Friday, December 30, 2011

11:26 AM - No comments

Typing Sentences

There are many different 
types of sentences.

Every sentence contains a basic statement.

Bells rang.
Love is blind.
The dog chased Daryl.
Andrea gave her mother flowers.
The teacher considered him a good student.

The group of words in the statement contain a subject and predicate.

The subject names the "do-er" or "be-er" of the sentence; the predicate does the rest of the work. The statement might use an implied predicate. ("Listen!" . . . implying, "You listen.") A simple predicate consists of only a verb, verb string, or compound verb:

The bells rang.
The bells have been ringing.
The bells rang, and chimed and filled the air.

Sentence Pattern Types:


  • The Periodic Sentence -- additional details are placed before the basic statement:
    "Andrea, the tough one, the sullen kid who scoffed at any show of sentiment, gave her mother flowers."
  • The Cumulative (or Loose) Sentence -- basic statement with a string of details added to it:
    "Bells rang, filling the air with joy and bringing people into the streets to hear the news."

Also note --

The Periodic Interruptive -- additional details are added inside the basic statement:
"Love, as everyone knows except those who happen to be afflicted with it, is blind."

The Combination Sentence -- additional details are added before and after the basic statement:

Function Types:
  • Declarative (most of the sentences we use)
  • Imperative ("Don't write about that!")
  • Interrogative (questions --"Why are those bells ringing?")
  • Exclamatory ("That's a fine paragraph!")

Sentence Structure Types: (differ depending on the number and type of clauses)

  • Simple (one independent clause)
    "We drove from Minneapolis to Bismarck without stopping."
  • Compound (more than one independent clause)
    "We were exhausted, but we arrived in time for my father's birthday party."
  • Complex (one independent clause and at least one dependent clause)
    "Although he is now in his eightieth year, he is still quite active."
  • Compound-Complex (more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause)
    "After it was all over, my dad claimed he knew we were planning something, but we think he was really surprised."

 The Nagging Inner Ear

Suppose you are working with a short, simple sentence: John was angry. This short sentence may sound exactly right inside your paragraph -- just short enough and sharp enough to have the force you want. In that case, leave it alone. But perhaps that nagging inner ear tells you that it isn't quite right; it needs something.

"John, usually the calmest of men, was suddenly, violently angry."

"John, usually the calmest of men, was suddenly, violently angry, so angry that he lost control completely."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

12:39 PM - No comments

Writing an Essay: 10 Steps

1.   Research
2.   Analysis
3.   Brainstorming
4.   Thesis
5.   Outline
6.   Introduction
7.   Body
8.   Conclusion
9.   Format (APA, MLA Style)
10. Language editing

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

POP: Pathos - Speech Unit

Powers of Persuasion: Pathos

A Pop Literacies, Urban Middle School
Language Arts Unit Learning Plan

In this seven-lesson, multimedia, Language Arts unit – eighth grade urban learners encounter the power of persuasive speaking and expand their understanding of the concept of persuasion in advertising. Learners consider that effective speakers use volume, pacing, vocal inflection and word choice appropriate to audience. They evaluate how rhetoric designed for a target audience employs imagery and transfer to make appeals to emotion. Through questions concerning cultural perspective, learners also look at ways in which they themselves are a target audience, developing awareness of how the popular mass media maneuvers to persuade them as purchasers of products and consumers buying in to the cultural marketplace of ideas.

While this plan is a discrete, one-week unit, POP: Pathos is envisioned as the second part of a four-part series – not necessarily scheduled back-to-back -- investigating the three appeals identified by Aristotle in classical rhetoric: appeals to reason (logos), to emotion (pathos), and to the speaker’s authority (ethos). These persuasive text/pop media units would ultimately lead to a major final project where teams of learners would collaborate to prepare live multimedia presentations – expressing opinions on a social or cultural issue at play in Chris Crowe’s narrative non-fiction text, Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, or a similar work.

In this unit, learners will:

  •      Review and discover vocabulary associated with persuasive speaking and persuasive advertising techniques;

  •      Interpret their thoughts about various advertising images, symbols and slogans;

  •      Write and deliver a targeted ad voice-over using various learned techniques;

  •      Create a sound recording of a persuasive speech using Audacity software;

  •      Create a full-motion video clip and publish it using webware;

  •      Present targeted texts and assess why and how student ads are convincing.

