Archive for June, 2008

Blog Watch: Graphic Novel Week

Would you like to know where the word “graphica” comes from?

Frank Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn, Stenhouse authors and popular bloggers at A Year of Reading, recently interviewed Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica. Find out about the origins of “graphica,” whether Terry himself reads graphic novels, and get suggestions for becoming familiar and comfortable with this genre.

Add comment June 18th, 2008

Questions & Authors: When texting and IM intrude on school work

According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in partnership with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing, the shorthands and casual style of text messaging is seeping into teenagers’ schoolwork.

The study was based on focus groups and a survey of 700 children, ages 12 to 17, and their parents. The kids reported that “their e-communication style sometimes bled into school assignments,” and about half of them admitted that they omitted punctuation and capitalization in schoolwork.

Liz HaleI think in the future, capitalization will disappear,” commented Richard Sterling, emeritus executive director of the National Writing Project and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, in a recent New York Times article about the study’s findings. He added that when his son asked him what a capital letter added to what a period at the end of a sentence already signified, he had no good response.

We asked Liz Hale, author of Crafting Writers, K-6, to comment on the results of the study. Is it really that bad that kids are writing so informally? Shouldn’t we be happy that they are writing at all? What opportunities do teachers have to turn text messages into teaching moments?

When I was a high school student, I remember my English teacher Mrs. Mathews waving her arms with excitement and praising the wonderful world of poetry. And I shared her enthusiasm. Poetry was the one genre of writing where I could disobey all the rules of writing I had been taught. These days, of course, with the ever-increasing presence of technology in daily communication, there are more and more forms of writing that do not follow the typical “rules” of formal writing. E-mails and text messages, written by teenagers and adults alike, consistently disregard the use of capitals, punctuation, and grammar. Even when I write a text message, I will shorten words, use acronyms, or occasionally communicate an emotion with a 🙂 or a 🙁 . Interestingly enough, I can no longer just type a colon followed by a parenthesis without my computer automatically turning it into one of the little faces in my previous sentence. Even my own computer is programmed for this new language.

All this shortening of language in some ways makes sense, especially when it comes to writing on a cell phone. After all, in the few text messages I send each week, I certainly don’t have the patience to type every single letter of every word with my thumbs. All that matters is that I get the message across. But according to a recent New York Times article, this more informal, short cut style of communication is seeping into the academic writing teenagers do in school. The popular acronyms and symbols they text and email to their friends are appearing in their papers. The most important question is not why are they doing this, but what should teachers do about it.

I think it’s great when some aspects of school allow students to communicate however they wish whether it’s with blog sites, poetry, personal journals or even free-writes done in class. But I think a majority of writing in school should adhere to standard writing expectations, regardless of current trends. Having both outlets in school honors the fact that different generations communicate differently, as do different cultures, but it also respects the fact that we have a responsibility as teachers to prepare students with the skills they will need to be successful in the future.

When I was in middle school, there was no such thing as e-mailing or texting, but we did have an informal oral language that conflicted with the formality of writing. I don’t know how many times my mom told me to stop using “like” in all my sentences, but it sure was what all the cool kids in seventh grade said: “I was, like, so not eating your chips. Like, how can you say that?” If the language I used with my friends back then seeped into my papers, I am pretty sure my teachers would not have deemed it unacceptable, and not because it was a language my teachers didn’t use themselves. Reading a paper that uses the word “like” over and over when it’s not really needed would not only be distracting for most people (even my seventh-grade friends), but it would interfere with clear communication. And I think this is what writing expectations should come down to: what is going to support or hinder clear communication?

When it comes to communicating ideas from one person to another, oral language has a lot more flexibility. When speaking to another person, you know your audience. You use slang or jargon with one person you wouldn’t with another. Your interaction is also live and multi-sensory. Body language and facial expression can add tremendously to the effectiveness of our words. And when I am not being clear, there is instant feedback. All I need is a quizzical look or a “What do you mean?” from a friend for me to stop and clarify what I just said. With writing, none of the above communication supports are givens. It’s not always clear who your audience will be and they won’t always be there to tell you what parts they do or don’t understand. In addition, listening is a much more passive process than reading. When listening to someone speak, your brain is not doing the added work of turning text into meaning. The fact that there is far more brain work involved in extracting meaning from print, as opposed to just listening, matters.

