Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Useless Things," a Short Story

The following short story was accepted for publication in the literary journal, Typehouse Magazine:

“Useless Things,” a Short Story

     It seemed I was engulfed by believers in those days. The Italians and the Irish were obsessed with church, religion, and the pope. I think part of it stemmed from their pride in having witnessed the first catholic president.
     Nonna called and asked if I would accompany Mrs. Muldoon and her to a Faith Healer that Mrs. Muldoon had heard about on the radio. The woman had allegedly cured a young girl whose cancerous tumors miraculously disappeared and an old arthritic man who could barely walk.
     "Does Mrs. Muldoon have cancer?" I asked.
     "No. She said she wants to see the woman as a precautionary measure."
     "That's silly, Nonna."
     "Of course it is. Mrs. Muldoon is crazy, but I can't refuse to help her. That wouldn't be nice."

Family Income Significantly Affects Student Achievement

I have witnessed firsthand the effects of poverty on student performance. In recent history, the disparity among family incomes in our nation has never been more wide. According to a 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Learning Theory--Excerpts from an Excellent Book

Excerpts from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown
The book in its entirety is available through

Learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive. Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow. We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not. When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

AP English Language and Composition: How to Write a Synthesis Essay


The Synthesis Prompt appears first in the Free-Response Section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam. Synthesis is a blending of ideas from other sources to create a new whole (your essay). In this exam, there will be either 6 or 7 Sources (A through G) that you will need to read and gather ideas to support your argument--your response to the prompt. At least one of the Sources will be visual (a chart, a graph, a picture, a cartoon). The directions on the exam tell you that you must incorporate at least 3 different Sources into your discussion (essay). You may think of the Synthesis Essay as a mini Research Paper. You are being tested on your ability to read, evaluate, and utilize the Sources in a coherent written argument. Below are some pointers that I have come up with after teaching AP English for many years, as well as from my experience as an AP Reader. The suggestions below are not necessarily part of the rubric from The College Board. They are based on the conclusions that I have drawn after reading and evaluating thousands of Synthesis Essays over the years.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Learning Theory--The Benefits of Interleaving Practice

Check out these links to evolving research in learning theory. I have applied the techniques of interleaving practice and spacing in my own teaching; the innovative approaches work. Read about the latest learning techniques and try incorporating the methods in your own classes.

You might want to read the Wikipedia article (first link) for a quick overview, then click on the other links.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Learning and the Brain

Studying the latest in brain research inspires teaching methods.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Handout: Factors that Contribute to a Lower Score on the AP English Language Analysis Essay

These are musings/thoughts of mine, not those of The College Board.  I hope they are helpful.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Caring Teacher: The Brain's Best Friend

"Teacher-student attunement isn’t a 'nice addition' to the learning experience, but a core requirement [emphasis mine]. This is especially true in cases where children come to class with social, emotional, or intellectual challenges." 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Opening Paragraph for a Compare/Contrast Essay: Angelou, Walker, Hurston Essays

Model for Students:

The introductory paragraph below was created for a Compare/Contrast essay on the writing techniques of three famous Americans.  I am posting this sample introductory paragraph to help you get started writing the essay.  You should adapt the paragraph to your liking, or use your own original paragraph.  I like to provide you with sample introductions to help facilitate your writing in case you are "stuck." This writing assignment will be assigned after we have read the respective essays as a class and discussed the rhetorical techniques, style, and theme of each essay. Be sure to take copious notes during class discussion.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Using Models to Improve Essay Writing--Crucible Essay

I have found that most students do not know where to begin when teachers ask them to write an essay. The techniques of brainstorming, prewriting, graphic organizers, and free writing all help, but most valuable is providing models.

