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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 14

July 2007


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Paragraph Organizer

Assessing Student Writing

by Frank Holes, Jr. 
Middle School Writing Teacher

Assessing student work is vital to determining if students have attained important skills and knowledge. This is especially true for writing because this is both knowledge and skill based. But many teachers are still using antiquated means of assessing their students' writing. You don't have to stay up late into the night swathing each paper in red ink. There are better and more efficient ways to assess your students writing.

An important thing to keep in mind is that students are practicing the writing process. We cannot expect them to be experts, and we certainly can't expect to grade each writing assignment as if it's a finished piece of writing.

One easy way to assess and grade works in process is to use FCAs, focal correction areas. Now, I'm sure your local or state rubrics will demand particular aspects of the writing, from organizing to fluency to voice to conventions and of course to many other areas. These are all important assessment tools for pre- and post-testing, because they give an overall picture of students' knowledge and skill. But you wont want to use this rubric every time you grade a set of papers. You're going to want to focus in on individual skills for most of your students' writings.

Lets face it, we want our students to write well and write a lot. But the stacks of paperwork can be awfully intimidating. It is often this mound of essays that keeps teachers from assigning writing assignments on a regular basis. Its ok to be honest, grading the stacks of papers, especially if you have several classes worth, interferes with your personal life and keeps you up late forcing you to get them all done so students can receive feedback on their skill. And looking at this from a logical stand, I want the kids to be working their butts off, not me; I want them exhausted after my class is over, I don't want to be exhausted in the mornings because I was up late grading essays!

A comparison can be made to sports. When basketball season begins, players aren't expected to perform at game level. They first practice for many sessions over many weeks before they are assessed in a game situation. The coach first drills the players in fundamentals, the basic skills that are required for the sport. Next comes the advanced techniques, moves that combine several skills, and the implementation of plays. Finally players practice the whole of these skills in controlled scrimmages where the coach can evaluate them through guided practice.

The same is true for writing. Why would we want to grade a beginner or practitioner as we would a master of the craft? True, we will eventually grade a final writing piece, just as basketball player must eventually play a game against real opponents. But we want our writing students to practice a lot of the fundamentals, skills, and the more advanced techniques before we use the state's rubric, which assesses everything. And it is the daily practice on these little skills and fundamentals where the greatest improvements can occur.

So how do we assess the improvement in these daily lessons? First of all we must acknowledge the fact that we cannot grade everything every time, and students can't possibly focus on improving each area of writing on each activity. Thus, we need to breakdown the overall rubrics into manageable pieces. These are the FCAs. We choose just a few FCAs to concentrate on for each activity or assignment. We partner these FCAs with short mini lessons and activities to teach and reinforce the skill. And these FCAs will change as students master those skills.

The most basic FCAs to start with are for form and format. Teach the kids how you want their writings to look. This includes the student name and topic at the top of the page (along with whatever else you require). Then we move into the format of the sentences, paragraph, or essay. For our kids, we require brainstorming & organizing, complete sentences, topic sentences, supports, and clinchers in each paragraph. Students work on these aspects until they are automatic parts of the writing. Provide interesting yet easy topics and give plenty of activities to practice these skills. And resist the temptation to grade everything. The students' writing may not be good yet; don't worry about it. Fix and correct one thing at a time so the kids (and you too) aren't overwhelmed. Give the kids a lot of practice and they'll improve. Trust in the system; the FCAs will come through for you. Make your students good at form and format, and when they are doing these skills well, then move to the next area.

Save yourself a lot of work by having students identify particular sections of their work for you before they hand it in. Then your job of grading is much easier. If the FCAs include topic sentences or clinchers, have students underline those sentences. If you require three supports, have students number them in the margin. If you want students to use particular vocabulary or terms, have them circle these for you (these last two are especially good for teachers in areas other than English). Let the kids do the work for you! I even have the students score their papers and add up the points they earned on their FCAs. This acts as a checklist, ensuring they actually covered all of the assignment's requirements. And since they wrote the paper, the students know where each item is in the paper (or if its not there!), saving you time you'd otherwise spend identifying each item and then adding them up. Now granted, you'll have to spot check the papers, and there are always a few students whose work you have to look over more carefully. We all have those students!  But for the most part, this will save you hours of checking time and allow you to provide many more writing activities on a daily basis. Get those kids writing more, and save yourself the work!

