Vol 60, No 2 (2018)

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction: Shakespeare in Wisconsin
John Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Rock County


Colorful Questioning: Student-Led Discussions
Shai D Klima, Kettle Moraine High School

Abstract. Klima implements colorful questioning strategies to enhance in-class discussion, allowing students the ability to use their natural verbosity to share texts in meaningful ways, thus making both the discussions and the teaching methods student-led and student-driven.

Because Student Voice Promotes Equity in the Classroom
J Scott Baker, Asst Professor, Dept of Educational Studies, U of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Max Holden, Pre-service Teacher, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Elizabeth Hubing, Pre-service Teacher, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Kyle Kolar, Pre-service Teacher, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Abstract. The authors explore how poetic inquiry, used within their own multicultural education classroom, models ways in which secondary classrooms can incorporate poetry to explore and process current events.

Just One More Thing
Amy L Menzel, Waukesha West High School

Abstract. Without fail, Menzel incorporates a daily  book talk into her curriculum. The next step is daily notebook work.

Continuing the Conversation: Socrative’s Impact on Student Emotions, Student Comfort Levels, and Classroom Interactions
Adam Sprague, Assistant Professor and Student Success Coordinator, Bellin College

Abstract. Sprague shows how Socrative, the mobile student response system, helped his students feel more in control of course materials, less anxious about assignments, and closer to their peers and instructor.

Symposium: Teaching in Rural Districts

The Appeal of Rural Schools: “Old Sport” Day in Northern Wisconsin
Paul Wiegel, Ripon High School/Lumen Charter School
Abstract. Wiegel discusses the quirks, advantages, and perks of teaching in a rural district and references “Old Sport Day,” one specific activity in an American Literature class that developed school-wide momentum.

An Autoethnographic Exploration of Judaism in a Rural Louisiana School
Danielle M Klein, PhD Candidate, Dept of Education, Louisiana State University

Abstract. This paper aims to explore tensions that Klein experienced as a Northern-born, White, Jewish educator in a rural, Louisiana high school that serves primarily Black, Christian students.

Book Reviews

Review: Glasheen, Backbiters
Karen Ambrosh, Audubon High School, Milwaukee


Review: McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir
Thomas Hansen, Illinois State Board of Education


Review: Sigmundsdóttir, The Little Book of Hidden People
Thomas Hansen, Illinois State Board of Education


Review: Morrow, Lenses on Reading (3rd ed)
Heather Pauly, Assistant Professor, Cardinal Stritch University


Review: Crovitz and Devereaux, Grammar to Get Things Done
Adam Sprague, Assistant Professor and Student Success Coordinator, Bellin College


Book Tasting at Horace Mann Middle School

Tina Thone, Horace Mann Middle School, Sheboygan, tthone @ sasd.net

First, I knew I had to be concise with the time restraints. I had only 60 minute class periods and knew I had to choose genres that my students gravitated to, but I also wanted them to explore genres that they wouldn’t otherwise choose. I decided on science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, realistic fiction, graphic novels, and biography.

Thone 2

To begin, my students made reservations the week before the book tasting. I knew the tables would be set up so that six could sit at each one. With these reservations, I made assigned seating. As they entered the library, they found their name card with a table number. They then found their table.

Each table was set up to look like a fine dining experience. I purchased tablecloths, each student had a placemat to jot down notes, they were given a menu as their guide for the book tasting experience, and they answered questions about each book they “tasted.” In the center of each table, I brought in my personal cake plates from home and stacked the books on each one. Each table was a different genre represented by a decorative sign and a homemade table sign.

Thone 1

With the amount of time, each student was able to get through only three genres. While they tasted three books per genre, they used their menu to guide them. They took notes on their thoughts of the cover, their reaction to reading the first few pages of the book, their take on how the author grabbed their attention, and rated of each book they tasted.

When they finished three rounds, they chose three books they were really interested in reading and documented the titles on a bookmark. Depending on which books were available, they checked out a new book!

The bookmarks were kept and used for further book checkouts.

Thone 4

I also reached out to my very supportive parents for donations of baked goods, napkins, and plates. So many parents donated that we had more than enough for all four of my ELA classes. The kids enjoyed a special treat after they found their new books to read.

The students had nothing but positive feedback on this experience. We visit the library every other week for book exchanges. Many asked if we could do this every time we exchanged books! Even my reluctant readers found this to be an engaging experience. I think the best part was that my students continued to check out the choices on their bookmarks.

Thone 5

The biggest thing that I would change is the amount of time spent doing this. I think I would try to adjust our schedule so we had more than 60 minutes. I think it would be great if the kids could make it to every genre. I felt it was important that they could experience three books from each genre, so extending the experience would make it so much better!

Thone 3

Book Tasting at Black River Falls Middle School

Amy Recob, Black River Falls Middle School, amy.recob @ brf.org

Raid the dollar store for tablecloths, flowers, fake candles, a mini violin, and fancy plates

recob 3

I found a sampling of books at 5 different levels

The students walked into “Chateau de Recobia” to find their place cards at candlelit tables (with book choices at their level — not many picked up on that)

recob 4

The hostess of Chateau de Recobia handed out tasting menus with a Diner’s Scorecard so patrons could rate the various books they were sampling.

recob 2

recob 1

I brought out different “courses” if the customers were not satisfied with any of their choices.

Toward the end of the dining experience, students conversed about the main courses and collectively decide on one to read as a group for literature circles. I did allow some students to stray from the group.

recob 5

Reigniting the Love of Reading With Penny Kittle

Emily M VanDyne, Union Grove High School, emilymvandyne @ gmail.com

For the first time in my career, I looked out at my class and wasn’t excited. In fact, I was the opposite of excited – I dreaded coming to work. Thirty senior students sat in my brightly decorated classroom with glazed looks in their eyes, brains on autopilot. Some were staring blankly at their open books, some were smirking at their phones not so conspicuously hidden within the folds of the pages, and some weren’t even bothering to hide that they weren’t paying attention. The lights were off, the audiobook was on, and no one cared.

I took in the indifference and lethargy and thought, I hate this. This wasn’t a management issue; it was an engagement issue, and it had been going on for quite some time. I had used every weapon in my arsenal. High interest and topically relevant books? Check. Fun and diversified discussion formats? You got it. Rearranging the room? Done. Groups, partners, individuals, YouTube, surprises and prizes, strict and lenient … I had tried it all. I got the same apathetic attitudes no matter what I did, and the kicker was I knew they still weren’t reading the books. Hence the annoying audio that now blared in my classroom. I guess I was hoping they could absorb the content through osmosis. There was no getting around it: I felt like a failure. I was supposed to be teaching everyone to read and appreciate literature, but it seemed like I was causing them to actively hate it. They were miserable; I was miserable. I just didn’t know how to fix it.

My parents say I came out of the womb with a book in my hand. I grew up in the age of Harry Potter and Twilight and I loved every magical minute of it. You would never find me without a book. My teachers would often half-heartedly scold me for reading instead of completing my algorithms, but even I—the enthusiastic reader—occasionally faltered in English class. There were assigned books that I didn’t read. I pretended to read them, but I didn’t. Why would I follow the predictable tragedy of King Lear when the last battle of Hogwarts was unfolding? Why would I spend hours on the Mississippi River with Huck when I could be in Forks, running with werewolves and vampires? How could I possibly surrender time to a book I found vaguely interesting (at best) when there were wars to be won and loves to be found in my other books? If I—a self-identifying bibliophile—didn’t have an urgency to read all the books the curriculum demanded, how could I expect someone who didn’t love books to do it?

