Archive for ‘teaching’

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

November 1, 2013

Education schools: a ‘contented cartel’ in ‘an industry of mediocrity’

by Grace

Even Bill Keller of the New York Times has joined the chorus of criticism aimed at America’s schools of education.

How America prepares its teachers has been a subject of dismay for many years. In 2005 Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, shocked colleagues (and himself, he says) with a scathing report concluding that teacher preparation programs “range from inadequate to appalling.” Since then the outcry has only gotten more vociferous. This summer the National Council on Teacher Quality described teacher education as still “an industry of mediocrity.”

Universities value their highly profitable education programs that keep standards low.

… Educators, including some inside these institutions, say universities have treated education programs as “cash cows.” The schools see no incentive to change because they have plenty of applicants willing to pay full tuition, the programs are relatively cheap to run, and they are accountable to no one except accrediting agencies run by, you guessed it, education schools. It’s a contented cartel.

Reform idea:  Raise standards for acceptance to teacher colleges.

Among reformers, there is a fair amount of consensus about what it would take to fix things. The first step is to make teacher colleges much more selective. According to one respected study, only 23 percent of American teachers — and only 14 percent in high-poverty schools — come from the top third of college graduates.

Reform idea:  Education schools should teach content.

Once they are admitted, critics say, prospective teachers need more rigorous study, not just of the science and philosophy of education but of the contents, especially in math and the sciences, where America trails the best systems in Asia and Europe. A new studyby the Education Policy Center at Michigan State, drawing on data from 17 countries, concluded that while American middle school math teachers may know a lot about teaching, they often don’t know very much about math. Most of them are not required to take the courses in calculus and probability that are mandatory in the best-taught programs.

Most middle school math teachers fall at the “Botswana-level” of expertise.  Ouch.

“There’s a big range in this country,” said William Schmidt, who oversaw the study. “Some of our education programs are putting out math teachers at the level of Botswana, a developing country in Africa, and some rank up with Singapore.” Unfortunately, Schmidt reckons, the Botswana-level teacher programs produce about 60 percent of America’s future middle school math teachers.

Reform idea:  Improve student teaching.

Another missing component, reformers say, is sustained, intense classroom experience while being coached by masters of the profession. Too much student teaching is too superficial — less a serious apprenticeship than a drive-by….

It’s no surprise that education schools are resistant to change that would threaten their “cartel”.

Even if ed school administrators recognize “there is a lot of mediocrity”, they don’t look kindly on alternative programs.  Susan Fuhrman, president of Columbia Teachers College, acknowledges the problems.

… States make it far too easy to get a teaching license, she said. Bad schools are protected by politics: “There’s an ed school in every legislator’s district, and nobody wants to close ed schools.” She favors raising admission standards and figuring out ways to hold education schools accountable for their results.

But Fuhrman finds the birth of alternative teacher schools “upsetting.” “I worry about cutting that kind of preparation off from the scholarship and from emerging research” that a university offers, she said. “It can sound like I feel threatened. I don’t. But it just worries me as a trend.”

The top comments to Keller’s story seem supportive of big change.

Based on my college experience, I could have written this myself.

This is a true story. I was taking a sociology class in college, a huge state university in Oklahoma. Two young women were talking with each other. One said that she had been a business major but was failing her classes so she changed her major to elementary ed. The other young woman squealed, “Me, too! Isn’t it easy?”

Having seen top-performing teachers in action, I agree the teaching profession seems to be a two-track system.

… My unscientific sense is we see two streams dominating the teacher-preparation system: 1) passionate, skillful, highly-intelligent students who want to ensure education for their students is everything it can and should be; and 2) not-so-bright, apathetic students who failed in other fields….

Keller believes it’s time to threaten the establishment.

… one reason for the widespread mediocrity is that universities have had a cozy, lucrative monopoly. It’s about time the leaders of our education schools did feel threatened.

Related:  ‘teaching is not yet a profession’ (Cost of College)

September 13, 2013

The best word to describe struggling student is — ‘struggling’

by Grace

I have “struggled” with choosing appropriate words to describe students who are having difficulty earning passing grades.  Now Ben Orlin, a math teacher writing for Slate, has sounded in on the language used to describe failing students.

