Free Reading and eReaders Can Raise Achievement

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

In Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, Answer Sheet, guest writer Joanne Yatvin, in “Why Kids Should Choose Their Own Books to Read in School” (8 Sep. 2014), makes an impassioned defense of reading for pleasure. Yatvin is “a one time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English.” In today’s test-driven school climate, free reading has been replaced with reading that focuses on developing test-taking skills. Yatvin says, “Consumed by the urgency to raise students’ reading scores, policy makers and school officials have forgotten that children learn to read by reading.” She goes on to talk about balanced literacy and the benefits of independent reading.

Reading such as that needed for academic work and test taking definitely has a place in schools. Students develop analytical skills by reading for details. However, reading for pleasure and being able to choose your own reading materials also has a place in the classroom. Pleasure reading, also called extensive reading, promotes learner autonomy; improves general language competence, not just reading skills; helps students develop general knowledge; promotes vocabulary growth; helps improve writing; and motivates students to read more.

These claims are supported by research in literacy and in second language acquisition. One of the strongest proponents of free voluntary reading is Dr. Stephen Krashen who sees the importance of light reading as a bridge to more challenging reading. He also contends that not only does reading improve reading skills, it is also necessary for developing good writing skills.  Continue reading

Reading, Vocabulary, Glogster, Funding, ESL Teachers, VoiceThread


Cutting to the Common Core: The Positive Side of the Digital Divide by J. Zorfass and T. Gray in Language Magazine: The authors make the case for using digital texts to support the reading process for all learners.

Computer games give boost to English. The University of Gothenburg in Science Daily Success in the world of computer games and a good English vocabulary go hand in hand. A recent study has shown that players who are good at computer games increase their English vocabulary. The study also showed a difference between the genders. Boys spend about twice as much time a week playing computer games as girls. However, girls spend about twice as much time a week on Facebook and other language-related activities.

Tools for achieving oral fluency by Marsha Appling-Nunez in Language Magazine: The author makes suggestions for helping English language learners with their speaking and presentation skills. Glogster is a graphical blog that students can use when doing oral books reports, or other presentations. She also recommends PechaKucha Prezi, which is a method of presenting information using pictures only which requires the speaker to focus on good pronunciation, filler reduction, and vocabulary.

For Public Schools, the Long and Bumpy Road to Going Digital by Kathy Baron in Mindshift: Equipment, software licensing, training. Funding – or lack of it – is the number one issue facing school districts as they convert to the digital learning world.

Preparing Teacher Candidates to Work with English Language Learners in an Online Course Environment by Stephanie Dewing in TEIS News: The author reports on a study she did on the efficacy of an online course for ESL teachers. She found minimal evidence of transformative learning experiences. She proposes several changes in course design to try to produce a context more conducive for transformational learning.

Using Web 2.0 Tools, Such as Voicethread™, to Enhance ELL Instructor and Student Learning by Kelly Torres In TEIS News: Torres advocates using tools such as VoiceThread™, a multimedia tool that can provide a slide show with pictures, documents, and videos to engage students in online course materials by allowing them to see and hear their peers.

Language Is the Key to Community

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Human infants come into this world seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling the sensory world around them. The human culture developed the spoken word so that they could share private sensory experiences publicly. That enabled them to develop communities that built civilizations. About five thousand years ago mankind discovered that they could transform the spoken word into the written word. That enables mankind to transfer experience and knowledge over time and space.

Albert Einstein

“Albert Einstein . . . felt the development of speech and language was one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments.”

I have been enjoying the thoughts and ideas about a peaceful world by a German Jew. They were written some eighty years ago as he worked at the League of Nations trying to avert World War II. He did not write in English so his original thoughts were in German and subsequently translated into English. He was very thoughtful in his deliberations. Among other things he felt technology would make us so efficient that there would not be enough work to employ everyone. He also felt the development of speech and language was one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. I have been reading Albert Einstein’s papers of the 1930s.

We know our world through our sensory perceptions. They are the beginnings that are followed by words. There is an inherent desire by humans to communicate one with another. If our sensory perception are disabled we find a way around them to meet our needs to share. If we are deaf we use American Sign Language or lip-read. If we are deaf blind we learn touch signs. Even mentally slow children learn speech and language.  Continue reading

What the Deaf Blind Have Taught Us About Thinking and Communicating

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller

As a child I met Helen Keller. She was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. I have met other deaf blind people who are amazing. Leonard could place his hand on your face and understand your speech. Leonard and his deaf blind wife lived independently and worked in an electrical product plant assembling electric insulators.

In 1963 we had learned how to ensure women who were pregnant and contacted rubella could bring their babies to full term. Thus we produced some 60,000 multiply disabled infants. Five thousand were deaf blind. Congress passed a law that created centers for deaf blind services. I was the Director of the Division of Education Services in the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped and administered the deaf blind services.

Helen Keller. Photo from Helen Keller International.

Helen Keller. Photo from Helen Keller International.

I have a deaf blind grand nephew that is now two years old. I have given considerable thought to the education of deaf blind children. They explore and know their world through the near senses of touch, smell, and taste. Of these three, touch is dominant because it is the sense that they will use to organize their world. My nephew has two cochlear implants and appears to enjoy music. As yet we do not know if in deaf blind children cochlear implants will lead to the development of speech and language.

Continue reading

Language: Evolving Over Time and Space

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

The English language is the most used language in the world. Many of its 1,000,000 words are adapted from other languages. English has 44 sounds that are represented by the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet. The 26 letters are combined 196 ways to represent the 44 sounds of English. Therefore, English is only a semi-phonetic language in its written form. English adapts many words from other languages but often retains the spelling of the original language while anglicizing the pronunciation of the word. For example, “bouquet” from the French language is pronounced as “bokay” in English while retaining the French spelling. Spelling bees are thought to have originated in the USA, and the reason is probably because English spelling must often rely on memorization.


Vocal sounds and hearing are used as the warning system for humans and animals. A dog will bark to express its awareness of danger in its environment to alert other dogs. Many animals have vocalizations that are used to warn others of impending dangers. Vocalization superimposed on the eating and breathing systems is the expressive mechanisms used to warn and alert others. Hearing is the receptive sense that alerts individuals to danger.  Continue reading