Thursday, April 29, 2010

Key Quizzes to Help You Review Tenses

Taking quizzes is a popular way to check your knowledge of English grammar. One of the most important grammar concepts is the use of tenses. Tenses indicate whether something happens in the past, present or future. To use the right tense in English, it is important to know the proper conjugation of a verb. The following quizzes check your knowledge about the basic differences between tenses:

Present Simple vs Present Continuous

Past Simple or Present Perfect

Future with 'will' or 'going to'

Advanced Past Tense Forms Review

Advanced Future Tenses Review

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Common Mistakes in English

Here are special pages focusing on some of the most common mistakes in English with follow up quizzes to check your understanding:

Good vs. Well
Bring, Take, Fetch, Get
Everyone / Every One
Everyday / Every Day
Whether / If
A Little, Little, A Few, Few
A Lot, Lots Of, A Lot Of
Female - Feminine / Male - Masculine
It's vs. Its
Two, Too, To
They're, Their, There
You're vs. Your
Confusing Words
Since vs. For
Have vs. Of in Conditionals
Has gone to vs. Has been to
Then vs. Than
Double Negatives
So do I, Neither did I
So ... that, such ... that
Both ... and, neither ... nor, either ... or

English Grammar Help - Rules, Worksheets, Games, Quizzes, Exercises

ESL English grammar instruction, help, rules and practice including worksheets, exercises, quizzes, tense usage, grammar guides and charts and lesson plans.

Grammar Structures (123)
Grammar Lesson Plans (51)
Grammar for Beginners (57)
Grammar Quizzes and Tests (49)
Grammar - Intermediate (161)
Grammar Glossary (23)
Grammar - Advanced (61)

Grammar Resources

The most popular English grammar learning features on for use in ESL and EFL classes.

Free E-mail Course: Intensive Grammar Workshop

If you would like to brush-up your English grammar knowledge, review outside of class or increase your English grammar skills this is the course for you. The course provides extensive instruction and practice taking learners from an intermediate level to an advanced level of English grammar.

Telephone English: Getting Practice

From Kenneth's Blog:


Teaching telephone English can be frustrating as students really need to practice their skill as often as possible in order to improve their comprehension skills. This lesson focuses on making telephoning practice as "authentic" as possible.

If you would like to learn common phrases used on the telephone, take a look at the On the Telephone practice dialog for beginners.

Here are other key telephone English practice features at the site:

Telephone English: Dialogue and Appropriate Vocabulary
How to Telephone: Tips and Tricks to Make Sure a Native English Speaker Slows Down!
Practice Exercises to Improve Your Telephoning Skills
Role Play Dialogue Cues to Practice Telephoning with Friends

Study: Drinking, R-rated films linked in middle-schoolers


By Sharon Jayson,, USA TODAY

Middle-schoolers who are forbidden to watch R-rated movies are less likely to start drinking than peers whose parents are more lenient about such films, new research on 2,406 children shows.

Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School found that among those whose parents let them watch R-rated movies "all the time," almost a quarter had tried a drink without their parents' knowledge. That compares with barely 3% who tried a drink among those who were "never allowed" to watch R-movies.

The outcome isn't based on other parenting decisions, such as keeping greater tabs on children's media use, says pediatrician James Sargent, co-author of the study and a professor at the school in Hanover, N.H.

He says researchers controlled for parenting style and still found "the movie effect is over-and-above that effect." Findings are published in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

For the study, students in grades 5-8 (ages 10-14) completed paper surveys and then were followed 13-26 months later with a touch-tone telephone survey. Researchers measured how much alcohol use kids were exposed to by asking whether they had viewed movies in a list of 23 R-rated films.

"The fact that they found an effect from the movies and they found an effect at that young age is doubly significant because a lot of research shows the younger kids use (alcohol), the greater the risk," says David Walsh, founder of the non-profit National Institute on Media and the Family, which closed in December. He was not involved in the study.

Sargent says the findings don't mean parents should "let their children watch 10 PG-13 movies a week. I would argue a lot of PG-13 movies should be rated R."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

As Schools Eliminate Field Trips, Some Museums Offer "Traveling Programs

The New York Times (4/22, Lewin) reports that "over the last few years, many schools have eliminated or cut back on museum trips, partly because of tight budgets that make it hard to pay for a bus and museum admission, and partly because of the growing emphasis on 'seat time' to cover all the material on state tests." In an effort "to make up for the decline in visits, many museums are taking their lessons to the classroom, through traveling programs, videoconferencing, or computer-based lessons that use their collections as a teaching tool." At Massachusetts' Museum of Science, for instance, "school visits have dropped about 30 percent since 2007." However, the demand has increased for the museum's "14 school travel programs," which range in price form $280 to just under $500.

Motivating young readers with $$$

Reading is adding up to $1,231 in savings for fourth-graders at Moulton Extended Learning Center and Capitol View Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa.

About 120 students will share in the money for their savings accounts as part of Bankers Trust's "Read to Save," a program promoting reading and financial literacy. "We think financial literacy is important at an earlier age, and I think there is more evidence of that every day," said Alex Orozco, vice president and community development officer for the Des Moines bank. "It's an overall service that schools in lower-income areas might need more help with."