Yet, that was exactly what I was doing in my classroom. I chose the books that they read because I had a degree and I knew better than they did. As a teacher, I was doing precisely what I hadn’t liked as a student. Ever the realist, I told myself that I was being presented with two choices: evolve or repeat. Continuing down this road was not an option for me. I refused to go one more semester with classes who fake-read books and hated English. I didn’t know what the change would be, but I knew there had to be something better than what I was doing.

My Background
I am a 28-year-old English teacher who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2013 with a double major in English Education and Spanish Education and I have a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership from Carroll University. For the last six years, I have been working at Union Grove High School in Union Grove, Wisconsin, population 4,000, nestled outside of Racine between sprawling corn fields and newly minted industrial complexes like Amazon and FoxConn. The union district high school has between 800 and 1,000 students any given year, most of whom live in and around the rural town, but about 20% are open enrolled from Racine. Of our graduating seniors, about 71% go on to four year universities, 11% enroll in technical schools, and 18% have found their calling in the military or workforce. Union Grove High School runs on a traditional block schedule. Classes meet every day for one semester and are 83 minutes long.

Finding Penny Kittle
My frustrations with the curriculum, it just so happened, came to a peak while I was going through my master’s program. It was while I was chatting with a few of my cohorts that one of them mentioned Penny Kittle, an English teacher from Maine who had a successful formula for not only getting adolescents to grow as readers, but also for getting them to authentically enjoy reading. Immediately on returning from class, I ordered and read her Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers (2013), since I was most interested in changing the way reading was done in my classroom. The first sentence of the synopsis had me nodding: “Penny Kittle wants us to face the hard truths every English teacher fears: too many kids don’t read the assigned texts, and some even manage to slip by without having ever read a single book by the time they graduate.” Through reading, it became clear that Kittle takes a progressive approach that might be daunting to some teachers. She asserted that students weren’t reading because they simply weren’t interested in our books. If we help them choose the right book, though, and give them time everyday to read, think, create, and reflect, we could craft a powerful love of reading and grow their skills simultaneously.

I know that her assertions throughout Book Love weren’t meant to make me feel like a failure, but they did anyway. I had always prided myself on teaching beautiful, classic literature in a challenging environment. “A book,” Kittle countered, “isn’t rigorous if students aren’t reading it” (p. xvi). I had also prided myself on giving engaging lectures and holding thought provoking class discussions. Kittle parried, “Students need to be reading and writing more than they need to be listening to me talking” (p. 57). Reading Book Love was a reckoning that made me reevaluate what I had been doing for the last five years, but I found myself agreeing with every statement she made, particularly about how standardized testing plays into education. Kittle argues that while districts (and politicians and community members) can become obsessed with test data, educators need to remember what’s important: “None of our local or national tests measure the joy students take in reading or their stamina for it. None measure our ability to create lifelong readers in thirteen years of schooling. Those are critical, haunting omissions” (p.137).

Kittle believes that English curricula should focus on growing reading stamina, reading fluency, and nurturing a love for reading. She lays out her philosophies in practical and applicable ways, even going so far as to include sample lesson plans and dialogues of her conversations with students. So many educational books are grounded in brilliant ideas, but they leave the reader wondering where to start and how. Not this book. I had a wealth of resources at my fingertips, a map of where to go, and a reignited passion to get me there. As I finished Book Love and prepared for the quickly approaching new semester, I was excited, but so overwhelmed. Overhauling my curriculum for just one class would take time I didn’t have, patience I could hardly spare, and a recognition that this semester would be based on trial and error. Going back to an apathetic classroom, though, wasn’t an option when I had a chance to create a joyful classroom. I sat at the coffee house each weekend crafting new curricula and ransacked used book stores for new additions to my classroom bookshelf. The question that Kittle implies repeatedly throughout Book Love became my motto: If not you, who?

With more enthusiasm than I’d felt in awhile, I looked up my classes for the next semester. I had two sections of Senior English and they would make the perfect pilot group. A quick look at the data showed me the following:

I had 55 total students, split between two sections

55% were male, 45% were female

Average GPA was 3.3

Four had failed a previous high school English course

I had taught 11 in previous courses

I approached my principal to share my ideas for implementing a curriculum change and was fortunate to have the immediate support to roll out a Kittle-inspired curriculum. Getting our students to love reading? He was on board. Later, when I would explain this conversation to colleagues from other districts, I received some shocked looks. In their districts, they explained, they would never tell their principal that they thought their curriculum was not working and would never be allowed to try this new idea without tying it to every standard. I feel fortunate that I work in a district that encourages risk-taking and recognizes that the standards do not cover every skill we want to teach. Never have I felt nervous to try something new for fear of reprimand or judgment. I’ve always been given unconditional support for any new endeavors or curriculum. Teaching is not a stagnant profession and new ideas should be welcomed, celebrated, and explored. Failure might be a part of the exploration process, but that’s okay. It is the same message about failure and change that we teach every day. Perhaps we should practice what we preach. My principal was as eager about this new venture as I was and he left me with just one command: “Let me know what I can do to help you.”

The Standards and Data
When talking with fellow educators about this new curriculum, I would receive the same question: How is this linked to the state standards? I knew this question was inevitable. We live in a strict testing culture where every lesson must be tied to a standard. I value the skills that the standards are trying to address, and while I understand the desire to prove the validity of a curriculum by showing precisely what skills are being addressed, I think we are overlooking one major flaw: Reading skills cannot be developed if no one is reading. And no one is reading.

The standards do not cover the joy of reading and they do not mention stamina, both integral components of successful students (and happy adults, in my opinion). If we are serious about creating a generation of independent thinkers who are motivated, empathetic, and patient, these must come first. When I notice a certain skill is lacking, I make a mini lesson and work with that student during individual conferences. But tying this curriculum to the current standards is not my priority. Reading skills work in concert with each other and can absolutely be taught through this curriculum because my students are finally reading in a meaningful way (and enjoying it!). Skill development and growth is always a priority, but again, these skills will not develop or grow if no one is reading. That has to be the first priority. My goal is not to make sure my students can do well on a standardized test that does not accurately measure their abilities anyways. My goal is to nurture a love of reading, help them increase their stamina, deepen their thought process, and grow their fluency over time.

Daily Elements
As I read through Book Love, I picked out the major elements that would work for my classroom. Knowing there was no way I could implement every idea, I decided to build up the new curriculum over time, step by step. A routine was established immediately, clung to ferociously, and credited much of the success to the habits formed because of it. Each day began with three activities, without exception: current events, quick writes, and reading.

Five-to-ten-minute current event discussions fostered a familiarity with politics, economics, and human rights issues, while helping these young citizens learn how to discuss controversial topics in a respectful manner. It was also an opportunity to teach the skills of bias detection and other components of journalism.

