Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Home for the Holidays: NaNoWriMo

by Douglas Grudzina

It looks as if another Holiday Season is almost upon us. First there’s Halloween in only a few short days, and then … on the very next day … we finally have …

… we’ve waited all year for it …

on November 1 …

… (wait for it) …

the First Day of …

… (wait for it) …

The First Day of …

… NaNoWriMo!!!!!

[thunderous applause, huzzahs, and maybe a drum-roll and fanfare]

Yes, our dear, dear friends at the Office of Letters and Light are pleased to announce another “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!”

(By now you do know that November was National Novel Writing Month, right?—RIGHT?)

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 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.”

But as they say, “Win or lose, you rock for even trying.”

As teacher’s, we’re always looking for “authentic” opportunities for our students to write. We’re always trying to make the composition process less a chore and more an opportunity. THIS IS YOUR CHANCE!

If I were still in the classroom, I’d have every one of my students register and participate. According to the NaNoWriMo web site, last year 2,000 schools participated and 3,074,068,446 words (that’s over THREE BILLION words …) were officially logged during the 30-day spree.

They still offer their “Young Writers Program” especially for writers under the age of 17 and working alone or working in a K-12 classroom setting.
T.S. Eliot might whine that April is the cruelest month, but we all know that November is the coolest month.

So … another holiday season is almost upon us.

How are you and your students going to celebrate?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Blog Post: The Shifting Enrollment Demographics at Traditional and Online Colleges

Rachel Higgins, a frequent contributor to online education resource page, shares some pertinent statistics on university enrollment trends in the article that follows. Prestwick Cafe has talked about the importance of college attendance at multiple points in the past, but Rachel’s insights add a lot of substance about what the modern admissions landscape actually looks like.  

In recent years, the “status quo” of enrollment on college campuses has been influenced by shifting trends in student demographics like gender, entering age, and racial background. Experts believe that several factors, including the economic recession and more available scholarship and financial assistance opportunities, have contributed to these nationwide changes.

For one, more students are enrolling in college straight out of high school. According to a recent report by Catherine Rampell of The New York Times, more than 70 percent of outgoing high school seniors in the U.S. were enrolled in college courses the following October. This figure represents the highest percentage since 1959, when the US Department of Labor began recording this type of data. Furthermore, more than 90 percent of these freshmen were full-time students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, overall enrollments at degree-granting institutions have also risen steadily for the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2000, enrollments increased by 11 percent; in the subsequent 10 years, the number more than tripled. Between 2000 and 2010, full-time enrollment grew by 45 percent, while part-time enrollment rose 26 percent.

Enrollment increases have varied based on the desired degree level. Undergraduate enrollments have steadily risen since 1985; following a plateau period from 1992 to 1998, they grew by 37 percent between 2000 and 2010. Enrollment rate for post-baccalaureate studies have proven less consistent. While NCES notes that graduate program enrollments grew by 78 percent between 1985 and 2010 (after a relatively stable decade), Tamar Lewin of The New York Times noted a slight decline in master’s and doctoral enrollments between 2009 and 2010. Debra W. Stewart of the Council of Graduate Schools told Lewin that the dip was particularly significant for business, education, and public administration programs. Several factors, including the continuous recession and the rising cost of tuition, have caused many men and women to reconsider graduate school. “People who have a job are less likely to want to leave it to go back to school, because it’s not at all clear that there will be a job for them at the other end,” she said.

As the overall population has grown and the number of enrollments has increased, students of both genders have reported notable matriculation increases. Between 2000 and 2010, female enrollments rose 45 percent, while male enrollments rose 26 percent. In Fall 2010, full-time female students outnumbered full-time male students by nearly 25 percent, while part-time female students outnumbered part-time male students by nearly 50 percent. Chosen field of study also varied between men and women, according to a 2010 list compiled by Forbes that broke down college majors by gender. Business was the top field for both men and women. The next highest majors for men were social sciences and history, engineering, visual and performing arts and computer science. For women, the next highest majors were health and clinical science, social science and history, education and psychology.

