Who lives in your house?

At the start of each school year it would be helpful to know the reading levels, interests and hobbies of each student in your Language Arts class. Here’s a wonderful lesson from Kelly Gallagher, a Middle School Language Arts teacher and author, which helps do all of the above.

  1. Share  a list of ten noted authors who “live in your house” with students. Leave the “Why is this person famous?” column blank for now.
  2. Put  students into small groups and have them identify as many people as possible on the list.
  3. Have students share their answers with the class.
  4. When all ten authors have been identified, share your answers with the class and then choose a sample of text from one of the authors on the list.
  5. Have each student fill out their own form of who they would like to live in their house. Chances are there is probably a great book about each person they list.
  6. Share a passage from one of the authors to demonstrate the beauty of their written work.


How many of the following people can you identify?


Why is this person famous?

Jane Austen English author
William Shakespeare English playwright and poet
Bill Bryson American author of travel books,
Stephen King American author
William Chaucer English poet
Michael Palin English comedian, author and travel writer
William Butler Yeats Irish Poet
Dan Brown American author
Charlotte Bronte English author
Winston Graham English author

What do these people have in common? They all live in my house!

Who lives in your house?  Feel free to copy and paste the blank table below to use in your own Middle or High School Language Arts class.


Why is this person famous?



What has Maryland got that the rest of us don’t?

Baltimore Classroom. CBS Maryland

A better educational system for starters. The state just received a B+ rating for its educational programs.

Here’s the story from CBS Baltimore. Maryland Schools Ranked First In The Nation Again

Resolutions for Composition Teachers

  1. Respect dialects/ heritage languages- teach respect for diversity. (Shakespeare  and Chaucer were looked down on when they were active writers)
  2.  Encourage collaboration – and innovation will result
  3.  Teach career English – but abandon labeling the 8  parts of speech
  4.  Encourage listening to each other – respect and collaboration
  5.  Reinforce that revision is the main part of effective writing – being correct the first time is not the goal, the knowledge wegain getting to the end result is more important than the final product
  6. Make time for writing everyday – deeper connections
  7. Create a writing workshop in the classroom – learn from each other
  8.  Be a writer myself so that students can model my writing behavior
  9.  Read daily in the classroom – provide excellent samples of writing for the students from what we read
  10.  Provide ethnically diverse examples from skilled writers
  11. Encourage writing as “thinking out” and “writing to learn,” “invisible learning.”
  12. Find commonalities that connect us globally instead of polarizing us
  13. Spend time on the things that really matter, the connections with real learning not the labeling to show what we’ve learned
  14. Implement discussions
  15. Make writing authentic
  16. Make reading authentic
  17. Make it fun for the students and myself, I need to keep learning too. Show the students that the teacher doesn’t get it right      the first time either.
  18. Keep students aware of what is happening in the classroom, goals etc; and how their minds are growing
  19. Offer authentic solutions to composition issues and  offer authentic praise when they deserve it
  20. Emphasize their and my “aha!” moments.

Writing Teacher

Midterms: Testing the already tested and wasting time

My son’s midterms start tomorrow, and I am reminded of the days when I taught middle school Language Arts. I didn’t need more grades to enter in my grade book and the students certainly didn’t need the added stress of being tested AGAIN on content that was already tested.

This Midterm Testing is no more than, regurgitate what I have already tested you on so that I know, you know, that I know, you know what I have tested you on up until this point in the classroom is engrained in your brain FOREVER.  After I have tested you on the midterms you can forget all that stuff, we’ll move on to something new. So Fugeddaboudit!

Speaking of something new, wouldn’t this valuable week of testing knowledge retained and already tested be better used by teaching and testing new material? Wow! New material! Then we could have a big final in June to test what we’ve already tested on before!

Being a teacher for social justice

Martin Luther King Junior and his family

In a letter drafted in Birmingham jail in Alabama, dated 16th of April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, JR stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The awareness of social justice begins in the classroom. We can’t take it for granted that parents will teach their children social justice at home. If this were the case, we would not hear of racist, homophobic or religious prejudicial acts of violence in the news. Unfortunately, we do hear acts of severe violence against homosexuals, people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. The neutral ground for the teaching of social justice is in the classrooms of our schools.