Daily book talks helped students think about what they might want to read next. After current events, they pulled out their notebooks and flipped to their Next List, the list they kept of all the books they might want to read next. On the first day of class, I introduced eight books of varying complexity and genre via book talks, quick and simple and always using the same formula: start with the basics, give them a summary, read a passage, and pass it around. I started off by revealing the title, the author, other works by the author, and if I had read the book and liked it or not. Next, I tried to pique their interest with the summary, to give them an idea for the complexity and writing style with the passage, and to get the book in their hands so they could look at the length, page through it, and read some passages. After the first week, I only introduced three books a day, and after the second or third week, I was down to one a day. I also invited students to do book talks, and many took me up on the offer, whether they were currently in my class or not. The books I chose came from my classroom library, but I also frequently asked the librarian to borrow copies that I didn’t own. I took my students to our school library at least twice a semester, when our librarian kindly organized books into themes and helped even the most reluctant readers find something to read. Often, this is the first time they check a book out from the school library. At the start of the semester, I reserved 15-20 minutes for daily book talks, but this quickly dwindled to 5 minutes as the semester went on.

Quick writes helped them find their writer’s voice and be comfortable writing daily in a reflective and creative manner. I wrote right along with them as we answered questions, wrote about moral dilemmas, or engaged with mentor texts. I often shared my own writing and editing process before asking them to share their work. It fostered an environment of trust and constant improvement. Depending on the the type of writing we did, this took 10-20 minutes.

After writing came everyone’s favorite part: reading time. At the beginning of the semester, we spent a few days just finding books that interested each individual student. The key to making this process work is finding the right books for the right readers. By the start of the week, everyone had chosen a different book. To start reading time, I might introduce a few new books that they may choose to add to their active Next List. Finally, we would read. Everyone would take out a choice book (myself included) and have silent, uninterrupted reading for at least twenty minutes every day. I would quietly conference with each student every few days, helping them through challenging parts, listening as they explained what had transpired since our last conference, and guiding them through choosing their next books. In the beginning, reading for twenty uninterrupted minutes was a challenge for most. By the end of the class, all of my students could easily read for upwards of fifty minutes and still want more time.

Class always began with this routine. From there, the day would be broken into one of two categories: writing workshop or podcast listening. When we were working on a writing project, I would create mini-lessons based on what I saw them struggling with or on a skill we were working on. We did fun, creative writing and worked up to argumentative, research-based writing in a multi-genre narrative. In all, everyone completed seven pieces of writing, ranging from narrative poems to research. We would practice a skill and then practice using that new skill. We would imitate forms and study beautiful words. Alternatively, when we were listening to a podcast, we would practice active listening skills and comprehension activities. I found that everyone adored the podcasts Serial and Criminal; many have told me that they are now active podcast listeners. Over the course of the semester, we did only two traditional whole class reads: Macbeth and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Because my goal was to improve reading stamina and fluency, I chose to follow Kittle’s advice for homework. Students were expected to read for two hours outside of class each week. When I explained this, they were confused. They asked how many pages were required in the two hours. That depends, I told them, on what book you are reading. I gave them this example: When I read Harry Potter, I can get through half of the book in two hours. When I read Wuthering Heights, though, I might only get through forty pages in two hours. It all depends on the kind and level of book, and since we are all reading different books, it doesn’t seem fair to assign a page requirement. I saw some of my slower readers’ faces absolutely light up at the possibility of not falling behind immediately. I walked them through Kittle’s simple process for determining their reading rate and explained they had to redo this process for each new book they started.

Within the first few days of class, I gave my seniors a survey with questions about their habits and their thoughts on reading and writing. After asking about their lives, their jobs, their hobbies, and their dreams, I asked them about their past English classes.
vandyne table 1

Clearly, I had my work cut out for me; yet, I didn’t feel like this was an inaccurate representation of a typical English class.

Undoubtedly, it was the best semester of my teaching career. Not only did my students read more than ever before, but I remembered why I became an English teacher in the first place: the magic of books! Everyone read every day, which I couldn’t say before. They wanted book suggestions and begged for more reading time in class. They read challenging books and wanted to have analytical discussions. Their stamina and fluency increased, along with their appreciation for a gripping narrative. Their writing improved, and they became engaged world citizens. I watched them become calmer. I watched them choose to read rather than play on their phones. I watched them smile and laugh and share their books with their peers. I watched them fall in love with reading. I could give you anecdotal evidence all day long, but the results of the final survey speak for themselves.

vandyne table 2

Some teachers argue that when students get the chance to choose what they read, they will pick easy books that they can get through quickly and with little challenge. I did not find this to be the case. In fact, some of the most chosen books were The Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Game of Thrones. They gravitated toward these difficult books and would often stop in before class to ask rather analytical questions. It was rewarding and relieving that the classic books I adored weren’t being left to collect dust on the bookshelf.

Ultimately, my students read and enjoyed a high volume of books. Between January 15 and May 25, they read an average of 12.6 books. I hesitate to give this quantitative data because it does not accurately represent their reading journey, as it does not take into account the length of the book. For instance, one read two books over the course of these months. That seems like an underachievement until you consider that one of those books was the Bible. Another read Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy over the course of these months. Again, this seems underwhelming until you consider that it was the first time he had completed a book in his high school career. I was continually impressed and humbled by how they challenged themselves without my prodding.

Seeing my students reading and enjoying their books, watching them grow as writers and being excited about creating and sharing … I’m not sure how to go back to a traditional English curriculum. I loved teaching that class, and I’m not willing to give up that feeling.

After piloting this class and sharing the results with colleagues, some members of my department initiated a book study on Gallagher and Kittle’s 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (2018). It has been an eye opening and, at times, challenging course. The plan moving forward is implementing the Kittle theory in all of my classes. This will be a process and it will take time. For now, I am focusing on bringing Kittle’s philosophies into the Sophomore English curriculum, which demonstrates to both students and colleagues that fear of a strict testing culture should not deter our efforts to educate the next generation in the best way we know. Being open to change, after all, reflects a higher nature of the human condition.

Gallagher, K., & Kittle, P. (2018). 180 days: Two teachers and the quest to engage and empower adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Kittle, P. (2013). Book love: Developing depth, stamina, and passion in adolescent readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Using Kahoot Jumble to Teach Paragraphing in the Writing Classroom

Adam Sprague, Bellin College, adam.sprague @ bellincollege.edu

Over the past twenty years, online formative assessment has emerged as a valid pedagogical strategy from the combination of research in both formative assessment and computer-assisted assessment. In fact, numerous scholars have synthesized a plethora of knowledge in these two fields of research (Clark, 2012; Conole & Warburton, 2005; Nicol, 2009). One common thread found within these syntheses is that technology can be used successfully by instructors for evaluative purposes (Brown, 1997; Skorczynska, del Saz Rubio, & Carrió-Pastor, 2016). This realization may mean that writing instructors could use student response systems (SRS) to help evaluate how their writers are progressing toward various writing skills as SRS have been used successfully to evaluate a wide range of other skill sets in courses ranging from Sports Management to English as a Second Language. Furthermore, students consistently report that SRS are easy to use and improve their engagement in these environments (Dervan, 2014; Sprague, 2016; Steed, 2013; Williamson-Leadley & Ingram, 2013). As a result of SRS providing immediate, targeted feedback that improves overall learning (Angus & Watson, 2009; Kibble, 2007; Wang, 2007), I wanted to test how they would respond to the use of Kahoot, a mobile SRS, as a way to evaluate their progress with paragraphing within the second unit of a college-level writing course.

Kahoot is an Internet-based SRS that enables students to practice skills in a fun and inviting atmosphere. Teachers can create quizzes, puzzles, surveys, and polls, and students can respond during class time by using a smartphone or computer. By mimicking a game show, Kahoot encourages students to compete with each other, which, research suggests, both increases motivation to learn and increases engagement with class material (Iaremenko, 2017; Wang, 2015; Zarzycka-Piskorz, 2016).

