin Burke, a 16-year old TV star, is exhausted from this glamorous life. So much so she decides to go undercover as an ordinary high school student. But could it be that high school is just as tough as Hollywood?
    Teen Reviewer: “It grabs the reader’s attention and you want to find out more.”

    Just Listen, Sarah Dessen
    Annabel is nice. Too nice to say why she is unhappy with her life and what happened the night her life changed. That doesn’t work in the world of her only remaining friend, anger-management alum and alternative-music nut, Owen. Can she learn to speak, argue, and finally to say the truth?
    Teen Reviewer: “What Annabel is going through—dealing with her family, not wanting to be a model anymore, old friends, a sister with an eating disorder, and the secret—is gripping.”

    How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, Simone Elkeles
    The last thing 16-year-old Amy wants to do for the summer is go to Israel with her estranged Israeli father, who’s dragging her to meet a family she’s never known. What could be worse than a summer in a place without friends, shopping or a cell phone?
    Teen Reviewer: “This book was probably on my top 10 most funny books list…a hilarious book about one teenage girl’s adventure through a surprise vacation in Israel, friends, and the meaning of Moshav”

    In Search of Mockingbird, Loretta Ellsworth
    Erin waits as long as she can, until she decides that running away from home is her only choice. Then she goes on a mission: to find the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird. This takes Erin on a bus journey, knowing that if she can find Harper Lee she will also be closer to her mother, who adored that book more than all others.
    Teen Reviewer: “Gutsy. Says that any kind of person can be your friend.”

    Hello, Groin, Beth Goobie
    When Dylan agrees to create a display for her high school library, she has no idea of the trouble it’s going to cause—for the school principal, her family, her boyfriend Cam and his jock friends, her best friend Jocelyn, not to mention Dylan herself. Dylan also has to face her deepest fear and the way she was letting it run her life.
    Teen Reviewer: “This book is an amazing read about a girl going through struggles with her boyfriend, best friend, censorship, and herself. It really makes you think about the things in your life and the way you view them.”

    Born to Rock, Gordon Korman
    After ultra-straight-laced Leo Caraway discovers that his biological father is none other than millionaire King Maggot, lead singer of the punk band Purge, he accepts a roadie job on King’s tour in hopes of securing badly needed college tuition to Harvard.
    Teen Reviewer: “This book is about finding one’s roots and discovering rock music, while figuring out your true self…the book has many surprising twists and turns, and it’s a great laugh-out-loud book”

    Prom Anonymous, Nelson Blake
    Chloe Thomas is the last person that anyone expects to see at the prom. She agrees to go when her two oldest friends ask her to go. What will happen in the three weeks leading up to the big night?
    Teen Reviewer: “It talks about what goes on during prom night through couples, crushes, and high school life.”

    Skin, Adrienne Maria Vrettos
    The one normal person in Donnie’s family is his older sister, Karen. His family has to make huge changes when they admit that Karen has an eating disorder, and suddenly Donnie feels more on his own than ever. Will things be able to become normal again?
    Teen Reviewer: “I was not expecting anything this powerful. I felt what they felt. An amazing story of an anorexic girl told through the eyes of her younger brother and the emotions of the whole family.”

    0 Comments on Reality Check: "Math Scores Rise, but Reading Is Mixed" as of 9/27/2007 9:50:00 AM
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    18. DO U IM?

    In the education world, you often hear people blaming IM (Instant Messenger) and text-messaging for problems with adolescents’ writing. Students spend too much time on the computer; they don’t know how to write for real anymore. They don’t use proper punctuation. They abbreviate too much. They can’t spell anything.

    However, telling students not to IM certainly isn’t the answer. We all know that when adolescents are told that something they’re doing is “bad,” they’re only going to be tempted to do it more.

    Instead of criticizing teens’ fondness for IMing, why not channel this interest into something educational? IMing can be used in a variety of ways in the English language arts classroom.

    IMHO, one way teachers can use IMing is to teach students about audience. For example, teachers can ask students how language in an IM or a text message to a friend is different than the language in a letter to a grandparent, teacher, or employer. This will get students to think critically about how word choice and tone vary depending on one’s audience.

