Friday, October 29, 2010

What Are Teacher Reviewers Saying About Power Presentations: Introduction to Literary Theory?

Earlier this month, Prestwick House debuted Power Presentations: Introduction to Literary Theory, a Multiple Critical Perspectives product that helps teachers bring critical theory to every classroom.

This easy-to-use presentation will give your students the tools they need to understand literature beyond the simple conventions of plot, characterization, and theme. Power Presentations: Introduction to Literary Theory explores six critical theories through the lens of Cinderella, helping your students to clearly see how literature can be seen from different perspectives. Designed to stand alone or be used in conjunction with your favorite Multiple Critical Perspectives Guides.

Recently, we received feedback on Power Presentations: Introduction to Literary Theory from teachers on the Prestwick House National Curriculum Advisory Board. Read quotations from teachers below or find out more at!

“I am very impressed with this product. The format is far more teacher- and student-friendly than a textbook and the amount of information on each screen allows students to take accurate notes quickly before advancing on to additional screens. Visually, the product is easy to view and read.”

- Karen DiBetta

“The way the presentation is structured allows for each approach to be taught independently of the others. Depending on the ability of the class and the material being covered, I can easily choose the literary theory best fitted to the material and encourage critical thinking by asking students to approach the material using one specific literary theory.”

- Sonya K Shaw

“This product is a wonderful way to spark discussion of a work of literature. The various literary methods addressed in the presentation provide ample opportunity for all students in the class, regardless of ability, to engage in a meaningful discussion of a work.”

- Sonya K Shaw

“The accompanying instructions are incredibly clear. Even teachers who are not used to using PowerPoint will be able to navigate it easily.”

- Elizabeth Miley

“We have been moving toward a more comprehensive coverage of literary theory over the past two school years, and I see this product as a way to better organize our instruction with our junior and seniors. The consistency of the presentation would help us as teachers to be more consistent as well.”

- Cam Matthews

“I absolutely plan on using this product with my students. This product can make understanding literary theory simple, and can engage all students--from CP to AP.In previous years, I have struggled with a clear way of presenting literary theory to my students. This product does exactly that.”

- Stephanie Rodevick

“I would use this product myself. I am always looking for current, user-friendly materials I feel my students will find as interesting as I do. This product fills that bill.”

- Karen DiBetta

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo: It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

by Douglas Grudzina
The Office of Letters and Light is pleased to announce …

… the twelfth annual …

… NaNoWriMo!

(You DID know that November was National Novel Writing Month, right?—get it … NaNoWriMo?)

Anyone can enter. Everyone can play. The goal is to write a novel—175 pages or 50,000 words—between November 1 and November 30. The project’s slogan is, “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” and participants are instructed to write, write, and write some more, not sweat the “quality” (sort of like a month-long freewrite).

The rules are really very simple: novels can be on any theme, in any genre, and in any language. Format and structure are completely up to the author. Metafiction, post-modernist chaos, use of trademarked characters—anything goes. As the NaNoWriMo site says, “If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too.”

The competition starts on midnight November 1. From day 1, participants are allowed to update their word count and post excerpts of their opus for others to read. Completed novels can be uploaded to the NaNoWriMo site beginning November 25. All winners—those who have managed to write 50,000 words in the month (and there are rules excluding simply repeating the same word 50,000 times—receive a PDF certificate, a “web badge,” and inclusion on the site’s “Winners Page.”

We’re always looking for “authentic” opportunities for our students to write. This is ideal! If I were still in the classroom, I’d have every one of my students register and participate. Forget Dickens. Four weeks without vocabulary won’t hurt anyone.

It’s November! We’re going write a novel! (Oh yeah, I’d register too. We have to model appropriate behavior for our students, don’t we?

Here’s their official site with all the real information about registering, and participating in the forums, and all.

They even have a “Young Writers Program” especially for writers under the age of 17 and working alone or working in a K-12 classroom setting. It has a special feature that allows students to set their own total-word-goal for the month.

