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Ideas and Features For New Teachers
and Veterans with Class

Volume 8, Issue 24
December 2012
StarTeaching Store Advertise with us Previous Articles Submit an Article FREE Reports Feature Writers Tech Center New Teacher's Niche

Welcome back to our StarTeaching newsletter, 
Features for Teachers, packed full of tips, techniques, and ideas for educators of all students in all levels.

In This Week's Issue (Click the Quick Links below):

What's New @ StarTeaching   Standardize or Individualize?   Teacher Professional Development for Teaching Reading
NEW! Hank Kellner: 
"Write What You See"
Tech Corner: Handheld Integration The Relationship Between Student and Teacher: A Symbol of Love and Understanding
Science Activities for Any Setting   10 Days of Writing Prompts   10 Days of Math Problems
Outdoor Education (part 4) New Teacher's Niche:
Journal Writing (part 2)
Student Teachers' Lounge: Defining Literacy
Book of the Month Club:
Learning To Love Math
  Website of the Month:
  Themes on Life: 
"Recipe For A Happy New Year"
Article of the Week: "Civil Rights - How Far Have We Come"   Winter Book Sale for Teachers      

Remember to bookmark this page and to visit our website for more great articles, tips, and techniques!

Also, feel free to email this newsletter to a friend or colleague!


Would you be interested in becoming a Featured Writer for the StarTeaching website?

Our Newsletter is now posting a opening for a Social Studies / History Writer interested in a monthly column focusing on Historical Events and Education.

Email your resume and letter of interest to:  editor@starteaching.com



Standardize or

By Michele Ramstetter

Article courtesy of EdArticle.com:   www.edarticle.com 

America’s public schools have become a bouncing board of trial and error.  With every social and political change comes a newfangled reform designed to save compulsory education.  But the reforms rarely reform.  Instead they reshape and rename existing policies, or they happen so far after the fact that their impact lies meaningless.  Rather than predict societal changes, they respond to them, and rather than transform our schools into innovative institutions, they further entrench them in stodgy tradition.

Today’s students need anything but stodgy tradition.  Youth today face a new world, one that is universal instead of national, one where lifelong careers cannot be assured, where marketable skills can quickly become obsolete, and where human rights outshine differences in race, class or gender.  To be successful in this ever-changing economy, students need to think as entrepreneurs; they need independence, creativity and diversity (Watanabe 2010).  The focus of America’s schools is on the complete opposite.  Through common standards, we teach students how to be dependent, artless, and uniform.  We show them how to stifle their talents and quell their thirst in order to fulfill the requirements of a standardized test. 

Standards have become not only a major focus of educational reform but also the publicly-accepted route to educational perfection.  The consensus seems to be that by controlling the curricular content of schools, learning will be heightened, hierarchies will be dismantled, and equity will prevail.  However, an assessment by the National Academy of Education (2009) of America’s more than 20-year history of standards-based education has revealed less than desired results.  Are our reforms really reforming or are they simply shaking up the contents of what already exists?  In today’s globalized world, is a standardized curriculum beneficial to all students or is it an outdated tactic that feigns educational quality and equality? 

Educational standards grew in response to social changes.  Concern about the quality of America’s schools rose after the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011; National Research Council, 2000).  To determine student progress, the congressionally-mandated National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was created.  Assessments of primary and secondary school students began in 1969 and continue today.  Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the uniform NAEP tests follow frameworks that are devised by a bipartisan governing board.  The goal is to monitor long-term trends in education and present the American public with a national report card (NCES, 2011).

The Civil Rights Movement spurred another educational reform.  The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to make classrooms more equitable and lessen the achievement gap through high standards and accountability (Education Equality Project, 2011).  Although the law saw expanded federal involvement in education, a statute within it forbade the establishment of a national curriculum (Manna, 2006). 

Since its inception, the ESEA has been continually renewed.  In 1994, the Clinton administration reauthorized the law, strengthening accountability through annual testing and academic standards that all students must meet.  In the George W. Bush administration, ESEA became the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act.  Through state standards and adequate yearly progress (AYP) criteria, NCLB further strengthened accountability (Manna, 2006).  During Barack Obama’s term, the Race to the Top (RTT) initiative loosened the improbable NCLB requirements but became the impetus for the adoption by many states of common standards (Lewin, 2010).  Instead of a national curriculum, which the ESEA forbade, RTT encourages de facto national standards (Mathis, 2010).  Despite the name and criteria changes, the underlying goal of all the initiatives is to offer equitable and quality education to all students via mixed-ability classrooms where everyone receives the same share of the educational offerings.        

The national common core standards initiated through RTT are designed to help learners succeed in college and the workforce.  According to the initiative’s website, the reform will prepare students for today’s global economy (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2011).  Although the goals sound student-oriented, there is more to the story.  As with previous reform efforts, both states and the nation will benefit; adoption of the common standards by state governors will bring them closer to federal monies.  Also, by using similar curriculum, textbooks and assessments, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes the country will save billions of dollars (Lewin, 2010). 

