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Guided Inquiry Program


What Should Students Read.pdf


High School Finals


Department Meeting Information







Interested in learning more about the achievement gap and what you can do about it?


Check out Harvard's Achievement Gap Initiative:





Union College Methods of Teaching English




Literacy Across the Content Areas







Shared Resources 


Post resources for your colleagues here!


Enter your comments on Socratic Seminar here! 

 I really enjoyed the new format.  I was skeptical at first, but by assigning a group leader and giving us a specific topic, the discussion went well.  I liked having the middle school teachers there, too.  Sara Kramer did a great job as leader.  As a self-professed novice on the subject of Socratic Circles, she made everyone else feel comfortable about sharing at their own level of expertise or lack of.   I took away from the group some solid ideas for using the Socratic Circles in my classroom.  Roger and I are going to brainstorm for use with 11 IB.  


The key component here was relevance; if we can spend our time in Dept. meetings enhancing our classroom techniques, then it's a good use of our time.


English Department Information



The National Council of Teachers of English offers helpful information for teachers of all disciplines.  Go to the following link for more information:





Read this research brief to uncover the myths regarding literacy.

Adolescent Literacy.pdf 


Need some reading material to help integrate literacy skills and strategies into your curriculum?  Here's a bibliography of resources to get you started:


bibliography of literacy books.pdf 


Grammar question?  Check out this blog sponsored by National Geographic:





 Study group pages:


Grade 10 Global Reading Strategies: Selecting Interesting Texts


Writing to learn


Vocabulary Study Group 






Interesting Text Global 9 


Interesting Texts grade 11 US History 


Reading for Media Bias (using everyday print materials for citizenship/Govt & Economics)


Navigating Textbooks Successfully


Formal Discussion as Literacy Develoment 


Miscue Analysis and Fix-up Strategies 


Group Strategies 


Rich, Interesting, and Relevant Text Selection 


Real-life Text 


Increasing the Motivation to Read 


Writing is Literacy, Too 


Fine Arts and Core Disciplines Together


Visual Arts and Literacy 


Reading Math Word Problems


Grade 10 Global Reading Strategies:( using Human Legacy Text)



Go to the Eastern Regional Adolescent Literacy Resource Guide for additional guidance on adolescent literacy development.




Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?  by Cris Tovani


Share your comments about the various chapters of this book on the pages below.



chapter Three


Tovani Chapter Four 



Tovani Chapter 5


Tovani Chapter 6


Tovani Chapter 7


Tovani Chapter 8


Tovani Chapter 9

Comments (17)

Anonymous said

at 8:55 am on Oct 22, 2007

Looks great! Can we add additional information such as a link to grammar girl? Please let me know how. Mary Milford

Anonymous said

at 9:12 pm on Nov 19, 2007

Here is a valuable link that takes you to existing SHS databases that our students use regularly especially for research. Lots of supplemental reading can be found. http://www.schenectady.k12.ny.us/Schenectady_High_School/Library/databases.htm. Usernames and passwords are available from the library staff. Nettie Crossman

Anonymous said

at 11:40 am on Jan 4, 2008

As I looked at some of the articles posted, there is mention of literacy not being limited to just reading and writing, but includes the use of digital media as well. In the document regarding leadership, one of the primary items leaders use to support literacy programs is technology. It is mentioned numerous times in the document.
If find it questionable that in a district with rich technology resources, there is not a study group (nor a professional development choice on the recent survey) that includes using, evaluating and incorporating digital media.
In some recent blog posts, I’ve included some links to literacy related to and including technology. You can find them at http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/tstandhart/.

RosalineH said

at 8:33 am on Sep 19, 2008

At our first joint department meeting yesterday, some of the middle school teachers were unfamiliar with Matt Copeland's book on teaching Socratic Circles. Could the book be purchased for them? I enjoyed the time to meet with our colleagues and hope that we have more time for collaborative work. Joyce Carol Oates is one of my faves. Please enter my name in the drawing for the conference!

Ross Marvin said

at 9:12 pm on Jun 29, 2009

Not sure if this is the right place, but figured I'd break the ice with the first comment on WritingNext. What follows are some broad impressions:

I was most surprised by two topics addressed in the study. 1) The study of grammar has an inverse effect on writing skills AND 2) That several seemingly obvious topics for study, especially the use of classroom tools like writing prompts, have gone unstudied.