To me, being a teacher of social justice means finding the commonality of humanity. That commonality exits in literature, history and science. John F. Kennedy once said, “If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” In striving towards “making the world safe for diversity,” I believe teachers need to bring students to the self realization that we are all bound by the human struggle to succeed, be loved, overcome hurt and pain, be prosperous and live happy, productive lives. All human beings want these things, essentially we’re all striving for the same goals.

This ‘social injustice’ creeps into human thinking when we contaminate our thought process by seeing others as not being deserving of those same goals because they are not like us. They might choose the same gender as a life partner, we begrudge others success because they have different beliefs or call their God by a different name, or we just don’t like the color of their flesh, and so we deserve more and they deserve less.

We all deserve, at the very least, the opportunity to achieve our goals, no matter how small or lofty they might be. Every human being has a goal and every goal is accompanied by an obstacle or possibly numerous obstacles. Literature, for me, is a gift. It is a gift because we temporarily are allowed to see the world from another human being’s perspective. We are permitted to see inside the hearts and minds of others and witness their goals and the obstacles that they are faced with.

Shakespeare dares to permit us to feel sorrow or hatred for the protagonist who succumbs to evil and becomes an anti-hero in Macbeth. Harper Lee allows us to witness a racially charged court case from the innocent eyes of Scout, a six year old child at the start of To Kill a Mockingbird. In his poem, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Elliot’s sentiment from 1915 is still relevant today, his imagined inadequacies prevent him from connecting with a potential lover. Literature lays bare all our fears, hopes and dreams and permits the readers to connect with the authors of yesterday, the present, a thousand miles away, or in the same country, authors of a different religion, race or culture. It permits us to grasp the commonality of humanity across the globe. We all need love, success, prosperity and acceptance.

These are the human goals that bind us all together. We are all entitled to them, we can help each other to achieve them by teaching social justice within our classrooms.

Adlai E. Stevenson, Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations, January 1961- July 1965

“A society can be no better than the men and women who compose it.”

Adlai E. Stevenson

Speech at Kasson, Minn.Sept 6th 1952

16 surprising facts about Finland’s unorthodox education system

This was in the Journal.ie

SINCE IT implemented huge education reforms 40 years ago, Finland’s school system has consistently come at the top of international rankings for education systems.

So how do they do it?

It’s simple — by going against the evaluation-driven, centralised model that much of the Western world uses.

1. Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.
  • 1. Finnish children don’t start school until they are 7.

  • 2. They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens. The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.

  • 3. There is only one mandatory standardised test in Finland, taken when children are 16.

  • 4. Finland spends around 30 per cent less per student than the US. All children, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classrooms.

  • 5. Thirty per cent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.

  • 6. Sixty-six per cent of students go to college.

  • 7. The difference between the weakest and strongest students in the smallest in the world.

  • 8. Ninety-three per cent of Finns graduate from high school.

  • 9. Forty-three per cent of Finnish second-level students go to vocational schools.

  • 10. Teachers only spend four hours a day in the classroom, and take two hours a week for “professional development”.

  • 11. The school system is 100% state funded.

  • 12. The national curriculum is only a broad guideline.

    (Image: n0rthw1nd on Flickr via Creative Commons)

  • 13. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidised.

  • 14. Teachers are selected from the top 10 per cent of graduates and their average starting salary in 2008 was $22,235. Last year, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training positions.

  • 15. High school teachers with 15 years of experience earn 102 per cent more than other college graduates.

  • 16. In an international standardised measurement in 2001, Finnish children came top or very close to the top for science, reading and maths.

    I wonder what percemtage of the population are emigrants? Here’s the stats according to wikipedie:
  • Ethnic minorities & languagesNo official statistics are kept on ethnicities. However, statistics of the Finnish population according to language and citizinship are available.The Finnish and Swedish languages are defined as languages of the state. Additionally, Swedish is an official municipal language in municipalities with significant Swedish-speaking populations. The three Sami languages (North Sami, Inari Sami, Skolt Sami) are official in certain municipalities of Lapland.

