Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category designates a piece of my own writing on a topic on a variety of topics. So, if you are interested in listening to me bloviate, click on this category! Essays/Readings also includes extended quotes from books, particularly on pedagogy, literacy, terms of art, and philosophy.

Bob Moses: A Tribute to a Brilliant Civil Rights Activist and Educator, and His Message to Us

Diane Ravitch's blog

Bob Moses died on July 25 at the age of 86. He was noted for his intellect and courage. He was a leader of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), leading a voter registration drive in Mississippi at a time when violence against Black civil rights activists were at risk of being murdered, and no jury would convict their killers. In 1964, he led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which tried unsuccessfully to replace the all-white Democratic delegation to the Democratic National Convention. In 1982, he founded the Algebra Project, to teach algebra to underprepared Black youth. He received multiple honors for his work. He graduated from the elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City, Hamilton College (where he majored in philosophy and French), and earned a master’s degree at Harvard in philosophy.

One of his friends and admirers forwarded the following story:

It might be of interest…

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Term of Art: Sensorimotor Stage

“sensorimotor stage: A developmental stage in which a child had little ability with language or the use of symbols, but experiences the world through sensation and movement. It is the first of four stages in the theory of cognitive development as described by child psychiatrist Jean Piaget. The sensorimotor stage lasts from birth until about age two.

Infants are normally born with a range of reflexes that ensures their survival, such as sucking and grasping. As the infant adapts these reflexes over time, the child can begin to interact with environment with greater efficiency. By the end of this stage, the child is able to solve simple problems, such as looking for a lost toy or communicating simple needs to a parent or another child. It is also during this stage that the infant develops a sense of object permanence—that awareness that things and people continue to exist even when they cannot be perceived. For example, before the age of two if a parent hides a toy under a pillow in front of the child, the child will not understand that the toy still exists under the pillow. Once a sense of object permanence is developed, the child will understand that the toy hidden under the pillow still exists, and will lift up the pillow to retrieve the toy.

Modern technology was not available in Piaget’s time, so he often used motor tasks to test the cognitive understanding of an infant. With the availability of more advanced techniques that can track an infant’s eye movements or rate of sucking in response to stimuli, researchers now know that infants reach cognitive milestone such as object permanence.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Term of Art: Learning Style

“learning style: An individual’s behavior, temperament, and attitude in a learning situation. Some of the best-known learning styles are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Some experts argue that it is important to match an individual’s learning style with the style of instruction to make learning easier. For example, an individual with a strong visual learning style should be taught to read with an emphasis on the shapes of words.

There are many different learning styles, but none are either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Although a student may prefer one style over another, preferences develop like muscles: the more they are used, the stronger they become. Successful students have flexible and integrated learning styles. No one use one of the styles exclusively, and there is usually significant overlap in learning styles.

Visual learners relate most effectively to written information, notes, diagrams, and pictures. Typically they will be unhappy with a presentation where they cannot take detailed notes. To a degree, information does not exist for a visual learner unless it has been written down. This is why some visual learners take notes even when they have printed notes in front of them. Visual learners will tend to be most effective in written communication. They make up about 65 percent of the population.

Auditory learners related most effectively to the spoken word. They tend to listen to a lecture and then take notes afterward, or rely on printed notes. Because written information will often have little meaning until it is heard, it may help auditory learners to read written information out loud. Auditory learners may be sophisticated speakers, and may specialize in subjects like law or politics. Auditory learners make about 30 percent of the population.

Kinesthetic learners learn best through touch, movement, and space, and learn skills by imitation and practice. Kinesthetic learners can appear slow, because information is usually not presented in a style that suits their learning methods. Kinesthetic learners make around 5 percent of the population.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Dioxins (and Learning Disabilities)

“dioxins: A group of some of the most toxic carcinogenic human-made chemicals in the world, which have been linked to developmental and learning disabilities. Exposure in childhood can cause lower IQ, result in withdrawn and depressed behavior, and increase hyperactivity and attention problems. Unborn children are even more acutely affected by exposure to dioxins because of the critical development that occurs during pregnancy, especially between the second and eighth week after conception.

Dioxin is the most harmful of all the chemicals in the dioxin group, and is produced by burning plastics containing chlorine, incinerating household waste, and bleaching chlorine paper. It was first used as the toxic chemical in the weapon Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Although some dioxins are produced naturally as a result of forest fires, most appear in the environment as an industrial by-product.