During the Fall 2018 semester, I tested Kahoot’s newest mode, Kahoot Jumble (KJ), with forty of my own students across two sections of a required, first-year Composition & Professional Writing course to see if the software could serve as an effective modality for demonstrating paragraph writing knowledge after a series of lectures, readings, and activities on paragraph writing conventions. I was particularly interested in KJ because it offered a different experience from the other SRS like Socrative in that the mode encourages even more focus and critical thinking. That is, KJ’s questions challenge students to quickly place answers in the correct order rather than only select a single correct answer from a list of possibilities (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Kahoot Jumble projector layout (on the left) with students’ smartphone layout (on the right). KJ drastically differs from the two other modes in Kahoot. For example, Kahoot Quiz simply asks for the correct answer in multiple-choice fashion, and Kahoot Survey allows teachers to gather only students’ opinions about the prompt they create.


Using KJ as a teacher is an easy and straightforward process. In order to create a quiz, log into your account and select from the quiz, jumble, or survey options displayed under “Create new Kahoot!” Once you select the jumble option, you will be asked to enter a name for the KJ, select “Go!,” and write the first prompt or question. There are a variety of options available when writing questions for the activity, including uploading videos, pictures, and music in order to encourage thinking. A drag and drop option is also provided for adding pictures. You can also play a YouTube video during a specific prompt/question by placing a URL address in the box requiring a website ID.

Once you add the prompt or question (e.g., “Correctly organize the following sentences to make a paragraph”), and you have added any other multimedia features, you can include up to four “answers” for students to drag and drop into the correct order. The answers can be single words or short phrases, but both the questions and answers have character limits. Prompts and questions are limited to 80 characters, while the answers are limited to 60 characters.

You can also adjust the amount of time to answer each question and the number of points each question is worth. Once you have completed the prompt/question, select “+ Add question” at the bottom of the page until you have completed the quiz. After adding the last question, select “Save & Continue” to be asked about language, privacy settings, and the primary audience. There is also an option to include a description of the jumble and the difficulty level of the KJ.

Then, once ready to present your KJ, log in and choose your previously created KJ, which is then displayed on the screen. Students then visit www.kahoot.it via their browser, enter the PIN displayed on the main projector screen, and type their name or nickname (which will then be displayed on the main screen). All names entered are then shown to the class, so both students and teachers can see who has joined the session. Once everyone is accounted for, simply click to start the KJ.

During the KJ, the three top-scoring students will be displayed after each question. This is a useful way of introducing a competitive element, particularly if there’s a reward for the winner. An especially useful feature is that each time you deliver a KJ, the data from all of the participants’ responses are saved. You can choose to download this after the session is over either as a Microsoft Excel file or to import the data directly to Google Drive.

In my class, I introduced paragraph organization and transitional phrases, and my students learned how to place sentences in the appropriate location of a paragraph by only looking for key phrases. They then learned a number of basic transitions presented in the textbook, They Say/I Say. For example, we analyzed basic one-word, two-word, and three-word transitional phrases like “for example,” “next,” “the primary reason,” “another point,” “in conclusion,” “this means,” “moreover,” and so on. We then discussed how such phrases usually appeared in a very specific part of a paragraph. We also analyzed previously published articles and essays to understand this point more fully.

Rather than rely on what I have regularly done, that is, cut up paper copies of paragraphs I’ve written and distribute the randomized sentences to groups to re-order, during the KJ I presented them with the key phrases we had covered and then assigned them to drag them into the correct order on their smartphones and laptops. Immediately, I noticed improved engagement and fun levels compared to the non-digital alternative. Additionally, the results report (a downloadable spreadsheet) allowed me to see who was struggling. I learned much more about each individual learner this way than by the much more difficult approach of walking around the room and checking each student’s work, as one of the sections of my course had an enrollment of more than thirty.

Although it is natural for students to improve over the course of the semester, the average essay grades in the course rose from unit 1 to unit 2 when KJ was implemented in regard to paragraph organization and transition use. Ten points of each essay grade were linked to paragraph organization and transitions, and the average in this category rose from an 8.3 or 83% in unit 1 to a 9.1 or 91% in unit 2. While this positive change in academic performance is encouraging, 14 students also commented on the use of KJ in a short, anonymous survey emailed to them three months after the class concluded and final grades were released. Key written responses included:

I [can’t] believe you made all of those [prompts/questions] for us. They really helped me understand how to do a good paragraph.

The [KJ] games were fun. It was better than reading. It made me really want to win too.

My favorite part was that you gave us cool little prizes for winning. I wish all my teachers at [the college] used [KJ] for review especially for [course title] because [the teacher] is never around and [he/she] doesn’t explain anything and [he/she] doesn’t review anything either.

[KJ] helped me with [transitions]. Words like moreover I don’t even get. I honestly hated the book but [the KJ] told me which ones to use.

I really liked the games. They also showed us exactly what you wanted [in] the essays. It helped me get [an] A.

They were good. I just liked that I could play it after class.


Despite this positive feedback, we know that technology can fail and have several downsides. First, students can be bumped from the game if their WiFi connection drops, which did occasionally happen. Another concern may be the level of noise KJ will create itself and promote in the classroom. In true gameshow fashion, KJ plays music in the background and uses sound effects to mark when time to respond is running low for a particular prompt. While the music and sound effects can encourage engagement with the software, it could also be stressful and cause the classroom to become quite noisy as students yell in excitement or agony over gaining and losing points. Additionally, everyone will need either a phone or laptop in order to participate fully and may feel singled out if they do not have such technology. It is harder to measure and evaluate individual learning if they are then paired in groups versus tackling the KJ independently. Finally, I would not recommend using KJ for each unit. Teachers also need to be aware that KJ’s ease of use and functionality might lead to becoming too reliant upon it rather than varying pedagogical approaches to appeal to a variety of learning styles.

Even with these concerns in mind, the advantages of KJ vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Those kicked out of the game by poor WiFi can easily be partnered up with a peer, and the majority of group activities, digital or non-digital, tend to bring with them a certain expectation for noise. After my experimentation with KJ, I can confidently recommend this modality as an effective way to create intrinsic motivation among writers because it allows them to engage more deeply with their instructor and peers because of its collaborative nature. I feel strongly that such engagement and intrinsic motivation are key to encouraging long-term retention. KJ provides an enjoyable and meaningful learning environment that, if implemented carefully, may further increase the likelihood that students will end the course with a higher writing proficiency than if KJ were not used at all as evident by the rise in essay grades in unit 2 versus unit 1 mentioned above.

While there are certainly numerous ways to teach paragraphing, it can safely be argued that KJ positively impacted my students’ grades and afforded them a more collaborative, engaging, less confusing unit compared to when KJ was not used. Certainly, they could have scored just as highly or perhaps even more highly on the unit 2 essays without the use of KJ; however, KJ provided an enjoyable environment that differed from a textbook, PowerPoint, or traditional lecture. Though more research is needed to fully understand KJ’s efficacy in the writing classroom, and this experiment was conducted with a relatively small sample size, these results are nonetheless a promising addition to the ongoing conversation regarding SRS. I strongly believe that KJ could be an excellent platform for grammar instruction and evaluation in relation to a number of topics.

