This blog provides links and services for high school and middle school English Language Arts (ELA) teachers. - (c) copyright 2008-2018 K.E. Smith, PhD, Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
"Participating in storytelling is an important activity for English
Language Arts (ELA) teachers. As noted storytelling author Thomas King
stated: "All we are is stories." This book contains an exciting list of
stories and poetry from this year's group of new ELA teachers. The
stories have not been edited for content. Everything is from the heart
and written to mark the 150th year of Canada. We hope you enjoy it. Join
us for the launch of this story collection in the McNally Robinson
Booksellers Atrium." - Dr. K. Smith, University of Manitoba.
If you would like a copy of the book by ordering online, please use this link. CLICK HERE.
Quote of the Day: "Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting." - Edmund Burke
Every so often I like to take a moment to reflect on adolescent books that students have loved. I will be reading parts of these on Saturday at one of our local bookstores so I wanted to choose what I would read very carefully. The following three books are those selected this month because these three have made young people jump with joy when I talk about them. Enjoy!
I: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi (7 graphic novels)
#1 New York Times bestseller.
Amulet Book I and the 6 books that
follow in the series are amazing graphic novels loved by all young people. The Stonekeeper is the first one, a good
place to start. This is the story about how Em and Navin figure out how to save
their Mom's life after she is mysteriously kidnapped on the first night in
their new house.
Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales (retold by Naomi Lewis)
Twelve timeless tales are re-told in modern language. These classics introduce
young people to the movie versions such as The
Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New
Clothes. They are a reading-must for all, and the 12 tales in this
collection are some of the top tales used for analogy, metaphor, and simile in many other writings.
of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
#1 New York Times bestseller and Kids Choice Awards winner.
Kinney’s ten “diary” books encourage young people to try writing their own
journals and to thus become writers in the process. Kinney draws his pictures
on an electronic device and the simple drawings compliment the text. The
stories help young people think through their own similar plots of life. Great
ideas for self-help are contained within these pages. Kinney’s books are an
inspiration for thinking about your own thinking (metacognition).
Quote of the Day
"I attract to my life whatever I give my attention, energy and focus to, whether positive or negative."
Following the story of his biography, please try to answer the following questions:
1. What did you learn?
2. What/who influenced Shakespeare to write?
3. If Shakespeare were born today, what new issues would he face?
4. What would ELA be like if Shakespeare had not written plays?
I would like you to be connected with the blogs and websites where you can search for grammar rules and see examples. This way you will be able to look up examples, prepare students to make online connections with good sources, and reinforce rules when editing.
Your 5 Grammar Questions were:
1. When do I use "which" or "that"?
which = non-restrictive clause
that = restrictive clause
3. How many semicolons are appropriate in a standard length paragraph?
Semicolon use is a matter of style connected to the piece of writing. Semicolons are used in lists and to separate phrases.
Generally, the visual of 3 to 5 items separated by semicolons on a list with commas is visually accessible to the reader. Beyond 3-5, the reader may need a bulleted list.
4. How does one teach subordinate clauses? Grammar Monster has the glossary of basic definitions of subordinate clauses and how they are formed. From there use the following teaching strategies to engage students in the making of subordinate clauses.
5. How do you teach grammar?: (1) How can we teach grammar in a way that isn't boring for students; and, (2) Is it better to teach grammar explicitly or through writing practice?
Grammar can be fun and interesting when it is connected to its purpose, communicating meaning.
Generally, the right/wrong principle of teaching grammar helps students to know the rules but application to editing contexts is the way to achieve active learning and lasting results. Research on traditional grammar teaching is discussed in this article called The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar (The Atlantic, 2014).
Unfortunately, teaching grammar has historically moved between the seesaw of rules/diagramming and using it in context. The solution for teachers lies in activity that games the rules/diagrams for memory and then applies this to the reading/writing connection in student work. Work the seesaw rather than sit on one side. No one can be a better editor or grammar without practice. No one is going to do it or remember it if it does not add purpose and power to your own writing.
Along with the easy access to video making available on your mobile, this will provide some context for discussion and assessment. Sites similar to Animoto https://animoto.com/create will help you create video but within a school division, it is best to review videos before they leave your classroom. Stick to in-house systems until all has been reviewed. Have "the discussion" with each student about the consequences of the release into public domain, even if only stored on a site. Make privacy issues a part of your classroom discussion. That discussion is essential to video vocabulary development.
If you have not tried it, please look at Lit2Go http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/. It is a free auditory resource for literature. It makes an excellent addition to your classroom literacy resources.
