Friday, November 14, 2008

Carolyn & Renae Weigh In on Graphic Novels

Dear Friends,

In response to a question about graphic novels, Language Arts Consultant Carolyn Gough shared some insights about the topic, and I threw in my 2 cents worth as well to create the following collaborative entry.

Graphic novels can range from disturbing to educational and everything in between. The appeal of a graphic novel is obviously the picture-book element and the topic. Librarians and teachers could promote a series of graphic novels on fairly mundane topics only to find students will never read them. Pictures aren't enough. On the other hand, most educators wouldn't want hundreds of comic books lining school or classroom library shelves. Obviously, there needs to be balance.

Some students are great fans of Anime (Japanese animation) and manga (style of comics and print developed in Japan), so it makes sense to include copies from that particular genre. If that's what inspires a student to read independently, all the better. At one time, Bingham High School, as well as other secondary schools, sponsored Anime clubs that reviewed such novels and art work. This level of critiquing involves higher order thinking that includes analysis, synthesis, comparing and contrasting, etc. Because such activities are very motivational in the extra-curricular world, why not try to duplicate similar learning experiences in the classroom through graphic novels?

At the other end of the spectrum is a collection of graphic novels that correspond to all kinds of famous literature. That series is called Graphic Classics and features about 12 or so volumes of classic titles categorized by author and/or genre such as the following: Adventure Classics: Graphic Novels Volume 12; Graphic Classics Volume 9: Robert Louis Stevenson; Graphic Classics Volume 3: H.G.Wells; or Horror Classics: Graphic Novels Volume 10. To sample some of these, go to, and "peek" inside one. Readers might be surprised at the sophisticated writing that often includes the language of the original works. Graphic Classics can be helpful for teachers to aid in scaffolding or differentiating instruction.

For example, prior to diving into Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Renae assigned her sophomore inclusion classes to read graphic novel on the order of Graphic Classics. By doing so, the students were acquainted with the characters and plot line, thus giving them a head start when they started reading and enacting the bard's original work. (I have to add that now some of Shakespeare's most popular works are recreated in manga, and I saw them on sale at the Utah Shakespearean festival!)

One graphic novel guide worth consulting is Stephen Weiner's THE 101 BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS 2nd Edition; introduction by Neil Gaiman and Edited by Keith De Candido. Weiner, a librarian and expert in the field of graphic novels, has long promoted their inclusion on library shelves. While some of the graphic novels listed in this guide are comics and some are manga, this concise guide introduces a range of titles with accompanying annotations explaining why they made Weiner's list. Not all connoisseurs of the genre agree with his choices; nevertheless, the list of what is currently available serves as a starting point for many language arts teachers and media specialists.

Another recommendation is to search for graphic novels simply by topic. We have found several interesting graphic novels searching for topics like the Holocaust, September 11, or even photosynthesis. Graphic novels like these could help scaffold textbook reading for students. Search by topic can begin on a site like under book search, on Google, or Recently, Carolyn introduced a graphic novel about Communism she discovered while conducting a topical search on Google, and she was able to garner enough information to determine that selection would be best used with upper grades.

One final reminder about reading graphic novels in the classroom: If teachers want to use graphic novels with students as literature to teach a concept or idea, that graphic novel will need to be submitted to the literature selection committee and receive approval before a teacher can use it with a captive audience. Remember, however, a school library can purchase graphic novels for students' independent reading according to district policy AA440. Naturally, some graphic novels are very insightful, but can be controversial. Such an example is Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman.

While some educators may feel graphic novels are not on the same level as well-crafted young adult novels, many critics do not agree. More graphic novels are showing up in winner's circles. For example, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang won the prestigious Michael Printz Award for Outstanding Young Adult Literature in 2007. Additionally, Newbery award winners like Avi and Shannon Hale are also authoring graphic novels.

While we can think of more reasons for including graphic novels than reasons for excluding them from classroom use, the best reason just might be that they get students into reading. Think about it.

Until next time,
Renae & Carolyn

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Professional Organizations

Dear Colleagues,

As the Utah Council of Teachers of English/Language Arts Fall Conference concluded, I couldn't help but reflect upon the value of belonging to professional organizations like UCTE/LA Utah Council of the International Reading Association (UCIRA). I belong to both of these associations as well as our district chapter of the IRA - Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA). While in this reflective mood, I am listing why I think it's important to participate in such organizations.