(Still, I think I’d like to challenge my high school students—especially my seniors—to meet the full 50,000 words. With middle-school or elementary-school kids, maybe I’d be a little more lenient—just a little.)

Remember that a “winner” is anyone who meets the 50,000-word minimum by 1 minute before midnight on December 1.

FYI, according to Wikipedia, 50,000 words is roughly the length of novels like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby. (NaNoWriMo makes no claims that any of these was actually written as a NaNoWriMo entry.) To meet that minimum, participants write an average of a little more than 1,666 words a day.

November could be an awesome month in your English class, with your kids really excited about their work, sharing their ideas and progress with you and with each other, chatting with other writers in the NaNoWriMo site’s forums, and actually enjoying writing and writing and writing to meet a deadline.

As I said, if I were still in the classroom, I’d definitely do it.

You should check it out.

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Which author (and founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to English) won the Newbery medal only two years after his father won for his own book?
  2. Which author used the pseudonyms Golden MacDonald, Juniper Sage, Kaintuck Brown and Timothy Hay?
  3. Which author initially disguised her gender by using her initials and eventually assumed another after moving to England?
  4. Which famous author and illustrator has a children’s picture book art museum named after him?
  5. Which author’s first book for children was about cockroaches?
Last Week's Answers
  • Rowan Oak (Mississippi) belonged to William Faulkner
  • The Mount (Massachusetts) belonged to Edith Wharton
  • Gads Hill Place (Higham, Kent) belonged to Charles Dickens
  • The Old Manse (Massachusetts) belonged to Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Sunnyside (New York) belonged to Washington Irving
  • Dove Cottage (Grasmere, Cumbria) belonged to William Wordsworth

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Review of Rhetoric, Logic, and Argumentation: Small Book, Great Potential

Every once in a while, a resource comes along that you can’t wait to use. Such is the case with a recent publication from Prestwick House.

Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation: A Guide for Student Writers is misleading. Its size suggests lightness and minimal treatment of critical skills. However, it is precisely this succinctness that makes the resource so remarkable. In about 100 pages, this guide for students introduces the basics of logic and applies them to writing. Students not only learn to recognize sound thinking but also to produce and communicate it.

A few years ago I developed the instructional writing program, Writer’s Stylus. The instructional model for this program includes an activity known as “Acquaintance and Analysis” in which students read an example of excellent writing and then analyze the text to identify how the author communicated so clearly. We search for elements like word choice, sentence variety, and effective transitions. This simple activity not only exposes students to great writing but trains them to look at writing beyond the writer’s intended meaning. It is a powerful activity that accomplishes more than a series of lectures ever could.

Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation takes a similar approach. Well-chosen text passages illustrate important ideas, such as the various forms of appeal that can be used to construct an argument. These, combined with additional activities that emphasize knowledge and application of critical concepts, engage students in thinking about thinking—that of others as well as their own. Such an approach makes instructional sense; students learn what to look for, have the opportunity to see it in action, and then put it to use themselves. Then, because they’ve had the experience of analyzing writing for similar characteristics, students are better able to evaluate and edit their own thinking and writing.

The book provides just enough background and guidance for students, never overdoing a topic nor resorting to endless, often mindless, practice exercises. Its combination of thinking and writing enables students to communicate their improved thinking, increasing their potential influence.

In the hands of an effective teacher, this small resource could energize and empower student thinking and writing. I can’t wait to see this misleadingly small resource used in classrooms. Apparently great thought can come in small packages!


Related Posts


Kevin D. Washburn holds a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in instruction and curriculum. His experience as a teacher in elementary through college level classrooms and positions in curriculum and instruction combine with his penchant for reading and research in both educational and scientific areas to uncover important implications for learning. Whether speaking in the classroom or convention setting, Kevin seeks to imbue a passion for quality instruction.

Kevin is the author of the Architecture of Learning™ instructional design model and its training program, Writer’s Stylus™, an instructional writing program, and co-author of an instructional reading program used by schools across the country. He is a member of the International Mind, Brain & Education Society, the Learning & the Brain Society, and is a contributor to The Edurati Review.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

FAQs for Prestwick House AP Language and Composition

What is this product?