For every book read during the school year, Bankers Trust deposits $1 in the student's savings account. In addition to motivating the youngsters to read, the bank also provides volunteers who talk with students about saving, budgeting and other smart money management lessons. To read more, visit The Des Moines Register

A Licensing Dilemma for Middle School Math

By Debra Viadero

My recent story on the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematicss, or TEDS-M, brings up an interesting issue, and one that didn't get a lot of discussion in the study itself. The issue is: Should middle school math teachers earn a K-8 certification or one that is geared more to secondary school teaching?

Across the country, states differ in the sort of certification they require at that level. Some insist on a K-8 certification. Others require a middle school credential or a secondary credential. The latter enables a teacher to teach students from 6th or 7th grade through 12th grade. According to Hank Kepner, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, states are about evenly split between the K-8 license and one that leans more toward secondary teaching.

In this study, which was conducted by William H. Schmidt and his colleagues at the Center for Research in Math and Science Education at Michigan University, researchers found that the preservice teachers with the deepest knowledge of math were those with a secondary credential, followed by the teachers seeking certification specific to teaching middle school. These middle and high school-oriented teachers, in fact, significantly outperformed their counterparts working toward a K-8 credential. Not a surprise, I would say, since those teachers would have been exposed to more-advanced mathematics in their coursework.

The really important question is: Who would make the better middle school teacher, the one with the K-8 license or the one who has middle grades or secondary certification? I'd love to see the research on that.

Survey Documents Explosion in Teen Texting

By Debra Viadero

Daily text messaging among teenagers seems to be growing at breakneck speed, says a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

According to the survey, which was released today, the percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds who text every day grew from 38 percent in February 2008 to 54 percent in September 2009. And get this: Half of those teens send 50 or more messages a day. When do they have time for schoolwork?

"Text messaging has become the primary way that teens reach their friends," the Pew researchers write, "surpassing face-to-face contact, e-mail, instant messaging, and voice calling as the go-to daily communication tool for this age group."

The biggest texters, of course, are 14- to 17-year-old girls, who send an average of 100 text messages a day. Younger teen boys, on the other hand, text least of all.

The results are based on a nationally representative survey of 800 teenagers, as well as conversations with nine focus groups around the country.

A Custom Fit

A Colorado district adapts RTI to its needs and instructional philosophy and sees early signs of success.

By Elizabeth Rich

Last fall, Laura Kelley, a 5th grade teacher at Fulton Elementary in Aurora, Colo., accepted a newly created volunteer position as the response to intervention coordinator at her school. Kelley, who has been in the classroom for 10 years, knew the position would be a big job when she accepted it. And, in fact, in just the first few months, she clocked some 800 hours in unpaid overtime.

If she was unnerved by the amount of time she had to spend managing her new responsibilities and learning about RTI, though, Kelley never lost her enthusiasm for the RTI process. "Student achievement is growing because we are able to plan together to meet the needs of our learners," she says.

Kelley's stalwart efforts to find her way in RTI are somewhat representative of what is happening in her district as a whole.

Midway through their first year of district-wide implementation, Aurora district officials see early signs of success with their RTI model, but admit to some growing pains, including the familiar complaints about excessive paperwork and time demands.

Located on the east boundary of Denver, Aurora is Colorado's third largest city. It has a student population of 34,000 and operates 54 schools. Aurora faces the challenges of many urban districts: Sixty-four percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch and 34 percent are English-language learners who, all told, speak 95 different languages.

Since RTI is mandated by Colorado, using the framework was not a choice for Aurora. But district instructional leader Charlotte Butler believes that the 10 or more years the district has spent emphasizing "good first instruction"—informed, reflective instruction that is often synonymous with Tier 1 best practice—and student progress monitoring has helped to smooth the K-12 transition to RTI. "We're already far along the road, in terms of what we already have in place to support all students as learners," she explains.

Classroom Support

To support the disparate learning needs of its students, APS took the state's three-tiered RTI model and tweaked it—mostly noticeably, by adding a fourth tier, between the conventional Tiers 1 and 2. Lisa Escarcega, chief accountability and research officer, describes the insertion of a "Tier 1a," which is intended to prevent or delay Tier 2 placement for at-risk students, as a path to "encourage success." Tier 1a includes providing classroom teachers with coaching support on intervention strategies."It keeps the focus back on good instruction at that first tier level until our achievement improves," Escarcega explains.

As part of that focus on instruction, each school in Aurora has its own RTI coordinator. At Fulton Elementary, Kelley now spends a more reasonable 30 hours a month in her role, having "learned to manage the team and resources" in her building.

Because Kelley is both a classroom teacher and the school RTI coordinator, she serves a double role. In addition to teaching and monitoring her own students, she delivers professional development to teachers using videos, podcasts, and articles about RTI. She also runs the school's Instruction Support Team weekly meetings. "It's where we look over what's been tried to see if we missed something, to figure out if there's something else we can do," says Kelley.