The NCES reports that slightly more than 4 million male students attended public institutions full-time in Fall 2010; 677,838 attended private, not-for-profit schools; 517,627 attended private, for-profit institutions; and slightly less than 600,000 attended religious-affiliated schools. During the same term, 4.7 million female students attended public institutions full-time; 815,529 attended private, not-for-profit schools; 912,272 attended private, for-profit institutions; and 803,152 attended religious-affiliated schools. Between 2005 and 2010, male and female enrollments at public universities rose 20 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively; during that same period, male and female enrollments at private universities rose 29 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Racial demographics have also shifted considerably in recent years. Between 1976 and 2000, for instance, enrollment of Hispanic students grew from 3 to 13 percent; enrollment of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 to 6 percent; and enrollment of African-American students increased from 9 to 14 percent. During that same period, enrollment of Caucasian students dropped from 83 percent to 61 percent. Several factors are behind this shift, including “quotas” implemented at various institutions to promote on-campus diversity and a growing number of scholarships, grants and other affordable financial aid options for low-income students and their families. In the last two years, Hispanic and African-American enrollments at both 2- and 4-year institutions rose by 7 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively, while Caucasian enrollment declined by 0.7 percent.

The NCES also reports fluctuating racial demographics at various types of higher education institutions. In 2008, 72.9 percent of Caucasian students attended public institutions, while 20.8 percent attended private, not-for-profit schools and 6.3 percent attended private, for-profit schools. Students belonging to minority groups, on the other hand, tended to gravitate toward private institutions. That same year, private schools (both for-profit and not-for-profit) reported attendance from 31.9 percent of African-American college students; 24.6 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students; and 20.8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students. The exception was Hispanic students, 80.1 percent of which whom chose to attend a public university.

Finally, the chosen field of study among students varied between racial minority demographics. While business was the most common undergraduate major among all racial groups, African-American students earned the highest number of business bachelor’s degrees (25 percent), as well as the lowest number of engineering degrees (3 percent). Twelve percent of Asian students studied biological and biomedical sciences, while 9 percent earned an engineering bachelor’s degree; they also recorded the lowest percentage of education majors (2 percent). Native Americans/Alaska Natives recorded the highest number of education bachelor’s degrees at 8 percent. For master’s degrees, education and business were the two most popular choices for all ethnic groups.

While the demographic shifts recently recorded at American colleges and universities have been dramatic, studies suggest student populations will continue to grow more diverse in the years to come. And with the end of the recession and the resulting declines in overall tuition costs, enrollment numbers also stand to greatly increase during that time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Freedom to Read

According to
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. Check out the frequently challenged books section to explore the issues and controversies around book challenges and book banning.
Banned Books Week 2012 marks its 30th anniversary (see timeline). Thousands of individuals and institutions across the United States participate in Banned Books Week each year, and it has grown into a premier literary event and a national awareness and advocacy campaign around censorship. In honor of the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the Office for Intellectual Freedom delivers the 50 State Salute to Banned Books Week in coordination with ALA Chapters.
The 50 State Salute consists of videos on how each state celebrates the freedom to read. For more information on how your organization can participate, please visit the 50 State Salute page. And for the second year in a row, we are cosponsoring the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out, where readers can declare their freedom to read by uploading videos of themselves reading from their favorite banned/challenged books. The criteria and video submission information has been updated. Please check out the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out page for more information.
Click Here to