Available November 15, Prestwick House AP Language and Composition is a book with full-length nonfiction passages, many of which are annotated, AP-style multiple-choice questions and free response items, and synthesis-essay activities. Each chapter provides both models and practice exercise.

How is the book organized?

The book is organized according to the various language and textual elements an AP student will have to examine and analyze on the AP language exam: structure and organizational patterns, language and syntax, rhetorical devices, etc.

For whom is this book intended?

Prestwick House AP Language and Composition is intended for the student who plans to take the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition Exam. All of the models are accompanied by multiple-choice answers and explanations and sample student essays. Answer keys for the exercises are provided in an appendix. A glossary of literary and rhetorical devices and logical fallacies is also included to help the student become conversant with the language he or she will need to use to discuss the passages on the exam.

Is the book useable in the classroom?

Absolutely. The annotation, models, and answer keys are definitely classroom-friendly. Also, every nonfiction passage is complete and unabridged, allowing this book to become a primary text for nonfiction literature as well as an AP prep book.

Is this book compatible with the new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts?

Absolutely. First of all, many of the goals of Advanced Placement, especially the analysis of literature and the examination of language, are at the heart of the Common Core Standards for Reading Informational Text. Second, all of the passages in the book were selected using the guidelines of the Common Core State Standards for Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity. Several of the passages actually appear in the CSS Initiative’s Texts Illustrating the Complexity, Quality, and Range of Student Reading, Grades 9 – 12.

How is this book any different from other AP prep books that are available?

The biggest problem with those other AP-prep books is their generic and content-empty nature. Because the AP exam is essentially a skills exam, asking students to read and analyze unfamiliar texts, most prep book focus on the skills. Prestwick House AP Language and Composition is as much a literature text as a skills text. It is suitable for use as a core text, not just a supplemental.

What are some of the nonfiction texts featured in this book?

Passages in Prestwick House AP Language and Composition include:
  • “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: Address to Parliament on 13 May 13, 1940” by Winston Churchill

  • Speech to the Second Virginia Convention” by Patrick Henry

  • “The Crisis, Essay 1” by Thomas Paine

  • “The Federalist,” selected papers by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton

  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • “Hope, Despair and Memory” by Elie Wiesel (1997 Nobel Peace Prize lecture)

  • Elie Wiesel’s 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

What are some of the features of this book that make it unique among AP Language and Composition texts?

  • Most of the passages are complete, not excerpted or abridged.

  • Many are annotated to point out to students the types of questions they should be asking themselves, and the features they should be noticing in their own reading.

  • Model multiple-choice questions with answers and explanations illustrate the thought processes required for a better understanding of the passages and a higher score on the AP language exam.

  • Sample student essays provide models for AP students to follow and imitate.
  • Appendices provide rich content and instructional material for a college-level English language course as well as strong preparation for the AP language exam.

Does this book include models and exercises for the relatively new Synthesis Essay?

Yes. The chapter on the Synthesis Essay also provides instruction and guidance on how to approach the synthesis task, how to use the sources, when to quote, paraphrase, summarize, etc.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Trivia

Match each famous author:
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Washington Irving
  • William Faulkner
  • Charles Dickens
  • Edith Wharton
  • William Wordsworth

With his or her home:

  • Rowan Oak (Mississippi)
  • The Mount (Massachusetts)
  • Gads Hill Place (Higham, Kent)
  • The Old Manse (Massachusetts)
  • Sunnyside (New York)
  • Dove Cottage (Grasmere, Cumbria)

Last Week's Answers

Match the dog with its famous author:
  • Linda, a St. Bernard belonging to Charles Dickens
  • Flush, a golden cocker spaniel belonging to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • Carlo, a Newfoundland belonging to Emily Dickinson
  • Gurth, an English Sheepdog belonging Virginia Woolf
  • Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron, mixed breed dogs belonging to Ernest Hemingway
  • Boatswain, a Newfoundland, belonging to Lord Byron

Monday, October 18, 2010

Can You Help the Prestwick Vocabulary Power Plus App Get to #1?