    Here’s a related activity that I learned as a student teacher at Bank Street:

    1. Divide students into small groups.


    2. Give each group approximately 5–10 index cards, each card containing a different writing or speaking situation (e.g., writing a letter to a grandparent, applying for a job, writing a note to a parent, writing an essay for school, IMing a friend on the computer, talking to friends on the basketball court, etc.).


    3. Have students work in their groups to put the index cards in order, from which situations would require the least formal language to which would require the most formal language.

    4. Then have groups share their answers with the class and discuss specifically how the language would be different for those situations.

    As an extension, have students write something on the same topic for two different audiences—for example, they can write about an out-of-school activity they enjoy to their grandparent and then write about it to their best friend. How did their word choice vary? This activity validates students’ language and shows them that it’s not about whose language is “better” (after all, formal language on a basketball court is just as “wrong” as informal language in a college application); it’s about when a kind of language is appropriate.

    A recent article from Education Week, “Tapping Instant Messaging,” offers other ideas for using IMing in the classroom. In the article, a New Jersey teacher says that she has students IM to brainstorm ideas for writing assignments. This shows students the value of collaborating on ideas. Another educator suggests that IMing may be used to have students discuss books outside of class. This helps students use what they already love doing—chatting about their own ideas—to learn how to talk about literature, and it will eventually lead into more formal verbal and written discussions of literature. When students feel that their own skills and interests are accepted and appreciated, they will be more engaged in learning other ways of communicating.

    For additional lesson plans that use students’ technology skills, check out the NCTE’s Read Write Think site.

    BFN,

    Lauren

    P.S. For teachers who need help decoding their students’ IM speak, the online internet dictionary Net Lingo is a valuable tool.

    0 Comments on DO U IM? as of 10/9/2007 8:33:00 AM
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    19. Ghosts in the Machine

    Halloween is here: parents are buying candy for the big night; animal rights activists are posting fliers; kids are getting set with costumes. What are teachers doing to get ready for the big day? Are they secretly wishing for something special to do on the 31st (aside from showing up in costume, of course), but repressing those desires for fear of offending sensitive students, parents, administrators, etc? Aside from all the fun of Halloween, there is a way to bring the best holiday of the year within the sphere of learning. What better way to do that than to dress up an old, familiar piece of writing in its very own costume? Teachers can try giving their students a parody exercise, like the one I’ve written. It’s a parody of an old Edgar Allen Poe favorite (you know, because it’s Halloween), "The Bridal Ballad.”




    Txting: The OMG Ballad


    The phone is in hr hand
    And hr fingrs r on the key
    Words + commas grand

    R all at hr command
    B4 period 3

    Language she does luv well
    But, when 1st she found a txt
    She felt hr <3>
    4 the wrds worked just as well
    Even tho their letters fell
    Inside of hr new tel
    And the meaning wasnt wrecked

    But she knu she culdnt do it
    At least not on her hw
    Still a reverie came to sit
    In hr thoughts 4 a bit
    And she sighed o’er her Brit lit
    Thinking it ded, her Choclat
    She went quite berserk

    And thus the wrds were riten
    Out the way they should b
    But, hr mind was broken
    4, in txt she hd not spoken
    hr oath was jst a token
    It was only JFT

    Wuld that she hd seen
    4 it happened, she knew not how
    Distracted by hr mob screen
    Lest she miss a txt from Dean
    Hr title 2Bornot2B
    Gave hr teacher a cow


    Yes, cell phones are the bane of teachers’ existence. Who knows what students are “saying” to each other about us while we’re standing right in front of them? I had fun with this, turning the descent of English into a bottomless tech. pit into a parody. Plus, I got to celebrate Halloween in my own particular nerdy way. Really, you can use this activity for any excuse, even just for the sake of parody itself. Just give your students a piece of literature as a model, and have them write their own version. Be sure to tell them to keep the form of the writing as close to the original as possible—it will be more effective that way. Happy haunting!

    (For a translation of common text abbreviations, simply google "text message abbreviations," or "sms dictionary.")