I’ve heard slow, weak, struggling, behind, and other words too numerous to list. Students manage to fail in thousands of ingenious ways, and we teachers have developed a vocabulary to match. These words aren’t interchangeable. Each one embodies different assumptions about the engines of success, the nature of failure, and how students’ minds operate. Each word is a bite-sized piece of educational ideology.

Slow doesn’t seem like a good choice, considering the fact that some very bright students work slowly.
Weak “often carries a tone of resignation”.
Low is harmless, but not sufficiently descriptive.
Behind is a relative term, useful in some situations.

I share Orlin’s preference for describing these students as struggling.

My personal favorite is struggling. It dramatizes the situation—as if the student is swimming against whitewater currents, doing her noble best to stay afloat.

Of course, some students who fall behind are not struggling at all.  They’re simply not trying, and mainly suffer from a lack of motivation.  I guess I might frame these situations as students struggling to overcome a profound lack of interest in learning.

HT Joanne Jacobs

Related:  Can online courses work for struggling students? (Cost of College)

September 5, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – More on DETAILS and A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

by Grace

A follow-up to the topic of THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS along with an introduction to A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS are covered in this post.  (This is the 18th post about my project to study and learn William Kerrigan’s Writing to the Point (WTTP) Six-Step method of writing an expository essay, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS AND AN INTRODUCTION TO A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

DETAILS

My previous WTTP post revisited the IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS, giving the background information about a new assignment.  This is worth repeating:

“Three-fourths of all good writing consists of details and plenty of them.”


CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

In his book Kerrigan offers an 11-step checklist for revising an essay, a tool that is consistent with his approach of writing instruction that offers direct and precise guidance incorporated into a systematic process.  Here are the first few items from the checklist.

1.  Does the theme make a point?  (Step 1, Chapter 1.)  Does that point follow the ten rules for Sentence X?  (Chapter 2, page 28.)
2.  Do the paragraphs and their sentences keep to the point?  (Steps 2 and 3.  Chapters 2 and 3.)
3.  Do the paragraphs support the point with specific details?  (Step 4, Chapter 4.)
4.  Do the paragraphs support the point with examples?  (Step 4, Chapter 4.)


THE ASSIGNMENT

Write an essay on a subject of your own choice   As you write, be very critical of your use of sufficient detail.  When you have finished your draft, refer to the checklist in Appendix II, focusing on items 3 and 4, details and specific example….

This is the essay I wrote for the assignment:

X  Traveling is an excellent way to spend summer break.
1.  Traveling is enjoyable.
2.  Traveling is educational.
3.  Traveling strengthens relationships.

————————————————————————————————————————–

X  Traveling is an excellent way to spend summer break.

1.  Traveling is enjoyable.  Most people enjoy going to new locations as a way to get a break from their routines.  Although some choose extreme excursions and others prefer tamer travels, the opportunity to give the mind and body a taste of something different is agreeable to almost everyone.  Ascending to the top of Kilimanjaro gives the outdoor enthusiast a thrill not matched by the more familiar climbing that he does on weekends.  On the other hand, a relaxing week at a resort is just the kind of indulgent pleasure that appeals to other types of travelers.

2.  Traveling is educational.  A simple change in environment always teaches a traveler something new.  Perhaps a traveler will learn something as basic as the fact that he does not like a humid climate and too much free time.  Traveling to Paris, he may learn about French street fashion and the appeal of having a café au lait with brioche for breakfast.  A visit to Washington D.C. presents the perfect opportunity to learn more about American history and government.  Travel offers abundant learning opportunities of many different types.

3.  Traveling strengthens relationships.  Anyone who has traveled with family or friends knows that shared experiences in distant locales create unique bonding opportunities.  Whether it’s sharing a breath-taking view of the Grand Canyon or waiting in a long line for lost luggage, traveling companions often get to know and appreciate new aspects of each other’s personality.  That is one reason mother-daughter or father-son trips are highly recommended as a way to strengthen family relationships.

The benefits of summer travel include enjoyment, education, and enhanced personal relationships.