  • They bring together educators at every level - university, primary, and secondary - thus providing an avenue of discourse amongst us. Whether we serve with these individuals on boards or committees or rub shoulders with each other at conferences, all benefit from these experiences. It's important to work together as educators so that we can bridge gaps between research and practice, elementary and secondary worlds, novice and veteran teachers.
  • Professional organizations provide opportunities to share our expertise through serving on boards and committees, presenting at conferences or contributing to journals such as UCTE/LA's Utah English Journal or UCIRA's Utah Journal of Reading and Literacy. (I'm proud to say that two of Jordan District's teachers were recently published in the UEJ: Amy Lavin and Andria Robb of West Jordan High School.)
  • These associations provide professional development opportunities to learn from nationally-known presenters in our fields, awarding-winning authors, and outstanding peers.
  • UCIRA and UCTE/LA recognize educators who lead the way in making literacy an important part of students lives in and out of the classroom. These individuals are honored at conferences and banquets and are monetarily and publicly rewarded for their efforts.
  • These organizations benefit educators and students. Professional development betters teachers which indirectly but effectively benefits students. I am a "graduate" of the Utah Writing Project, class of 1993, and that experience had a tremendous effect upon helping my students and me become better writers.
  • UCTE/LA also sponsors the English Quest Contest for 9-12 grade students. This festival takes place in February and it offers the chance to compete in academics associated with nearly every realm of literacy. It's exciting and it's growing. (For more information go to the following website:
  • Service projects to help build literacy opportunities for the under-served are an important part of UCIRA. Local chapters create and participate in service projects for their areas.
Yes, professional organizations provide wide and varied opportunities to serve. In the movie Pearl Harbor, Alec Baldwin's character extols the power of volunteers. There is something about people working together in a common cause, because they want to and not because they have to, that strengthens the participating individuals and the cause itself. America is known for its spirit of volunteerism, and educators personify that spirit. Whether it's extra hours spent before or after school to help one student or hours spent working with like-minded peers in organizations like UCTE/LA, UCIRA or JCIRA, we're engaged in a great work right here on the home front.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Summer Vacation!

Welcome back to Link2Literacy! My apologies for this long-overdue posting, but now that school-year 2008-09 is well underway, I hope to update my blog monthly!

Since no one asked me to write the traditional, back-to-school essay about my wonderful summer, I decided to undertake the task without the prompt. Not that I enjoyed June, July or August in some adventurous way, but I did renew my love affair with the Cedar City Shakespearean Festival by spending four pleasant days traveling back in time to distant places.

During that time, I laughed and cried over the romantic tragedy Cyrano de Bergerac; wept and fumed over Othello; laughed and sang along with the cast of Fiddler on the Roof; chortled and chuckled at the antics of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (plus a mangy but cute mongrel), giggled and blushed during Schools for Wives; and fell in love with the setting, costumes and performances in Taming of a Shrew.

While it is tempting to review each of these four wonderful productions, I will resist and focus upon 2 points: The relevance of Shakespeare's works and how that relevance can be enhanced through experimentation with the setting.

Contained in the preface of Stephen Greenblatt's book, Will in the World, are reflections that may enlighten us as to why the Bard's works remain popular some 400 years after they were written. In speaking of influences upon Shakespeare's writing, Greenblatt notes the following:

At least as much as the books he read, the central problems he grappled with as a young man - What should I do with my life? In what can I have faith? Whom do I love? - served throughout his career to shape his art.

One of the prime characteristics of Shakespeare's art is the touch of the real. As with any other writer whose voice has long ago fallen silent and whose body has moldered away, all that is left are words on a page, but even before a gifted actor makes Shakespeare's words come alive, those words contain the vivid presence of actual, lived experience.

I suggest that those "central problems grappled as a young man" and "the vivid presence of actual, lived experience" keep William's works breathing. This year's production of Taming of the Shrew also demonstrated that unique and imaginative variations of time and place can also pump life into the plays as well. Changing the setting is not a new idea, but it is an intriguing because of the impact of time and place upon the action and the characters. For example, Taming of the Shrew was still set in Padua, a village in northern Italy, but the time was post-World War II; hence Petruchio was an Italian/American G.I. and a member of the occupying Allied forces stationed in the former Axis power.