I will definitely use this tool in future semesters to check my students’ comprehension of paragraphing. As an assessment tool, I think it has some benefits as a way of getting a general sense of knowledge or skill in the room because the nature of the activity demands full class participation and provides a lens through which to view individual results. More importantly, KJ is a useful way of breaking up class sessions and re-energizing students who display signs of boredom. Most importantly, students reported loving the activity and requested to do more throughout the remainder of the semester. Given the easy interface and low learning curve, why not give it a try and share your own results?
Angus, S. D., & Watson, J. (2009). Does regular online testing enhance student learning in the numerical sciences? Robust evidence from a large data set. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(2), 255-272. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.0091.x

Brown, J. D. (1997). Computers in language testing: Present research and some future directions. Language Learning and Technology, 1(1), 44-59. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 2002650154)

Clark, I. (2012). Formative assessment: Assessment is for self-regulated learning. Educational Psychology Review, 24(2), 205-249. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-011-9191-6

Conole, G., & Warburton, B. (2005). A review of computer-assisted assessment. ALT-J, 13(1), 17-31. https://doi.org/10.1080/0968776042000339772

Dervan, P. (2014). Increasing in-class student engagement using Socrative (an online Student Response System). AISHE-J, 6(3), 1801-1813. http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/180/283

Kibble, J. (2007). Use of unsupervised online quizzes as formative assessment in a medical physiology course: Effects of incentives on student participation and performance. Advances in Physiology Education, 31(3), 253-260. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00027.2007

Nicol, D. (2009). Assessment for learner self‐regulation: Enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(3), 335-352. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930802255139

Skorczynska, H., del Saz Rubio, M., & Carrió-Pastor, M. L. (2016). Second language teaching and technology. An overview. In Technology implementation in second language teaching and translation studies: New tools, new approaches (pp. 13-32). Singapore: Springer.

Sprague, A. (2016). Improving the ESL graduate writing classroom using Socrative: (Re)considering exit tickets. TESOL Journal, 7(4), 989-998. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.295

Steed, A. (2013). Technology in the classroom. Teaching Business & Economics, 17(3), 7-9. through application of digital games in an English language classroom Retrieved from Education Research Complete database. (Accession No. 93286186)

Wang, A. I. (2015). The wear out effect of a game-based student response system. Computers and Education, 82, 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2014.11.004

Wang, T-H. (2007). What strategies are effective for formative assessment in an e‐learning environment? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(3), 171-186. Retrieved from ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ762695)

Williamson-Leadley, S., & Ingram, N. (2013). Show and tell: Using iPads for assessment in mathematics. Computers in New Zealand Schools: Learning, Teaching, Technology, 25(1-3), 117-137. https://www.otago.ac.nz/cdelt/otago065360.pdf

Zarzycka-Piskorz, E. (2016). Kahoot it or not? Can games be motivating in learning grammar? Teaching English with Technology, 16(3), 17–36. Retrieved from MLA International Bibliography database. (Accession No. 2016651621)

“Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice”: Helping Students Understand That All Kinds of Writing Can Change the World

Michelle C Lange, Parker High School, Janesville, WI, michlange @ janesville.k12.wi.us

I have a vision of bringing meaningful writing tasks to students. While we need to teach the craft of writing, we also need to teach the art of writing. Like fake news, fake professional learning communities (PLCs) confuse the truth about how and what we teach in our content areas and grade levels. Five-paragraph formulas and paragraph templates such as MEL-Con stifle student creativity and authenticity, engagement, and empowerment. Teacher-directed formats are destroying our opportunities to enable students to develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Our current state of “synchronized” teaching, standardized testing, and quantity-over-quality curriculum design not only disengage our students but also the teachers. My vision is to teach writing that will engage and empower my students to effect change.

While my passion lies in our need to bring real-world importance to the curriculum, my cynicism about the realities of this world inspires my need to provide opportunities for change. As I contemplate reasons to bring in real-world education, I only have to watch the news to find evidence for the need to bring social justice issues to our curriculum. For example, in early November 2018, USA Today ran a headline that “Male Students at an (Almost) All-White High School Gave a Nazi Salute” on the steps of the courthouse in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Nelson). Ultimately, according to a follow-up in late November, the “students’ actions were protected under the First Amendment” (Pinsker). Still, as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal on December 5, 2018, the Baraboo School District proposed instituting changes such as “yearly field trips to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois, and developing teachers’ social justice instruction skills” (Aadland). In a similar story, students from Minnetonka High School in Minnesota posted on social media an advertisement for their school dance, reading “Sweethearts would be a Hit(ler) w/you, and I could Nazi myself going w/anybody else. Be Mein? Yes or Nein” (Moritz-Rabson, 2019).


Also, many of us remember the viral video of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, all wearing MAGA hats, reportedly intimidating Native American protester Nathan Phillips and other activists after the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial in January 2019. We soon learned, though, of many conflicting accounts of what happened that day. As Robin Roberts, news anchor for ABC’s Good Morning America, said in reference to the encounter, “Only people who were there know the truth” (as cited in Wootson, Olivo, & Heim, 2019).


In each of these instances, the schools stated that the actions of these youth do not reflect the core values of the district. This leads me to ask what we are doing to educate students about how to instigate change surrounding justice issues and learn to respect the real world we all share. It is important that we start building a generation of youth that understands social justice and injustice and knows how to use its education to make this country really great. That starts with learning fact from fiction, understanding multiple perspectives, and considering the most effective words and actions to bring about change.

“Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice”
During the Greater Madison Writing Project’s 2017 summer institute, I designed and proposed the course “Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice” to be offered during the 2018-2019 school year (Appendix). “The Power of Choice and Voice” suggests that we employ methods that engage and empower students and also engage and empower the teachers responsible for these students. It is important that we widen our students’ vision of education and our own vision of the teaching profession in a system often polluted with standardized testing, misrepresented professional learning communities, poorly practiced instruction, and stifled creativity.

The uncertainty of the course’s approval inspired me to research what this idea of choice and voice could mean. Is it a feasible idea? Will it teach critical thinking, creative thinking? engage? inspire? meet the CCSS? prove to students that they have the power to effect change? Isn’t that important if we want them prepared to be global citizens? The work I did for this workshop introduced me to sources that will help shape this course and assured me that the answer to all those questions is “yes”!

The purpose of the course is to blend critical and creative thinking skills alongside presentation and performance skills. Students will understand the concept and power of different genres to change the world. Major concepts include the study of social justice and culturally charged issues that affect our world globally, locally, and, possibly, very personally. They will study different genres of writing as they research social justice topics: Words on paper, images on digital screens, messages encoded on other surfaces such as canvases, sculptures, billboards, music, video games, websites, social media, narrative, documentary films, television, advertisements, maps, illustrations, letters, magazines, digital texts (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 92). In fact, the study of these genres will inform them of how we are influenced through different texts and how they can create influence through the production of different texts. Ultimately, this is one of the choices students can make.

The meaning of voice is multi-faceted: students give voice to an issue they care about (another choice), the voice in their texts will establish the writer’s authenticity, and the voice is the format through which they choose to express their ideas : poetry, performance, letters, memorials, plays, photography, action research, columns, blogs, digital storytelling, documentary film, autobiographies and biographies, speeches, music, comics, visual arts. Pipher (2006) argues that “All kinds of writing can change the world” (p.15), and we need to share that secret with our students, for “You want to search for what you alone can say and then how you can say it most effectively” (p.27). This means, too, that our students choose the genre of communication created from personal strengths. To this end, they will study the elements of different genres of communication; study, research, and discuss social issues; plan, write, revise, and/or rehearse their choice of genres based on the research of self-selected social issues with the ultimate goal for public performance/presentation/publication.