WHAT I LEARNED

A writer should always be thinking about including abundant detail.  With practice this will become an automatic part of the writing process.  Using a checklist in the revision process makes it easier to cover all bases while ensuring that the correct habits are being reinforced.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 30, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS

by Grace

Because it is such an important aspect of the Writing to the Point method, THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS is revisited as a topic for discussion.  (This is my 17th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS

“Three-fourths of all good writing consists of details and plenty of them.”

The importance of including abundant details is revisited as a topic because Kerrigan saw a strong tendency among developing writers to be excessively abstract and general.  It may be because adding details can be hard work, and in a rush to get the composition done a student often neglects to go the extra length needed to add examples and concrete descriptions.  It is also the case that a writer usually holds in his head a clear understanding of the message and context of his topic, and sometimes forgets that the reader needs more details to achieve a similar understanding.

Being specific and concrete, as well as going into detail and using examples, add clarity and interest to writing.

Some examples:

She sat down.
or
She happily plopped into an overstuffed chair with a look of immense relief on her face.

He took a driving test.
or
Sam nervously clutched the steering wheel as he listened intently to the instructions, his hopes of getting a driver’s license fading with every turn.

He was eating food.
or
Mark was slowly munching on a baby carrot.

THE ASSIGNMENT
My next Kerrigan post will cover the assignment for this section, as well as the introduction of a fabulously helpful checklist for revising first drafts.  Stay tuned!

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 23, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT CONCEPTS

by Grace

SUMMARY OF SOME IMPORTANT CONCEPTS from Writing to the Point is presented in this post.  A few of the concepts are listed below.  (This is the 16th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

 

A SELECTED LIST OF SOME IMPORTANT WRITING TO THE POINT CONCEPTS

The rules must be followed.

Steps 1, 2,3, and 4 are not rules that someone has decided on, like the rules of a game.  They can’t be changed, as in the case of the elimination some years ago of the center jump in basketball.  No, they arise out the very nature of writing, and are as necessary for writing as heat is for cooking, cloth for clothing, fuel for an engine.

Sentences X-1-2-3 are at the core of a good essay.

No one can write an essay on a topic.  You must write a sentence about a topic, then write the essay strictly on that sentence.  Once that sentence is well written, the essay nearly writes itself, because that sentence dictates what must be said.

Be consistent in tone.

Always keep in mind your purpose of explaining something to somebody.  Make that somebody one real or imagined person.  Fit your tone to that person and try not to vary it.

The overriding goal is to stick to the point.

Do not let your thought be, “I must make this artistic,” “I must make this beautiful,” ” I must make this clever or amusing,” or “I must make this important-sounding,” but “I must make this real, clear, and convincing to a certain reader; and to do that I must follow Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4.”

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 16, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT NECESSARY

by Grace

INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY, according to William Kerrigan’s method of Writing to the Point.  (This is my 15th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method of writing an expository essay, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY!

Kerrigan takes the unconventional view that essays do not require introductory paragraphs and concluding paragraphs.

… If an introduction is necessary, then of course have one.  But do not have an introduction just for the sake of having an introduction, any more than you would flap your arms up and down three times before putting on your coat — it’s pointless….

Kerrigan’s reasoning about introductions and conclusions:

  • They often take up too much word space, far out of proportion to the body of an essay.
  • An introduction can be distracting, leading the reader to a topic that is not the subject of the essay.  It’s better to get right to the point than to beat around the bush at the beginning.
  • If introductions and conclusions are used, they should be as succinct as possible.

Obviously, this approach is very different from conventional teaching in American schools.  But it still makes sense to learn Kerrigan’s method, for it teaches the value of concise expression and the skills useful in getting to the point quickly.  Learning how to build effective introductory and concluding paragraphs can occur after learning how to organize and develop the body of a well-written essay.

In place of paragraphs, here is the Kerrigan way of starting and ending essays:

Instead of introductory paragraph:  Sentence X
Instead of concluding paragraph:  Short “rounding off” sentence

Short “rounding off” sentence

… can be an echo of Sentence X, or some short sentence in which you manage to drive the point of the them home.


THE ASSIGNMENT

Write short rounding off sentences for three of the essays you’ve already written.