The change in setting meant the women dressed in 1940s fare, complete with shoulder pads, sweetheart necklines and fanciful hats. Italian men represented shop keepers and fashionable members of the mafia, while the hero and his sidekick, Grumio, wooed women - except Kate - as only men in uniform can.

The time change also affected Petruchio's "taming" tactics. For example, rather than donning a fool's garb for his wedding day, the GI showed up dressed in drag - the remnants of the previous night's bachelor party. (These outlandish costumes reminded playgoers of the coconut bikini top from South Pacific, and that was the director's intent!)

The honeymoon sequence took place in pup tents, and the results were also hilarious as Petruchio acquainted Kate to both military and marital life. Some patrons were frustrated at the humiliation handed Kate, feeling that it seemed more harsh than traditional productions, but Jane Page, the play's director referred to the theme as the “'the big lesson': when a person’s life and heart are full of anger, selfishness, or greed, there is no room for love, joy or playfulness." I thought the camp scene supported that premise entirely.

While Page's production brought the story to the 20th century, it was still decades away from our own day. Nevertheless, it struck a chord with this baby-boomer and many others that filled the seats. Additionally, this playful version literally reinforced the adage that "all is fair in love and war," thus uniquely sustaining the timelessness of Shakespeare's universal themes.

One last note: While watching William's writings played out on a summer day in Southern Utah, I noticed my euphoria. Furthermore, I realized I want everyone to share in the experience and my affection for Shakespeare. Therein lies the challenge. So many shy away from his works for a plethora of reasons - either real or imagined - that they refuse to reconsider their prejudices. One trip to the festival often cures the malady, but such a solution isn't possible for everyone. That's why positive classroom exposure to Will's works is so helpful.

Recently, a grandmother and volunteer at the festival called me to ask what Jordan District schools were doing to acquaint students with Shakespeare. After explaining that certain plays are part of the high school curriculum (grades 9-12), she regretted that we weren't introducing his works to younger students. She added that during the post-play seminars, also a part of the Festival, she often listened to youthful play-goers profoundly remark upon their experiences. Such reflections convinced her that young people can and do develop an appreciation for Shakespeare.

I know many of our middle school teachers agree, and they are disappointed that they have been unsuccessful in receiving approval to place some plays upon the Middle School Approved Reading List. Until that happens, can anything be done to whet the appetite of younger students? Here are some of my ideas:

  • Create lesson plans around excerpts from plays that fit the theme of a unit. Most, if not all, of the Bard's works are online, and relevant scenes can be copied, pasted and printed for students to enjoy. (There are no copyright restrictions.)
  • Scope Magazines and READ Magazines often feature readers theater versions of Shakespeare's plays. Those issues provide a great scaffold for meeting the characters and understanding the plot, thus preparing them to comprehend the "real thing."
  • Go to the Utah Shakespearean Festival website ( to find a wealth of support, including study guides AND film clips of last summer's productions! Also, check into USU's traveling programs that bring the Bard right to the school.
  • Attend the Festival and encourage students to do the same. There are even half-price school discounts for 12 or more students.

Hopefully, you're convinced and excited to put a little Shakespeare into your teaching - more than merely quoting some of his more popular lines! With that, I leave you, for "tis better to be brief than tedious" (Richard III, I:4).

Take care,


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reading for Pleasure!

Welcome Loyal Perusers!

It's the middle of May, and that means the joys of summer reading are only days away! Joys? Summer reading? "Yechhhhhhhhhhh!" many students gag. But I say summer is the perfect time for reading ... in parks, at campsites, on beaches, in cars, on patios or decks, at libraries or in the comfort of air-conditioned homes. I have a stack of books I can't wait to cut down to size. (I've sworn I won't buy another volume until I have worked my way through these purchases!)

Where to read and what to read may not pose problems for avid readers, but choosing engaging books is frustrating for many adolescent readers. During the school year, required reading is often forced upon them, and while sustained silent reading or monitored silent reading may be part of the school day, choices are often limited and time is also in short supply. The few minutes of class-time reading doesn't allow students to "get into" a book like they can in the summer.