This course will run for the entire year, beginning with immersion in genre study. We will discover and evaluate the effectiveness of words and images in their many forms and come to understand that meaningful expression rarely shows itself in a five-paragraph format. Later, we will consider how genres bring notice to environmental and human justice issues. The students will then choose one issue they want to impact, at what level (i. e., local, state, or national), and the genres of texts they will create to achieve this impact.

During the second semester, they will create multi-media projects that include a cross section of texts from the genres we studied. By the end of the school year, I envision a Social Justice gala where they display and/or perform their projects for parents, students, teachers, administration, and the general public. This is a great opportunity for them to show their activism and involvement in and beyond the community.

I will also encourage and help them to actively network to complete research from primary resources in the community and deliver their messages to others directly through letter writing, billboards, public service announcements, council meetings, whichever outlet is best matched for the social issue. I want to see them complete as much research and create influence outside the classroom as they do within the classroom because it is outside those cinder block walls that their words will effect the greatest change.

Currently, we are implementing the use of portfolios in our English courses. I imagine this yearlong experience will build a telling portfolio of engaging and empowering instruction that will house evidence of several common core state standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards. The artifacts in the portfolios will illustrate the process of learning, researching, creating, revising, and reflecting. Tierney, Carter, and Desai (1991) discuss portfolios in the Arts PROPEL project, arguing that “portfolios become evidence of growth and change over time in terms of reflection, involvement in long-term projects, self-concept, and visual awareness” (p.164), which epitomizes the outcome of this course. They also cite Norman Brown, an arts PROPEL teacher who lists the components of the portfolio: 1) the portfolio review, which is ongoing and allows students to discuss ideas and be part of the evaluation process; 2) pivotal pieces, which provide them with new insight and sense of direction; 3) companion pieces, which involve the same idea constructed in different ways; and 4) footprints, which are the pieces they will refine (p. 164). The artifacts may also be digital evidence of audio and/or visual texts. They could possibly be the culmination of both paper and digital portfolios. I see the portfolio review, pivotal pieces, and companion pieces as formative grades and the footprints in their finality to be summative along with quarterly portfolio reviews and conferences and narrative reflections following these conferences. This process will engage and empower the students in their own learning, growth, and assessment in their quest to effect change.

While teaching different genres will present a challenge, this particular class is for juniors and seniors. I know they are capable navigators of technology, and I can offer guidance for what they don’t know or what we can learn together. The teaching of writing is the backbone of the course; morphing that writing into an appropriate genre that maintains the voice, the message, and the effectiveness to instigate change is the nuance of the course with the real distinction being the choice and voice given to students who can address the injustices of the world.

Was it approved?
The course proposal was approved for the 2018–2019 school year. However, only seven students registered for the course at my building while the cross-town high school registered thirty students, so my students took the course via teleconference. While my teaching intuition tells me that teleconferencing will not do this class justice (no pun intended), I learned that I’ll teach my first section in the 2019-2020 school year. My mind is flooded with ideas and excitement and impatience for the time to arrive. My next step is to consider how to incorporate the ideas of this course into the core courses that have a dictated curriculum in content and time frames, which also means getting other educators, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and learning support specialists on board to bring engaging and purposeful content to our classes.

Additional Course Resources
I do not plan to have a course text but rather a collection of texts. If I were to have an anchor text, it would definitely be Pipher’s Writing to Change the World. I prefer, however, to offer my students a library of resources. And, of course, we will access the world wide web, documentaries, news sources, video and audio sources, and a plethora of print sources to study genres of writing and social justice issues which will lead to choosing their own issues to effect change through multiple genres of writing.

Bernard, Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen
Coval, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop
Cushway, Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin
Eleveld, The Spoken Word Revolution
Fadiman and Lavelle, Producing with Passion: Making Films that Change the World
Forche, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness
Glasner, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry
Hampe, Making Documentary Films and Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries
Smith and Kraynak, Take the Mic: The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, the Spoken Word
Somers-Willett, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America
Romano, Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multgenre Papers
Romano, Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire

Of course, there’s no need for a new course to engage and empower our students to effect change in their communities: we can give them choice and voice across ages and content areas in order to develop their critical and creative thinking skills. This should matter to every teacher who hopes to inspire students to feel engaged and empowered when they walk across the graduation stage.

Janis Joplin sings “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and we truly have nothing left to lose in our classrooms or our world that we haven’t already, so let’s grant our students the freedom to have that power of choice and voice in their education so they can instigate the kinds of change our world needs!



News Articles
Aadland, C. (2018, December 5). Baraboo School District lays out changes in aftermath of Nazi salute photo controversy. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved from https://madison.com/wsj/

Moritz-Rabson, D. (2019, January 19). Students condemned for Hitler-themed dance invitation, Nazi salutes. Newsweek. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com

Nelson, J. B. (2018, November 12). Male students at an (almost) all-white high school gave a Nazi salute. Now officials want to figure out why. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com

Pinsker, J. (2018, November 27). Why Wisconsin high schoolers aren’t being punished for mimicking a Nazi salute. Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com

Wootson, C. R., Jr, Olivo, A., & Heim, J. (2019, January 22). “It was getting ugly”: Native American drummer speaks out on his encounter with MAGA-hat-wearing teens. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com

Annotated Bibliography
The following sources are all very useful in defending our need to give students the power of choice and voice to affect change — the really crazy part is we have to defend providing our students with a “real” education:

Berdan, K., Boulton, I., Eidman-Aadahl, E., Fleming, J., Gardner, L., Rogers, I., & Solomon, A. (Eds.). (2006). Writing for a change: Boosting literacy and learning through social action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This text provides the link between reading and writing to build literacy skills that will affect change. It provides “real” examples of how students can become engaged and empowered if we can incorporate the power of social action, and it provides clear activities that are usable. This text is useful because it shows the reader how to approach literacy and learning through social action (just like the title suggests). It discusses different genres of text, how we give to our students a voice, and what is social action. The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Garcia, A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally proactive approach to literacy instruction. New York: Teachers College Press. This book discusses literacy instruction, discussing the reading and writing connections and incorporating culturally proactive approaches to literacy. The authors acknowledge teachers’ needs to try new approaches to literacy while reminding us that it may take us out of our comfort zone. It’s an interesting and inspiring read that makes me think about what I model as a teacher to my students. It makes me think about who I am as a reader and writer and what I expect from students. It provides to me the ammunition I need to take to our next PLC to explain why a lot of what we are trying to do is not the best practice! The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Pipher, M. B. (2007). Writing to change the world. New York: Riverhead Books. Pipher’s text discusses the importance of connectedness and how writers can achieve that through their own experiences and the different texts writers can employ to share those experiences. She also talks about the writing process and offers reader-friendly discussion from getting started to the revision process. Pipher suggests and discusses the different ways our voices “call to action,” such as letters, speeches, personal essay, music, and poetry. I was introduced to this text through the Greater Madison Writing Project. It is an incredibly reader-friendly text that successfully convinces the reader how important one’s own stories are and the power these stories have to affect change. I am considering proposing her book as the anchor text for a new course at our high school Social Justice: The Power of Choice and Voice. It is a text that I think will inspire any writer to keep writing for change. The information in this text can be applied across content areas and grade levels!

Additional Resources
Christensen, L. (2000). Reading, writing, and rising up: Teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Christensen, L. (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: Re-imagining the language arts classroom. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Christensen, L., & Watson, D. (2015). Rhythm and resistance: Teaching poetry for social justice. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.