    Finnish people — Finns — speak the Finnish language, which the dominant language and is spoken almost everywhere in the country. Native Finnish speakers are otherwise recognized as an ethnicity.

    Population of mainland Finland (excluding Aland) according to language, 1990-2010 [1]

    Language 1990 2000 2010                                      %
    Finnish 4,674,095 4,787,259 4,856,529
    Swedish 273,495 267,488 265,982                        5.47 %
    Sami 1,734 1,734 1,832                            0.03%
    Foreign languages: 24,550 98,858 222,926                         4.5%
    Russian 3,884 28,179 54,546                           1.12%
    Estonian 1,394 10,153 28,355                           0.58%
    Somali 0 6,454 12,985                          0.26%
    English 3,518 6,850 12,758                           0.26%
    Arabic 1,133 4,875 10,379                           0.21%


  • Pecentages are calculated by me. In comparison to the state of Connecticut which has 32% of an immigrant population, Finland has 12.43% of an immigrant population.

  • The classification of the Swedish-speakers as an ethnicity is controversial. The government only considers the “working language”, Finnish or Swedish, of the person, and “bilinguality” has no official standing. Significant populations of Swedish-speakers are found in coastal areas, from Ostrobothnia to the southern coast, and in the archipelago of Åland. Coastal cities, however, are majority Finnish-speaking, with a few small towns as exceptions. There are very few Swedish-speakers in the inland.

  • If America spends 30% more on education per child it is possibly because of a higher number of immigrants?

  • Wikipedia states the following statistics for USA

  • Immigration by state
    Percentage change in Foreign Born Population 1990 to 2000
    North Carolina 273.7% South Carolina 132.1% Mississippi 95.8% Wisconsin 59.4% Vermont 32.5%
    Georgia 233.4% Minnesota 130.4% Washington 90.7% New Jersey 52.7% Connecticut 32.4%
    Nevada 202.0% Idaho 121.7% Texas 90.2% Alaska 49.8% New Hampshire 31.5%
    Arkansas 196.3% Kansas 114.4% New Mexico 85.8% Michigan 47.3% Ohio 30.7%
    Utah 170.8% Iowa 110.3% Virginia 82.9% Wyoming 46.5% Hawaii 30.4%
    Tennessee 169.0% Oregon 108.0% Missouri 80.8% Pennsylvania 37.6% North Dakota 29.0%
    Nebraska 164.7% Alabama 101.6% South Dakota 74.6% California 37.2% Rhode Island 25.4%
    Colorado 159.7% Delaware 101.6% Maryland 65.3% New York 35.6% West Virginia 23.4%
    Arizona 135.9% Oklahoma 101.2% Florida 60.6% Massachusetts 34.7% Montana 19.0%
    Kentucky 135.3% Indiana 97.9% Illinois 60.6% Louisiana 32.6% Maine 1.1%

    Source: U.S. Census 1990 and 2000

What makes a good Teacher?

Me at my desk in 1996

During my student teaching experience I shared the classroom  with my mentor teacher. For the first two to three weeks I was shocked at how little was expected of me in the classroom. When the children left school for the day, I was told I was done too. I was shocked that this was all that I had to do for my student teaching experience; show up, listen and learn, and then go home.

By the end of week three, the teacher and I had developed a good rapport and the students were also developing a positive relationship with me. Over lunch one day this teacher confessed that this was her first mentorship of a student teacher. Other teachers who had done mentoring before had advised her to be caged in sharing ideas in case I, or any other teacher for that matter, might steal them.

My Masters in Education was a quantitative Evaluation of the Student Teaching Experience of student teachers who had attended and been placed in positions by Sacred Heart University. The study was interesting in that it revealed how unwilling mentor teachers were in sharing their classroom and teaching ideas and experiences with student teachers.

Norwalk Community College in Connecticut has a wonderful Early Childhood Development program of study which involves a lab school. I have always thought that using a lab school was a wonderful way of helping beginning teachers become better teachers. Supervision, observation and advice given to students who would then observe how the professionals do it can only help build a new teacher’s confidence and equip them with a bag of classroom tricks that they can use when they need them.