Here are a couple of the sentences I wrote.

Rounding off sentence for the essay from this post:  Colorful foliage, crisp weather, and fun-filled activities all make autumn an exhilarating time of year.
Sentence X was:  Autumn is an exhilarating time of year.

Rounding off sentence for the essay from this post:  For all these reasons, a student must have a regular schedule of study.
Sentence X was:  A student must have a regular schedule of study.

WHAT I LEARNED

Less is more.  Unnecessary verbiage detracts from the point of the essay.  On the other hand, a catchy introductory paragraph should not be written until after the thesis statement (Sentence X) is written.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 8, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES

by Grace

IT IS IMPORTANT TO STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES.  This is another topic that is discussed before moving past Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point(This is my 14th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

PURPOSE GOVERNS EVERYTHING, AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES

Purpose can also be called “meaning” or the “point”, as in Kerrigan’s book title, Writing to the Point.

For the type of expository writing addressed by Kerrigan’s method, “the entirety of the essay should be devoted to making the writer’s point”.  But before he can write the essay, the writer must know what his point is.  The X-1-2-3 format helps the writer focus on formulating and expanding upon his point, as well as helping the reader comprehend the essay’s meaning.

Why should the writer stick to the Kerrigan rules?

Why can’t the writer be “creative”? For example, why does he have to put Sentence X at the beginning?

In fact, a writer can be creative and put Sentence X, which is the thesis sentence, in a different location within the essay.  It’s done frequently, with successful results.  However, the writer must think of the purpose. and consider three things.

First, your purpose cannot be just to be different  which is simply eccentricity, or sometimes a mask for laziness.  Second, your need to have Sentence X somewhere else must be very great indeed if it makes you sacrifice the marvelous advantage of letting your readers know at once what your point is.

Third, if you don’t state your point at once, you must still guide your readers toward that point through a mass of material in such a way as to convince them they are moving clearly toward a point, without their ever being wholly puzzled and without their getting the idea along the way that they see your point when actually they are mistaken.  To do that takes great skill.  Do you have that skill? . . . You may develop it; but if you are going to develop it, certainly the beginning of the development will be getting the idea of point deeply and clearly fixed in your mind.  And the best way I know to do that is to get lots of practice in writing essays based on the method in this book.

The Kerrigan method is an instructional approach for developing writers.  I think it’s particularly useful for struggling writers.  If I were a teacher with a few highly skilled writers in my class, it’s unlikely I would have them strictly follow the Kerrigan method.  They are ready to move beyond the strict format of the Kerrigan method.

Breaking the rules is fine, but it takes advanced skill. Usually, that skill is only developed after much practice writing following the rules.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 2, 2013

North Carolina ends teacher tenure and automatic pay increases for master’s degrees

by Grace

In a bold move, North Carolina ends teacher tenure and automatic pay increases for master’s degrees.

The legislation targets a compensation mechanism that is common in the U.S., where teachers receive automatic pay increases for years of service and advanced degrees. Some research has suggested those advanced degrees don’t lead to improved teaching….

… experts say North Carolina is believed to be the first state to do so.

The budget bill—which drew hundreds of teachers to the Capitol in protest earlier this week—also eliminates tenure for elementary and high-school teachers and freezes teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years.

Now the “best and the brightest” will avoid teaching careers?

Tim Barnsback, a teacher at Heritage Middle School in Valdese, N.C., said, “Morale is going to be at an all-time low” due to the new policies and budget. “The best and the brightest aren’t going to go into the profession,” he added.

This legislation was passed after the “GOP gained control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in 144 years”.  This latest state budget allocates 56% toward education, a 1% increase over last year.

Advanced degrees don’t generally improve student achievement levels.

A number of studies have shown that teachers with advanced degrees don’t, necessarily, produce higher student achievement than teachers who hold only a bachelor’s. Other studies have shown an advantage to holding a master’s in math and the sciences for high-school teachers. About 28% of North Carolina teachers hold master’s degrees.

This move could have the positive effect of doing away with mediocre master’s programs.