Right about now you might be wondering why listening to literature is an added benefit to your already jam-packed course content. First, it is a time-saving strategy for your teaching in the read/ write/listen/speak/view/represent ELA curricula that you teach. Second, students often have mobile devices so by using auditory resources they can listen to texts anytime/anyplace. Third, you could set up a station in your classroom where students can choose the literature to which they want to listen. Choice of literature encourages motivation to read. Fourth, permit students to write or draw as they listen to sustain concentration or focus thinking. Comprehension is increased by activating mirror neurons. These added-benefit strategies help students to think in transliterate ways and thus accomplish more within their class time. - K. Smith
Another amazing resource is the 38 free auditory lectures of famous authors available on iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/ca/course/creative-writing-master-class/id550002605?enlh=7&ls=1 (Warning: some explicit description). The authors each tell stories about their experiences of learning to be a writer. Aspiring writers in your class, and maybe even you, will enjoy hearing the stories of how these writers developed their writing talents.
The king of media is back through film. His own tricks of cinematography show him in an amusing short. My personal favourite part is the way credits are handled at the end. This film is only 6 minutes long and can generate a lot of classroom discussion from this short.
Recently there has been a lot of talk about the importance of vocabulary instruction in senior high. It had been the forgotten teaching topic as we all focused on concepts and learning activities.
What we must keep in mind is that words are concepts; and, words are concepts loaded with meaning that needs to be remembered through learning activities in order for students to move on to newer concepts and activities. A common memory jolt is to make words memorable, repeatable, and fodder for integrated thought through positioning them all over the classroom. When someone looks at your word walls in senior high and comments, "Eeoouw . . . must be an elementary teacher trying to teach in this senior high classroom. We don't do that in junior/senior high!" then pull out what you've learned from these items below to justify your actions. Remember it's all about doing what's right for the students. Vocabulary development IS important.
The first wave of job hires is now coming to a close. What is that wave? Teachers are encouraged, if they are sure, to hand in their papers for retirement early, usually by the end of January, rather than waiting until May. Some school divisions even provide a bonus of $1000 or so to encourage this. So, why is the early letter important to divisions? The answer is that the division cannot advertise for positions that do not exist even if they anticipate an opening. So, if a teacher's retirement or resignation letter comes in earlier then the division can hire the best candidates before they are snapped up by others. This period of time when you could be an early hire is coming to a close. There are advantages and disadvantages to taking a job early. First, you do not worry about where you will be working and you can spend the latter part of your teacher education focused on materializing your goals for your first job. Second advantage is that you do not have to beat the pavement to network yourself into the system wondering about your future. Third, you will not be lured into becoming a full-time substitute teacher since good, reliable, talented substitutes are not always easy to find and you will be a valuable commodity as a substitute when you really want a full-time teaching position.
The advantages of not being hired in the first wave are first, that you will not have to see your dream job come up and then not be able to even apply for it because you have already signed a contract. Second, you will experience the interview process a few times and learn how to land a job. This experience should never be undervalued since it will provide knowledge for the next job you try for. Third, the most interesting jobs come up after May and you now have a variety of jobs to look into. Never feel dismayed if you do not catch the second wave after the end of May. There is a third wave, too.
Over the years I have found that some of the plumb first-year teacher jobs come up at the end of August/beginning of September. If you missed the first wave, and the second, then do not be discouraged. Sometimes someone has to move at the last minute in August because of a spouse's job change. Sometimes, someone falls ill and a new teacher has to be found at the last minute. The thing I am telling you about here is always be ready. Have your resume polished at all times. Keep your interview outfit clean and pressed in the closet. Prepare how you would go to an interview at the drop of a hat. Use feeds to automatically have ads sent to your email. Have contacts in divisions alert you about any positions coming up. Don't wait for someone to call. Be a sleuth and be ready. Your dream job awaits, but you must be ready.
Please look at the "Get a Job" page at the top for typical interview questions, resume & cover letter templates, and job links.
I Love to Read month is here. During the month of February we try to raise awareness about the importance of learning to read so every person can say, "I Love to Read!". You might raise awareness by looking at the intellectual aptitude and human rights that are developed through learning to read. As you engage in schools, you might raise awareness by suggesting activities like Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). In this school activity, the official "Reading Police" come into classrooms throughout the month, blow a whistle, and everyone in the room has to drop everything and read for 15 minutes. They can only stop when the whistle is blown again. Students and teachers participate by having a book handy for responding to the whistle. This is a lot of fun. Other activities include:
-Readings of books by local "famous" authors. Sometimes students think that authors are people from from away and they are surprised by the richness of writers right in their own community.