Instructional Strategies: Lesson Two sequence is from Sullivan’s “Persuasive Speech” lesson – at Poway Schools, Lesson Three uses ideas and information from McCarthy’s “Persuasion through Advertising” lesson, located at

Big Idea: Cultural Perspective

Essential Questions:

  • What makes a good speaker?
  • What makes a persuasive speech?
  • For what purposes might an author create a persuasive speech?
  • How are images associated with emotions and feelings?
  • How are images used to persuade?
  • What is perspective?
  • What is cultural perspective?
  • What cultural perspectives do I identify with?
  • How do I deliver a spoken text convincingly?
  • What is a target audience?
  • What target audiences do I belong to?
  • How does intended audience affect word choice?
  • What shapes our point of view?
  • How do others influence our thinking?

Lesson Plan Overview

     Lesson 1 – POP Quiz
o   Web pretest. Review vocal speech techniques -- What makes a good speaker? - volume, pacing and vocal inflection. [What is perspective?]
     Lesson 2 – Commercial Properties
o   What makes a good speech? - word choice. Targeting audience. [How can persuasion skills be used to change perspective?]
     Lesson 3 – Target Audience: Pathos
o   Investigate the concepts of transfer and appeals to emotion. [What is cultural perspective?]
     Lesson 4 – The Write Angle
o   Vocabulary Quiz Bowl. Write text, make word choices, for advertisement voice-over. [What cultural perspectives do I share with others?]
     Lesson 5 – Speaking Engagement
o   Deliver and listen to voice-over speeches. [How does my worldview differ from the perspectives of others?]
     Lesson 6 – Power of Pictures
o   Vocabulary Quiz. Create sound file, choose picture files for voice-over and publish video [How do others influence my thinking?]
     Lesson 7 – Commercial Appeal
o   Presentation of final projects / evaluations. [How is my worldview shaped by the way the world views me?]

Learners: (based on a class from Patrick Henry High) 22 mixed ability students of widely diverse cultural backgrounds. Class has theoretically had a previous speech unit – POP: Logos – and some experience with the basic vocabulary associated with persuasive speaking, the delivery of brief speeches and solo readings, and manipulation of Audacity sound recording software and webware.

Duration: seven, 60-minute sessions

Special Resource Requirements: computer lab, account, Audacity software, examples of print and video advertisements from

Materials – Unit Plan Forms: Target Audience, Picture–Symbol–Slogan map, Transfer Techniques, Voice-Over rubric, Persuasive Presentation rubric feedback form, web pretest, web POP Quiz, Vocabulary list for Quiz Bowl review

Resources/Websites:; sample adverts from [];

“Persuasive Speech” lesson by April Sullivan [ admin_powayusd_com_20090724_163000LessonPlan6.pdf].

“Persuasion through Advertising” lesson by Tara McCarthy at [];

The three appeals identified by Aristotle in classical rhetoric;
appeals to reason (logos), to emotion (pathos), and to the speaker’s authority (ethos).

POP: Pathos
Core Learning Strategy Map

Standard: Delineate and respond to a speaker’s argument, specific claim, and intended audience, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Core Objective: I can determine a speaker’s target audience to evaluate a speech’s power and persuasiveness.
Learning Target: I can identify names of common vocal techniques used by speakers.
Learning Assessment: word splash, vocabulary quiz bowl
Learning Target: I can evaluate a persuasive spoken text.
Learning Assessment: two Voice-Over rubric forms – partner and self-assessment
Core Assessments: vocabulary POP Quiz - 20%;
six completed Persuasive Presentation Rubric feedback forms - 30%

Assessment Description: Just before learners partake in the unit’s final presentations, they will each be randomly assigned the names of six other students whose projects they will evaluate using the Persuasive Presentation rubric feedback form.