I would love to see Colleges who currently have teaching programs implement lab schools on their campuses. Also I think it would be beneficial if the various states required mentor teachers to reach a certain standard before they could mentor. Just because they can teach young students does not mean they can teach best practice techniques to student teachers. Also teachers should be encouraged to share ideas about classroom management, organization and discipline techniques. It is about passing the torch, not a personality contest.

Here are a few classroom organization techniques I used in my Middle School Language Arts class back in the mid nineties. Hopefully for any elementary or middle school language arts teachers reading this there might be a nugget of information that might help make the teaching day go by more easily. I will discuss the various ways I implemented the charts etc in subsequent posts. Also I have attached some links with suggestions for organization, discipline and the issue of a teacher’s health.

Writing Process Box

Classroom Library

Storage Solutions

Classroom Discipline:


Classroom Management:


Teaching the tempest-tossed

If the Statue of Liberty could speak, her native tongue would be French. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in English accents and Wampanoag dialect. African-Americans, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Polish, and many more have all made a home here. The point I am trying to make is that America is a country of immigrants.

To measure our system of education and it’s diverse classrooms against countries that have strict immigration laws is misleading and unhelpful. Yet, we persist in ranking our system of education against countries with homogenous societies. In a 2009 United Nations study Georgia in Eurasia was listed as number one amongst the nations measured for literacy. America ranked number 45 in the same study. In Georgia, Eurasia, 71% of the people speak the native language. This is key to the ranking of the Literacy study.

Having grown up in Ireland in the ’70’s and ’80’s, and having experienced zero diversity in classrooms from the age of five to eighteen, I can assure you that classroom teachers who have the task of educating an English only speaking student population have a far easier time than those teaching ethnically diverse classrooms. The only diversity I knew were two Protestant families who attended my national school. How’s that for diversity? We all spoke the same language, nothing got lost in translation, and for the most part, we all had the same dialects and accents. For some reason the Protestant kids spoke with very posh English accents; not exactly a huge challenge for teachers though.

The problems experienced in America’s educational system are due to diverse classroom populations. Diversity means we’ve gone global in the classrooms, whether we like it or not. Using that diversity, fostering collaboration and utilizing technology effectively within the classroom will help to create a future workforce, ready for tomorrow’s workplace.

The truth is the world is shrinking and borders are shifting. Whether or not you believe that immigration means diverse classrooms, and that this is a good thing, is inconsequential. There simply is no alternative but to educate ethnically diverse student populations using practical, meaningful, respectful and purposeful instruction that will foster a sense of pride in the next generation of workers.

Practical, meaningful, respectful and purposeful; easier said than done right? But what is the alternative? There isn’t one. We have to do it. Simply put, we need to develop best practice methods for teaching Standard English to students who speak dialects of English. We need to give these students a reason for wanting to learn Standard English and we need to remain respectful of the dialect or language that they are speaking at home.

Let’s first address the issue of teaching a classroom population of diverse ethnicity, all students speaking dialects of English, American English or Spanglish. Diversity in classrooms, although perplexing, is good. The task of teaching ELLs, or indeed AE speakers, provides trials for teachers who may already feel as if they are incapable of doing more than they are already doing. My question then to those who feel over taxed in the classrooms is; how do you teach Standard English usage? It is, after all, a requirement that students be proficient in the use of English. It has to be done and there are ways to organize your classroom and day which will help you achieve it. Teaching the tempest-tossed classroom requires organization, collaboration, use of technology and innovative thinking.

Teaching Standard English, really a misnomer, since; there are multiple dialects of the English Language, should be done with respect for the students’ own dialect. In fact I believe we should refer to the dialect of correct English usage as Career English. By doing so, we remain sensitive to the students who speak other dialects and give them a purpose to learn correct usage for their “careers.” Lisa Delprit refers to a speaker’s native tongue as “heritage language,” (Delprit: The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Teaching Other People’s Children) , affirming its correctness in certain situations and places. “Career English” then has a purpose and place as does “heritage language.” Neither form can claim to be more correct than the other. This platform of equality among dialects is vitally important as a starting point for teaching career English. It is subtly telling the students, be they English Language Learners or American English speakers, that their own dialect is correct and important, and so too is career English.