Before intervention strategies reach the IST, however, teachers must monitor students—documenting both behavior and academic performance—in order to identify what kinds of problems students are having in the classroom. "If math homework is not getting done, is it an academic problem or is it an organizational problem? Is it affecting how the student is performing in math?" Kelley says.

If the teacher can isolate the problem, she explains, it's that much easier to identify what intervention strategy will be most effective. To work through their intervention strategies, teachers at Fulton discuss their concerns at their weekly grade-level meetings and with literacy and math coaches. Once all school resources have been exhausted, the IST steps in.

A Customized Approach

As a school-based RTI coordinator, Kelley can take advantage of special professional development opportunities, which run from inquiry-based problem solving to training on the district's new tracking software, even as its bugs are being worked out. She also has the ear of one of the district's three RTI coordinators, Kim Patten.

Patten, who meets regularly with each school-based RTI coordinator in one of the district's three "student achievement zones," is generally pleased with the district's progress with RTI, and notes that the customized approach the district is taking to implement the framework is a plus. "What I'm really happy with is that we have a structure and foundation in place," she says. "Buildings can tailor what it looks like based on the needs of their students. Teachers are having a chance to look at what their practice looks like and they can help each other. [Teaching] is no longer happening behind the closed door. We're sharing the successes, the challenges, and the support."

But even with a hefty RTI manual, a handsome flowchart that outlines the intervention delivery process, and the new Web-based tracking system, Patten sees the district still has work to do. "We are in our first year of implementation, so we will continue to learn and grow in our knowledge and expertise as we go," she says.

One area the district has yet to conquer is one that many schools have struggled with: assessing reading in older students within an RTI framework.

To remedy this, Charlotte Butler and a district secondary literacy coach plan to meet with literacy gurus Yetta Goodman, Ken Goodman, Debra Goodman, and Alan Flurkey to study the use of retrospective-miscue analysis, an instructional tool that helps struggling readers to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

"We know that as students get older the ability to assess their reading is more complex. And, in fact, there are no effective standardized assessments that work for secondary readers," explains Butler. "The nature of the work we're about to embark on with Debbie and Alan and Ken and Yetta is very exciting. If we can develop something specifically for secondary students, it could be groundbreaking."

"Whole Brain" Techniques and Activities

The Brain: An overview

A visual explanation of the different parts of the brain, how they work and an example ESL EFL exercise employing the specific area.

Helpful Drawing Hints

"A picture paints a thousand words" - Easy techniques to make quick sketches that will help any artistically challenged teacher - like myself! - use drawings on the board to encourage and stimulate class discussions.

Using Colored Pens

The use of colored pens to help the right brain remember patterns. Each time you use the pen it reinforces the learning process.

Brain Gym

The brain is an organ and can be physically stimulated to improve learning. Use these simple exercises to help your students concentrate better and improve their learning abilities.

Suggestopedia: Lesson Plan

Introduction and lesson plan to a "concert" using the suggestopedia approach to effective/affective learning.

Related Articles

Music in the ESL Classroom

By Kenneth Beare, Guide

The use of music in the classroom can make the entire learning process more enjoyable and can stimulate "right" brain learning. Six years ago researchers reported that people scored better on a standard IQ test after listening to Mozart. Other tests soon followed: Rats raised on Mozart run through mazes faster and more accurately. People with Alzheimer's disease function more normally if they listen to Mozart and the music even reduces the severity of epileptic seizures.

Just think of all the times you have used music to help you study for tests, think clearly about something, relax from daily stress, etc. If you think about it, using music in the ESL EFL classroom is a pretty logical thing to do considering how helpful it can be to the learning process. Setting the scene Musically

Using music to introduce an exercise is a great way to activate vocabulary and get students thinking in the right direction. Take a piece of music or song which you associate with a certain activity or place ("New York, New York" sung by Frank Sinatra) and play the first 30 seconds of the piece. You will be surprised at how quickly associations come to students' minds - many more than if you introduced the lesson by saying, "Today we are going to talk about New York City".

A wonderful example of this can be found in any broadcast of "Morning Edition" by National Public Radio. Each story is ended with a selection of music which in some way relates to that story. This music is repeated after a commercial and before the next story. In this way, listeners are subtly encouraged to reflect on the story they have just heard.

"Headway Intermediate", a popular EFL student's book published by Oxford Press, gives another great example of setting the scene musically. Every extended listening is preceded and followed by a short snippet of related music - usually the beginning bars and the final tones of a given piece. These little touches do wonders to add atmosphere to an otherwise familiar classroom setting. Using Music Selectively To Enhance Concentration

The most important point to remember when using music to accompany learning is that it be an aid to learning and not a distraction. Let me give an example, if your class is doing a grammar exercise and you want to use some music in the background to help students concentrate, choose music which employs regular periods (repeated phrases and patterns) - something like Hayden or Mozart, maybe Bach. Choosing abrasive, disharmonic music will distract students while their brains try to make sense of the disharmony. Choosing something melodic which employs musical patterns will not distract. Not only will this type of music not distract, the regular patterns of the music also help to underline the repetitive nature of grammar.