Standard: Present claims and findings, respect intellectual properties emphasize salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation

Core Objective: I can present my ideas clearly and convincingly to a target audience.
Learning Target: I can author a speech intended for a specific audience.
Learning Assessment: written text of advertisement voice-over
Learning Target: I can deliver a speech persuasively.
Learning Assessment: speech presentation of advertisement text
Learning Target: I can record a speech using standard software.
Learning Assessment: Audacity sound file of voice-over
Learning Target: I can create a full motion video using standard webware.
Learning Assessment: published video
Core Assessment: final presentation of published advertisement projects - 50%

Assessment Description: Learners will give a brief introduction and present a published 30-second video – for assessment of written text, *recorded speech, and multimedia elements.

*Based on evaluation of the initial speech presentations, this summative core assessment could be altered so that students would deliver speeches live as their Animoto media file’s music and images play. This would place a greater emphasis on public speaking -- if focus on that skill component is deemed necessary.

Success Opportunity for Urban LearnersSOUL Focus:
Comprehension, Collaboration and Presentation of Knowledge

ISTE NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) addressed:

Standard 1 - Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

Standard 6 - Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.

Differentiated Instruction: This multidimensional, multiliteracy unit dynamically aligns with several of the MDE’s Speaking Viewing, Listening, Media Literacy benchmarks for Grade 8 and should be fairly simple to adapt to suit all learners in an urban middle school program. For the final project, advanced learners could alternatively be invited to deconstruct a completed, previously published Animoto design and create new narration for a specific target audience – while differentiation for struggling learners might involve inviting students to work in pairs or shifting project length requirements.

Please note the name and acronym of the new heading listed under standards, representing my thought to include -- along with a state standard – an additional standard that specifically identifies the college and career readiness anchor area for inner-city students: Success Opportunity for Urban Learners SOUL Focus! This urban learning protocol -- based directly on the Common Core website’s CCR definitions – would be an instructional planning assessment tool and a guide to answering the question: “Why do we need to learn this?” My concept here is to energize the passive, academic CCR language so that urban students are explicitly instructed as to which of the basic, broad areas of life and learning skills are being addressed.

Friday, November 25, 2011

3:17 PM - No comments

What is Poetry?

A poem is a made thing, a verbal construct, an event in language. 

From How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry
By Edward Hirsch:

The word poiesis means "making," and the oldest term for the poet means "maker." The word poem came into English in the sixteenth century and has been with us ever since to denote a form of fabrication, a verbal composition, a made thing. 

William Carlos Williams defined the poem as "a small (or large) machine made of words." He added that there is nothing redundant about a machine. Wallace Stevens characterized poetry as "a revolation of words by means of the words."

Meter marks a poem as verse, as a made thing, a work of art. 

From Poetic Closure
By Barbara H. Smith:

Meter serves . . . as a frame for the poem, separating it from a "ground" of less highly structured speech and sound. Meter is the stage of the theater in which the poem, the representation of an act of speech, is performed. It is the arena of art, the curtain that rises and falls as well as the music that accompanies the entire performance.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2:26 PM - No comments

Cindy Nichols' Dialogical Approach to Poetry

Cindy Nichols has been a creative writing teacher and English lecturer for 19 years. She has long battled the notion that poetry is highbrow and inaccessible. One of her noted articles is titled, "Down in the Body in the Undergraduate Poetry Course: Thoughts on Bakhtin, Hypertext and Cheap Wigs." The article asks an important question: What can teachers do to transform poetry's image from a source of fear and loathing to a meaningful genre that truly engages the soul?

Notes from Cindy Nichols
NDSU Magazine

I think it's fairly evident that, yeah, poetry is a marginalized genre in mainstream America. Even in its most popular forms, it simply doesn't sell the way that other genres do, the average person on the street doesn't appear to seek it out, and the great mass of my younger students have long reported feeling uneasy, dumb, indifferent, or occasionally even hostile to it.

Lyric poems tend to invite a lingering, concentrated attention to the way that words mean and feel, and this of course is not at all the kind of attention invited by most mass media, whose bombardment of disparate and shrill messages prompts something like stupefaction. I mean, we just can't sit there on our couches and watch a car bombing full of body parts and screaming children one second and a Viagra commercial featuring Bob Dole the next without overwhelming whatever faculty it is in our hearts and psyches that responds to lyric poetry.

. . . One big problem I see is the "academization" of poetry. Kids just love language patterns, textures and rhythms, they dig even how words and letters look. But somewhere along the line that pleasure is converted into distrust. Analyzing individual poems in the New Critical fashion, at least in the earlier grades, I think is extremely counter-productive. They learn that poetry is some sort of maliciously tricky genre imposed on them in the classroom, some kind of secret code they have to break to please a teacher.