Although it's only been out for five days, the Vocabulary Power Plus Application for the iPhone and iPad is climbing the charts. Currently it is listed as the number two free educational app in the iTunes store!

Download Vocabulary Power Plus for FREE and try it out for yourself today!

This Friday! Prestwick House Title to Appear in New Clint Eastwood Film Starring Matt Damon

Back on December 11, 2009, Warner Brothers Studios sent a fax to our CEO, Jason Scott, asking permission to use one of our titles as a prop.

The book they requested is the Prestwick House Literary Touchstone edition of The Call of the Wild by Jack London. No word as to what the book will be used for, but we are thrilled at the prospect of seeing the artwork of Prestwick House Art Director, Larry Knox, on the big screen.

So when you head out this weekend to catch the newest Clint Eastwood flick, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for your favorite publishing company's version of
The Call of the Wild!

Click on the image below to view it full size.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New iPhone Application Helps Students Gain a Higher Score on the SAT Test

This week, Prestwick House is proud to unveil Vocabulary Power Plus, its first application for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Available for purchase in the iTunes store on October 14, 2010, the Vocabulary Power Plus application is adapted from Prestwick House’s most popular series, Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT, used in over 35,000 classrooms nationwide.

Created by Renkara Media Group, Inc., the Vocabulary Power Plus application boasts over 6,600 unique quiz questions covering 1,800 frequently used SAT vocabulary words. The application is available for free download and allows students to try out fun, interactive games reinforcing important skills that will help them obtain a higher score on the SAT.

In addition to the new iPhone application, Prestwick House is currently in the process of expanding their line of digital educational products. Over the past five years, Prestwick House has become a leader in the digital product arena with over half a million dollars in eBook sales last year alone. This month, Prestwick House will add 25 new eBooks including their best-selling Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT books in ePub and Mobi format for devices like eBook readers, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, and the Amazon Kindle. In addition to their current inventory of over 1,000 different digital books, Prestwick House also boasts dozens of Prestwick House Power Presentations.

“In recent years, technology has quickly become more prevalent in the classroom, and teachers are becoming more and more creative with it,” says Prestwick House General Manager, Keith Bergstrom. “Why not turn a fun application into a teaching tool that students are likely to enjoy? Using this familiar technology captures students’ attention, creates a tactile learning experience, and encourages vocabulary retention in a way that is both meaningful and effective.”

Within the free application, students will have access to 60 words that are frequently used on the SAT test. For an additional $3.99, students can purchase vocabulary lists from specific Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT books to target grade level vocabulary. Each grade-level specific download is filled with over two dozen quizzes and practice tests that include definition, fill-in-the-blank, find the antonym questions, in addition to root, prefix, and suffix questions.

“The games are sort of addictive,” says Prestwick House CEO, Jason Scott. “Having tried it myself, I can confidently say that this application helped me easily remember words that I would have otherwise quickly forgotten. It really brings a whole new level of interactivity and engagement that helps to drive home vocabulary practice.”

The games included in the Vocabulary Power Plus application are visually interesting and include both high resolution artwork and audio cues to indicate correct and incorrect answers. Students are also able to pause and resume game play, so the application is great for mini reviews at the end of class, during study hall, riding in the car, or even during commercial breaks while watching television. At the end of each game, students are given the opportunity to review not only their total score, but also all of their answers to ensure that they are learning the material.

To download your free trial of the Prestwick House Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT application, visit the iTunes store and search “Vocabulary Power Plus” today.


About Prestwick House - Founded in 1983 by a former Dover High School administrator, Prestwick House is a leader in educational publishing. With a focus on helping English teachers in grades 9-12, Prestwick House publishes the largest selection of literature teaching guides in the country, a line of classic novels, and hundreds of other educational products. Find out more at

About Renkara Media Group - Renkara Media Group, Inc. was founded in 2000 and is a leading provider of education and entertainment software for Apple mobile devices. Since the release of the iPhone SDK, it specializes in applications for iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad, particularly in the development of education, entertainment, and reference products.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get Your First Look at the New Vocabulary Power Plus iPhone App!