Some schools provide required and/or recommended book lists for summer reading. Each has their places, but I hope teachers also encourage students to reading something different than their usual fare. I used to ask my students to identify a friend who was book-lover and ask them for some ideas. (Rare was the kid who knew no one who liked to read.)

I also hope teachers work hard to convince their students that reading for pleasure is a great pastime. And there is no better season to learn that lesson than summertime. Last November I attended the Utah Council of the International Reading Association (UCIRA), and local author Shannon Hale delivered an entertaining luncheon address that reminded me to emphasize this point. We can often lose sight of this concept as we wade through the drama of the dust bowl in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath or Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

I am not saying I don't like these novels - Mockingbird is on my "Top 10 List," but it doesn't serve my occasional need to escape. Hale, whose titles include Goose Girl, Princess Academy and Book of a Thousand Days, was inspired to write quality books that are fun to read because she realized at one time she didn't believe reading was reading unless the book was a deep and dark classic.

In her "ridiculously long bio," she write, "One tragic outcome of English classes . . . was I believed (and didn't question for some time) that the 'classics' were the only good books around. I stopped reading for pleasure, choosing books that I thought were good for me but were often boring and quite depressing, and so soon fell out of love with reading. I didn't question the only-classics-are-good mentality for many years."

Shannon's reviews of some of those "often boring and quite depressing" novels ignited eruptions of laughter from her audience. My personal favorite was her description of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. It went something like this: A young man marries his dying mother's old, ugly nurse because he's afraid to be alone in the winter. Miserable, Ethan's life changes when Mattie, cousin to the old, ugly wife, comes to live with the Fromes. After they fall in love and Ethan's wife demands Mattie's exit, the two lovers decide to commit suicide by sledding into a tree. (I'm not making this up! Wharton did!) At any rate, the attempt fails and the two end up as invalids in the care of - yup, you guessed it - the old, ugly wife.

While I believe few schools include Ethan Frome as part of their curriculum, the same point could be made using Wuthering Heights, Jude the Obscure, or Great Expectations as examples. There is definitely a place for classic literature in education, but we must remember that these works were NOT created for adolescent readers. So, as we jot down ideas for summer reading titles, let's keep in mind that we are more likely to foster life-long readers by suggesting books that students might actually find a pleasure to read.

What am I reading this summer? Well, my stack includes Goose Girl and Princess Academy, but there is also Ambler Warning by Robert Ludlum, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, My Father's Secret War by Lucinda Franks, Christ the Lord by Anne Rice, and oh yes, Hugo's Les Miserables - just kidding. I do have it on my "want-to-read" shelf, but I see this work as "winter reading." = )

If you need some ideas to pass onto students, check out Literacy Link-Up's Guy Books or a list of recommended Graphic Novels. If you click onto Novel Links, you'll find links to websites with tons of ideas for summer reading titles. And if you really want to read Ethan Frome, you can find the whole text online.

In the meantime, enjoy your summer reading. I will post blogs during the warm months, too, so drop by if you have a minute and nothing else to read.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Teaching the Holocaust


Last Thursday, April 10, I spent a long day-into-night at the University of Utah-sponsored "Days of Remembrance" teacher workshop. The objective of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) workshop is to support educators in effectively teaching students about the Holocaust.

As I participated in the activities, I thought of several reasons why we need to pass on the stories and lessons of the Holocaust. The following are just a few of my ideas

1. Like World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors are dying daily. Although many have recorded their stories through written or video-taped testimonies, the chance to interact with them is coming to a close.

2. With the downfall of the Soviet Union, along with the distancing of decades, more documents and pictures are forthcoming from sources once closed to the world. Examples of these include maps housed in former USSR archives, the "Auschwitz Album"and the "Höcker Album" that emerged in 1980 and 2007, respectively.

Upon liberation, Lily Jacobs, an 18-year-old former inmate of Auschwitz, found the first album while searching for some warm clothes in a vacated SS barracks. After several decades, she donated it to Yad Vashem, the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel.

A retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel donated the Höcker album this past December, 2006. He found it in a German apartment in 1946 while working for the military intelligence agency. All this information adds insights into to complex story of the Holocaust.