. . .  Another problem is maybe the sheer number of poetry types. Really, the word "poetry" is just entirely insufficient for what falls under that rubric.

. . . In any case, I try to help my students with this by putting any given work in a literary, cultural and social context. On one hand, I try to demystify poetry - help students see that yeah, absolutely, they CAN understand it, it isn't written by Martians or the CIA, and, on the other hand, help them see that no one exactly knows what in the world this stuff really is. It's open and in flux, it's material for play, it's still ultimately mysterious even to the people who write it and write it well.

. . .  It's incredibly important to give students poems that matter to them and speak to them. For the most part, at certain points in their education, I think it's harmful to assign work which is centuries old, in an alien form of English.

I'd rather give them contemporary poems in the language they use everyday, help them see that poetry really does have to do with their lives. Once that foundation is established, they might be more receptive to classics. Once they're trusting and curious, they'll see that "translating" older material is just a necessary step to accessing the fabulous, screwed-up, weirdly familiar lives and minds of their own whack-job ancestors.

. . . I want to help students write and read poetry "dialogically." Maybe the word "conversational" is really enough. What I try to do is bring students into contact with a poem in a way that requires engaged openness. I don't want them observing poems, even though that can certainly be interesting. I want them to respond in kind; carry on a dialogue with a poem in its own language. I'm advocating, in other words, something like study by creative response rather than study by critical analysis.

My feeling in the classroom is: come on, you know you can do this. You think, speak and breathe the language of poetry all the time. It's part of the world. It's in Burger King commercials. It's in the language of your favorite sports newscaster, the wry crack of a dopey uncle, the line of a song that rips you to shreds. Write a poem in response to the poem. Talk back to the poet. Speak "poetry." Listen for the lower note, the odd resonance, the oblique meaning.

Just don't be a provincial and arrogant tourist (critic, theorist, scholar, student) who reads the guidebook, however long and hard, however 'intelligently,' takes a snapshot, and gets back on the bus.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Introducing Poetry - Unit Plan

Introducing Poetry:
Our Voices Break Open

For Young Adult Urban Learners in Grade Nine -
A Poetic Language Arts Unit Learning Plan Design

Unit Learning Plan Overview

In this three-week unit, scheduled very early in the year, learners encounter the literary genre of poetry. Learners expand their understanding of figurative language, and explore the ways we can use poetry and poetic language to express ourselves. Having studied the short story and the novel, students now examine the differences between prose and poetry. Through questions about identity and community, learners consider the power and expressive potential of alliteration, simile, metaphor and other kinds of poetic devices.

Learners will:

•    Review and discover vocabulary associated with poetic literature, in particular, defining the names of seven common poetic devices (Repetition, Rhyme, Simile, Metaphor, Personification, Onomatopoeia and Alliteration);

•    Read poetry, inspecting how key ideas are communicated, and detecting how language is creatively employed to affect tone and meaning;

•    Prepare for and participate in a poetry seminar;

•    Listen to poetry, including hearing a local poet read an original work;

•    Write poetry, exploring use of repetition, detailed images and other devices;

•    Publish a poem to the web via -- and present their work.

Instructional Strategies: The three anchor strategies in the unit are the Socratic Seminar, the BioPoem/ Identity Chart found online at Facing History and Ourselves, and the For My People exercise from Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice.

Big Ideas: Identity and Community

Essential Questions:

•    What is poetry?

•    Why would an author choose to use poetry or poetic language over simple, straight-forward prose?

•    What literary tools have successful poets traditionally used?

•    What is identity?

•    How do I define myself?

•    How do I write effectively about my own feelings and experiences?

•    What is community?

•    What communities do I identify with?

•    How do rules and traditions shape communities?

•    In what ways are we a learning community?

Lesson Plan Outline:

•    Lesson 1 - Introducing Poetry
Highlighting the Writing (What is identity?)

•    Lesson 2 - Identity Charts
Create Identity Charts (How do I define my identity?)

•    Lesson 3 - BioPoem
Write BioPoem (How do others define my identity?)