This week Renkara Media Group, Inc., the creator of Prestwick House's first iPhone application, Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT, has unveiled a brand new page on their website. Including descriptions of the app and screen shots of the games, starting Thursday Renkara's site will also provide a direct link to the free download on the iTunes store. Visit today to find out more!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview with Prestwick House AP Language and Composition Author, Douglas Grudzina

In the coming weeks, Prestwick House will debut our newest title, Prestwick House AP Language and Composition. Author and former AP teacher, Douglas Grudzina, has agreed to speak about his experiences in writing this unique guide that will help you teach your students to effectively read and analyze unfamiliar texts, while also introducing them to the literature most likely to appear on the exam.

How does this approach to AP prep and teaching writing differ from other programs?

Most Advanced Placement prep books (at least in English) are pretty generic. The focus of the AP exam is skills rather than specific knowledge, so most AP books are designed as supplemental materials, not core curriculum. However, the teacher of an Advanced Placement class is still accountable to the school and district’s curriculum and to state and national standards.

Prestwick House AP English Language and Composition is unique in that, while teaching students how to analyze the elements and devices of language assumed by the College Board, it provides them many of the full-length nonfiction essays, letters, speeches, and so on, that their curricula and standards require them to read.

In short, this is a nonfiction literature book as much as an Advanced Placement prep book.

What are some of the full-length nonfiction selections included?

The carefully-chosen selections include Martin Luther King’s “Letter Written from Birmingham Jail,” two of Winston Churchill’s most famous speeches from World War II, several of the Federalist Papers by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, and a number of speeches by Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama.

What sorts of examples and exercises are included in the text?

I love the format of this book because it is so user-friendly and student-centered. For every chapter—each chapter focuses on analyzing a different element of language—there is a little direct instruction, explanation, and definition of the element, its use and importance. Then there is a passage that is annotated to point out how the particular element is being used. Five AP-like multiple-choice questions follow. The answers to these are revealed so the student can see how the material from the passage might appear on an AP exam. We then provide the student with AP-style answers and explanations for those multiple-choice questions. Finally, this section of each chapter ends with an AP-style writing prompt and a model student essay.

After this model, there is an exercise that includes another passage—not annotated—multiple-choice questions that the student must answer, and a writing prompt for the student to respond to.

Everything this exercise expects of the student, however, has been modeled and explained.

Is there a teacher’s guide to accompany the student books? What additional materials are included?

One of the appendices includes an answer key to all of the multiple-choice questions in all of the exercises. Therefore, there really is no need for a teacher’s edition. At some point, however, we may decide to issue a book with more models and exercises.

You mentioned “appendices.” What material is covered in these?

The book has two appendices. The second is, as mentioned above, an answer key to the multiple-choice questions in the exercises. The first is a glossary of terms: names, definitions, and examples of the most common literary and rhetorical devices as well as the logical fallacies and techniques of propaganda that the student encounters in the book and must be prepared to deal with in his or her analysis.

Is the new “Synthesis Essay” portion of the AP exam covered in this book?

Absolutely. This is a new and essential feature of the AP exam, and we would be remiss if we did not include it. Prestwick House AP English Language and Composition contains two annotated models with student essays and two exercises. Models and exercises include text, graphic, and pictorial documents for the students to read and glean information from for their synthesis.

How do you envision teachers using this book in their classrooms?

My first priority in designing this book was to create something that the AP English language and composition teacher could use as a core text. The AP teacher is always in the unique and stressful position of having to teach the curriculum and prepare his or her students for the AP exam. Most AP prep materials are, at best, supplemental, and the teacher must devise ways to tailor the curriculum to address AP skills and adapt the generic AP materials to support the curriculum. Because so many of the selections in this book are full-length and were chosen because of their appearance on such reading lists as the new Common Core State Standards lists of illustrative texts—this book can be the core nonfiction literature text of the course with the AP prep material built right in.

What level of student is this book appropriate for?