We can agree then, as educators, that Career English acquisition is a challenge in diverse classrooms, and should be taught with respect for the “language of nurture,” as described by Weaver (Teaching Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing). With techniques such as Weaver’s code-sharing suggestions in chapter 11, and Delprit’s distinction between “book language and heritage language,” respect for the ELL speaker’s native language while teaching Career English is ensured, whilst purpose for Career English acquisition is provided to the students.

The practicality of using a form called Career English and code sharing similarities between the heritage language means students have a comparison point; they can relate the new language rule learned to a heritage language rule that is innately understood. For example, American English speakers of Black English might have the tendency when they speak to drop the ‘s’ in plural nouns. A simple chart showing spoken heritage rules and Career English rules becomes a point of reference that students can implement when they read or write in Career English.

Simple mnemonic tricks to help determine the difference in commonly misused or misspelled words become indispensible. The example that comes to mind is “They’re, there and their” on page 16 of Judy Parkinson’s i before e (except after c). Parkinson differentiates between all three in simple ways; for example, ‘there’ is direction because there is a ‘here’ in ‘there.’ Demonic mnemonics by Murray Suid is also a useful teaching aid for incorrect spelling and usage.

Another practical technique which should prevent teachers from declaring, “How can we teach it all?”  is to develop a hierarchy of common mistakes made by students in writing exercises. If the students are consistently mixing up their, there and they’re, teach the correct Career English usage; Teach to the most commonly repeated mistakes and keep a checklist of those mistakes and how students progress. If you use peer editing, be specific with students and ask them to look for these common mistakes in other students’ compositions.

A multicultural classroom fosters respect for other cultures. Teaching respect and tolerance is important in a global economy. As espoused by Tapscott and Williams, “The future, therefore, lies in collaboration across borders, cultures, companies and disciplines.”(Wikinomics p 61) If the future lies across borders, our classrooms are the perfect places to practice techniques required for tomorrow’s workforce. Collaboration, innovation and creativity will define pioneers in the workplace of the future. Classrooms which implement strategies within their curriculums that nurture these three components will equip students with skills that shall carry them through their careers. As Ken Robinson states, “Creative teams are distinct, diverse and dynamic.” (The Element page 126) We already have the diversity in our classrooms. The distinct and dynamic portion of the equation depends on how we use technology in our classrooms to reach across borders and interact with the global student community. This idea of “interactivity” has already defined successful global businesses; why not use it to define successful classrooms? As Wikinomics says, ‘Mass collaboration changes everything.”

According to Michael Furdyk of TakingITGlobal, you do not find “interactivity” in classroom curriculums presently. “We’re still learning through read and regurgitate,” Furdyk says. (Wikinomics pg. 51) TakingITGlobal aims to get students in Canada and Nigeria, for example, collaborating to complete projects; group research being done across borders and time zones. The project could even lend itself to peer-editing and Socratic circle discussions: Opening up minds and broadening perspectives. Imagine a student in Connecticut writing an essay on ‘Banning the Burqua’ collaborating with a female student in Paris who, since April of 2011, no longer can wear the dress in public, then using that new knowledge and applying it to immigrants in their own classrooms. Would that application of new knowledge positively affect tolerance within the classroom? You bet it would.

What if a student in America collaborated writing a paper on Orwell’s Animal Farm with a student in Russia? Imagine if these two developed a totally new form of political rule which they called “Democratism” and they reached out to other students for their input. This type of innovative thinking becomes contagious when students are presented with “what if” scenarios; not just from the teacher, but from a peer in another time zone. Letting their ideas soar provides students with opportunities for innovation, the larger the innovative pool, the more innovative the ideas.