•    Lesson 4 – Pair, Share and Prepare
Print and Publish BioPoem / pre-seminar (What is community?)

•    Lesson 5 – Just My Type
Print and Publish BioPoem / pre-seminar (How do rules and traditions shape communities?)

•    Lesson 6 –Our Voices Break Open
Socratic Seminar (How does identity relate to community?)

•    Lesson 7 – Perspective
Post-seminar reflection (How do communities define “we and they?”)

•    Lesson 8 - Community Lists
Create Community Lists (What groups or communities do I identify with?)

•    Lesson 9 – For My People
Write Poem (How do I view my community? How do others view it?)

•    Lesson 10 – Pair, Share and Prepare
Print and Publish poem (What does it mean to belong?)

•    Lesson 11 – Fine Print
Print and Publish - Vocabulary Baseball (In what ways are we a community?)

•    Lesson 12 – Identifying Poetry
Unit Assessment/ prepare (How do rules and traditions shape communities?)

•    Lesson 13 - Poetry Showcase
Presentations (Who are we?)

•    Lesson 14 – Poetry Showcase
Presentations (Who are we?)

•    Lesson 15 – Reflection
Reflect on learning (Who are we?)

Learners: 22 mixed ability students of widely diverse cultural backgrounds. Class has reviewed basic literary devices and gone through the seminar process in prior lessons.

fifteen 60-minute sessions

Unit Texts:

Confluence -- Yusef Komunyakaa, We and They -- Rudyard Kipling, For My People -- Margaret Walker, Firework -- Katy Perry, This Is Just to Say -- William Carlos Williams,
I, Too, Sing America -- Langston Hughes, I'm Nobody! Who are you? -- Emily Dickinson, kidnap poem -- Nikki Giovanni, The Sneetches -- Dr. Seuss

Special Resource Requirements: highlighters, computer lab, Katy Perry clip, clip of Sneetches, account, secure a guest poet visit

Materials: student folders and unit forms -- Identity Chart, BioPoem page, Seminar prep sheet, homework sheets 1-5 and Deborah Tannen quote - read and react, Poetry rubric, Seminar rubric, Seminar reflection, Presentation rubric, Figurative Language assessment

Resources - Websites:,,

Christensen, L. (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: Re-Imaging the language arts classroom.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools Publications.

Our voices break open the pink magnolia
where struggle is home to the beast in us.

-- from the poem, Confluence
by Yusef Komunyakaa

Unit Learning Plan Core Learning Strategy Map

Standard: (Writing) Write narratives and other creative texts develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. (d.) Use precise words and phrases, telling details, figurative and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

Core Objective: I can express my ideas through a formatted piece of poetry.

Learning Targets: I can shape the meaning of a text through use of poetic language.

Learning Assessments: Poem I (BioPoem)

Core Assessment: Poem II (For My People) - 35%

Standard: (Writing) Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Core Objective: I can use webware to publish my writing products.

Learning Targets: I can use word-processing software to publish my poetry. I can manipulate text elements in webware to post my poetry online.

Learning Assessments: Poem I (BioPoem) print and webpage

Core Assessment: Poem II (For My People) webpage presentation     - 15%

Standard: (Speaking / Listening) Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, including those by and about Minnesota American Indians,  building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. (a.) Come to discussions prepared having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

Core Objective: I can participate effectively in a collaborative discussion.

Learning Targets: I can verbalize my thoughts clearly. I can actively listen to provide feedback.

Learning Assessments: class discussions, Pair-Shares

Core Assessment: Socratic Seminar (Seminar Summary) - 15%

Standard: (Language) Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (a.) Interpret figures of speech.

Core Objective: I can identify common poetic devices.

Learning Targets: I can identify figures of speech. I can recognize figurative language.

Learning Assessments: Vocabulary Baseball, Figurative Language handouts (5)

Core Assessment: Figurative Language Assessment - 35%

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Projects & Exhibitions

Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe:

"So this is the little lady whose book started the Civil War."

It is difficult for most students – and teachers – to imagine 
that an entire semester could be  spent examining just what
President Lincoln meant by those words. . .

Notes on Jim Burke's  -- Chapter 14
The English Teacher's Companion
"Integrating Projects & Exhibitions"

If we are to be effective urban educators we must devise lesson plans that address three things: the problem of engagement, the problem of comprehension, and the problem of retention.