Glenn Reynolds points out “there are a lot of programs — particularly in education colleges — that exist largely to serve the automatic-pay-raise-for-degree market”.  One study showed that about $14.8 was spent in the 2007-08 school year on “the master’s bump for teachers”.

Automatic pay raises don’t reward top teachers.

It must be tough to go without a raise for five years, but many workers in the private sector have experienced the same thing.  Many have suffered salary cuts and layoffs.  It’s been a tough recession, coupled with a “jobless” recovery.  Automatic pay increases across the board seem like an anachronistic luxury, as well as an ineffective way to reward top teachers.

Related:  ‘we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others’ (Cost of College)

August 1, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – REPETITION IS DESIRABLE

by Grace

WHILE REPETITION CAN BE IMPORTANT FOR ENHANCING THE CLARITY OF AN ESSAY, IT MUST BE BALANCED AGAINST THE POSSIBILITY OF PRODUCING A MONOTONOUS PIECE OF WRITING.  A discussion of this topic is included before moving past Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point(This is my 13th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


REPETITION IS DESIRABLE.

An objection to keeping the same grammatical subject, a topic covered in my previous post, is that it would be too monotonous.  Some writers like to mix things up, changing the perspective and tone of an essay to keep the reader engaged.  That may work in some types of creative writing, but not for the expository writing addressed by Kerrigan’s WTTP method.

Repetition is desirable.*  It helps keep the writer on track and adds clarity for the reader.  But Kerrigan suggests ways to minimize the monotony.

  • Use pronouns.  Instead of “George Washington” in every sentence, use “he”.
  • Use synonyms, but don’t overuse them.  Instead of “George Washington”, use “our first president”.
  • Change sentence length and form.  Two guidelines for developing writers are recommended:
    • Make every third sentence or so notably longer than the others.  One way to do this is by sentence combining.
    • Be sure every third sentence or so begins with something other than the subject.

A good resource for teaching sentence composing is the series of books by Don and Jenny Killgallon, which works well for afterschooling or homeschooling.


THE ASSIGNMENT

Write an essay on any subject.

  • Try to keep the same grammatical subject throughout.
  • Make one out of every three or four sentences notably longer than the others.
  • Make one out of every three or four sentences begin with something other than the subject.  “Hoping it would rain . . .,”  “To prevent inflation . . .,”  “Sometimes . . .,”  “In the prison . . .,”  “Though the treaty was disregarded . . .,”

Even if the essay turns out a little stiff and clumsy, it’s still excellent practice.


Here is the essay I wrote for this assignment.

X  The end of the school year is hectic.
1. The end of the school year is a time of final exams.
2. The end of the school year is a time of special events.
3. The end of the school year is a time to prepare for the summer.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

X  The end of the school year is hectic for many high school students.

1.  The end of the school year is a time of heavy academic responsibilities.  Final exams often count for a large part of the final grade, so most students must spend considerable time studying for them.  End of year class projects are similarly time-consuming.  Sometimes make-up work, like lab reports, must be completed before the last day of class.  All this must be done with an eye to planning the class schedule for next fall.

2.  The end of the school year is a time of many special events.  For seniors, all the graduation festivities take up time in preparing and in celebrating.  The prom requires numerous shopping excursions for the right attire along with planning for transportation and related details.  A weekend of activities with friends often comes after the prom  When you add in all the other graduations, confirmations, spring concerts, dance recitals, end of season sports events, and myriad other events common this time of year, it becomes clear what a hectic time it can be.

3.  The end of the school year is a time to prepare for the summer.  While some students will be spending the summer enjoying long, lazy days by the pool, most will be busy with various activities that need planning and preparation.  A summer job often requires filling out many forms and interviewing with potential employers.  Getting ready for travel, either with family or to summer camp, usually requires more work than a quick packing of a suitcase.  A flurry of commotion is common as a teen begins a summer of volunteering, babysitting, summer courses, team sports, or other activities that will last until the beginning of the next school year.


WHAT I LEARNED

Focusing on these few simple techniques can help developing writers add cohesion and clarity to an essay while also avoiding a monotonous tone.  As with the other WTTP lessons, practicing these techniques will help establish them as part of a student’s routine writing style.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

* Do you see what I did there?

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