3. Among resources given to workshop participants were two DVDs produced by the Holocaust Museum's Committee on Conscience: Witnessing Darfur: Genocide Emergency and Defying Genocide: Choices That Saved Lives. Both documentaries reminded me that genocide is not a condition of the world's past. Knowledge can lead to action on a local level as well as a world-wide level. Without knowledge, however, little will change.

4. Those thoughts lead to the question: If not us, who? Who will teach today's youth about yesterday's Holocaust and today's genocide? If not educators, who? Parents often shy away from the particulars of such topics.

My parents, part of the "Greatest Generation," did not share the Holocaust story when we talked of Dad's wartime experiences as a top-turret gunner in a B-17. I initially learned of "The Final Solution" when I read the first chapter of Leon Uris' best seller Exodus. I was 13 years old, and it terrified me. Although the novel is a work of historical fiction, somehow I knew that Uris' writing was factually based, and so I asked parents and teachers if the Nazis really performed the atrocities described in that book. My questions were answered, but the topic was not studied during my years as a student in public education.

Those who agree that educators have an obligation to teach the Holocaust often wonder how to best do that. Peter Mehlbach and David Nienkamp, both USHMM Teacher Fellows, presented two important suggestions. Peter emphasized that "less is more." Whether teachers have a day or a month, he recommended that they should focus upon one aspect of the Holocaust and study it in depth. To support that adage, the workshop centered upon Auschwitz 1944, especially January through July when nearly 500,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped to the infamous camp.

David shared "Methodological Consideration for Teaching the Holocaust in Middle School and High School." The 14 "considerations" serve as excellent guidelines in approaching this sensitive and serious subject. Furthermore, he presented ways to outline the unit via a graphic organizer. (To examine reproduced handouts from the workshop, click onto Considerations.)

For more ideas, peruse the Holocaust Museum's website listed at the end of this site. Link 2 Literacy and Literacy Link-up were created as avenues of teacher collaboration. I would greatly appreciate comments and ideas. Please feel free to post them.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Guy Books

Hello there,

This will not be one of my typical epistles because my goal is to create a blog of fewer than one million words - think I can do it? I surmise that very few people read my postings because no one has 3 days to devote to the effort! With that said, I shall introduce today's topic: Guy Books.

A high school teacher recently emailed me with a request for suggestions of books boys might be interested in. Working with a learning community population of 90% male students, she thought this might be a good idea. I was interested in fulfilling her request because I've attended conference sessions and also examined the latest literature about boys and reading. It seems that recent studies reveal that boys don't read as much nor do they enjoy reading as much as girls. Rather than summarize the reflections and research about this topic, I encourage you to click onto an excellent IRA article about this phenomenon:

This teacher not only asked for recommendations, she also requested books of about 200 pages that were on an 11th grade "Lexile Level," which ranges from 1100L to 1200L+. With those parameters in mind, I searched recommended book list sites as well as others I stumbled upon. The result is a lengthy list that includes "oldies but goodies" as well as recent publications.

I think you may be as surprised as I was when I saw the Lexile measurements of many suggested books targeting middle and high school readers. For example, Hatchet, a favorite novel usually studied in upper elementary or lower middle school grades, has a Lexile measurement of 1020L. On the other hand, the Lexile Level of Lord of the Flies, a novel often studied in 10th grade, is listed at 770L.

With that in mind, I suggest that teachers notice what MetaMetrix, creater of the Lexile Reading Framework, reminds us about recommending books.
  • The Lexile measure of a book refers to its text difficulty only. A Lexile measure does not take the subject matter or content of the book into consideration. Lexile measures are based on two well-established predictors of how difficult a text is to comprehend: word frequency and sentence length. Many factors other than these affect the relationship between a reader and a book, including content, the age and interests of the reader, and the design of the actual book. The Lexile measure is a good starting point in your book-selection process, with these other factors being considered.

If you are more interested in learning about Lexile Measurements, refer to the Link 2 Link website resources found at the end of this blog site. And if you want to peruse the mega-list of "Guy Books" I compiled, click on this wikispace link: Guy Books. And last of all, if you have recommendations, let's add them to the "Books recommended by colleagues" section, okay?

Well, this posting is still a little lengthy, but it is shorter than most of my efforts!