As I think about it more, I realized that the study's findings re: grammar could suggest several problems. Perhaps the basic problems in grammar instruction is the formulaic notion of "diagramming" a sentence. In the same vein as the five paragraph essay, intensive and premature grammar studies could lead to misconceptions and contempt of writing. The study suggests that there are more natural or organic ways to set students up for writing success. Just as young children do not study symbology or semiotics or linguistics when they learn to speak a language, a more freeing approach that allows peer discussion, inquiry and verbal preparation may be more natural for inexperienced writers. I know I still struggle with some grammar rules, and as a college graduate, and former writing tutor, and a former newspaper writer, I'd like to think of myself as a competant writer.

- Ross Marvin
*This is part one because I ran out of characters...more to follow*

Ross Marvin said

at 9:13 pm on Jun 29, 2009

Lack of studies:

This boggled my mind. It seemed that the study was limited by the sheer lack of studies in the area of low achieving writers. Certainly incompetant readers receive an abundant amount of attention from researchers. Despite the lack of studies in this particular area, WritingNext's hierarchy of effective elements to improve writing seemed adequate. Most of the more comprehensive techniques that included cooperative learning were found to have the greatest effect based on meta-analysis. This was not a surprise, as the implementation and instruction of "Writing Strategies" which include many subgroups including "editing," "planning" and "recitation" would obviously have a greater effect than the teaching of word processing (an important skill, but not as important as learning how to outline a piece of expository writing).

Also liked that in the conclusion, the study addressed that the solution to this writing crisis (and I think crisis is a fair word) has to come from many arenas including policymakers, educators and researchers.

As a last aside...I really liked one of the quotes used in what I believe was the forward to the study: "Education is the transmission of civilization." I'll save it as a potential writing prompt for my future classes!

- Ross Marvin

Nestor Guardado said

at 1:13 pm on Jun 30, 2009

What I found interesting about the Writing Next reading, was that it stated at the very beginning that writing leads to learning (Graham and Perin 2). The text then went on to elaborate on eleven elements that support "effective adolescent writing." Some of the elements seem to be of great benefit, while others lack the research to prove their effectiveness in the classroom. Another thing that caught my eye was the argument that studying grammar had negative effects on students' writing (21). On the contrary, different ways of teaching grammar so as to show the benefits of its use does help improve writing (21). I cannot see how teaching grammar would impair a student's writing ability, regardless of whether it is strict grammar lessons or in a theoretical sense. One way to possibly improve students' writing would be to combine both methods of teaching grammar to correct and demonstrate proper grammar usage.

mark wilson said

at 4:20 pm on Jul 1, 2009

Writing Next certainly offers food for thought. Until now, our literacy education has not explicitly stated that "although reading and writing are complimentary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course, they do not necessarily go hand in hand." (7) I know somebody who consumes vast amounts of written information every day from multiple sources, both in print and on line, but forming a basic sentence is incredibly challenging for him. I've thought that it's as though there's a disconnect between what he thinks and being able to form the words on the page. After reading this article, I'm starting to think that it's because his writing skills were never properly developed (there's probably a learning disability there as well, like disgraphia, but it could have been remediated early). He has said to me it's easy for him to read because it's somebody else's words, but if he has to write, he has to put his own thoughts into words and that's where the trouble is. This is confirmed by the article: "While readers form a mental representation of thoughts written by someone else, writers formulate their own thoughts, organize them, and create a written record of them using the conventions of spelling and grammar." (8)

mark wilson said

at 4:20 pm on Jul 1, 2009

Something else that stood out to me in the reading was the effectiveness of word processing. In fact, it's the fifth most effective method at improving writing skills. Not only that, but it seems that for average writers, using a word processing program only helps a little (0.51 effect size), but for low-achieving writers it helps a great deal (0.70 effect size). This seems to support the idea of integrating technology into the English classroom, sometimes skipping the handwritten essay altogether and going right to the computer.
Like Nestor, I too was surprised to read that grammar instruction does not improve writing ability, in fact it has a negative effect. I think this can be supported, since a low-achieving writer may spend more time worrying about proper sentence construction or essay format than the content of his writing.
Finally, I would like to see further research into the area of motivation. The article states at the end that there is not enough evidence "to offer firm guidelines for how teachers can boost adolescents' motivation to write." (26) If we could find compelling enough reasons, we should be able to motivate our students to produce more writing.