First and foremost, this book is designed for the student who intends to take the Advanced Placement Exam in English Language and Composition. Most schools that I am familiar with offer this course in the eleventh grade.

Again, however, due to the nature of the selections and model of instruction (especially the annotation and the answers and explanations), this book can be used with any on-or-above-grade-level students in grades 10 - 12.

What was your favorite part of the book to write?

I think more than having a “favorite part” to write, the part of the process (or the consequence of the process) that I enjoyed most was having the opportunity to examine the annotated passages closely enough to annotate them and then develop the multiple-choice and free response items based on them. It was fascinating really examining these passages—many of which I’d been familiar for years—from the standpoint of how they were constructed, what the author’s intent was in doing it “this way,” and so on.

The glossary was fun to write, too. Especially making up the examples.

What new projects are around the corner for Prestwick House?

We’re all pretty excited to be unveiling our new line: Levels of Understanding, Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Explore Literature. Right now we’ve got writers working to prepare the first 10 title-specific units for their premier in our January 2011 catalogue.

There’s also been some scuttlebutt about developing a PowerPoint Presentation based on our very popular Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers.

There’s always something cooking in the Prestwick House kitchens!


Future Related Posts:

  • What are Teacher Reviewers Saying About Prestwick House AP Language and Composition?
  • FAQs for Prestwick House AP Language and Composition

Tuesday Trivia

Match the dog with its famous author:

  • Linda (St. Bernard)
  • Flush (golden cocker spaniel)
  • Carlo (Newfoundland)
  • Gurth (English Sheepdog)
  • Black, Negrita, Linda, and Neron (dogs)
  • Boatswain (Newfoundland)
  • Lord Byron
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Charles Dickens
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Which famous sci-fi author’s father choked to death in a restaurant while on a business trip and when his mother was unable to tell him, she hired someone to inform him of his father’s death?
William Gibson

Which author coined the term "propeller heads" to describe his family of engineers and hard scientists?

Neal Stephenson

Which author’s mother committed suicide with sleeping pills on Mothers' Day in 1944?

Kurt Vonnegut

Which author was asked to choose between the two favorite professions of his deeply religious mother — rabbi or concert violinist?

Saul Bellow

Which Scottish author served as a Leading Torpedo Operator in the Royal Navy during World War II?

Alistair MacLean

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What’s in a Name? Examining Educational Initiatives

by Douglas Grudzina

We all know the line. Act II, scene ii. Juliet is wandering around on her balcony, sighing meaningful sighs, questioning why the love of her life, whom she’s just met and whose name precedes her own in the credits, is who he is.

(You did know that “wherefore” means “why,” not “where,” right?)

After one particularly meaningful sigh, she naively states, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose—by any other name—would smell as sweet.”

Nice sentiment.

Makes us question all of our petty biases and wrongful judgments and leapt-to conclusions.

But it’s not really true—especially if you’re an educator. In education, the name is everything. In fact, many a good educational idea, has died a death as tragic as the two titular characters referenced above—I just wanted to use the word titular—doomed by a bad name, or doomed by the simple fact that it was given a name.

I read the other day in the New York Times (well, the online version that gets e-mailed to me every morning) that there’s this relatively new initiative called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It has something to do with integrating instruction—oops! another red-flag name—in the four disciplines because they are so closely related, and there are so many areas of overlap among them.

Apparently, judging from the editorial I read, a lot of people don’t like STEM. Apparently, judging from the editorial I read, what they don’t like about STEM is the name.

If you’re old enough, the phrase “Whole Language” probably makes you cringe; yet Whole Language was not a bad idea. The name, however, was unclear; it was too easy to misunderstand the concept; and it was too easy to dismiss a decent idea as a “fad” simply because someone had slapped a clever name on it.

As a parent and educator, I would cringe every time I heard my daughters’ elementary teachers announce, “I don’t teach grammar because this is a Whole Language classroom.”

Whole Language, doff thy name! And for thy name, which is no part of thee, take an honest description of what thou art: “I don’t teach grammar rules in isolation but tie all of our grammar and mechanics instruction to the students’ writing and reading.”