Singer, J. (2006). Stirring up justice: Writing and reading to change the world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Tierney, R. J., Carter, M. A., & Desai, L. E. (1991). Portfolio assessment in the reading-writing classroom. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Weber, C. (2006). Nurturing the peacemakers in our students: A guide to writing and speaking out about issues of war and of peace. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

I also recommend the periodical Rethinking Schools, “dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education through social justice teaching and education activism.” Readers can go online and purchase single copies or full subscriptions. This resource is useful across grade levels and content areas.

Teaching Tolerance is another publication free to educators. This publication addresses social justice issues, how to teach to the issues, and what other schools and their students have done to affect change. Teachers can also receive FREE resources for their classrooms! This resource is useful across grade levels and content areas.

English Journal is a useful resource published through the National Council of Teachers of English. While it is a content specific publication, materials could also be applicable to other content areas, especially social studies. There are issues that address social justice issues, reading and writing to achieve social justice, empathy, genres of writing, so much applicable to giving students choice and voice to affect change! Articles address different grade levels.



Review: Reading with Presence: Crafting Mindful, Evidence-Based Reading Responses, by Marilyn Pryle (Heinemann, 2018. 166 pp.)

Paul Wiegel, English Teacher, Ripon High School/Lumen Charter High School, wiegelp @ ripon.k12.wi.us

Reading with Presence is Pryle’s seventh book aimed at making middle and high school students better readers, writers, and thinkers. Among her other books are 50 Writing Activities for Meeting Higher Standards (2017) and Writing Workshop in Middle School (2013). She is a National Board Certified teacher whose experience includes teaching middle school and high school in both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, as well as a stint in Nepal with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Reading with Presence is an expression of a portion of her personal mission statement: “I believe that becoming a better writer develops one’s own thinking, a benefit that improves every aspect of one’s life, a skill of attention and attunement to this world.” The book outlines a prescription for not only better writing and response to a text, but a method for students to see pathways between what they read and how they experience the world.


Pryle’s book provides her perspective and methodology on a tried-and-true method of reading response: the journal. However, her version purposefully makes room for both student choice and expansion. In all situations, students are allowed to choose their category of Reading Response (RR)—upwards of fifteen categories—provided that they include each of her four criteria: you must label which type of category you choose, use an original thought, quote a sentence or phrase from the text that supports your thinking, and write at least five complete sentences.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section outlines the philosophy and framework for these written responses. Pryle details all the parts of the response and explains how she views this as reading with presence, which she describes as “reading with your whole self, your true self, your memories, your opinions, your willingness to learn and grow” (p. 8). Her ultimate goal is the same for all teachers as they guide students through any kind of reading: to interpret and connect to the text through writing. While it is interesting to see Pryle’s take, many teachers will simply find an affirmation of their own beliefs about teaching: we all want students to make connections, to reference the text to support their ideas, and to feel free to take risks in response. While her reasons are fairly standard, it is reassuring to see alignment with ideas about good journaling here. If nothing else, it will assure readers of her book that the specifics in the second half of the book will be meaningful.

Pryle also shows how she uses RRs as jumping off points for other activities, such as facilitating discussion, conferencing with students, and expanding them into larger written responses. While the class is provided with work time for other tasks, “I circulate and have a short, focused reading conference over each student’s RRs. This method gives me a chance to check that RRs are complete, as well as a chance to connect directly with each student” (p.39). Depending on each student’s need, she discusses academic vocabulary, their choice of response, or, in the case of students with comprehension difficulties, the basic plot or point of the author. Another example of extending the original RRs comes in the form of what Pryle calls “Polished Reading Responses.” Required every few weeks, they ask students to choose one RR, improve it, and turn it in. This extension seems to be a valuable part of of Pryle’s process and would be an improvement on the standard journal. Her explanation of what she does to make the process valuable beyond the initial writing of the RR is a valuable part of the book. These Polished Reading Responses are evidence that Pryle’s overall structure and follow through on her brand of the journal process.

The second part details the categories of RRs. She explains each one, including the subquestions to help students navigate them, and includes annotated student samples from her own classroom. Again, this part contains many categories for journals that all teachers who have used journals will recognize: Ask A Question, Detect a Conflict, Spot the Setting. An example of detailed guidance for a specific question can be illustrated through the category of Clarify the Climax: “You read a part that you realize is the biggest event (or most important moment) in the story. Explain why it is so important and what questions or problems get resolved because of it” (p.91). Another category example is Trace the Title in which students are asked to address these specifics: “You read a passage that seems to directly relate to the title of the entire text. What is it, and how does it relate? Does it mean something deeper? Does it touch upon a theme? Perhaps the title doesn’t seem to appear in the book at all—so what could it mean? Why did the author choose these words as the title?” (p.120).

In all, Pryle’s choices of RRs guide students toward all levels of interpretation. Veteran teachers will find a few new ideas here, or, if nothing else, an overall structure to organize journals into a cohesive grouping. Additionally, the ideas for how to use the RRs as springboards to other activities is an effective way to push students to dig a bit deeper, and any time they can use work they have already completed to take the next step is a good idea. Newer teachers will be introduced to an effective method of journaling. There are many ideas here and suggestions for expanding to even higher levels of thinking. Reading with Presence is an endorsement of writing as a response to reading and an effective method of organizing journals while providing for student choice.

Review: Lessons Learned from the Special Education Classroom: Opportunities for All Students to Listen, Learn and Lead, by Peg Grafwallner (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018. 114 pp.)

Heidi Hamilton, Special Education Teacher, Arrowhead Union High School, hamilton @ arrowheadschools.org

Elizabeth Jorgensen, Language Arts Teacher, Arrowhead Union High School, jorgensene @ arrowheadschools.org

Lessons Learned from the Special Education Classroom is a quick and practical read. With 26 years of experience, Grafwallner draws on her teaching, coaching and learning to drive the text. Each chapter features examples, anecdotes, resources, and a conclusion on how to use section and book study questions. Professional learning communities or teachers in book clubs will find the end of each chapter particularly useful to guide discussions or apply strategies. These questions could also suit school, department or new teacher meetings.


Following a forward written by Dave Stuart, Jr., Grafwallner presents ten chapters: “Accept Every Student as They Are”; “Scaffolding a Lesson Is Just Good Teaching”; “Responding to Every Student”; “Students Want to Feel Loved”; “Empathy, Equality, and Equity”; “The Community of Family”; “Change Your Language, Change Your Mind-set”; “Share What You’ve Learned with Others”; “Ask Your Colleagues for Help”; and “Celebrate—It’s Good for the Soul.” The brevity of the book makes the read manageable, and Grafwallner’s simplicity allows readers to understand, process and implement the content.

Not just for special education teachers, the takeaways, tips and examples apply to a variety of content areas and ages. Lessons Learned focuses on good teaching for all students, including those with special needs as well as disengaged students and the gifted and talented. Although many of the examples focus on high and middle school students, they could be modified for any content area or age. Her philosophy focuses on explaining, modeling, practicing and applying. Similar to the modeling strategy “I do, we do, you do,” Grafwallner presents specific examples for her recommendations.