-A public poster making contest where all students make I Love to Read posters. The best posters, judged by peers and teachers together, are awarded a book of the month.
-Use your imagination. My long-time favourite has been to bring back Shakespeare from the dead and have him read excerpts from his books to the student body in the gym. (Usually a look-alike teacher can be found to play this role).
-You might find this Canadian video very appealing in your choice of media support toward your I Love to Read campaign at school. http://youtu.be/SKVcQnyEIT8 Just look at the number of views to see how popular it is! I don't know if you will be able to embed this video on your website. There appears to be a glitch in the code for embedding. Some of the YouTube comments confirm my own experience. With only that problem, you'll find this time-lapse video very engaging. It could become an interested video project to try on your own at school.
I Love to Read month can take a blended approach, too. Most of our libraries are now loaning e-books and are having a hard time keeping up with the demand. You, too, might find that the notion of books has blended into e-books in your libraries. This might be an important topic for raising awareness of reading during I Love to Read month. Don't be shy about taking a digital approach. The format of books is an important part of understanding reading, and though much has made the digital shift we still gain our book idea metaphor from the actual book made of paper. For example, we still put the book cover on our apps and we still have a format of printed books in many of our e-books. More on this later . . .
Happy I Love to Read Month!
You now have your cover letter and resume ready for distribution. Good work! Now you need to think about upcoming interviews. Now you need to think about your portfolio.
Not every interviewer looks for a portfolio but picture this; suppose a job is between 2 persons and one has a great portfolio and the other does not, then guess who will impress. Take advantage of the space you are in right now to make a portfolio. Teacher candidates have lesson plans that they've been handing in and examples of their work from university classes should not be ruled out. Here's a guide of what to include in your portfolio artifacts:
1. Lesson plan(s) of a traditional novel or play. Choose wisely by including those that you know have received good press from students and/or supervisors.
2. Photos of working with students/parents/teacher/community to demonstrate your comittment to community. Show that you get involved.
3. One unit plan about a creative project. Show that you can put together a syllabus and that your unit plans have a comprehensive assessment package. If you do not have a unit plan that works to show you can plan assessment then select items that fit into category 4 (next).
4. Rubrics, tests, student portfolio examples that show you can plan with the end in mind. In the interview process, when asked about assessment, you might demonstrate your ability by show and tell. Take a rubric from your portfolio and invite interviewers to allow you to walk them through your thinking as you plan for assessment.
5. Personal writing examples. Interviewers are often impressed when interviewees show that they are writers. Include poems or stories that you have wanted to or already published.
6. Finish with a section on awards. Were you recognized as a top 4-H speech maker? Did you volunteer? The recognition section or awards section of your portfolio can include items where you were thanked for your hard work. You don't need to have received a trophy for it.
Think about keeping your portfolio for a long time. Include a table of contents and choose a container that will allow you to change information as you progress through your English Language Arts teaching career.
You are now in your second month of university courses and headed into your second last practicum. Now is the time to start thinking cover letter and resume. Do not wait until after Christmas. You need this time to prepare, to focus your resume, and to ensure that you did not make any structural, grammatical, or spelling errors.
Be vigilant about preparing your letter and resume. You cannot afford to take your first impression as a writer lightly. If you expect to be hired as an ELA teacher, note that spelling and grammar errors in your letter will be seen ten times larger than if you applied for a job, for instance, in physical education. Prepare the language in your letter to have energy and demonstrate your unique talents - particularly if you know that a unique talent is needed in a job that may come up. Networking also starts now.
Take time to also check on the correct spelling of each superintendent's names. Do not rely only on the Internet web sources to ensure the correct spelling. You might phone once to check on the correct spelling if there is any doubt. Finally, do not rely on spell check to correct your errors but do not turn it off either. A rule of thumb I have used is, check 3 times line by line, then have an outside reader, then check one more time. This will help you develop editorial accuracy.
Click through links that were selected to peak your interest. You might also try some of the special topics links within each one of the blog posts on this site. Today's topic is storytelling. You probably noticed as a follower of this site that I am highly interested in digital storytelling. See E-Folklore at http://efolklore.blogspot.com/. Of course, when you teach using digital stories, you bring in sights, sounds, and shapes in addition to the text. The storyteller blends what is inside the head with what is outside the head in your creation of their story. Sometimes students get carried away with personal details that need to be vetted before any public showing is done. Learning what is and what is not acceptable in school culture can be a great learning experience. Teachers must be vigilant to be part of the entire process so stories are a valuable learning experience and not something that students regret at the time or in later years.
Many domains support storytelling and it has become a very popular cultural phenomenon. StoryCorpshttp://storycorps.net/ is in partnership with National Public Radio in the USA. They encourage people to interview loved ones and other people of interest. The recordings are then put on compact disk and archived in the Library of Congress. The advantage here is that you can preview other examples of recordings and learn about the genre of this type of storytelling. Another site that had proved valued is Story Arts Onlinehttp://www.storyarts.org.
Lesson plans and activities for classroom, library, and outreach are provided on this site as an education resource. The significance of storytelling in curriculum is explored. This site includes lesson plans and activities for using storytelling in the classroom, a story library, articles about the importance and significance of storytelling as an educational tool, as well as a curriculum ideas exchange to share new ideas. Learn about upcoming storytelling events on this site, too. Another site is the International Storytelling Center http://www.storytellingfoundation.net. Here you will find information about festivals and resources for storytelling. The site shows how lively the art of digital storytelling has become. I hope you enjoy exploring these resources and begin to tell your own stories in the process. - K. Smith
Each year the Manitoba Association of Teachers of English (MATE) selects a teacher candidate (one who is in the final year of their certification program) who shows potential as a teacher who will also continue to be an author, as they teach. This tradition began during 2004-2005 when I was President of MATE and Sheldon Oberman, the embodiment of teacher/author, had passed away suddenly. In his honour we established this prize.
A teacher/author may appear to be a difficult lifestyle choice since there are demands on teachers beyond school hours and demands on authors beyond writing their books. If you choose this lifestyle, you do not have to look hard to find shining examples of those who are successful teacher/authors. I have been offered suggestions by several teacher/authors on how to balance one's life in making this lifestyle choice:
1. Teach part time/write part time and it will all add up to a full-time lifestyle. The un-named source of this comment says that the money may not be great until you have earned writing success, but your satisfaction level will likely be much higher than if you had to choose only one.
2. Be a model teacher. Ignore the notion of George Bernard Shaw, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." and realize the fresh advice you have for your ELA students who themselves may be budding authors. It is difficult to provide this author-type advice if you have not participated in the publishing game.
3. Decide on distribution. I derive this advice from my own past experience in the music industry. Early on before I began to teach, I played piano at the Holiday Inn. One day, I was offered a contract to go on the road. I had to decide if I wanted to go on the road and live out of a suitcase or if I wanted to sing locally. My decision was to stay here and enjoy music where I lived. Translating that to writing? Yes, you can decide to write for newsletters and other local venues of writing distribution. It might be nice to think you will become a writer as popular as J.K. Rowling or Steven King but if you really love writing, and I hope you do, then it is a great decision to just enjoy writing and not worry about the fame and headaches that might come with that. Writers clubs will support your writing ambitions at the local level. Another way to enjoy writing may be to start your own blog. Find your own preferred level of enjoyment by experimentation with the teacher/author lifestyle.
When you are applying for a job, you might think that the resume is what gets you to the interview stage. Most managers note that the cover letter is what gets the interview long before the resume is even read. Cover letters are discarded for three main reasons:
1. The applicant did not apply for the job in the first paragraph. Instead they used tag lines and did some self promotion. Use the Knock'em Dead series to find the best introduction to your letter.These books feature letters of applicants that actually got jobs. Do your homework and find out, through networking, what the school/division is looking for.
2. The applicant made a spelling or grammatical error. A spelling or grammatical error in the first twenty words will immediately present you as someone who does not have an eye for detail. Cover letter readers begin by looking for errors. Be sure to err on the side of traditional editing, too. For example, if you use a series of three, place commas between the first, the second, and the third items. The extra comma is acceptable. Invite friends to edit your letter but be the final editor.
3. The applicant did not know how to address and sign off the business letter. I have hired many people over the years and it is a surprise that the business letter is an often overlooked format. Take time to learn the structure, learn the title of the persons in the letter and use Mr./Dr./Ms. as appropriate. Use a colon not a comma after the address (e.g., Dear Mr. Canada:). Signing off using "Sincerely yours," is appropriate. Study the shape of the business letter and do not simply duplicate a generic letter format readily available on the Internet or in books. Instead, study the business letters of those who are already in the business where you want a career. Context is everything.
It is spring and it is job application time. New teachers and those who want a change are grinding out cover letters and resumes in the hope of acquiring the best job possible. Whether you are a teacher or not, here are some practical hints to focus your application process:
1. Read job descriptions carefully. Do a close reading. It takes time to make the ads for jobs. Some ads are carefully constructed to weed out particular weaknesses and/or attract certain qualifications. Imagine yourself preparing the ad to visualize the stance of the hiring committee.