Thursday, September 6, 2012

King Richard III's Grave May Be Under A Parking Lot

According to
King Richard III of England had the honor of being memorialized in a William Shakespeare play after his death in battle in 1485. Now, modern-day archaeologists are on the hunt for the medieval king's physical resting place.
The University of Leicester, Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society have joined forces to search for the grave of Richard III, thought to be under a parking lot for city council offices. The team will use ground-penetrating radar to search for the ideal spots to dig.
"This archaeological work offers a golden opportunity to learn more about medieval Leicester as well as about Richard III's last resting place — and, if he is found, to re-inter his remains with proper solemnity in Leicester Cathedral," Philippa Langley, a Richard III Society member, said in a statement.
Richard III was King of England from 1483 to 1485. He died during the Battle of Bosworth Field during the War of the Roses, an English civil war between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Shakespeare penned "Richard III," a play about the tragic king, approximately 100 years later.
Regardless of his Shakespearean claim to fame, the king was talked about in his own right. "Richard III is a charismatic figure who attracts tremendous interest, partly because he has been so much maligned in past centuries, and partly because he occupies a pivotal place in English history," Langley said.
"The continuing interest in Richard means that many fables have grown up around his grave." Langley said, adding that some far-fetched tales include that the bones were thrown into the river Soar. [ The Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt ]
"Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough," Langley said.
After his death, the king was stripped and brought to Leicester, where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars. The location of Greyfriars was eventually lost to history.
"The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site and also where in the church the body was buried," University of Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley said in a statement. "Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long-shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically. There is certainly potential for the discovery of burials within the area, based on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church."
The search begins on Aug. 25. If remains that could be Richard III are found, they will be subject to DNA analysis at the University of Leicester.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Common Core Standards for Public Education WHYY Podcast

Check out this great podcast on the Common Core Standards for public education from
When No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law in 2001 it promised to improve public education by raising standards and establishing measurable goals for student progress. While the law was praised for making schools more accountable, it was highly criticized for an over-focus on high-stakes testing which led to several serious cheating scandals. The Obama administration has gradually dismantled NCLB by freeing states from meeting many of the law's requirements and has replaced it with its own education initiative, Race to the Top, that rewards states for adopting national standards for what students should know and learn. Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are among the 45 states (and the District of Columbia) to adopt the new Common Core Standards that set benchmarks for English and Math education aimed at making American students competitive in the global workplace.
What are the Common Core Standards and how will they change the classroom and the way students, teacher and principals are evaluated? We've invited ANDREW PORTER, dean of the Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, to join us to explain this next wave of education reform. Then we'll hear from JOHN MICEK from the Allentown Morning Call about the ruling on the legality of Pennsylvania's voter ID law.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tall Oaks Classical School’s Jaime Weber Named Prestwick House Delaware English Language Arts Student of the Year

Smyrna, DE, July 25, 2012 – This Wednesday, at the Delaware Shakespeare Festival in Wilmington, DE, local publishing company, Prestwick House, announced the winner of the third annual Prestwick House Delaware English Language Arts Student of the Year Award, Ms. Jaime Weber of the Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle, DE.

Ms. Weber’s achievement was announced as part of the Teacher Appreciation Night festivities at the Delaware Shakespeare Festival prior to the evening’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Prestwick House CEO, Jason Scott, recognized Ms. Weber onstage, and commended her on her efforts both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Within her school, Jaime has demonstrated what it means to be a role model, and we are proud to honor her dedication,” said Scott. “This contest is an excellent opportunity for Prestwick House to publicly recognize students who have demonstrated excellent academic achievement in the study of literature, writing, and English Language Arts. Working hard in school to get the most out of your education and remaining well-rounded in other areas is a great achievement.”

Each teacher within the state of Delaware was encouraged to nominate a student for this prestigious award. Nominations were then carefully reviewed by the Prestwick House Delaware Language Arts Student of the Year Committee, and finalists were selected. According to Tall Oaks Classical School English teacher, Stephen Rippon’s nomination letter, “Jaime exemplifies a passion for learning, outstanding leadership, a positive attitude, and excellence in many different areas.”

Along with her skills in the classroom, Ms. Weber has proven herself well-rounded in many areas. This spring, she was also awarded first place in the Medicine and Health category for the New castle County Science Fair for her project on age and heart rate recovery — earning her the title of a BioGENEius finalist for the state of Delaware.