aluongo112@gmail.com said

at 4:59 pm on Jul 1, 2009

Wow, I was really shocked by the scores:
A disturbing finding was that only 22%
to 26% of students scored at the Proficient level across the three
grades, and very few were found to write at the Advanced level (Persky et al., 2003,Table 2.1).
I was also really shocked to learn about the number of college students who needed special classes. However, I really enjoyed the effective elements chart. It made me start wondering what I could do in my classroom. Also, after reading about grammar and Nestor's comments I would really like to learn more about teaching this aspect of English. It's too bad the article didn't give us examples of students' writing or specific examples of some of the effective elements. Additionally, this article made me want to find out more about the different schools of grammar and which one might be most effective in the classroom...maybe it will depend on the students and how they will best react to being taught the material???

SarbeJ2@yahoo.com said

at 7:01 pm on Jul 1, 2009

I have to agree, the numbers were very shocking. However, when I see statistics I immediately think, "How did they get this number? Who was polled? Is it accurate?" I think they main idea is that whether the numbers are exact, they do reflect a major issue. I think that writing is definitely a separate skill that has different tasks and activities that can help to develop the skill. I was surprised that the article was as adamant about the separation of reading and writing. I have always consider them to go hand-in-hand, not choosing which is more important. I am not saying the article takes the position that writing is more important. But it left me to believe that reading is not considered a skill that improves writing. I believe it is. I think I have become a more proficient writer, which has been largely influenced by my increase in reading. I have not had a grammar class in over a decade. That being written, I wish I was a better writer, which only supports my on-the-fence position that reading is helpful, but not alone.
The article used the phraseology of "learning to write, and writing to learn". I love this concept. I enjoyed the different writing elements that were included and I see myself using those elements in a class environment.

Lauren Obst said

at 7:30 pm on Jul 1, 2009

These numbers are horrifying and I continue to question what I can do as an English teacher to promote literacy, reading and writing in a way that will reach the students. The negative result of teaching grammar actually is not surprising to me now that I have thought about it. How many of us have gotten a paper back to focused solely on our proper use of semi-colons and apostrophes instead of the main points of the paper? I think that many students may focus so much on grammar, in an effort to stylistically improve their writing, that they are not able to move beyond the act of writing to create real ideas. It is those ideas that make writing and reading enriching to the student. If we stifle them with strict guidelines on style, then we will not produce students who are able to read and write with the bigger picture and abstract themes in mind. At least, that is the article's implications. I wonder, then, how to teach grammar so that it aids the writer instead of hinders him/her.

While this article seemed well-informed of the current studies, I also wonder why more studies have not been done in this field, considering that it is such a hot-button issues. The article continually stated that not studies had been performed in low-achieving readers for certain elements of the effective elements. Perhaps we should devote more energy towards figuring out exactly what works and what does not work so that teachers can learn these methods rather than throwing money at the problem (even with the best intentions) and neglecting certain types of students.

Adam_Fischer@msn.com said

at 10:06 pm on Jul 1, 2009

I'm not terribly horrified or surprised by any of the initial findings, but I strongly question some of the conclusions the researchers make. Of particular note, while I recognize that reading and writing are comprised of different skill sets, I know, at least from personal experience, that success in one skill set usually bolsters or supports the other. I write better when I read more; I find I'm a better reader the more I write. Second, having read through all of the appendixes, I keep thinking that their findings are somewhat skewed, given the number and types of reports the researchers decided to exclude. I would be very curious to know what the studies considered to be "good writing," as that can often be a very subjective subject. Third, I don't agree with their assessment of the low effects which pre-writing, inquiry activities, and process writing has on writing skills, especially considering their higher ranking of word processing. Saying that a spell checker or a grammar checker improves the student's ability to write is like saying that a calculation program improves the student's ability to solve math problems. These types of aids fix problems - they don't actually teach the student any information, at least not permanently.

In particular, I was very bothered that for a study on writing literacy, there seemed to be an avoidance of certain demographics and certain levels of learners, both high and low. My point being, while the report certainly brought up some intriguing issues, there's something about it, in general, that doesn't sit right for me.

On an entirely different note, I might have been a bit happier reading the piece had I printed out a hard copy. But that's my own fault, and it's neither here nor there. Oh, well.