Dioxins are found everywhere in the environment, introduced into the air from incinerators and smokestacks, where they eventually settle on the ground, in the water, and on the food that livestock eat. Because dioxins do not decompose readily, they are stored in livestock fatty tissue. About 95 percent of human dioxin exposure occurs by eating traces in in meat, dairy products, and fish.

Children are at higher risk for both ingesting dioxins and being harmed because their diets usually have a higher concentration of animal fat in the form of dairy products.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Term of Art: Whole-Language Approach

“whole-language approach: An educational philosophy characterized by the belief that language learning is a natural outgrowth of a child-centered process that integrates speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The whole language approach emphasizes the fact that reading is closely linked to spoken language. As a result, students of this approach are exposed to language-rich classrooms to help make them better readers and writers.

The way American schools teach children to read and write for many years has been affected by the influence of two opposite schools of thought. A conventional curriculum tends to rely on phonics and basic readers. This traditional theory of learning, which was popularized in the 19th century, is based on the idea that children learn a complex skill such as reading by first making sense of letters and then progressing to the understanding of sounds, words, and sentences. Proponents of this theory believe that children learn to read by learning to decode the language; understanding follows after they break the code and master the parts. Traditional American education begins with reading lessons that focus on phonics (sounding out first letters, then combinations of letters), tightly controlled vocabulary, and short basic reading passages, followed by exercises, each with only one correct answer.

Whole language represents a completely different philosophy about teaching, learning, and the role of language in the classroom, emphasizing the idea that children should use language in ways that relate to their own lives and cultures. In the whole language classroom, the final answer is not as important as the process. Children are encouraged to decode words by their context.

Whole language advocates point out that the average first grader has already acquired a vocabulary of 10,000 words and inherently understands many of the rules of grammar without being formally taught. The common techniques of whole language teaching, which include daily journal and letter writing plus reading much real literature, represent that philosophy in action.

The popularity of the whole language approach has been so dramatic that some teachers complain they cannot find basic readers anymore. In addition, many new teachers say their university professors no longer discuss how to teach phonics.

Critics of the whole language approach believe it overemphasizes understanding at the expense of accuracy. The whole language movement had a significant impact on reading and writing instruction in the 1980s and 1990s, when the appeal of whole language instruction influenced many schools to revise their curricula. As a result of this movement, a vigorous debate emerged amongst educators over how children learn language. Many special educators felt that whole language was flawed by its neglect of explicit language skills such as phonics, spelling, and grammar. Since a language-rich classroom does not help many students, especially those with learning disabilities, learn to read and spell, a ‘back to basics’ movement in education began to move back to explicit skill instruction.

On the other hand, advocates of the whole language approach say that an overemphasis on rules and rote learning is stifling and leads children to see reading and writing as boring and difficult chores, rather than an interested way of gathering information.

Research strongly indicates that students will be the most successful if a balanced approach is used, teaching phonics in a systematic fashion within the context of real stories. Today, many classrooms use this combination approach utilizing elements of both whole language and phonics, spelling and grammar.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.


Term of Art: Writing Process

“writing process: A particular approach to writing instruction that has become common in school systems and colleges during the past 25 years. There are many meanings of the phrase ‘writing process,’ but most refer to the concept that writing is part of the thinking process involving many different mental activities over a period of time. Effective instruction in writing teaches students how to generate, organize, and revise their writing, rather than focusing solely on written language structures.

In its early years of development, the process theory of writing instruction focused largely on individual expression and the facilitation of the development of a student’s ‘voice.’ This approach to the writing process was in many ways a reaction to traditional methods of writing instruction, which focused mainly on structural and mechanical elements such as grammar, punctuation, and following paragraph and essay models.

In the early 1980s, Linda Flower and John Hayes developed a theoretical model of writing as a thought process involving a number of different mental activities, including planning, generating, organizing, translating, reviewing, and editing. In their model, any given activity might interrupt any other one at any stage. The Flower/Hayes model continues to be useful, especially for understanding the writing problems of students with learning disabilities and attention disorder. However, the primary contemporary model emphasizes the ways in which writing is a social practice, and focuses on collaborative approaches to developing writing skills and producing written work.

In practical terms, effective writing instruction involves understanding that writing involves different activities of generating, organizing, drafting, and revising, and that incorporates collaborative activities in helping students develop a sense of voice, audience, and using writing as a communication tool.