In addition to her work in the field of science, Ms. Weber has been named the Tall Oaks Classical School team’s most valued runner, and finished top ten in the Mid-Atlantic Independent League conference. As a part of her school’s debate team, Ms. Weber won first place out of ten teams in her division during the Winter 2012 Mid-Atlantic Christian Debate League Tournament.

Mr. Rippon also adds that, “As a testament to Jaime’s character, we on the faculty chose her to receive the Tall Oaks Classical School’s highest award, the David Award. The award citation aptly describes Jaime as one ‘who is hard-working, humble, and who honors others.’”

In addition to a plaque commemorating her achievements as the Prestwick House English Language Arts Student of the Year, Ms. Weber received a $500 scholarship. In the coming months, she will be featured on the Prestwick House website, blog, and in the Footnotes monthly email newsletter.

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sonnet Love Songs by Deborah Anderson

Sonnet Love Songs 

The other day, I received a preview copy of a CD that I thought some English teachers might be interested in. Sonnet Love Songs is a brand new album from composer Deborah Anderson. She’s taken ten famous poems from authors like Shakespeare, ElizabethBarrett Browning, Tennyson, and Wordsworth and penned modern jazz compositions that highlight these great poems. The songs are peaceful and beautiful and would work wonderfully in the classroom.

For students that are much more familiar with music than they are with Shakespeare or the other poets included on this disc, the music will serve as a great entry point to beauty of these words.

This CD is a great opportunity to demonstrate an example of creative projects that can be done with poetry and would work well with books like Alan Sitomer’s Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics in the Classroom  or the poetry of Tupac Shakur .

The CD is now available on Amazon and is a perfect way to get your students interested in poetry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beowulf Performed in the Original Old English

Although the original Old English is a bit much for most students to handle, Benjamin Bagby's lively performance of Beowulf  is a great way to show your students how the story was originally intended to be heard. Check out a clip from the show here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Original Shakespeare theatre discovered

According to

The 17th century stage that saw Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet staged for the first time has been rediscovered in the Shoreditch district of London. Archaeologists claim they’ve found the remains of the long lost Curtain theatre.

The theatre opened in 1577 and stood until it was dismantled in the 17th century, and its remains were discovered in one of the most densely built up city areas, The Guardian reports.

Archaeologists discovered fragments of the theatre’s exterior wall. Now the experts are waiting till the site is cleared for further work. They believe that many interesting discoveries might await them as they continue digging.

The Curtain theatre was the premiere venue from William Shakespeare’s team before the Globe was built on the banks of the Thames. It stood just next to London's first playhouse, The Theatre. They are the oldest examples of purpose-built theatres in London. The Curtain received its name after the road it was facing and stood until the late 1620s.

The Globe was complete in 1599. For at least two years prior to that Shakespeare was using the Curtain as the main stage. Such plays as Henry V and Romeo and Juliet saw their premieres in the Curtain.

After Shakespeare’s team moved to the Globe, the building fell into decay and was then lost.

The site where the theatre remains were found is currently being developed. Having learned of the discovery the Plough Yard Developments plans to incorporate the remains as public open space within a mixed office, retail and residential quarter. The company now awaits further planning permission.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Social Networks and Summer Reading

by Matt Roberts

The advent of summer heralds the coming of summer reading. English teachers can surely get to those books they haven’t had a chance to read during the school year, and they’ve likely given their students a reading assignment to tide them over until the fall. My fondest summer reading assignment was from the summer preceding seventh grade; I had to report on The Hobbit. I’m looking forward to the movie based on the book to come out this December, of course, but sincerely hope the film won’t fundamentally alter the treasured images I had conjured up in my mind as I enjoyed Tolkien’s mellifluous prose that summer.