I like to grade an essay in formal final copy once each marking period. By that time the students have amassed a large number of second drafts and rewrites. I'll give them the opportunity to make corrections and then type the essay out so its easy to read. Also have students do the underlining, circling, numbering, and other markings for you.  This gives your students the chance to select from a number of their rough drafts and choose their best one to fix up and hand in.  

And just like the team that continues to practice between games through the season, you'll have your students continue to practice fundamentals and individual skills between formal writing assessments. Use the formal assessments you give a few times each year to see gaps in the students' learned skills.

Looking for more ideas on writing?  See our website by clicking the following link:



Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

Want to check out the articles in our Student-Teaching series?  Check out our special Student-Teaching page through the following link:  http://www.starteaching.com/studentteachers.htm


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Hot Spots for Teaching Jobs 
in the USA

By Tim Winterview.

Tim Winterview currently teaches fourth grade in a New York elementary school. He is also an experienced teacher interviewer and the author of a popular ebook, "Guide to Getting the Teaching Job of Your Dreams."  

I visit many Web forums and communities where I have the opportunity to chat with people in search of teaching jobs.  One question that arises time and time again is: Where are the best places to look for teaching jobs in the United States? 

While many candidates have family, home, or community ties that prevent them from relocating to a new city, there seems to be an increasing number of college graduates who are excited about the opportunities to relocate to new areas, begin their teaching career, and experience a new lifestyle. 

Those who have the freedom to move are looking for places with 1) Teacher Shortages, 2) High Quality-of-Life,  and 3) Low Cost-of-Living. 

To find these places, look for economic growth trends and population booms.  Also, look for places that do not have an excess of teacher colleges as these areas will have a less competitive job market. 

Here is a list of "hot spots" -- popular places for teaching candidates to search for jobs -- in the United States.  This list is based solely on my interpretation of my conversations with people in search of teaching jobs and recent graduates. 

1.  Nevada/Las Vegas -- Clark County Schools are especially popular lately.  Rumor has it they've even hired many teachers over the phone.  As the City of Las Vegas grows, school districts nearby are having trouble recruiting enough teachers to meet the demand. 

2.  Florida -- This is a terrific time to be looking for a job in Florida.  In the past, Florida has had notoriously high class sizes.  New legislation has been passed that requires schools to decrease class sizes across the state.  To do this, schools will need to hire lots of teachers in a short period of time.  If you've ever considered applying to a Florida school, now is the time to do it! 

3.  North Carolina -- This has been a popular relocation spot for teaching candidates for nearly a decade now.  Their economy is strong and their population is growing by leaps and bounds.  Raleigh-Durham is one of the most popular areas in the state for teaching candidates.  For less competition, try other cities in the state. 

4.  Georgia -- There has been lots of buzz about opportunities in Georgia lately.  Atlanta and Savannah are sure to be  best bets. 

5.  Arizona -- If you can stand the heat, Phoenix and Tempe are booming towns in need of qualified teachers. 

Where is the market "cold"?  Many northeastern "rust-belt" states with dying manufacturing industries are losing population.  Public school teaching jobs in these areas, which still tend to pay well and offer excellent benefits, are very hard to come by.  These places include Michigan, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 

Best of luck in your decision to relocate and begin your teaching career!


Be sure to check out Tim's Website for more tips on finding that teaching job:


And his website for great teaching resources:



Check out our selection of past articles, including more about school features, 
from previous issues at:


Be Sure to Check Out 
Our Website Store for Specials:




Mastering Basic Skills software:


There are six modules designed to test the basic ability of an individual in terms of Memory & Concentration. Needless to say this is the most important basic skill for not just to survive but also to thrive in this competitive environment. Each of the six modules tests the six variants of Memory & Concentration in an individual, namely: 1. Picture recognition
2. Paired Associate Learning
3. Immediate Recall
4. Serial processing
5. Parallel processing
6. Recognition and Recall
Each of these modules runs at three different levels, from easy to difficult.