When I give students a writing assignment , I always provide them with a sample opening paragraph, as well as a series of directives or questions that help them write the body paragraphs.  I encourage students to use my "model" opening/introductory paragraph, suggesting that they change sentences and words to make the introduction "their own."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" Snapshot Analysis

Zora Neale Hurston, an important voice of the Harlem Renaissance, was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and novelist best known for her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Sadly, she died in 1960 after suffering financial and medical difficulties.  In 1973, Alice Walker, another famous American writer, "rediscovered" Hurston and promoted her body of work.  In the classic essay, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," Hurston explores the idea that all of us have multiple selves, depending upon the context and environments in which we find ourselves. Hurston's writing has an ebullience, self-assertiveness, and pride that is particularly evident in this text.  She was a flamboyant and dramatic personality, at times clashing with fellow writers from the Harlem Renaissance, who believed that black Americans should use their art to speak out against racial oppression and the white majority. Hurston chose not to align herself with the political ideologies of other writers from that time period and instead used her writing to celebrate the rich traditions of her race, as well her personal identity.  In this essay, Hurston famously proclaimed, "I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Writing the ACT Essay

Below is a sample ACT Writing Prompt. I find that providing brainstorming ideas helps facilitate practice (see pros and cons of advertising listed below the prompt).

ACT Writing Prompt

In this country, most people see and hear advertising for many different products every day. Some people think advertising is useful because it provides important information about many different products. Other people think advertising is not useful because it tries to persuade people to buy products they do not really need. In your opinion, does advertising serve a useful purpose in our society? (Source:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Practice for the New Florida Standards Assessments (FSA)--ELA

I plan to teach my students the following mnemonic device as a method of analyzing every text we read. Whether students read on their own, or we read a selection as a class, they will be required to write down the following information for each text. In addition, I will instruct students to find textual support for each element listed below. There is also a list of additional suggested practices and strategies at the end of the post.

My Performance is Determined by Focussing on Very Good Techniques.

(For a student handout on this reading strategy, click on:

M--Main Idea; Mode of Discourse; Mood. Students will paraphrase the main idea of the text, then cite the sentence or sentences that support their assertion. In terms of mode of discourse, most texts can be described as one mode: argumentation, for example. However, I will impress upon students that authors often use multiple modes of discourse within one text: description, exposition, process analysis, cause/effect, division and classification, narration, illustration, compare/contrast, etc. Students should also be able to discern the mood of a piece of writing and cite details from the text that support their conclusion. Emphasize, too, that the mood in a text can change throughout.

Monday, March 30, 2015

FSA ELA: Reading, Language, & Listening Information

Grades 9-11 FSA Reading, Language, & Listening Assessment
State Dates for Assessment--April 13-May 8, 2015
Dates for ATC: April 14 and April 15--9th Grade
                         April 16 and April 17--Make-up Assessment
                         April 21 and April 22--10th Grade
                         April 23 and April 24--Make-up Assessment
                         April 28 and April 29--11th Grade
                         April 30 and May 1--Make-up Assessment

Test Length: 60–64 items

Note: Approximately 6–10 items within the Reading, Language, and Listening components are experimental (field test) and are not included in students’ scores. Because the field test for the Text-based Writing component will be conducted in December 2014, no additional field test tasks will be included in the operational assessments of this component.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

FSA Item Stems Worksheet

The information in this document was excerpted from the Draft of Grades 9-10 English Language Arts Item Specifications that is posted on the Florida Department of Education website. A few of the Item Stems were created by me. You may find it useful to have students use the sample Item Stems to create questions for what they are reading in class.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

AP English Language and Composition Essay Rubric

The rubric below is one that I created by synthesizing sources elsewhere (handouts from workshops, Internet sites, and my own observations/experience as an AP Reader). Unfortunately, I do not have all the necessary attribution, as the rubric is such an amalgamation and I have been adding to it and subtracting from it over several years.  I want to thank all those anonymous sources for their input. In the spirit of collegiality among educators I would like to share this collaborative rubric with all.  I hope that you find it useful.  This rubric is not a product of The College Board, although it contains language from College Board rubrics, as well as the valuable input I receive yearly from fellow AP Readers.  For anyone teaching AP classes, I highly recommend becoming an AP Reader.  It is the most worthwhile professional development I have experienced.