The New York Times’ “Learning Network” education blog has sparked a Twitter campaign to discuss summer reading. Whether you’re picking up timeless classics like Brontë’s Jane Eyre (I vividly recall the illustrations from the 1943 edition I pulled off my parents’ shelf for summer reading) or enjoying a recent book like Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, join in the conversation by using the Twitter hashtag #summerreading tomorrow, June 7th. For more details, along with classic essays and articles on summer reading from the Times, see their post here.

In other news, Ray Bradbury, author of perennial classroom classic Fahrenheit 451, has passed away at the age of 91. We at Prestwick House express our condolences to his family and friends. Bradbury was a shining beacon in the literary world, and will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Great Gatsby Trailer

Released today, the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby promises a cinematic adventure like no other. Look for it in theaters in December 2012. 

"From the uniquely imaginative mind of writer/producer/director Baz Luhrmann comes the new big screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby. The filmmaker will create his own distinctive visual interpretation of the classic story, bringing the period to life in a way that has never been seen before, in a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. "The Great Gatsby" follows Fitzgerald-like, would-be writer Nick Carraway as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz and bootleg kings. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby, and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy, and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan. It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super-rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles."

Monday, May 21, 2012

Learn About the Benefits of Direct Vocabulary Instruction with This FREE Downloadable!

As funds for education fluctuate, teachers like you are forced to be discriminating in purchasing of classroom programs and supplemental materials. With this valuable downloadable, you will discover the benefits of direct vocabulary instruction as a whole, as well as the effectiveness of the Prestwick House Vocabulary Power Plus series. 

Click the button below and fill out a brief form, and we'll email you a link to instantly download your free copy of "A Research-Based Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Prestwick House Vocabulary Power Plus Series," containing information on: 

  • The Effectiveness of Direct Vocabulary Instruction
  • Demonstrated Effectiveness of Methods in Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT 
  • Demonstrated Effectiveness of Online Learning 
  • Common Core State Standards Correlations for the Vocabulary Power Plus Series 
  • And More... 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book People Unite for an Awesome Cause

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) has created a PSA aimed at reading lovers everywhere — urging us to come together to help us get books into the hands of kids who need them the most.

Remember visiting Narnia, playing Jumanji, and eating Green Eggs and Ham? Books can have an incredible effect on children’s lives, yet there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S.

If you could, please take a few moments to take the Book People pledge declaring your belief in the transformative power of books – and get a free download of the new RIF song. Join RIF in igniting a movement to spark a love of reading in America – and get books to kids who need them most.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Val Kilmer unrecognizable as Mark Twain

According to

He's played the rock god Jim Morrison, Moses, and even Batman, but now Val Kilmer is taking on the diety of authors: Mark Twain, in a one-man play, "Citizen Twain," which he created. The 52-year-old wrote, directed, and stars in the project.

From the photo of him in full Twain getup, it may be hard to believe that the actor is the usually blond, baby-faced Kilmer.

The show, which will run for two weekends at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, is all just preparation for a movie that Kilmer is set to do also as Twain, "Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy." The two were historical adversaries: Twain, a social satirist, and Eddy, the founder of Christian science.

The pair never met, but Twain was obsessed with her views, and wrote screeds against her. Kilmer told the Huffington Post that after seven years studying the two, "It's very much like 'Amadeus.' It's a dual biography. I'm regretting that now, because it's really hard to do."

As Twain, the "Heat" actor is unrecognizable. Fans may be reminded that the actor's trademark is exhaustive research in a role, and the Twain project is no exception. Kilmer wears the signature wild white hair and trademark mustache. His face is wrinkled, and he speaks with Twain's twang. The "Willow" actor, whose career has long been in a slump, is apparently financing the film himself. A note on the movie's website says the actor sold his New Mexico home to help with funding.

Kilmer, who is also an accomplished stage actor, told the Hollywood Reporter that the live performance is a great way into the character, who, he said, he's always loved for "his humor and genius." He added, "There's really no way of creating the role of Mark Twain without being onstage. He was a speaker, first and foremost; he did it before he was a famous writer. It's how he became famous as a writer, and it's even how he wrote novels. He would write in the morning and then read them to his children."