At each level, the individual's performance is depicted as Scores Obtained.

A feedback has been built into the software for all these 18 levels depending on the marks one scores during the test. 

Each individual can assess his/her performance any time by clicking on "history", which gives complete details of date and time of taking the tests, marks scored each time and even time taken to do the test. This builds the confidence level and encourages more participation to eventually culminate in improvement and enhancement of memory and concentration.

Essentially, this software is a SELF AWARENESS tool that surely motivates the individual to realize one's capability and seek or be receptive for improvement. Also, if repeatedly done over a period of time works as Training tool to enhance their capability.
This software package is specifically designed to help young children to learn basic skills that will help them in school.  Continued follow-up will give these young learners success as they mature.  

Three versions of the software exist: Individual Software on either CD or Online,   Family Version Software, and an Institutional Software package.

StarTeaching wholeheartedly supports and endorses this software.  It will make a difference with your child or student.


New Teachers' Niche: 
A Place for New Teachers, Student Teachers, and Interns

Using Random Student Cards in Class

Much has been said and written lately about providing students with choices. I'm all about any methods which will improve student involvement in class, giving them ownership in their learning. There are many ways to give students choices, options, or just to provide random results and change up the monotony. This article will discuss how to use random results in typical class situations.

Ever wonder if you choose certain students more (or less) often in class than others? Or would you like to be able to completely call on students at random?

A great technique is to make and use an index card deck with your students' names on the cards. On the first day of any of my classes, I pass out blank lined index cards (we use the 3 x 5 size) to all the students. I then have them fill these out with information we can use later on in class. Then I collect them and keep them separated by class with a rubber band. Then I can quickly access the names of all of my students. This helps for learning their names quickly too.

The random calling technique will increase your students' attention, since any one of them could be chosen at any time without you playing favorites or ignoring anyone. Always try to choose several students each time you use the cards, and everyone will quickly understand that they may be the next person called. No student wants to be embarrassed, so they will all formulate some type of response to give in case their card is drawn next. What information needs to be on the cards? That depends on what you want to know about your students.  I ask for at least their names, parent's names, and phone contact numbers.

In one upper corner, write in the student's hour (I also like to circle the number) so you can sort them out easily later. Other useful information could include text book or calculator numbers, birth dates, and even students' interests or hobbies. How often do I use the cards? Several times each hour! We use the cards in warm ups so everyone has a random chance of being picked. The cards are used for choosing random teams or groups. They are great for class discussions, since students cannot just be quiet and disappear; every discussion question can be answered by several students in succession, who must either build on previous information given or generate a new line of thinking. I also use them to ask questions before students are dismissed. If the question is answered correctly, I let that student leave early.

The cards can be shuffled each time you use them, or you can leave the order and pick up there again later, ensuring you've called on every student before repeating.

Now, can you stack the deck? Of course! Because you hold the cards, only you know if you've chosen truly at random. This is useful when you just know a student isn't paying attention, or if you want to check understanding by a specific student.

Should you worry about students who still seem to never be called upon? That does happen, but it will even out as the year goes by. I've had the opposite happen too, where a student was actually chosen three times in a row, even though I shuffled the deck each time!

Student hobbies or activities can be great for making connections to class material. As a warm up or sponge activity, for example, use your cards to randomly call on students to state how what they learned in class could be applied to or connected to their hobby. The cards are great for choosing students to read aloud in class. And as the teacher, you can still stack the deck to match up appropriate students with a paragraph's difficulty level. I also try to assess student's reading ability by choosing particular passages I want them to read aloud. Then I make sure the student's card is chosen.