A process approach to writing is particularly vital for students with learning disabilities, in that it enables them to take the different cognitive tasks involved in writing and spread them over a series of steps and periods of time. For example, a student with dyslexia may benefit from putting off any attention to editing and spelling until late in the process, instead focusing mainly on generating ideas and language first.

Likewise a student with attention deficit disorder may do better by taking out a highly specific approach to planning a paper and mapping out the steps that will be involved, using a checklist to monitor completion of each step.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

A Welcome Insight from The Washington Post

Here is something that popped up in The Washington Post that came over the transom last weekend. It’s long overdue, but better late than never.

Term of Art: Orton-Gillingham Approach

“Orton-Gillingham approach: A multisensory approach to reading, writing, and spelling born of a theory of reading disabilities devised by Samuel Orton, Anna Gillingham, and Bessie Stillman in the 1930s. Their approach was based on the idea that the brain stores information in both hemispheres; when the connection between the two hemispheres is not fully developed, individuals may read words in reverse.

People with dyslexia have the potential to be accomplished readers and adequate spellers. The ability to achieve this potential depends on two variables: the instructional approach and the amount of practice. The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading and spelling ensure success by developing multisensory techniques for memory and retrieval. This practical teaching technique emphasizes the reading-decoding process.

The teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically, and students are taught letter-sound relationships using all senses: seeing the letter (visual), saying the letter (auditory), and writing the letter (kinesthetic). In this respect, Orton-Gillingham differs from traditional phonics instruction. Once letters are mastered, letters are grouped into blends, and short, structured passages are used for reading and dictation, Infinitely flexible, it is a philosophy rather than a system. The student learns the elements of language-consonants, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs in an orderly fashion.

As students learn new material, the continue to review old material until it becomes automatic. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar, structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.

At best, the teacher tries to understand how an individual learns and to devise appropriate teaching strategies. In every lesson, the student experiences success and gains confidence as well as skill. Learning becomes a happy experience, The Orton-Gillingham approach is appropriate for teaching individuals, small groups, and classrooms. It is appropriate for teaching in the primary, elementary, and intermediate grades, and at the secondary and college level, as well as for adults.

An Orton-Gillingham approach, while not the only program available, is probably the best-known for helping children with dyslexia learn to read. The fundamental principles on which it is based, including developing phonemic awareness, and suing a multisensory approach, are consider essential components in reading instruction today.

The Orton-Gillingham approach has proven successful with students who have struggled in learning to read and spell through traditional classroom methods, despite normal intelligence, hearing, and vision. It is the program most recommended by experts in the field of dyslexia.

Modern research has continued to confirm Dr. Orton’s theories about the physiological differences experienced by people with dyslexia. Early remediation is most effective; however, these methods have been successfully adapted for use with older students and adults. The result is the development of lifelong language skills and the wonderful feeling of success in the world of written language.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

The Pandemic Winds Down

Tuesday June 15, 2021

Tonight at midnight Vermont exits its COVID19-induced, fifteen-month-long state of emergency. 80 percent of this state’s residents have received a vaccination. Things are looking up, and let’s hope they continue to do so. This has been a long, strange trip, to quote the Grateful Dead.

Mark’s Text Terminal has undergone a number of changes during the  pandemic. The blog is more searchable while at the same time fewer, and more descriptive (I hope) categories and compound tags serve to guide you toward what you seek. If you’re looking for the COVID 19 at Mark’s Text Terminal post that was previously pinned here, you’ll find it here. If you have any questions about the material you find here, leave a comment with contact information (all comments on the blog require my approval, so you won’t be exposing your email address to the open Internet; I’ll delete your comment after I take your contact information from it) and I’ll get back to you.

Stay safe, be well, and let’s all get back to educating kids.

Cultural Literacy: Louisa May Alcott

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Louisa May Alcott. This is a half-page worksheet with two questions; in other words, for every page you print, you’ll produce two worksheets.  

Which doesn’t really do justice to the interest the subject of the document, Louisa May Alcott, seems to generate. For example, Little Women has been produced for stage and screen repeatedly, once even as an anime series. Two of the film adaptations of the novel appeared just a little over a generation apart, with esteemed Australian director Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation and Greta Gerwig’s highly praised 2019 production appearing within 25 years of each other. 

One thing not well known about Ms. Alcott is the fact that along with such examples of 19th-century New England rectitude as Little Women and Little Men (also adapted as a film three times as well as a Canadian television series) she also wrote racy novels, proto-pulp fiction, really, under the name A.M. Barnard, a fact uncovered by the fascinating antiquarian booksellers Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review