    2 Comments on Ghosts in the Machine, last added: 11/8/2007
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    20. Cheerio, London Calling

    One week in jolly old London is bloody well not enough! But 6½ days of careening through the Tube from the Tate Modern, to Buckingham Palace, to Kensington Gardens (decelerating only for a 360-degree rotation above the city on the London Eye and a bicycle excursion to Stonehenge) is enough to discover signs of the city’s rich literary heritage.

    Even in the contemporary tabloid-choked city, where Kate Moss’s cocktail party dominates headlines for days, relinquishing the front pages only for “news” about Paul McCartney’s divorce, this heritage is unmistakable.

    The Signs

    1. Stonehenge

    Lovers of Thomas Hardy may wish to reenact the dramatic conclusion of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in which Tess flees to Stonehenge, throws herself upon the stone altar and . . . I won't give away the ending. Read it yourself in the classic Amsco Literature Program edition.


    2. Sherlock Holmes
    Alighting from the Tube at Baker Street, one first detects the deerstalker & pipe motif on the ceramic tiles. Upon surfacing, one observes the larger-than-life statue and deduces that one is in Holmes and Watson country! Armchair travelers and detectives can join the adventures and match wits with Sherlock Holmes with Amsco's The Reader as Detective, Levels A, B, and C by Burton Goodman. All three books include stories by Arthur Conan Doyle.

    3. Charles Dickens
    My hotel being a stone's throw (not that I was throwing stones, your Honor) from the Old Bailey, I made certain to keep on the proper side of the law--as I do at home--but I couldn't help thinking about the Dickens characters Charles Darnay and Oliver Twist and their run-ins with the law. Readers who wish to ponder the finer points of treason and pickpocketing should pick up Amsco's editions of A Tale of Two Cities (with Reader’s Guide) and Oliver Twist (with Reader’s Guide), respectively.


    Can you identify the Dickens characters in this bas-relief?

    1 Comments on Cheerio, London Calling, last added: 11/6/2007
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    21. National American Indian Heritage Month

    Don’t let National American Indian Heritage month go by without taking the time to read and introduce students to some great Native American literature.

    Two particularly accessible contemporary Native American writers are N. Scott Momaday, who is Kiowan, and M.L. Smoker, who is a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes. Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel
    The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) tells stories about the Kiowan people and is an excellent choice for lessons on myths, oral traditions, and figurative language. M.L. Smoker’s poems (in her nationally acclaimed Another Attempt at Rescue, 2005) explore the conflicts she feels between Native American traditions and mainstream society, and would work well for lessons on imagery and poetic structure.


    Devil's Tower, a sacred Kiowan site



    These authors can also be linked thematically. Amsco’s Currents in Literature, American Volume has a great unit in which students compare Momaday’s journey back to a reservation in the Introduction to The Way to Rainy Mountain and M.L. Smoker’s journey away from a reservation in the poem “Sparrow’s Sleep.” Students look at how a person’s sense of place defines his or her experiences; both journeys lead to a clearer sense of identity for the two writers. Students also examine the language and imagery used by both authors and look at structure—Momaday’s prose reads like poetry, and Smoker’s poetry is structured like prose. Check out the American Volume for the complete lesson and exercises.

    To find other modern Native American writers, for use in the classroom or for your own reading pleasure, try the Internet Public Library’s database of Native American works, which allows you to browse by author, title, or tribe.

    Instead of looking at contemporary works, you may wish to recognize National American Indian Heritage Month by exploring classic Native American folk tales. Try these sites:

    Teachers might also wish to do something on Native Americans and history. The National Council of Teachers of English’s Read, Write, Think has a great lesson “Battling for Liberty: Tecumseh’s and Patrick Henry’s Language of Resistance,” in which middle school students compare the language in the poetic speeches of Chief Tecumseh and Shawnee to the language in a speech by Patrick Henry. Consider taking an interdisciplinary approach and involving history teachers in such a lesson. Studies show that students learn more when they are able to see how things relate across the curriculum.

    If you have a favorite Native American work or an idea for recognizing National American Indian Heritage Month, leave a comment and tell me about it!

    1 Comments on National American Indian Heritage Month, last added: 11/9/2007
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