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Thing About Rubrics

by Douglas Grudzina

I’m currently working on a rubric for a 9 – 12 series of writing books designed specifically to ensure attainment of the grades 9 – 12 Common Core State Standards in writing.

The series is going to be called College and Career Readiness: Writing - Levels 9-12, and is based on Common Core State Standards.

You can expect to see Levels 10 and 11 available in our January 2013 catalogue. (There’s a good reason we’re starting in the middle of the series, but that’s another post for another day.)

Some of you might want to call what I’ve been working on the past few weeks a series of rubrics because there is a distinct rubric for each grade level with articulated increasing expectations. A top-scoring 12th-grader’s piece is a significantly more sophisticated and better-written piece than a top-scoring 9th-grader’s.

But I believe the term “rubric” denotes the entire system. It might be convenient to talk about the “9th-grade rubric” or the “12th-grade rubric,” but these “rubrics” are really only parts of the larger, comprehensive rubric that traces a student’s growth from his entry into high school to his graduation and provides language to discuss successes, challenges, and future plans. And that’s the thing about rubrics; they are much more about the quality than the score.

The thing about rubrics is that they are not about the grade.
Let’s be really, really honest with each other. Grades are so vague and relative as to be almost meaningless. We all know that, on some hypothetical, ideal level, a grade of “A” denotes “excellent” work, and an “F” denotes “poor” work, but what does that mean? What does “excellent” look like? How poor does writing have to be to be acknowledged as “poor”?

Fill in the blanks in the following sentence (you know you can): “This same essay would receive an ‘A’ in Mr./Ms.______’s class, and a ‘C’ in Mr./Ms.______’s class.”

We accept as a given that some teachers are “easy scorers,” and some are “hard scorers”; but shouldn’t all teachers at the same grade level score pretty similarly? Shouldn’t they all recognize excellent work as excellent, poor work as poor, and average work as average?

If they were all working from the same scoring instrument (fancy-talk for rubric), they would.

Consider the following descriptions:
  • Writing is fluid and articulate. Tone and style seem natural and inevitable given the topic, purpose, and audience of the piece.
  • The distinctions between the student’s ideas and those from other sources are explicit.
  • If appropriate to the topic, audience, and purpose, narrative techniques enhance the overall impact of the piece.
Let’s say the above describes the top score of a twelfth-grade essay. There might be some discussion about what constitutes “fluid and articulate” writing, but the student either draws distinctions between his own claims and the claims of his sources or he doesn’t. But the rubric clearly communicates the expectation that top writing is fluid and articulate, and the distinctions between student claims and source claims are explicit.

That’s the thing about rubrics; they’re communicative.

You can give the above excerpt to just about everyone—principal, parent, student, teacher, aide, substitute, national press … and they’d all pretty much understand what your school means by “excellent.” There are no numbers, no weird scales or formulas—just the descriptions of our expectations: writing that is articulate, a style that seems natural, and distinctions between the student’s ideas and those from other sources that are explicit.

When Janyce sits down to write her essay, she knows what she needs to do. 

When Janyce’s father reads over her work, he knows what to look for. When the principal reads all the essays to pick one to publish in the Times, she’s got criteria by which to choose a good one. The teacher and aide know what they’re looking for when they grade the paper, and the substitute has words he can use to explain Janyce’s grade to her in the teacher’s absence.

So rubrics aren’t about grades; they communicate quality.

And the thing about rubrics is that they describe not only the aspired-to top quality but the good, fair, average, mediocre, and poor as well. Janyce’s essay might not (yet) be top quality, but how not-top-quality is it? And how can we tell?

Let’s look at how a rubric might describe a less-than-excellent paper to communicate to all concerned parties where the student is succeeding and where she needs to improve. In the excellent essay, the writing was “fluid and articulate,” and the distinctions were “explicit.”