Whitney Ogas said

at 12:12 am on Jul 2, 2009

The report was eye-opening first because of the worrisome and disappointing facts it presented about students today. The fact that 7,000 students drop out of high school each day is a travesty; they are throwing away their lives and do not understand the repercussions of their actions. I was saddened by the fact that 70% of 4th – 12th graders are classified as low-achieving writers; writing is a very basic skill which makes having 70% of students not proficient in that skill unacceptable. Clearly, as the report suggests, I believe changes need to be made in writing instruction in schools but also that writing needs to be encouraged by parents, in after-school activities and perhaps even in summer camps. The NAEP writing exam results further emphasized to me the sad state of today’s youth’s writing skills; there is a major problem in the educational system when any students are testing below the Basic level and as a teacher it will be my responsibility to help move as many students as possible to the Basic level and hopefully even up to the Proficient level.

To be honest, I have always been one to consider writing to be the “flip side” and brother to reading; I was taught both together and therefore have always assumed that learning one helped you learn the other. I was surprised when the report noted that improving reading skills will not necessarily improve writing ability as I saw reading as providing examples of writing styles/techniques/rules for students to take note of then adopt, alter or reject for their own writing. The simple yet sophisticated notion that you read other people’s thoughts but have to write your own thoughts is a helpful way to look at the dual expectations of students and perhaps one reason why writing is harder for some children.

Whitney Ogas said

at 12:15 am on Jul 2, 2009

As a political science major when an undergrad, I was distressed to hear that U.S. graduates’ literacy skills are lower than those of graduates in most industrialized nations. America has always prided itself on being a world power but we cannot retain that status if our students do not grow up to be literate leaders for the country. Our students are falling behind their counterparts in other countries and the government needs to take action before our political and economic statuses suffer along with the students themselves who are not literate.

One of the facts that I will take away with me from this report and share with my students in Troy next year is the fact that the knowledge and skills required for higher education and for employment are now considered equivalent. I believe that a lot of students dismiss the need for college thinking that they can simply enter the work force right out of high school but what kids need to realize is that it is not so easy to get a job anymore even a minimum wage one and that the vast majority of jobs require one to be writing literate. Students also respond to the concept of money, so I will be sure to mention that the report noted that writing ability often impacts promotion decisions in both government jobs and private companies; being literate is quickly becoming a prerequisite for making a living in this country at all.

The last thing that I found particularly illuminating from the report was that the effect size for writing for content area learning was only 0.23; I expected it to be much higher. The report noted that the content areas that were studied were social studies, math and science; why wasn’t English looked at specifically? I would think that writing for English would have a greater positive effect on content learning, but I could be wrong. I am interested to know if anyone has done a study on that.

Andrew said

at 9:29 am on Jul 2, 2009

I think this goes back to what I was saying about how a wiki could be useful in the classroom. When looking at the 11 steps it seems clear that for there to be enough time for practicing these elements there must be a lot of effort outside the classroom. Having a wiki seems to make sense to promote writing if it is a requirement, but then students can go at their own pace with their writing. In the privacy of their own home, or even a computer in the library, a student can analyze their own writing skills (and reading) and put in as much effort as they want. This could be a problem to get students motivated though.

When reading about students who can read fairly well, but struggle with writing it made sense to me. I think most people struggle with writing to a certain extent. To be able to formulate coherent sentences and pull from an infinite supply of ideas is a daunting task. To ask a student to write beyond simple note copying takes a considerable amount of thought and planning. The time required could frighten almost anyone away, and would easily scare someone who isn't a powerful linguist or even has trouble reading.

Sara Telban said

at 2:36 pm on Jul 2, 2009

I am wondering if we spend more time in the classroom writing first for pleasure and then moving into teacing response writing more students may develop a stronger affinity for written language. Additionally, if students are given more free time to read within the classroom, more reading practice may be accomplished. This would require teachers to move away from teaching to standardized tests and community members and governments to heavily weigh student progress on test results.

Looking at the NYS ELA Regents exam, we are asking students to develop and support a common theme between two works, to interpret and support the interpretation, to analyze and discuss data, and to listen and use generated notes to support an idea. This can all be done using student chosen literature and incorporating various forms of writing styles and technology. I am not saying that we scrap foundations (development, structure, formatting, etc.) for a free-for-all approach to teaching writing and reading. I believe that we all need to be more open minded in our approaches and flexible in our classrooms and buildings. We (educators) may find a renewed enthusiasm for teaching reading and writing.

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