In the New York Times article mentioned earlier, a professor from The University of California at Berkeley suggests that capitalization might someday disappear, alluding to the fact that he could not answer his son’s question about why capitals are needed when a period denotes the end of a sentence. There is nothing wrong with questioning rules, but his point of view disregards the intricacies and incredibly fast pace of the reading/writing connection. Any time a reader needs to readjust, backtrack, or fill in the blanks to make sense of what is written, he or she has to use more effort to turn print into meaning. Few would argue the previous statement if the issue was that all quotation marks or all periods were missing from a novel. But even extra effort on the part of the reader that is barely discernible gets in the way of reading. Paragraph spaces are not absolutely essential to understanding text, but they are still around because they just make the process of reading easier. And this is the reason–the avoidance of unnecessary effort on the part of the reader–is why sentences start with capital letters! If all the sentences I wrote had periods but no capitals, it would take more work to be aware of when sentences end. When you take time to look for a reason behind the rules of writing, you will almost always find one.

So anything that gets in the way of the reader making sense of print–whether it is missing punctuation, run-ons sentences, or trying to decipher slang or acronyms–gets in the way of the purpose of writing: to communicate thoughts, ideas and images as clearly as possible with only the written word. As teachers, it’s our job to help students to get good at writing clearly for a wide range of audiences, not just their peers. The point is not to make teenagers write with this formality all the time. The point is to prepare them so that they can write at this level: so that they can write a grant application that has a chance of being chosen; so they can write an essay for college admission; so they can write a report for their boss or a memo for co-workers that can be easily understood. Otherwise we are, like, choosing popular fads over preparation.

Add comment June 18th, 2008

Education in the news: Board-certified teachers boost student scores

Students taught by educators certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards make bigger gains on standardized tests than students taught by other teachers, finds a National Research Council report out Wednesday.

The study, reported recently in USAToday, wasn’t clear on whether the process of getting certified by the national board makes teachers better or if those who get certified were already top performers.

Read the full article in USAToday

Add comment June 18th, 2008

Art and literacy

Here is a collection of resources that you can use to make the connection between art and literacy.

“Art is literacy of the heart.”
–Elliot Eisner

Create your own masterpiece at, a site developed by “existential computing” artist Miltos Manetas. Click to change colors and drag the mouse to create the whirls and lines of Pollack’s iconic images. Use it as a hook for a lesson combining art, literature, and technology or as a writing prompt:

Explore great art on the Internet with Artcyclopedia. From movements to masters this searchable database connects you to online museums and other sites you can integrate into lessons by theme, artist, or content:

Solve an art mystery with A. Pintura: Art Detective, an online game about art history and composition featuring works by Raphael, Titian, Millet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso and concepts such as portrait, color, and perspective. Use it as a model for students’ own fact-filled mystery stories:

Connect. Integrate. Innovate. Transform your teaching with arts- integrated resources from ArtsEdge. Their database of over 400 lessons is searchable by art type, content area, and grade level:

Is your classroom dance-poor or painting-rich? Discover the power of art-based lessons from a range of arts with The Arts Go to School by David Booth and Masayuki Hachiya. Filled with model units and art activities, the book’s design allows you to pick and choose from dance, music, painting, drama, or movement lessons to fine-tune the arts in your classroom. Browse the entire book

Add comment June 18th, 2008

Video podcast: Terry Thompson on using graphica in the classroom

Curious about using graphic novels in your classroom? In this video podcast, Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica, talks about the conventions of graphica, and dispels misconceptions about this genre.

1 comment June 6th, 2008

Study guide for TeamWork now available

The authors of TeamWork compiled a study guide to use by yourself or with a study group to help you reflect on ideas in the book. In each section of this professional development guide you will find an introduction to a chapter, reflection questions, and action steps.  You may journal as you read the book and use the reflection questions as a guide for your writing or for a discussion. Action steps range from basic to more complex steps.

Download the study guide from the Stenhouse website and enhance your understanding of this great book.

Add comment June 6th, 2008

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs