Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Real Crisis in American Education

“A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.”

Horace Mann (1796-1859)

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

The Weekly Text, November 25, 2015.

Here’s a rare Weekly Text on a Wednesday, which I post now so that I can enjoy four solid days away from this computer screen. You might find these two context clues worksheets on the noun fiction and the verb fictionalize useful.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Anne Sullivan on Professional Satisfaction

“My heart is singing for joy…The light of understanding has shone in my little pupil’s mind, and behold all things are changed.”

Anne Sullivan (1866-1936)

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

The Weekly Text, November 20, 2015

As I understand it, one of the most difficult things for English language learners to understand and master are the manifold idioms in the language, particularly in American English. While my knowledge of this is anecdotal (among other things, I hear that’s the part of the ESL test on which students fare most poorly), not the best kind of evidence for any kind of conclusion about this problem area of instruction, I don’t have any trouble imagining that some of the struggling learners I work with would find it a challenge to deal with the figurative and abstract aspects of idioms in American English.

So I have become interested in the idiom as a way of teaching figurative language, and to teach the difference between figurative and literal language. I’m somewhat circumspect about posting this first lesson from a unit that I’ve provisionally titled “How Not to Talk Like the Guys in ‘Dumb and Dumber'” for a couple of reasons. First, I thereby admit that I’ve watched both the “Dumb and Dumber” movies a sufficient number of times to have had them inspire me to develop instructional material–something that doesn’t quite fit the cut of the intellectual jib (to pervert an idiom slightly)  I seek to present on Mark’s Text Terminal. The other reason is that this lesson, and the other four I’m working on for this short unit, combine instruction on idioms with material, which in this first lesson is only implied, on malapropisms.

Anyway, I’d like to hear from you if this is something you’ve found useful per se, or if you modified it for your students and how, or if you think it is just silly. My students did, but they also learned to understand and use an extremely common idiom in American English, which is prior knowledge I believe they can call up to understand and use other idioms.

The Case for Reading Proficiency

“Reading well makes children more interesting both to themselves and to others, a process in which they will develop a sense of being separate and distinct selves.”

Harold Bloom, Short Stories and Poems for Exceptionally Intelligent Children (2001)

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

The Weekly Text, November 13, 2015

For the second year, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I have struggled to assemble a structured and scaffolded unit on writing the five-paragraph essay for the eight-week special institute class required of freshmen in my school. The premise of the exercise–that all there is to be learned about composing five-paragraph essays–and therefore, I guess, all essays–can be learned in eight class meetings has always struck me as…well, to put it as charitably as possible, problematic. This approach is especially problematic for the struggling learners I serve.

So, I’ve worked at creating a unit that leads students who struggle with writing and reading, and don’t really understand the elements of grammatically complete sentence, to an understanding of how to write expository prose. My own sense remains that for the students I work with, this material would be best presented seriatim in daily classroom sessions rather than once a week, and that it should be presented one step at a time over two eight-lesson units rather than one. The five-paragraph essay is not the only form of expository writing students will need to learn, so why not make that form part of a broader and deeper strategy on teaching writing?

When I went through the first unit just now, I found that I hadn’t made the kind of progress on it that I’d hoped. In any case, I think these units will undergo revision each time I use them to meet the need the students I work with. On that note, here is a lesson on the elements of a declarative sentence, the first from my unit on writing the five-paragraph essay.

N.B., please, that in several of the sentence setups in exercises one through eight have a series of asterisks where the subject should be. This is so you may, if you choose, insert names of your students for use as subjects, and the same is true of the parsing sentences do-now work that opens the lesson. Please see the About Weekly Texts page for the rationale behind this.

As always, I’d be grateful to hear from you if you find this useful, or if you adapted it in any way, and in either case, how.

What Is Education?

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

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

The Weekly Text, November 6, 2015

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been asked to participate in a special institute class in my school on writing the five-paragraph essay. I find this approach, particularly for the struggling students I serve, confining and tedious. Nonetheless, I set out this year to write my own scaffolded curriculum for this class, which meets once a week. Here are two paragraph analysis worksheets that I developed to use in helping students understand the underlying structure of paragraphs. The reading is high interest, and the questions basic.

How would you make these worksheets better? As always, if you find these useful, I’d be much obliged to hear how.

Plato on Differentiated Instruction

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

Plato (427?-347 B.C.)

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