Jim Burke invites us to explore the powerful possibility – and the empowering potential – of the long-term project. He encourages us to design lessons around big ideas – to look at the big picture – to ask essential questions.

There are three main types of projects have emerged.

  • Senior Exit Projects: These projects are sometimes required as part of a larger school program and are not necessarily done in the English class. They may, however, involve the study of literature, or depend heavily on English teachers to help with certain parts of a project.
  • Exhibitions: These projects are traditionally done as part of a class, but represent a culminating activity for a quarter or semester. They are often used as a performance assessment, providing students an opportunity to demonstrate what they know and have learned to do over the course of the term.
  • Class Projects: These projects last anywhere from one to four weeks. While they are related to the other two types, class projects tend to focus on one particular unit of study to which the teacher wants to bring some closure.


"Our challenge as urban educators" Burke explains,"is finding high-leverage strategies that meet the demands of our texts and the needs of our students." As you’re looking to devise lesson plans that solve the problems of engagement, comprehension and retention – consider integrating projects and exhibitions into the curriculum.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Critical Literacy Education

The definition of critical literacy found at the website for LEARN NC -- a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- cannot be improved upon. Critical literacy refers to the ability "to read texts in an active, reflective manner in order to better understand power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships." The website clarifies that text is defined as a “vehicle through which individuals communicate with one another using the codes and conventions of society,” and that accordingly, "songs, novels, conversations, pictures, movies, etc. are all considered texts." Critical reading requires readers to consider not only what is being said about a topic, but also who is doing the speaking.

As a skill set that enables readers to interpret messages through a critical lens and challenge the implied power relations in a text, critical literacy skills are connected to social issues.

The term critical literacy was developed by social critical theorists concerned with "dismantling social injustice and inequalities." These theorists are focused on "oppressive and unjust relationships produced by traditional forms of schooling" where teachers assert themselves as the possessors of knowledge. Becoming critically literate means mastering the ability to read texts "in order to better understand whose knowledge is being privileged." There is often an activist component to critical literacy education. The LEARN NC website refers to the work of Linda Christensen, and notes, "by participating in social action projects or creating a public discourse, students may see the relation between curriculum and the world beyond the walls of the school."

Critical literacy education is manifested in the classroom in a multitude of ways.Edward Behrman explains that the development of critical literacy inspires creation of many curricular forms of social justice and exploration. Behrman suggests that the different types of lessons can be devised to examine the power relationships found in textual language and literature -- and that these practices show students that language is never neutral.

Behrman’s research revealed that the most commonly used practices that support critical literacy are: reading supplementary texts; reading multiple texts; reading from a resistant perspective; producing counter-texts; having students conduct research about topics of personal interest; and challenging students to take social action.

Specific classroom activities that could be employed: use of counter-texts, incorporation of new media and teaching style.

Counter-texts involves having students generate texts, including multi-media creations, from a non-mainstream perspective. Counter-texts "may be produced in reading logs, journals, weblogs, personal narratives, and student-created videos."

Incorporating media and technology is another potentially useful strategy for including critical literacy in the classroom.

Lastly, teaching style can promote student understanding of critical literacy. LEARN NC emphasizes the importance of the dynamics between learners and educators saying, "a classroom that acknowledges the critical literacy theory must also challenge traditional hierarchical relationships between the students and teacher."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Joy and Justice

Notes from Linda Christensen’s
Introduction to Teaching for Joy and Justice

What does Linda Christensen mean when she talks of teaching for joy and justice?
“My curriculum” writes Linda Christensen “uses students’ lives as critical texts we mine for stories, celebrate with poetry, and analyze through essays that affirm their right to a place in our society.” Christensen explains that teaching for joy and justice means locating the curriculum in students’ lives. For her, the language arts classroom is a place of personal empowerment where students can look at their lives, examine why things are unfair or unjust, and use their writing to respond.