2. Address one by one, each qualification asked for in a particular job description (e.g., newspaper ad) in your cover letter. Demonstrate how your own qualifications fit each qualification that is advertised. Careful reading of the ad helps you, too. (a) It will help you to be more discerning about the place where you want to work, (b) It provides a guideline of what to say as you prepare for a possible interview.
3. Take the attitude of a winner into your interview. Getting an interview is an accomplishment. You might not get this job, but if you interviewed well then you have networked with a committee that might decide you are best suited for another position.
4. Aim for a good interview. Perhaps the person who finally gets the job is internal, next the hiring committee considers you to fill the position left vacant. Second prize is often the result of a good interview.
5. Be positive. A teaching certificate opens many doors beyond public school teaching. You will get a job if you groom your application skills and persist.
Yes, April is poetry month! Of course, you never need to wait until April to focus on poetry but having a month that is shared by other ELA teachers and students provides a great time to engage with other classes in your city, province, country, or internationally. Broaden your poetry audience by reading your poems to other classes via Skype or YouTube. Create a Ning of poetry lovers. Start a poetry cafe at noon or recess. Since it is April, you can even hold these outside in the spring air, a great atmosphere for poetic inspiration.
I found, in my own teaching, middle-school students wrote some wonderful poems. I was particularly inspired by student poems: (1) Ode to a Soccer Ball (by Jeff) and (2) Spring's First Worm (by Wenda). Their poetry came from the things that inspired them to think about energy and beauty.
Teaching ideas for poetry month abound. Take a look at the links on the side of this blog for your own inspiration. Also, here are some additional lesson plan ideas (click to download):
Many new English Language Arts teachers worry about not having enough time to prepare, read, write, and mark. Yet, it comes as no surprise that many long-term ELA teachers are good time managers. Furthermore, ELA teachers that publish, are exceptional time managers. Finding a good mentor for time management can be very rewarding.
It is difficult to find time when there appears to be so little. How do some people manage to expand time to fit in family, friends, leisure, and work whereas others are simply swamped by work? Why do we use this cliche; "If you want something done, ask a busy person?"
Well, it is easy to continue worrying about not having enough time but easier yet to find a new way of approaching work, different from what you might have been doing. Try this: (1) Watch people that are efficient managers but always seem to get a lot done. Notice what they do to avoid procrastination. Make notes and read these notes when you start to procrastinate; (2) Make a list of everything to do and choose only 2 things that will give you immediate results. Do these 2 things right away to self-motivate; (3) Approach your best hours for work as "focus time"; and (4) Schedule family and friends time, too. You will never feel like you are depriving yourself of family time because you actually scheduled it into your daybook.
We live in a world where time management is an essential skill. Gadgets and technology that appear to save time can sometimes take away our time if not used properly. Re-imagine yourself as a flexible person and good time management will emerge from your quest for freedom from worrying about not having enough time. In a daytimer or handheld, keep track of how much more efficient you are becoming. Having more time through time management is a gift you give yourself. Don't wait until you have no time left.
"If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has, at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things." (Vincent Van Gogh). This quote was recently chosen by Kieran Egan who is the Chair of the Imaginative Education Research Group at Simon Fraser University. I found this quote intriguing because we often think of imagination work as the combining of our many ideas to form newness or something that requires imagination. With Van Gogh's concept, we are in constant combining of ideas with the one thing we master. The idea engenders a notion that we could be in a state of constant imaginative work by doing one thing well. We must, as a warning, be thoughtful about the one thing we choose to pursue.
Perhaps you have a quote to share.
At first this might seem to be a simple question to answer; however, when you begin to ask teachers of ELA what they think it is, you will be surprised at the variety of answers. Similar to the teaching of reading and writing itself, everyone has their own stance. Some of these stances are:
1. The Editor/Technician: Were you already thinking about editing "is" and replacing it with "are"?
2. The Historian: Were you already considering how ELA came about; wondering where you would find such a history?
3. The Genreman/Genrewoman: Were you thinking about how many types of "arts" there are and wondering how many of each could be taught in a school year?
4. The Designer: Were you thinking about how you would start the year off in an engaging way, then build toward an exciting end?
5. The Book Clubber: Were you thinking about what is the most popular book for adolescents?
6: The Diagnostician: Were you wondering about the individuals in your class and at what competency level they each could read or write?
Have you asked yourself the question, What is English Language Arts? Next, consider how your own stance is unique but not necessarily ubiquitous.