Best wishes,


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Professional Development Thoughts and Recommendations

Hello There,

I have been thinking about professional development and how important that has been in my life. I was a "late bloomer" in the educational world in that I returned to university life in my late thirties and started teaching in my early forties. I saw myself as the perfect teacher candidate because I wouldn't leave the profession because of pregnancy. Half way through my first year, however, I thought about leaving because this career is darn hard. Professional development classes provided by our district saved me from throwing in the towel! Seriously!

In January of 1992 I signed up for the Jordan Writing Project, and that experience provided some tools to use with my seventh graders. Next, I enrolled in the Six Traits of Writing classes, and that supported a foundation for teaching writing. In fact, I can't think of a year when I did not take advantage of three or four professional development opportunities. Nor can I think of a one in which I did not glean something that made me a better teacher. Oh, some classes/workshops were better than others, but I never walked away empty handed. I still adhere to the belief that few professional development courses are a waste of time.

Our district mandates teachers to participate in school professional development days and individual professional development days. As I study the effects of professional development, I see the wisdom in this. Quoting Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher (2004) of San Diego State University, "... several researchers [including Allington and Johnston; Darling-Hammond; Joyce and Showers] suggest that the professional development of teachers is critically linked to student achievement and literacy levels of students."

They further state, "... it is not a program, a set of books, or a box of materials that creates a high achieving school. It is always teachers who matter, and what they do matters most" (2004, p. 3). With that said, I want to share some professional development experiences I recently enjoyed.

Courses and Presentations ~

Randy Olsen of Crescent View Middle School facilitated a workshop centered upon enhancing classroom discussions. The evening I attended, he demonstrated how he and his colleague Jolene Jenkins incorporate online discussions in their classrooms. Using Google Groups, these two educators opened up a world of communicating via written words that develops critical thinking, reading and writing. This discussion tool is especially supportive of students who hesitate to comment in class.

Randy is enthusiastic and willing to share the ins and outs of how he brought this instructional/technological strategy into his students' lives. Because of what I learned, I better organized my Google Group of board members of the Utah Council of Teachers of English/Language Arts. The process takes time, but it isn't all that hard, and it is extremely useful because I can draft the meetings' minutes on the discussion site for non-attending members to see in real time. Additionally, they can "chat" with me during our meeting, thus adding important input.

Another evening I dropped by the Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA) meeting. Keri Corfield and Christie Despain, elementary school literacy facilitators, shared their expertise AND many helpful literacy products. Now, I am sure secondary colleagues might wonder what I extracted from the hour I spent with a dozen or so elementary teachers. Let me tell you, I walked away with a wealth of ideas and materials that can be adapted in the secondary classroom.

Guided reading is not a term often heard in the halls of middle or high schools, and yet I believe it can provide an avenue through which secondary teachers can differentiate curriculum. I want to research this more because there are undoubtedly many differences between elementary and secondary classroom conditions. But I surmise that the tools shared with the attendees at Monday's presentation could work with literature circles. Keri reminded us that lit circles, in and of themselves, are not guided reading; however, if teachers sit in with groups and facilitate the discussion using graphic organizers; comprehension cards, etc., circles can provide a guided reading experience. This, of course, is dependent upon being able to assess students' reading levels and matching them with texts that build comprehension. Thankfully, the ability to do that is coming our way via Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI).

Conferences ~

I recently attended "The Literacy Promise" conference, sponsored by The David O. McKay School of Education Alumni Association and the Brigham Young University-Public School Partnership. I gleaned so much valuable information, but my favorites were Timothy Shanahan, Chris Crowe, Donna Ogle's break-out session and Cathy Collins-Block's keynote address. Other wonderful presenters included Patricia Wolfe and Janet Allen, but I have attended their presentations in the past.

If you were unable to go to this conference, you can find presenters' handouts at the following site: This is perfect segue into another favorite professional development resource - the Internet.

Websites ~

I am constantly amazed by the expanse of educational resources available on the World Wide Web. I imagine there are sites that address nearly every teacher and student need. And most of the shared materials are free! For example, Randy shared PowerPoint presentations that can be used in classrooms to review tips for finding reliable websites; for structuring inquiry projects; and for defining plagiarism. All these PP presentations were found online! Just a few revisions personalized the slides for their particular classrooms.