The fact that a learner lacks skills does not mean he or she lacks intelligence. Teaching for joy and justice, says Christensen, begins with “the non-negotiable belief that all students are capable of brilliance.” The educator’s duty is to attempt to “coax the brilliance out of them.” Christensen advocates connecting skill acquisition through content that is personally and socially relevant to the learner. Within this process, she says there is joy in recognizing the learning and justice in recognizing the learner. Christensen speaks of a breakthrough essay from of a student named Michael and explains, “There’s joy because he finally nails this form of academic writing, but there is also justice in talking back to years of essays filled with red marks and scarred with low grades.”

What does Christensen mean when she says she longs “teach the writer not the paper?” 
Christensen states her belief that all students can write and have something important to say. She insists educators must “build writers by illuminating their gifts instead of burying them” in corrections and rules. This involves carefully measuring critique -- exploring one or two feedback items that the learner can truly grasp and incorporate into his or her work.

Students naturally resist a curriculum of correction and fault fixing. Christensen insists our students’ language is an inherited history to be discovered and celebrated. It is “a treasure of words and memories and the sounds of home, not a social fungus to be scraped from their mouths and papers.” When we start by thinking learners need to be "fixed," our curriculum seeks to erase students' home language. Such a curriculum fails to find the “strength and beauty in the experience and heritage” learners bring with them to school.

What is Christensen’s Reading Without Words assignment?
Linda Christensen speaks of recognizing and valuing the multiple literacies in learners’ daily lives. In her Reading Without Words lesson, she asked learners to interview family members about ways they “read” the world. She describes how students shared their findings: “Troy wrote about how his father, a long-haul truck driver, read his engine and the highway. Mario wrote about how his mother, a hairdresser, read hair and heads. Carl wrote about how his grandfather read rivers when he took him fishing.” Christensen is convinced that when learners write about their lives, “they have more incentive to revise the paper, and they care more about learning about mechanics.”

According to Christensen, educators need to construct curriculum around ideas that matter and that connect students to their community and world. Teachers should employ books, stories, poems, and essays that “help students critically examine the world.”

What are the benefits of using poetry in the classroom?
“Poetry levels the writing playing field,” Christensen writes. “Students who struggle in other areas of literacy education often succeed in poetry.” According to Christensen poetry is of benefit in the classroom in the following ways: unleashes verbal dexterity; helps build community; teaches literary analysis; is a means of sharing our hardships and joys; turns pain into art; teaches us how to be a human. 


Christensen, L. (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: Re-Imaging the language arts classroom.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools Publications.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Scaffolded Reading Experiences (SRE)

Prereading Activities

  • Motivating
  • Activating and Building Background Knowledge
  • Providing Text-Specific Knowledge
  • Relating the Reading to Students' Lives
  • Preteaching Vocabulary
  • Preteaching Concepts
  • Prequestioning, Predicting, and Direction Setting
  • Suggesting Strategies

Reading Activities

  • Silent Reading
  • Reading to Students
  • Guided Reading
  • Oral Reading by Students
  • Modifying the Text

Postreading Activities

  • Questioning
  • Discussion
  • Writing
  • Drama
  • Artistic, Graphic, and Nonverbal Activities
  • Application and Outreach Activities
  • Building Connections
  • Reteaching

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Defensible Strategies

The following seven ‘defensible strategies’ consistently improve student achievement at the high school level. (1) Read-alouds (2) K-W-L charts (3) Graphic organizers (4) Vocabulary instruction (5) Writing to learn (6) Structured note-taking (7) Reciprocal teaching.

Seven strategies good readers use to help them comprehend text:

(1) monitor for meaning 

(2) questioning 

(3) using prior knowledge 

(4) determining importance 

(5) creating mental images 

(6) inferring

(7) synthesizing

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dr. Parks' Bookmarks

In 2000, The National Reading Panel (NRP) issued an extensive report of their findings, as directed by Congress in 1997, to assess the status of research-based knowledge about reading, including the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching children to read. The Websites listed below can help to explain the Five Elements of Reading Instruction identified by NRP as effective approaches.