How much more effective—and popular—might initiatives like “Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum” have been if we’d doffed those names and instead simply acknowledged that, in science class, the kids were going to read their textbooks and, perhaps, the occasional article in a scientific journal, and they were going to be expected to know how to comprehend what they were reading? What if our stated goal was merely to prepare kids to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of historical periods, the causes of such and such, and the consequences of this and that? What if we told the kids and their parents that, in addition to traditional tests, our social studies students would be required to respond to essay questions, write a review of an article from a magazine, maybe even perform some research and write a paper in support of a thesis?

Would anyone really have insisted, “No, no … we want our children taking only multiple-choice and matching tests in science and history. Save reading and writing for English class”?

But we had to give it a name, and all of a sudden, the rose didn’t smell so sweet.

I could go on and on. Multi-culturalism (“we’re going to read works by authors from all over the world and from several periods in United States and world history”); HOTS (“our goal is for students to go beyond merely repeating the facts of what they’ve read to being able to share with others the merits and shortcomings of a passage and to reflecting on how the author’s view or opinion resonates with their own”); Inventive Spelling (“while the student is in the prewriting and first draft stages, we don’t want to lose momentum and content by stopping to check the spelling of challenging words; we’ll make sure the student proofreads for spelling before turning the final draft in”). And so on.

None of these examples was a bad idea. A few are actually still in practice—though the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The problem, with each of them—and scores of others—was the name. Something about having a name subjects the initiative to derision without scrutiny. The presumption of guilt without the benefit of a fair trial.

Right now, the name we love to hate is “Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment.”

Whether they’re your state’s standards or some version of national standards; whether they’re performance standards or instructional standards, chances are your first reaction to the word “standards” is to bristle your back—at least a little—and snarl.

But … wait a minute … what were we doing 20 or 30 or 70 years ago if it wasn’t “standards-based”? What did an A or a B or a 75% on an exam mean if it wasn’t a measure against some standard? In most societies and sub-societies and sub-sub-societies, not to have standards is the basis of any number of jokes: You see a couple you know sitting at a table in a restaurant, and in greeting, you say, “I guess they lowered their standards on who they let eat here!” (Har, har, har.)

It’s an old joke; it’s not a terribly funny joke; but it’s a joke only because we all operate on the assumption that, at some level, there exist standards.

“Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment” are not bad things. They are not new things. They come to our attention only because we’ve slapped a new name on an old concept. After all … “a rose by any other name …”

But … really?

To be fair, Juliet was … what? … fourteen? Sixteen, tops? I think we can forgive her for falling for that old cliché.

But we’re adults and educators. Don’t we owe it to our students to go beyond the catchy-sound-bite-name-in-a-phrase-of-the-day and examine the actual content of an idea or initiative before we either pan it or embrace it?

And shouldn’t those of us who teach communications, find the best language with which to convey the idea so it will be the idea that’s judged and not an over generalized impression of the idea?

After all, even Juliet knew that her parents would just love Romeo if they could only get to know him …

... and forget his name.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Happy Customer Service Week!

This week is National Customer Service Week, and on behalf of all of Prestwick House, I would like to send out a great big thank you to our hard-working customer service department. Below are some quotations from our customers singing the praises of this stellar department!

“I appreciate your reliable customer service staff and your prompt shipment of materials. I can always count on you!”

M. Peeling

“My order was lost/misplaced and shipping wasn't done automatically, but once I contacted Customer Service, they were very quick to remedy the delay and super considerate. They sent out books overnight and apologized for the inconvenience repeatedly.”

K Presto

“I have been particularly impressed with the people I have spoken with. They have been extraordinarily friendly and helpful. I had thought that old-style customer service had left the planet. Thank you!”

L Paterson

Customer service is always very pleasant and efficient on the telephone. Orders are received promptly and are always accurate. I have the feeling that I'm dealing with a small-scale company--the service is personable and helpful.”

