Monthly Archives: September 2015


“Yet even as I wince at the terrible risk we all took, I remember thinking at the time that it was the right decision—because it it felt as though the hand of fate was ushering us forward.”

Melba Patillo Beals on the Integration of Little Rock Schools in Warriors Don’t Cry (1994)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, September 25, 2015

In my experience, most students at some point struggle with the idea, both in theory and practice, of subject verb agreement. I worked my way through college and graduate school tutoring students in writing, and more than half the time, students were referred to the writing center for subject-verb agreement issues in their prose.

This week’s Text is a simple learning support that conjugates the verb to be and explains one way of making sure that subjects and verbs agree. The school year has started, so this is a quick entry between adjusting instructional materials for this year’s freshmen, writing an IEP, and preparing lessons for my upcoming absence on account of jury duty. Are you this busy?

As always, I would be grateful for your comments on this material.

Edmund Wilson’s Refusal Card

The great American literary critic Edmund Wilson, of whom I have long been an great admirer, was famous for his refusal card, which I’ve reprinted here. At some point, I’ll rewrite this for public school teachers. Is there anything or anyone in particular to which or whom you would like to say no?

“Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him without compensation to:

read manuscripts

contribute to books or periodicals

do editorial work

judge literary contests

deliver lectures

address meetings

make after-dinner speeches


Under any circumstances to:

contribute to or take part in symposiums

take part in chain-poems or other collective compositions

contribute manuscripts for sales

donate copies of his books to libraries

autograph books for strangers

supply personal information about himself

supply photographs of himself

allow his name to be used on letter-heads

receive unknown persons who have no apparent business with him.”

The Weekly Text, September 18, 2015

Students with learning challenges almost invariably present to their teachers with executive skills issues. How might teachers in their content areas, while conveying the facts and skills on which students will be tested, build opportunities into our lessons for students to have useful experiences in learning to organize themselves? Since some colleagues and I conducted a professional inquiry into executive skills a few years back, the possibility of this kind of synthetic unit, using abstract content to teach concrete, real-world living skills has nagged at me. This Weekly Text is a prototype for the kind of learning activity I imagine. I use the word prototype deliberately. I have never used this lesson on the commonplace book in the classroom.

We expect students to manage larger and larger amounts information, but at least at the school in which I work, we offer no formal instruction or training to assist students in discovering and developing their own methods of organization. For students with even mild executive skills challenges, this is a devastating omission. But what would we use to teach organization, and how?

You can click through the link above to learn the basics on the commonplace book from Wikipedia’s good page (from which I was edified to learn that by “the seventeenth century, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students”). Fortunately, cloud computing gives students and teachers a variety of formats in which to start a digital-age commonplace book. Evernote and Dropbox are two of the better-known places to start and maintain a commonplace book.

I don’t know your school’s policy is on smartphones, but both Evernote and Dropbox offer apps on the major mobile applications platforms. I believe that the smartphone has potential to serve as a powerful learning adjunct for struggling learners. If your school permits the use of smartphones in the classroom (mine, for reasons that strike me as both foolish and ignorant, if that’s possible, doesn’t), then this lesson has room to help students learn to use their smartphones to aid them in their school work in both learning and organization.

So, the Commonplace Book Lesson Plan is a reading and writing lesson that introduces students to the concept of keeping information (at least at the beginning) in one place. I expect as I begin using this lesson, I’ll find ways it might be adjusted or adapted for greater sophistication and complexity, e.g. teaching students to create, use and organize useful filing systems, so that it can be used along a continuum that matches students’ abilities.

As always, I’d be very interested to hear if you found this useful, and how.

Maintaining Perspective

“Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text: September 11, 2015

On this sad anniversary, I am at work, right next to Ground Zero, on Trinity Place between Cedar and Thames in Lower Manhattan.

Here are five parsing sentences worksheets that you might find helpful in teaching your students a variety of things: what nouns are, what the parts of a complete sentence are, how to pick sentences apart by identifying their constituent parts, and how those parts relate to one another syntactically.

This is the first time I’ve posted parsing sentences worksheets, so I attach the Parsing Sentences Worksheets Users’ Manual. If you haven’t previously used worksheets from Mark’s Text Terminal, and you’re wondering why there are asterisks where subject nouns and pronouns should be, take a quick look at the About Weekly Texts page linked to just above the photo.

I hope you find this material useful, and I’d be grateful if you let me know how you used it, or how it worked with the students you teach, or both.

A Couple of Thoughts as the School Year Begins

“We live in a time of such rapid change and growth of knowledge that only who is in a fundamental sense a scholar—that is, a person who continues to learn and inquire—can hope to keep pace, let alone play the role of guide.” Nathan M. Pusey The Age of the Scholar (1963)

“Our best chance for happiness is education.” Mark Van Doren (1894-1973)

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text: September 4, 2015

School begins Tuesday, September  8th here in New York City (and as Joey Ramone once said, the sun is out, and I want some!), so I’ll quickly publish these two takes on the word ally, as a noun and a verb, that I use to assist students in understanding these oft-used words. I emphasize to students that these are fundamental terms in their social studies vocabulary. You might want to take a look at the About Weekly Texts page above for information on the format of these two worksheets (what’s with the asterisks?), as well as the Focus on One Word Worksheets Users’ Manual. I generally mention in passing the word allied both as an adjective and past tense of the verb. Does allied need its own worksheet?

As always, I’d appreciate hearing from you if you did or did not find these worksheets helpful.

Steven Jay Gould on Human Aspiration

“We pass through this life but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”

Excerpted from: Gould, Steven Jay. The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1996).