Another example of using music selectively would be written descriptive exercises in which students need to use their imaginations. You can set the scene musically which will help stimulate their imagination. Let's say students need to describe their life as young children. Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" playing softly in the background will help them return to those simpler times through its sweet harmonies and simple structures. Listening to Shostokovitch, on the other hand, would put them right off!

Here are some suggestions for appropriate music for different activities:

Use your imagination and you will quickly find that your students will be using their imaginations to improve their English - usually without being aware of it.

Bullying Linked to Depression


By Beth J. Harpaz

NEW YORK (AP) — The word "bully" may conjure up images of a 9-year-old punk shaking down a 7-year-old for lunch money. But teenagers experience bullying, too, and research shows it can be a red flag for depression and suicidal behavior.

That is true whether teens are doing the bullying or are its victims.

"If you are vulnerable and being bullied, it can be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Madelyn S. Gold, a professor of psychiatry and public health at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute who has studied bullying.

That does not mean bullying causes suicide, but it is an associated factor. Six teenagers were charged recently in South Haley, Massachusetts, in the case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish student who killed herself after she complained of being tormented by kids in her high school.

In another case, a teenager named Alexis Pilkington killed herself in March in West Islip, New York, and nasty comments about her were posted online even after her death. But Alexis' father told a local newspaper, Newsday, that the harassment "was not the major or even a minor factor" in the suicide.

Ann Haas, director of suicide prevention projects at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, cautioned against thinking in terms of "cause and effect" when it comes to bullying and suicide. "The key risk factor for suicide in youth is unrecognized, untreated mental disorders, particularly depression," Haas said.

A study of 2,342 high school students published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed "a clear association" among bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, according to Gould, one of the authors.

Among students who said they were frequently bullied in school, nearly 30 percent reported depression, and 11 percent reported serious thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts.

***Click here to read the article in its entirety***

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dual-Immersion Program Credited For Elementary School's Improved Test Scores

The San Francisco Chronicle (4/21, Tucker) reports that according to "parents, teachers and administrators" at San Francisco's Marshall Elementary School, the "recipe" for turning around a struggling school includes "quality teachers, involved parents and a supportive principal mixed perhaps with a new dual-immersion language program. Time must be allowed to let it all take hold." Test scores at Marshall Elementary "have been improving as has the school's popularity since the" dual immersion "program started six years ago." It "combines English learners and native speakers with the goal that all students will obtain grade-level literacy and proficiency in both English and Spanish by the time they move on to middle school." On Monday, US Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller visited the school to learn about the effort Marshall has made to improve test scores.

Try Scrabble tourney to promote literacy

  • Anyone who likes to play Scrabble will soon have the opportunity to promote literacy by simply playing the game. The Danville (Illinois) Area Community College Reader's Route will sponsor its fifth annual War of the Words Scrabble for Literacy Tournament on April 24 at the college.

    World-class Scrabble player Marty Gabriel is organizing the event for the third year. "Three levels of competition will be offered this year, which will enable players at any level to compete," Gabriel said. "If they enjoy words and like to compete in tournaments, then they should consider trying Scrabble."

    The money raised through the tournament will go toward a DACC scholarship fund for GED students, as well as for supplies for tutors and students. Louise Free, who recruits and trains the Reader's Route volunteers, said 112 adult students have been tutored so far this year by 37 volunteers. Trish Walters, the fundraiser's chairperson and also a volunteer tutor for the Reader's Route program, said the goal this year is to raise $2,000. Read more in the Commercial-News

Study: Kindle may increase engagement with texts

To help children become better readers, a Kansas State University professor thinks they may need to spend less time with their noses stuck in books. Lotta Larson, an assistant professor of elementary education, is finding that electronic readers allow children to interact with texts in ways they don't interact with the printed word.

Since fall 2009, Larson has been using the Amazon Kindle in her work with a pair of second-graders. The e-reader has features that make the text audible, increase or decrease font size and let readers make notes about the book. "It's interesting to see the kinds of things these kids have been able to do," Larson said.

She said the ideal outcome would be for teachers to improve reading instruction by tailoring it to each student. Tests already have shown improvement in the students' perceptions of their own reading ability. Larson said the next step would be to gather quantitative data on how reading scores are affected.

Larson will present the work April 25-28 at the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago. She's also talking with middle school teachers about how downloadable e-books might appeal to young teen boys who are reluctant readers. Read more at ScienceDaily

George Washington owes large library fine

Just after National Library Week:

Way back on October 5, 1789, George Washington borrowed two books from a New York City library. Checked out simply under the name "President," the books were never returned. To learn more, read Saeed Ahmed's article.

California school drops textbooks, uses iPads

At Monte Vista Christian School in Santa Cruz, California, history textbooks could soon be an educational tool of the past. Ditto for tomes on biology and English literature. And spiral-bound notebooks and pens - who needs them?