Innovation, according to Ken Robinson, “is applied creativity.” (Out of Our Minds pg. 142) The creative process, Robinson says, is a six step procedure involving; generating an idea, judging the idea, elaborating on it, testing it, refining it, possibly rejecting all or part of the idea and starting again. The process flourishes when done collaboratively, with group feedback. Creativity for the most part comes from observation, inspiration and sometimes overheard suggestions; the bigger the pool, the more creativity and collaboration.

Collaboration in classrooms through technology such as Skype, Facebook, epals and other online social media is useful in nurturing creativity, innovation and collaboration. The success of mixing social media and education according to Reynol Junco lies in how the media is used. (Junco: The Relationship Between Frequency of Facebook Use, Participation in Facebook Activities and Student Engagement) Marc Prensky agrees, learning through technology is determined on, “how it is presented.” (Prensky: Digital Natives Digital Immigrants) Supervision, setting meaningful goals, and concise directions for use are key to using social media in education successfully.

Technology, then, is part of the solution. Not only does it nurture creativity, innovation and collaboration; but also broadens minds, fosters respect, provides varied perspectives, crosses borders, and possibly even connects immigrant students with homelands. It is important to remember though that how we implement this technology in the classroom will determine its success in fostering collaboration and innovation across borders. Let’s begin the implementation of technology in classrooms by getting the students to use spell check on computer drafts of compositions. It may sound trite, but many students do not have access to computers at home and a simple but brief explanation of spell check will assist in drafting better compositions.

There are those who see technology use in classrooms as a distraction. Matt Richtel’s New York Times article ‘In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores’ (Sept. 24, 2011) states that in the Kyrene school district of Arizona, despite a heavy focus and massive funding on technology in the classroom, “Hope and enthusiasm are soaring…But test scores are not.”

Rictel’s observation of a teacher allowing a student to just play a math game, and always get the wrong answer, does present a dilemma. But as Junco states, how we use technology determines success in the classroom. “It’s getting him to think quicker,” the teacher states and the computer encourages the six-year-old to try again. Not exactly the case. With instruction, the child would come to the correct answer faster, but by sitting in front of a computer and just hitting any old key, learning is not going to happen. A question that needs to be asked of educators is are we taught how to implement technology purposefully in our classrooms?

Elizabeth Green’s New York Times magazine’s article ‘Building a Better Teacher’ (March 7, 2010) provides some useful hints as to how to engage students and manage a classroom, technology use is never mentioned once. Building better teachers requires us to teach educators how to implement technology and “use it” effectively in conjunction with curriculums.

Alternative schools such as The Waldorf School in California prohibits the use of computers and students are told not to watch television at home. This in my opinion is excessive and shortsighted. The world advances rapidly with regard to technology, and we need to allow students monitored access, at the very least, to that technology.

The classrooms of today are modeled after the needs of the industrial revolution. These classrooms served their purpose and functioned effectively until migration en-masse and
technology advances changed the economy and consequently the classroom. Some aspects of the older form are still effective, but in order to meet the demands of tomorrow’s global workforce, diversity, collaboration and technology use in our classrooms need to be skillfully, thoughtfully and purposefully implemented, and students nurtured and encouraged to listen and respect others.

Literature Cited:

  1. Weaver: Teaching Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing.
  2. Delprit: The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Teaching Other People’s Children
  3. Tapscott and Williams: Wikinomics
  4. Junco: The Relationship Between Frequency of Facebook Use, Participation in Facebook Activities and Student Engagement
  5. Robinson: Out of Our Minds and The Element
  6. Richtel: New York Times ‘In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores’ Sept. 24, 2011
  7. Green New York Times magazine ‘Building a Better Teacher’ March 7, 2010

Other sites of interest



To correct or not to correct, that is the question.

 You could of read this instead!

My son came home from school today with a test that requires a parent’s signature. My son read the adult version of Three Cups of Tea but the rest of the class read a simplified children’s version.The teacher wrote the following comment on my son’s comprehension test for Three Cups of Tea,

“I took into consideration there were two questions that you may not of read about in your version.”

I started to write a note to the “English?” teacher about his use of “of” instead of the correct “have.”

My son called me a grammar nazi and told me to watch this:

If that doesn’t work, you could of watched it here: Grammar Nazis