I have also bookmarked scores of wonderful sites - some I use in my professional development classes and some function as my personal professional development courses. For example, I have learned valuable information about differentiating instruction. A recent website I want to share with you is about teaching the Holocaust. I know that social studies and language arts teachers introduce their students to this topic in upper elementary grades, middle and high school. This website offers an online course that supports educators in teaching this emotional unit with excellence. You can access this site and others near the end of Link 2 Literacy's page.

Books ~

When I attend educational conferences, I always browse through dozens of books provided by sponsoring vendors. I have shelves full that I have yet to read from cover to cover, but still I find that perusing chapters is very rewarding. In my current position, I find my library of teaching and learning texts has served me well. I enjoy books written by both practitioners and researchers, but when I think about sharing an instructional strategy, I see what the research says about it.

Now some effective tools do not boast of extensive research, but that does not mean they are not worth trying. In fact, such tools can provide the focus of action research, the results of which can be shared with others. One such tool is the Discussion Web developed by Donna Alverman, renowned reading educator from the University of Georgia. I have used it in a variety of settings and found it very helpful in deepening discussions.

The book I am currently reviewing is Improving Adolescent Literacy: Strategies at Work by Fisher and Frey. I recommend this book for two reasons: it was a required text in my reading comprehension class at the University of Utah and the instructional strategies shared by the authors are all researched-based. They include anticipatory activities; read-alouds and shared reading; questioning; note taking and note making; graphic organizers; vocabulary instruction; writing to learn and reciprocal teaching.

I was especially impressed with chapter 2: "Attention Getters: Using Anticipatory Activities to Inspire Learning" by Frey, Fisher (researchers), ElWardi and Mongrue (practicing teachers). Anticipatory activities should pique curiosity, stimulate questioning, induce recall of recently learned information and activate students' background knowledge. The four instructional strategies for gaining student attention, as suggested by Eggen and Kauchak (2001) are demonstrations; discrepant events (demonstrations that involve a surprising or startling occurrence designed to command the students' attention, p. 17); visual displays; and thought-provoking questions.

Some of the ideas require a significant investment of preparation time, but one idea I particularly liked does not. The authors call it "Thought-provoking Questions Through Quick Writes," but I entitle it "Beyond Quick Writes." The process and examples can be found on the LiteracyLinkUp wikispace: Beyond Quick Writes.

The point of this lengthy posting is that we can find many ways to professionally improve our teaching. Depending upon interest and time, we are fortunate to have so many available resources available to us. I hope you find this site numbered among them.

Best Wishes,


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exactly What Is "Writing to Learn"?

Hello there!

My apologies for the long lapse in posting another entry. I felt I had to complete my next multi-genre assignment before I created another blog, but so much is going on that I couldn't get to my that assignment! I want to make this experience a habit by posting as often as I can, and a weekly entry was my original goal. I will try to pick that up!

In January, Carolyn and I conducted a professional development workshop focusing upon writing in the content area. Many good ideas were shared with facilitators and participants alike. I think these tools, strategies, etc. are worth passing forward. One important concept is realizing the difference between "writing to learn" and "learning to write."

Quoting Kate Kiefer of Colorado State University, "writing-to-learn activities are short, impromptu or otherwise informal writing tasks that helps student think through key concepts presented in a course." She further iterates that these are brief writing tasks that often take less than five minutes of classtime. This illumination brightened attitudes of several teachers who perceived writing in the content area as creating, assigning and grading an elaborate essay that focused upon some aspect of their curriculum. While this is not an unworthy aspiration, it is not the only kind of writing that supports students' writing improvement.

The North Central Regional Education Laboratory shared the following research about "writing to learn":

  • Student achievement on state assessments, exit exams, and other measurements greatly improves.

  • Students demonstrate growth in core academic learning.

  • Students' comfort level in school increases, and students become more encouraged and optimistic about their future.
Today, I encourage you to click onto my WikiSpace to see all the ideas for Role/Audience/Format/Topic (RAFT) assignments ( There are a variety of ideas for many content areas, and so I encourage readers of Link 2 Literacy to share them with colleagues. Furthermore, I have included Kate Kiefer's Writing Across the Curriculum website for additional "writing to learn" ideas.

Please let me know if this posting has been useful to you, and have a great day!