They're so old-fashioned when you have a 16GB iPad, and Monte Vista has 60 of the latest must-haves from Apple for use in classrooms. The iPads were introduced Thursday to advanced-placement students who will participate in a pilot project. If all goes well, headmaster Stephen Sharp anticipates replacing heavy and expensive textbooks with cheaper, interactive e-versions.

Sharp believes the school is among the first to adopt iPads, but it won't be the last. "There are many academic advantages," he said. "They provide new access to photos, videos, daily newspapers, and resource material that enhance the curriculum." Read more of this article by Donna Jones of The Santa Cruz Chronicle in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Web Conferencing Finds Elementary School Niche

'Chat Challenge' Brings Teachers and Students On Camera, In Focus

By Ian Quillen
As Cherrie MacInnes' 3rd graders have endeavored to have a Web conference with a class from each of the 50 states, they've unearthed surprises at each stop.

When the students at Washington Street School peered at the computer screen, they learned that while it was afternoon for them in Brewer, Maine, it was still morning in Anchorage, Alaska. They discovered that students in Paterson, N.J., boasted an accent very different from the well-known Maine dialect. And when they did a Web conference with Joan B. Bender's class at Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Kissimmee, Fla., they learned that the nation's southeastern-most state was discovered by Ponce de León.

But as her students research information, compile questions about each state, and follow up with supplemental writing, Ms. MacInnes is surprised not by what they are learning, but by how many teachers are willing to participate in the still-novel frontier of video-based Web conferencing.

"Not one [teacher in the challenge] has ever done this before," said Ms. MacInnes, who introduced the "Web Chat Challenge" to thousands of teachers, principals, and school districts via a three-paragraph e-mail, beginning in February. "Maybe my letter made it sound doable. It didn't sound overwhelming, because it was starting out as a one-time experiment."

Because most of the focus on integrating Web technology into the classroom remains at the secondary school level, teachers say, projects such as this one are relatively uncommon. But with the advent of programs like Gmail and Skype, the increased prevalence of webcams and laptops in schools, and the freedom to teach multiple subjects at once, elementary school may be the ideal place to use Web conferencing in a way that has an impact, experts say.

"One of the reasons it's hard for some [middle and high school] teachers to integrate technology is because they're teaching a compartmentalized discipline," said Terry Smith, who has done Web-conferencing projects for nearly a decade as a 4th grade teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School in Hannibal, Mo. "This is project-based learning. We connect up in math and social studies, and even foreign languages."

Click here to read this article in its entirety.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Phrasal Vocabulary

Kenneth Bearle has added a great resource about phrasal vocabulary. Use the page and all of the included activities with your English-Language Learners (and others!).

Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day

El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), known as Día, is a celebration of children, families, and reading that culminates every year on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of advocating literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. For further information, contact the Association for Library Service to Children or the Bookjoy/Diapalooza blog.

Another Great Interactive Quiz/Worksheet

Verb Form - Gerund or Infinitive? - Quiz 1

Choose the correct verb form (gerund, infinitive or base form) to complete the question. Each question has only one correct answer. When you are finished click on the "Next Question" button. There are 30 questions to this quiz. Try to use only 30 seconds per question. At the end of the quiz, you will receive quiz feedback.


Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Reading aloud in high school: Good or bad?

Is reading aloud in high school a "time-wasting throwback or a useful way to involve every student"? It all depends on the circumstances, writes Jay Mathews in an article from the April 11 edition of The Washington Post. His observations also stirred a lively debate among readers. To read more or join the discussion, click here.

New paper offers vision for creating common state assessment systems

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), has released a paper outlining a vision for creating the next generation of state assessments that can make the Common Core State Standards concrete and meaningful to educators, students, and parents and provide a vehicle for ensuring all students master essential knowledge and skills.

The paper is informed by meetings, convened by NGA and CCSSO earlier this year, of the leaders of the six assessment consortia that had already formed to seek Race to the Top funds, and have since condensed to two consortia for the purpose of pursuing common assessments. For further information, read the full paper or contact the NGA Office of Communications at 202-624-5301.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Writing Can Improve Reading Skill, Study Finds

By Catherine Gewertz on April 14, 2010 11:50 AM |

Specific writing strategies can play an important role in boosting reading comprehension. That's the bottom-line finding of a new analysis of research.

The report, out today from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, says that teachers can improve students' reading skills by having them write about what they are reading, teaching them writing skills, and increasing how much they write.

The analysis of research is one in an ongoing series of literacy studies funded by the philanthropy. (You might recall that it released its capstone report on adolescent literacy just last year. Click here for our story about it.) The new report builds on findings in the organization's 2004 study "Reading Next," which examined ways to improve adolescents' literacy skills, and its 2007 report "Writing Next," which looked at ways to improve adolescents' writing skills. The new report focuses on how the teaching of writing can improve reading.

Co-authors Steve Graham and Michael Hebert of Vanderbilt University examined the research on writing strategies that improve reading and found three areas of promise. One is to have students write about the texts they are reading, by summarizing, writing notes, or creating and answering questions about them.

Such techniques were shown to improve students' comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts. They were more effective in improving comprehension than just reading the text, re-reading it, reading and studying it, reading and discussing it, or receiving reading instruction, the study found.