J Babik

“My first experience with Prestwick House was placing a very large order through our bookstore this summer. I called to find out how to maximize the number of free teacher’s versions for number of books ordered. The Prestwick House person was so very helpful. That experience was absolutely great. Later I realized we needed more teacher’s copies. I called and placed the order myself. What pleasant personnel! And I received the material in two days, in time for day one of class!”

J. McWhite

“I love PH! Fast, courteous, accurate service. Once or twice an order got mixed up and PH made it good at once, and then some. Can't beat the price.”

C. Smith

“I have ordered from Prestwick House for the past seven years which is also how long I have been teaching. The quality of their products are always exactly how they describe them to be. I have never had a problem with Prestwick House, in fact, just this year, I had a credit on an order that I wasn't even aware of. They sent me a letter and honored that credit on my next order. Customer service is excellent. Operators are always friendly and pleasant. I will continue to order from Prestwick House for years to come.”

J. Katz

“Everything I have ever gotten from y'all has been excellent - both in the way the units are presented to the way your customer service reps (those WONDERFUL people) help me through the ordering process.”

S. Voight

“I have been very pleased with the products, outstanding service (your emails are actually answered by knowledgeable staff in a VERY short amount of time!!) and the reliability.”

S. Trietsch

So, thank you to all of our customer service staff. You really do go above and beyond on a daily basis. And thank you to all of our customers for their kind words.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday Trivia

  1. When his father choked to death in a restaurant when he was six years old, which future sci-fi author’s mother hired someone to inform him of his father’s death?
  2. Which author coined the term "propeller heads" to describe his family of engineers and hard scientists?
  3. Which author’s mother committed suicide with sleeping pills on Mothers' Day in 1944?
  4. Which author was asked to choose between the two favorite professions of his deeply religious mother — rabbi or concert violinist?
  5. Which Scottish author served as a Leading Torpedo Operator in the Royal Navy during World War II?

Which author entered the University of Montpellier to study for a doctorate in medicine, but was expelled because he had previously been an apothecary?

Nostradamus was expelled from Montpellier shortly after they discovered he had been an apothecary, a manual trade, which made him ineligible to study at the university.

Whose memoirs, penned by Mark Twain, were an instant success and one of the best selling books of the 19th century — famously sold by former Union soldiers in full uniform?

The "Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant", one of the best sellers of the 19th century, hit stores in 1885. After Grant had spent two years on a trip around the world and making poor investments, the former president was on the verge of bankruptcy. Mark Twain approached Grant about publishing the war hero's memoirs, and offered Grant a whopping 75% of the profits. Grant had little choice but to accept Twain's offer, and although Grant died before seeing his book’s success, his widow Julia gained over $400,000 in royalties from the memoir.

What do Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kenneth Grahame, Richard Adams, The Marquis de Sade, and Raymond Chandler have in common?

Each was approaching or over fifty years old before his or her first major work was published. Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first novel in the Little House series of children’s books until her sixties; Kenneth Grahame did not publish until his retirement in 1908 (age 49); Richard Adams’s first novel, the bestseller, Watership Down, was published when he was in his fifties; The Marquis de Sade published his first novel, Justine, after turning 51; Raymond Chandler published his first short story at 45 and his first novel, The Big Sleep at 51.

Below are the given names of authors who generally publish under his or (her) first initials. What are the last names of these authors?
  • Thomas Stearns (Eliot)
  • Edward Estlin (Cummings)
  • Henry Louis (Mencken)
  • Herbert George (Wells)
  • Clive Staples (Lewis)
  • John Ronald Reuel (Tolkein)
  • Alan Alexander (Milne)
  • David Herbert (Lawrence)
  • Elwy Brooks (White)
  • Edgar Lawrence (Doctorow )
  • Edward Morgan (Forster)
  • Ernst Theodor Amadeus (Hoffmann)
  • Gilbert Keith (Chesterton )
  • Howard Phillips (Lovecraft )
  • Pelham Grenville (Wodehouse)
  • Robert Lawrence (Stine)
  • Susan Eloise (Hinton)
  • Terence Hanbury (White)
  • William Edward Burghardt (Du Bois)
  • Wystan Hugh (Auden)