Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Library 2.0

My oldest daughter called the other day to say that she is reading Of Human Bondage. She picked up a copy at a sale because her best friend in high school had said it was her favorite book, and my daughter figured any novel that could so impress a 17-year-old girl must be worth reading. Upon hearing this, I started reading the ebook copy which has resided on my pda ever since the title caught my attention on a Gutenberg.org search for something else some years ago.

Recently one of my novelist friends and I were out to dinner, discussing writing. He happened to mention being stuck at a spot in his most recent story and having called another novelist to talk it through. My first reaction was surprise, to think that one professional novel writer needed to confer with another. It jarred with my image of both these people as masters of their craft, each sitting in a solitary tower, quietly capturing words on paper.

“The universe of discourse is broad indeed and ranges from utilitarian and scientific uses of language to the most artful and playful literature. Likewise, it extends from public communication to private self-communication. Students need to learn how to compose and comprehend the spectrum.”

—James Moffett, co-author of Student-Centered Language Arts, K-12

At the beginning of Seeking Diversity, author Linda Rief recalls sharing an editorial with her students. One of her students wanted to know where he could send his response to the opinion piece. Rief had to tell the young man that he couldn’t send it because the editorial was several years old. As she states, “It was just an exercise to get you to write a persuasive piece.” The student replied that he had never heard of anything so stupid; he wanted the editor to read his response. From then on Rief “concentrated on making the writing [in her class] real—for genuine purposes.

Sentence Modeling

“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”

—William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well

Many of America’s best writers—from Mark Twain on—write in a relaxed, somewhat informal style. This style is characterized by four special types of sentences.

At first, humans just had speech. If you wanted to say "Ugh" to someone, you had to say it out loud. Sure, you could whisper or shout, add facial expressions and gestures, but your main communication option was speaking. In person.

A few thousand years later, the clever folks of Ur developed cuneiform writing. Then people had two options: either say “Ugh” or write “Ugh.” You said it if the person was standing there, and you wrote it if the person wasn’t. The choice was clear.

I remember very well a vocabulary unit I had planned. I had gathered all kinds of interesting information about words, including how words are added to the language, how their usage changes over time, and so on. I enjoyed every minute of my research and couldn’t wait to share my findings with the students. Unfortunately, they didn’t share in my enthusiasm, no matter what I tried. I might just as well have given them a list of ten words and told them to define each one and use it in a sentence.

I was…just another textbook.…

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