Students also improve comprehension when they are taught writing skills and processes that go into creating text, such as paragraph and sentence construction or text structures. Increasing how much students write was also found to help their comprehension.

The authors conclude that more content-area teachers should use writing to promote better understanding, including in mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts.

Getting English-Language Learners to Thrive

Author Larry Ferlazzo has written a great article that includes five steps that will help English-Language Learners thrive:

1. Build strong relationships with students

2. Access prior knowledge through stories

3. Identify & mentor students' leadership potential

4. Promote learning by doing

5. Model reflection

(***Click here to read the full article***)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some Great Suggestions for NCLB

NCLB: The Next Generation

Is more test-and-punish in your future?

By Alain Jehlen

(**please click on the link at the end of this preview to read the entire article)

More focus on standardized test scores and new ways to punish educators. That's what the Obama Administration has proposed in a "Blueprint" for revising No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Firing entire staffs over low test scores, as happened in Rhode Island and other states, is one of the strategies endorsed by the Blueprint.

Meanwhile, NEA has sent Congress its own set of recommendations, calling for fewer standardized tests and more proven strategies to help struggling schools. (Click on the video at right to see an excerpt from President Van Roekel's testimony to Congress. NEA and its affiliates have also developed a Priority Schools Campaign for some of the most challenging schools.)

NCLB is the current incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is overdue to be rewritten and renamed. The Administration wants Congress to take action by August.

NEA supports the goals and some elements of the Administration's Blueprint. Two examples: The Blueprint says schools should get credit for improvement, even if students don't yet meet standards. And the 2014 deadline for every child to be "proficient"—achievable only by dumbing down the meaning of that word—is out.

But there are big differences. Here are some highlights:

Administration "Blueprint"

NEA proposals


The Blueprint does not shrink NCLB's heavy testing schedule and maintains its assumption that student scores are the key measure of school excellence.

Fewer mandated standardized tests—just one in grades 4–6 and one in grades 7–9. High schools could assess in a variety of ways, including tests and senior projects. More use of tests that are designed to guide instruction.

Help for struggling schools:

Schools where students score lowest must choose one of four plans. Three of them require closing the school, giving it to a charter operator, or firing the staff and rehiring no more than half. Research does not support any of these.

Schools should analyze their specific problems and design strategies to fix them, choosing from a broad set of research-based approaches such as smaller classes, better mentoring and coaching, intensive professional development, and early intervention strategies in math and reading.

Teacher evaluation:

Evaluations must be based at least partly on student standardized test scores.

School districts should develop stronger evaluation systems with and for their employees. No new power for federal officials to intervene in teacher evaluation.

How federal money is given out:

More use of competitive grants, so only some districts will benefit and none will be able to budget for the long-term.

Money allocated according to financial need, as indicated by the number of low-income children and similar factors.



Webinar Opportunity

***Keep in mind that most of these webinars are available later on to be viewed at your convenience.

Engaging, Differentiated Grammar Lessons to Promote Student Success in Writing

Wednesday, April 28

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time (4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time)

NOTE: Please be aware that this webinar takes place at a different time than usual.

Kathy Glass, President of Glass Educational Consulting and author of Lesson Design for Differentiated Instruction, will explain how teaching grammar can be engaging and meaningful. She will model a few comprehensive, motivational, differentiated grammar lessons. The featured differentiated strategies and hands-on lessons can be adapted and applied to lessons in other content areas.

Title I Funding

Administration Aims To Spur School Reforms With Title I Funds.

The Washington Post (4/14, Anderson) reports that President Obama "aims to reinvent the Education Department as a venture capitalist for school reform, investing more in schools with innovative ideas." According to the Post, "The Title I program, which supports...thousands of...schools in low-income areas based on formulas of need, is not facing extinction," but President Obama "would freeze funding to the core of that program even as he sends billions of dollars to states that harmonize their policies with his." The Post adds that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan "is expected to pitch the Obama budget Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee."


School Administrators Concerned About Plan To Make Title I Funding Competitive. Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post (4/14, Strauss) "The Answer Sheet" blog that "as the Obama administration moves to turn more funding for federal education into competitive grants, superintendents across the country are becoming worried." They are particularly concerned that the administration is "planning to turn new money for the crucial Title 1 program--which provides funds for schools with large percentages of low-income students--into competitive grants." A recently-released study of superintendents by a school administrators group showed that "most superintendents believe that there is a role for competitive grants, but most worry about overinvestment in those grants at the expense of more reliable funding." Strauss posts a letter issued by the Learning First Alliance -- which includes the Association of School Business Officials International, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Education Association -- "about concern over the administration's strategy."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ELLs' Math, Reading Proficiency Rises, Study Finds

By Mary Ann Zehr

The percentage of English-language learners nationwide attaining proficiency in reading and mathematics on state tests increased in many states from the 2005-06 through the 2007-08 school years, says a report released today by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy. That increase was present at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, though it was less prevalent in high school than at the other levels, according to the center's analysis.