In a good-but-not-excellent essay,
  • Writing is fluid and articulate. Tone and style seem natural and inevitable ...
  • The distinctions … are explicit.

In an average essay,
  • Writing is competent … tone and style seem forced, contrived, or self-conscious,
  • The distinctions … are clearly suggested.

In a less-than-average-but-not-poor essay,
  • Tone and style are … appropriate [but] lack interest and voice,
  • The distinctions … are usually apparent.

And in a poor essay,
  • Tone and style [are] inconsistent,
  • Distinctions [are] usually apparent.

The thing about rubrics is that they focus on the quality of the work and help to keep everyone on the same page. Mr./Ms. ___, the “easy grader” can’t be more forgiving of the unclear distinctions and bump the ranking of the paper up, and Mr./Ms. ____, the “hard scorer” can’t be excessively severe and evaluate an otherwise fine paper too harshly. The teacher who “likes” Janyce and the teacher who “doesn’t like” Janyce will find themselves evaluating her work by the same criteria. Janyce’s principal will know the criteria by which she will choose an essay for publication in the paper, and Janyce’s father will know where Janyce succeeded in this essay and what aspects of her writing she still needs to improve.

It almost doesn’t matter what score (or grade) the essay actually gets. A 
well-meaning “A” from a “high scorer” and a heavy-handed “C” from a “low scorer” don’t really mean all that much anyway—not if our goal is to make Janyce a better writer, a College and Career Ready writer.

The thing about rubrics, is that they are instructional tools as much as they are evaluative tools.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Leading Educational Publisher Launches New Online Version of Best-Selling SAT-Prep Vocabulary Program

February 20th, 2012, Smyrna, DE — This week, Prestwick House, Delaware’s leading educational publisher, is proud to unveil Vocabulary Power Plus Online — a digital version of the company’s best-selling Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT series. This new program will include all of the exercises and resources from the series in an easy-to-use, cloud-based format that puts an interactive version of the books directly on student screens.

Over the past 29 years, Prestwick House has become one the leading publishers of educational materials in the country by consistently developing new products for English teachers. In recent years, a focus on technology in the classroom has led Prestwick House to publish over 1,500 different downloadables, including e-books based on best-selling Literary Touchstone Classic editions and individual eLessons.

“We’ve always been focused on how teachers can use technology in the classroom. In the past, we’ve emphasized using the power of the Internet to make it easier and cheaper to get ready-to-use resources into the classroom, but we’re finally reaching a point in which access to computers is pervasive enough that teachers will be able to make technology a core part of their classroom,” says Keith Bergstrom, head of the Prestwick House Digital Division.

“As I speak with teachers about Vocabulary Power Plus Online, I’m learning a lot about what they’re looking for in terms of online resource. Many companies are making online programs full of cute animations that may entertain, but they’re not actually teaching students. We’re committed to developing pedagogically sound resources that empower teachers to do what they do best – make a personal connection with students and foster learning.”

With this unique vocabulary program, students will gain all of the benefits of the traditional student workbooks, along with added benefits like automatic grading and access to classwork via any computer with an internet connection. The system will allow students to see upcoming assignments, complete homework, practice for tests, and take quizzes and tests online. Teachers will be able to manage grade books, create assignments, and see reports on individual student progress.

The system also gives instant feedback right on the screen, showing where students need to improve as they work through each lesson. Additionally, all grades are reported directly to the teacher, saving valuable grading time on multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions.

“We believe that a teacher will always be the center of a classroom, so we’re at work developing tools that make teachers’ lives easier and their classrooms more effective,” says Bergstrom. “Right now, we’re evaluating tools to improve a teacher’s ability to use our curriculum resources, and we hope to unveil more online resources in the coming year.”

To find out more or schedule a free Vocabulary Power Plus Online demo for your school or district, please call (800)-932-4593 or visit


If you’d like more information about this topic or to schedule an interview, please call Keith Bergstrom at 302/659-2070 x131 or e-mail Keith at