Be sure to check out our website for more great information, tips, and techniques for new teachers, student-teachers, and interns in teacher prep programs. Also be sure to check out our Who-I-Want-To-Be teacher plan for preparing yourself to enter the educational profession.  Simply click the following link: http://www.starteaching.com/free.htm

Want to check out the articles in our Student-Teaching series?  Check out our special Student-Teaching page through the following link:  http://www.starteaching.com/studentteachers.htm


Book of the Month Club:

Teach With Your Strengths:
How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students

By Rosanne Liesveld, JoAnn Miller, & Jennifer Robinson

Our July BOOK OF THE MONTH award is presented to Teach With Your Strenghts by Rosanne Liesveld, JoAnn Miller, and Jennifer Robinson.  This is an excellent inspirational book for educators at all levels. 

Amazon.com Review:

Now, Discover Your Strengths introduced millions of Americans to the unique, personal strengths that they could use to succeed in life. Teach with Your Strengths expands upon the best-selling Now, Discover Your Strengths and shows how anyone who teaches — from classroom instructors to coaches to business executives — can get the most from their students. Focusing on the central insight that all great teachers make the most of their natural talents, Teach with Your Strengths shows teachers how to avoid the pitfalls that lead to mediocrity and work best with what they have. The book is written by two teachers with a combined 70 years of classroom and consulting experience, and it includes real-life examples of how great teachers use their strengths to solve problems, battle bureaucracy, and reach all of their students. For anyone who has ever wanted to be a better teacher, Teach with Your Strengths offers proven techniques to help readers get the results they want.

"Teachers' influence on students is second only to that of their parents.  Indeed, as the majority of Americans end their formal education when they're seniors in high school,  and sometimes earlier (only about a third of Americans graduate from college), most of us have left formal education forever by the time we're 18.  So clearly, the responsibility for educating our society rests almost entirely with the elementary and secondary school teachers.  Simply put, we need them to be great."  (Teach With Your Strengths, p. 15)

You can order a copy of Teach With Your Strengths by clicking the link to our affiliate, Amazon.com 

Have you read Teach With Your Strengths?  Do you have comments you’d like to share with our readers about this book? Email your responses to editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB READER RESPONSE in the subject line. Responses will be posted on our website with the StarTeaching Book of the Month Club.  All responses will be proofread, and may be edited for content and space before publication.

We welcome articles and book reviews from our readers.  Do you have a great educational book to share with our readers?  Write up a summary, along with the pertinent book information, and email it to us at  editor@starteaching.com. Please type in BOOK CLUB SUMMARY in the subject line.  Book reviews will be proofread and may be edited for content or space.



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"What Goes Around Comes Around"

author unknown

Themes on Life

You never know how your actions will affect the future... 

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer.

One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life."

"No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer.

At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel. "Is that your son?" the nobleman asked.

"Yes," the farmer replied proudly.

"I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of."

And that he did.

Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, he graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time?


The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

Someone once said:
"What goes around comes around."

Work like you don't need the money.
Love like you've never been hurt.
Dance like nobody's watching.
Sing like nobody's listening.
Live like it's Heaven on Earth.



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In This Week's Issue 
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Assessing Student Writing

School Features:
Hot Spots for Teaching Jobs in the USA

New Teacher's Niche:
Using Random Student Cards in Class

Book of the Month Club

Themes on Life:  
"What Goes Around Comes Around "

10 Days of Writing Prompts

Summer Book Sale for Teachers

Website of the Month


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10 Days Of


Why is family important?


Describe FIVE reasons why your family members are important to you.   


What are THREE activities you enjoy doing with your family?


Why should family members look out for each other? 


Describe FIVE important lessons you learned in class this week.


What is the definition of a MYSTERY?


List FIVE mysteries you'd like to investigate.  


Why do people enjoy mysteries?


How are mysteries intimately connected with human life? 


Create a short writing prompt that describes something we learned in class this week. 


10 days of writing prompts


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Year of the Dogman

A New Novel by Frank Holes, Jr.
Coming Summer 2007

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Website of the MONTH



Coming Soon:

Designing and Running a Medieval Fair

Technology & Teaching: Exactly What Are Our Kids Learning?

Discipline Procedures in School

Teaching the Writing Process


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