But while the study found positive trends in test scores for ELLs, it notes that the gap in reading and math achievement between ELLs and non-ELLs remains huge in many states. The analysis didn't look at whether that gap narrowed or widened in states in those school years.

Student School Board Member Uses Social Media To Advance His Agenda

The Washington Post (4/12, Birnbaum) reported that Tim Hwang, a "senior at Wootton High School, was elected a student member of the Montgomery County [MD] school board last year, in part by campaigning among the county's 142,000 students with a Web site modeled" on President Obama's campaign Web site. Hwang "is the only board member with a blog, he has a volunteer staff of about 20, he posts videos about education issues on YouTube, and he has held town hall-style meetings at which students have been able to air their concerns." Hwang "and Edward Burroughs III, Hwang's student counterpart in Prince George's County [MD], vote on most issues, although not on some of the most crucial ones the board faces, such as the budget and personnel."

Top 10 Lesson Plans

By Kenneth Beare, Guide

Here are the 10 most popular English lesson plans from this past year. These lesson plans provide comprehensive review for beginner, intermediate and advanced level learners.

1. Brain Gym® Exercises

These simple exercises are based on the copyrighted work of Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail E. Dennison. Brain Gym is a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International.

Top Picks: Brain Gym® Exercises

2. Speaking Skills - Asking Questions

Many post beginner to lower intermediate students are quite capable of expressing their ideas reasonably well. However, they often run into problems when asking questions. This simple lesson focuses specifically on the question form and helping students gain skill while switching tenses in the question form.

Top Picks: Speaking Skills - Asking Questions

3. Practice Stress and Intonation

By focusing on the stress - timed factor in English - the fact that only principle words such as proper nouns, principle verbs, adjectives and adverbs receive the "stress" - students soon begin sounding much more "authentic" as the cadence of the language begins to ring true. The following lesson focuses on raising awareness of this issue and includes practice exercises.

Top Picks: Practice Stress and Intonation

4. Using Modal Verbs to Problem Solve

This lesson focuses on the use of modal verbs of probability and advice in the past tense. A difficult problem is presented and students use these forms to talk about the problem and offer suggestions for a possible solution to the problem.

Top Picks: Using Modal Verbs to Problem Solve

5. Young Learner's Writing Workshop

Many young learners are required to write essays in English. While most of these students also write essays for other courses in their native language, they often feel hesitant when writing essays in English. This series of four lessons is designed to help students become familiar with writing an essay in English.

Top Picks: Young Learner's Writing Workshop

6. Teaching Telephone English

Teaching telephone English can be frustrating as students really need to practice their skill as often as possible in order to improve their comprehension skills. Once they have learned the basic phrases used in telephoning, the main difficulty lies in communicating without visual contact. This lesson plan suggests a few ways to get students to practice their telephoning skills.

Top Picks: Teaching Telephone English

7. Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Getting students to come to terms with phrasal verbs is a constant challenge. The fact of the matter is that phrasal verbs are just rather difficult to learn. Learning phrasal verbs out of the dictionary can help, but students really need to read and hear phrasal verbs in context for them to be able to truly understand the correct usage of phrasal verbs. This lesson takes a two pronged approach to helping student learn phrasal verbs.

Top Picks: Teaching Phrasal Verbs

8. Reading - Using Context

This lesson provides a number of pointers helping students identify and use context to their advantage. A worksheet is also included which helps students recognize and develop the skill of contextual understanding.

Top Picks

9. Comparative and Superlative Forms

The correct use of the comparative and superlative forms is a key ingredient when students are learning how to express their opinion or make comparative judgments. The following lesson focuses on first building understanding of the structure - and of the similarity between the two forms - inductively, as most students are at least passively familiar with the forms.

Top Picks: Comparative and Superlative Forms

10. Combining Ideas to Write Paragraphs

Writing well constructed paragraphs is the corner-stone of good English written style. Paragraphs should contain sentences that convey ideas concisely and directly. This lesson focuses on helping students develop a strategy for combining various ideas into well formed sentences which then combine to produce effective descriptive paragraphs.

Top Picks: Combining Ideas to Write Paragraphs

Monday, April 12, 2010

Helping Boys in Reading Without Starting a Gender War

by Jack Jennings

Over the last several decades, concerns about differences in academic performance between boys and girls have typically focused on the performance of girls in mathematics and why they lagged behind their male peers. In particular, studies indicated that high school girls trailed boys in math achievement and took less rigorous courses. The debates that followed those findings led to heated conversations about the role genetic differences, culture, child-rearing practices, and teachers' actions play in fostering an academic gender gap.

A new report by the Center on Education Policy, which I head, shows just how the times have changed. ("Boys Trail Girls in Reading Across States," March 31, 2010.) Released last month, the report finds that as of 2008, girls had reached rough parity with boys in math achievement on state tests and consistently do better than boys in reading. Instead of the crisis for girls that was the rallying call for years and produced much-needed attention to the academic plight of females, we now have a "boy crisis." The data from our study make it clear that something happening in schools is holding boys back in reading. Yet, in spite of increasingly abundant data such as ours, education has not yet acknowledged the extent of the problem, much less sketched out strategies to address it.