The focus on parents will be particularly useful for teachers who want practical, easy-to-apply strategies. In our school, teachers are encouraged to send postcards to families in order to commend achievements or recognize growth. A similar strategy is presented in Lessons Learned, but Grafwallner takes postcards a step further, recommending pre-printing and including students in the process, allowing them “the chance to showcase the important work they do and the crucial learning that goes in their classroom” (53). In addition, forms such as conference logs, teacher postcards, and annotations also facilitate student and parent engagement. Grafwallner often refers to familiar strategies and then presents a way to expand or better the practice.

Throughout several chapters, Grafwallner focuses on the power of language and how word choice can impact a teacher’s message to parents or students. She suggests teachers refrain from using “struggling or reluctant when referring to student learning” (p. 66). Instead, she recommends a growth mindset approach, referring to students as developing. Similarly, she suggests teachers replace grades with goals. These language choices apply not only to assessment, but any situation in which students begin to “navigate sophisticated and reflective learning experiences” (69). She also advises avoiding absolutes (always, never, forever) and instead giving “explicit examples, and partner[ing] with parents to create opportunities for growth” (51). Using generalizations or absolutes can put students and parents in a defensive stance (shutting off communication), so Grafwallner stresses positive language choices in building rapport, trust and communication.

Much of education is focused on relationships. Grafwallner writes, “Any less than our absolute presence in the classroom shortchanges [students] and the valuable work you do on their behalf … offering differentiated choices to all students illustrates empathy, equality and equity” (41). She encourages authentic learning opportunities and getting to know students. The challenge for teachers will remain large class sizes and increasing demands, responsibilities or mandates.

By the end of the book, educators will feel affirmed in their good work: being transparent with students, remaining optimistic and positive, starting with the why and goal of each lesson, personalizing and differentiating instruction, as well as collaborating with parents, principals and colleagues. They will also be inspired to try new techniques, strategies or language choices to make their classrooms even more inclusive, authentic and inspiring.

Review: Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing, and Writing Successful Proposals, by Tori O’Neal-McElrath (4th ed., Jossey-Bass, 2013. 128 pp.)

Thomas Hansen, past Illinois State Supervisor for K-12 Foreign Language Programs, Illinois State Board of Education

I have used the book in previous editions and will be using this one now as it remains one of the most comprehensive, hands-on, affordable, and clear books available on this topic. Its 11 thorough and accessible sections cover all of the most important and basic information about grant searching, planning, and drafting for corporate and foundation grants, from stating one’s mission, overall goals, and priorities all the way to putting paragraphs together to submit a full proposal – for both operating support and project (or program) proposals.


The author clearly has an awesome knowledge of corporate and foundation grant opportunities and organizations. O’Neal-McElrath presents the information very clearly and uses good definitions (and includes alternate terms in several cases). Each edition has been clear, and this one includes a companion website with the worksheets and the sites to visit for information, for grant searching, and for other important aspects of the grant seeking game. The website also includes sample budget forms in Excel that students or grant writers can access to begin working on more complicated budgets early on. This is a benefit to those professionals who have bought the book to use right away on a major and complicated budget and on a big grant narrative to include in the proposal.

All of the above having been said, it is important to add that the book is about corporate and foundation grants, covering the vocabulary, traditions, rules, and procedures for applying to those two kinds of organizations for funding. The book does not cover government grants and makes only brief references to them, such as the statement on page 3 that government grants are really only for very narrow project topics. Although this is not necessarily true, it is a tradition for people to believe this. One of the myths of fundraising believed by those who do not work with government grants is that these funding opportunities are somehow magical or esoteric programs. There is a paragraph like this, perpetuating some of the misunderstandings of how both narrow and general government grants work.

Further evidence of this mindset about government grants is the use of the term “onerous grant proposals” and the idea that there is a huge amount of required “stewardship once this kind of funding is secured.” The professional who is teaching or leading learning groups and classes can explain more about government grants and redirect confused students on these points to help shake up these myths.

A second problem with the book is the coverage of grant budgets, and especially the way the grant budgets are presented. The examples of the budget grids are much too complicated, at least for basic grants and smaller grants, the type most students and new grant writers will be pursuing. The notions of cost-sharing, indirect costs, and other budget complications muddy the waters and also overwhelm the students. There are so very, very many basic grant budgets being used by first-time grant applicants that it would make more sense to use them instead of those provided in the book.

Later in the grant seeking schedule, larger and more complicated budget grids would seem to make sense. However, using such detailed and confusing ones at the beginning adds to the notion that “grant writing is too technical” for the average person to do. This is really not the case, and professionals in fields such as education and social work do just fine in the workshops and classes I teach. So do the undergraduate and graduate students I teach in various kinds of courses and in various fields and majors.

A third problem with the book comes up in “Step 3: Writing a Compelling Problem Statement.” Here, there is a small, and common, error: the author uses the term “qualitative data” to refer to data that is the result of qualitative research methods (p. 31). This is incorrect. It is a common shortcut to refer to data that is the result of qualitative research methods in this way, but qualitative data is technically “categorical data,” such as Asian-American, left-handed, 44 years old, or suburban voter. Steering students away from using the term this way while reminding them that some people do this are honorable activities for the presenter.

In contrast, there is a whole page on qualitative and quantitative research methods that is concise and correct (p. 59). The error explained above is not repeated there.

I have great things to say about the book as a comprehensive start for students and new grant writers faced with learning the vocabulary, traditions, components, and processes involved in finding grant opportunities, gathering thorough documentation and evidence, organizing the information, and responding to those opportunities.

I will use the text again soon, and I will include my own materials about government grants to cover that area also. There still is no book that covers all three areas clearly and comprehensively: corporate, foundation, and government grants.

Review: An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (Howard Books, 2011. 252 pp.)

Thomas Hansen, past Illinois State Supervisor for K-12 Foreign Language Programs, Illinois State Board of Education

Spiritually, I understand the author and her motives and feelings. I really loved this story, and as they say, I could not put the book down once I had started reading. This is a heartwarming story, full of hope, and full of discovery in many ways. I cannot wait to share this book with friends and family and colleagues.

Technically, the title of the book is brief, and we are given this longer explanation on the cover: “The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny.” Schroff is the executive who, one day on her way to work, stops to help a young man fighting for his life. He asks for spare change, but what he gets is a new friend, a chance at life, and encouragement he has never known.


An Invisible Thread is a wonderful story (and a true one at that!) of Schroff helping to save young Maurice from the streets, and of saving herself in the process. There are many excellent themes here, from self-discovery to embracing differences, and from stepping outside ourselves to learn more about “how the other half lives” to doing what one knows is right despite naysayers.

Kids living on the street are there for a variety of reasons … and each story is a little different. What do highly-successful, driven, hard-working individuals do when faced with somebody who comes from a completely different world? Readers will enjoy what Schroff learns about a world drastically different from the one in which she lives: corporate America. And very different from the “safe” one in which she grew up, namely suburban Long Island.

Everyone should read this book to come to a better understanding of life on the streets, of poverty, of despair, of differences in neighborhoods and family patterns, and of how some people love to keep up the appearances. Teachers, social workers, and some professionals in similar fields already deal with a lot of the challenges presented and explained in the story, especially those threatening the well-being, health, and education of the young.

The story takes place within 19 chapters, including flashbacks to the author’s childhood, and continues to impact those involved. The story will wrap you in and make you think about your own childhood. That’s what the story did to the Schroff. She had to think about her own life each day as she came to an understanding of Maurice’s life.

The book includes a reading group guide, an interview with Schroff, and three activities for book clubs to complete. This would indeed be a fantastic choice for use in a book club. I hope to use it in such a setting or in a class soon.