1. Phonemic Awareness

2. Phonics

3. Fluency

4. Vocabulary

5. Comprehension

Additional Resources

Research and Resources

Graphic Organizers


English Language Learners

Response to Intervention

The International Reading Association’s
Commentary on Scientifically Based Reading Instruction:

Friday, September 9, 2011

10 Reading Strategies



Read the first few pages of an informational book aloud to learners To interest learners further in the topic of the book and motivate them to read it on their own

K-W-L Charts

Have learners record what they know about a topic, what they want to know, and what they learned from reading a text To have learners access their knowledge on a topic, think about what they would like to learn about it, and better understand and remember the information that interests them most

Record It

Make an audio recording for learners to listen to as they follow along in the text To make concepts in the text accessible learners who might have difficulty reading the text on their own


Learners from cooperative jigsaw groups and take a topic that emerged from their readings to make display posters To reinforce the concepts that students learned in their reading and to provide the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a practical way

Top Ten

Ask learners, “What are the top 10 things that (the hero does, discovers, etc.)?” Post responses, have learners prioritize items To encourage learners to recall story details and to foster critical thinking

Double-Entry Journal

Learners look for passages in the novel that reveal personal attributes of story characters and record both the attribute and the quote that shows this attribute in a DEJ To focus learners’ attention on characters’ personal attributes by requiring them to identify both the attribute and how it is revealed

Physical Traits and Personal Attributes

Have learners identify the physical traits and personal attributes of story characters by finding examples of these in the text To help learners gain an understanding of the difference between physical traits and personal attributes and to learn how authors develop characters by using both of these attributes

Word Drama

Post any word, say, bittersweet. Give learners 10-15 minutes to write about an experience in their lives they would call bittersweet. Have learners share their stories in small groups. Have groups choose one story to act out and prepare a brief skit. Share skits. To bring to consciousness through writing and discussion, ideas and issues that are relevant to appreciating and understanding the situation and motivations of the characters in a story

Slide Show

Present a slide show depicting the historical period and setting of a text To provide background knowledge with visuals that depict the relationship between the people in a text and their environment

Graffiti Board

Learners write their personal responses to texts on a large sheet of butcher paper To encourage learners to think about and respond to what they read and communicate those responses


Graves, M. & Graves, B. (2003). Scaffolding reading experiences: designs for student success. Christopher-Gordon Publishers: Norwood, Mass.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Evolving Notions of Literacy

Notes on Chapter 4 of
Jim Burke’s
The English Teacher’s Companion


In our increasingly complex world of multiple literacies, urban learners need to develop textual intelligence.  Judith Langer defines literacy as, “the ability to think and reason like a literate person within a particular society.” Though Burke refers to four literacies, he fails to simply define them. I have identified them as: 

  • Communications Literacy – Ability to read, write and comprehend
  • Information Literacy – Ability to access, sort, comprehend, integrate
  • Tool Literacy – Ability to use tools and hardware to facilitate all other literacies
  • Cultural Literacy – Ability to understand the ethical, social, group and personal impact of literacies

Teaching a Range of Texts

Urban learners need to be able to read a range of texts, not just literary texts. There are four categories of text types:

  • Functional/expository – “literature of daily life” such as textbooks, business documents, guidebooks, newspapers, menus.
    (Death of Innocence, Star-Tribune Newspaper, Huffington Post)

  • Narrative – novels and assorted narratives
    (Invisible Man, Jazz, American Born Chinese)
  • Dramatic – plays, musicals, monologues and other scripts
    (The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, A Raisin in the Sun)
  • Poetic – blank verse, sonnets, Haiku and various other formats
    (Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Meyers)

Reading for Appreciation

Urban educators must cultivate in students an appreciation of stories and a love of reading. The more an urban learner reads, the better reader he or she will become. Burke highlights five strategies:

  • create a large, diverse in-class library
  • allow learners choice in reading
  • use literature circles
  • connect text to the real lives of learners
  • translate stories into dramatic or artistic events

Teaching Poetic Texts

“Few other texts offer so much substance, such rich fare as poems” says Burke. “Nor are there many other texts, Shakespeare included, that challenge teachers and, of course, students as much as poetry can.” Urban learners and urban educators are uniquely challenged by poet texts. Burke details the following general instructional approach:

Look for clues in the title. 
Read straight through. 

“Start with what you know.” 

Look for patterns. 

Identify narrator. 

Reflecting in writing.  


“Find the crucial moments.” 

Consider form and function. 

Consider language. 

“Go deeper / call it quits.” 

Return to title. 

Why are students reading this poem? 

Explore activities beyond the page.