"While there are earnest and necessary conversations about gaps between different demographic groups, there is no similar discussion about gender gaps—not to mention the greatest at-risk groups in reading, which are minority males."

First, the good news for girls. The historic gap that had been the big concern between boys and girls no longer exists, at least not on state assessments. In fact, there was no consistent gender gap in math at the elementary, middle, or high school levels in terms of the percentages of boys and girls reaching the "proficient" level of performance on state tests in 2008. In grade 4 math, where we analyzed performance by the basic, proficient, and advanced achievement levels, the median percentages of boys and girls reaching those levels were quite similar. Overall, states tended to have greater shares of girls reaching the basic level, roughly equal percentages of girls reaching the proficient level, and greater shares of boys reaching the advanced level, though these differences were very small in most states.

Now the bad news for boys. Most dramatically, boys were behind girls in every state and at every grade level in the 45-plus states with sufficient data to be included in the report. Even states that are considered national leaders in school reform had achievement gaps between boys and girls in reading. Massachusetts, for example, had a 13-percentage-point difference between boys and girls in grade 4 reading. Maryland had a 10-percentage-point difference in favor of girls in grade 8. And in Texas, an early leader in standards-based reform, girls led boys by 8 percentage points on the state high school math test.

To be clear, the news is not all bad for boys in reading. Depending on how you look at the data, there are some indications that boys have narrowed the gap with girls over time in many states. According to the percentage of students scoring proficient, that reading gap has narrowed somewhat in 52 percent of the cases we analyzed, although it has widened 40 percent of the time. But according to average, or mean, test scores, the gap has widened as often as it has narrowed. And mean test scores are a more useful indicator for looking at gaps because they capture changes across the achievement spectrum.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm the trend of girls outperforming boys in reading. Girls, on average, scored significantly higher than boys in reading on both the 2009 state-by-state NAEP and the 2008 long-term-trends NAEP. The male-female gap on the state-by-state NAEP has not changed since 1992 at grade 4, but has narrowed somewhat at grade 8.

In essence, girls have erased the gender gap in mathematics, and boys consistently perform lower than girls in reading. The data in this report demonstrate that the trend in reading is no fluke. It is a clear and unmistakable national trend that can be addressed without damaging the progress that has been made by girls. One way to view this reading gap is to consider that it would take eight to 10 years for boys to close the gap with girls, if boys improved at an average rate and girls made no gains, which runs counter to the goal of improvement for all students.

We should and must take pride in the fact that no gender gap exists for girls in math. We should also see reason for optimism in another finding from our report—namely, that both boys and girls have made gains in reading and math proficiency since 2002 in a large majority of states. But being able to read well is so basic to learning that we must initiate a serious national effort to improve the reading achievement of boys from the early grades on.

Other studies confirm the need for greater attention to the school performance of boys. Girls now finish high school, go on to college, and finish college and obtain a degree at greater rates than boys. Those trends favoring girls are relatively recent.

As a starting point for closing the reading gap, the nation needs to admit that there is a problem and then launch a reasoned conversation about what is happening to boys in elementary and secondary schools. While there are earnest and necessary conversations about gaps between different demographic groups, there is no similar discussion about gender gaps—not to mention the greatest at-risk groups in reading, which are minority males.

One reason for this quiet crisis is that while states and districts frequently break down test results by gender, the federal No Child Left Behind Act does not hold states accountable for achievement by gender. As a result, differences in achievement between boys and girls receive less public attention and are not highlighted by states. These data do exist, however, and the more we know about male-female gender gaps, the more seriously they must be taken.

This is not to suggest we should reduce encouragement for girls. There is no room for a battle of the sexes in education. Our country needs the talents of all people, and every child must have an opportunity to do better in life. A national discussion about the boy crisis is a necessary precursor to finding solutions that will enable boys to do better in school and in life. We hope our report brings renewed attention to that national conversation.

Jack Jennings is the president and chief executive officer of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education research group based in Washington.

Free RTI Webinar!

Response to Intervention: Making It Work

This event is scheduled for Thursday, April 15, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.

Response to intervention, a tiered instructional model designed to provide more tailored support to students, has quickly gained prominence as a vehicle for school improvement. But implementation of RTI poses challenges. The framework often entails changes in organizational and instructional roles, new tools and curricula, increased paperwork, and greater program-coordination demands. Join two experts for an in-depth discussion of how schools and teachers can address common RTI-related issues.


Rachel Brown-Chidsey, associate professor of school psychology at the University of Southern Maine, co-author of Response to Intervention: Principles and Strategies for Effective Practice and RTI in the Classroom: Guidelines and Recipes for Success

Amanda VanDerHeyden, education consultant and researcher, and a member of the advisory council for the National Center for Learning Disabilities' RTI Action Network


Anthony Rebora, managing editor, Education Week Teacher and the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook.

No phone is required to participate in the webinar. An archived version will be available within 24 hours of the presentation. The event is not close-captioned.