NCLB had comparable state perks.  Federal funding was given for administration of state-wide standardized tests.  Prior to that, the ESEA offered Title I funding to schools that pledged to help disadvantaged students. 

Federal initiatives are formulated to benefit the country and its citizens, and would be counterproductive if they didn’t.  In education, however, the goal of finding the most cost effective way to develop human capital reeks of Marxism.  Students become not individual talents to be honed but pawns in an economic game.  The common standards prompted by RTT will benefit the country via billions saved on education, thereby frugally increasing human capital, but will they increase the quality of our future work force? 

Modern industrial societies are built on a hierarchy of occupations and duties.  To fill these, a variety of interests and talents are required.  Standardized education treats students, not as vital components of a multifaceted society, but as a mass, a single unit that must be indoctrinated for national gain.  Instead of empowering and embracing individual skills, it sets students on a curricular path which may not be in their best interests.

In the pursuit of equalized intelligence, the burden falls on the disadvantaged.  Academically-successful students will breeze through any curricular changes and remain as successful as they were before the standards were introduced.  Their mastery will further increase their sense of efficacy.  Meanwhile, low-achieving students will struggle to reach the newest arbitrary mark of common intelligence.  Disappointing results in their efforts can further decrease what may be an already low sense of efficacy (Bandura, 1994).  The loss of self-esteem can lead to frustration with school and eventually to dropping out (Reasoner, 2010). 

As a teacher at a continuation high school, I have seen firsthand the lackluster results of government initiatives.  Whether it be NCLB or RTT, standardized schooling blatantly reproduces biases, promotes boredom and, for many students, results in failure.  The career goal of several of my senior students ranges from tattoo artist to dental assistant.  Those who say they want to go to college are unsure what they want to study.  Their uncertainty is not a surprise.  The standardized curriculum they must follow leaves little room for self-discovery.  Rather than hone their specific interests and abilities, the required college-preparatory courses exclude them from personal development and growth.

Standardization is meant to ensure quality.  With commodities, it makes perfect sense, but should it also be applied to individuals?  A 2009 assessment by the National Academy of Education (NAE) of America’s standards-based education showed unsatisfactory results.  Rather than teach students according to individual abilities, a standardized curriculum encourages teaching to the test.  More instructional focus is given to the tested subjects of math and English, and less is given to science, social studies, art, music and physical education.  In addition, the traditional college-preparatory, standardized curriculum ill serves students who do not plan on continuing their education (NAE, 2009).

Although designed to instill equality, common standards can evoke inequality.  Any standardized test is a ranking system; as such it breeds comparisons of students, schools, districts, and regions.  To flaunt the common core standards as an egalitarian tool is inaccurate; ranking systems create or reproduce hierarchies (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990).  Those who are good test takers or who have a natural bent for the subjects being tested will be at the top of the hierarchy; all others will fall below.  This is not equality and is certainly not a lesson that should be taught in schools.  By pitting students and schools against one another via test scores, the lesson becomes competition rather than cooperation.

Equality of intelligence can never be attained yet too often government officials lead the public into believing it can.  Rather than continue the charade, the purpose of the common standards and standardized tests should be told forthright.  Disguised as avenues toward social democracy, they are a capitalistic money-making venture, as well as a panicked solution to a country that fears losing its economic standing in the global market.  They feign innovation but are instead a dated response to a worldwide competition. 

It is ironic to see that in an era of critical pedagogy and equitable rights, our educational policies move more and more toward rigid uniformity.  Instead of focusing on individual talents and expertise, we focus on collective basics.  Instead of allowing our high school students to choose their own destiny, we steer their course through mandated curricula.  Instead of being educational innovators, we revise and rename what has already been done.

Education is designed to sit in a state of flux, yet our educational practices are anachronistic and stale.  A one-size-fits-all education is not practical.  New generations of students bring new knowledge, perspectives, and ideas.  Changes in population, economics, and occupations necessitate periodic curricular reforms.

The argument for individualization dates back to Ancient Greece.  In The Republic, Plato (1908) contended: “No two persons are born exactly alike; but each differs from the other in natural endowments, one being suited for one occupation and the other for another” (p. 55).  According to Plato, when workers choose an occupation that befits their talents “things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease” (p. 55).

The individualistic mindset continued through the 18th century periods of Enlightenment and Romanticism.  Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762/2007) saw it as a roadway to educational equity.  Inequality, he asserted, was an unavoidable and unfortunate byproduct of the civilization of man.  With metallurgical and agricultural production came greed, competition, labor divisions, and social classes.  For an egalitarian education, children should be separated from influential social factors and be allowed to embrace and develop their natural bent (Rousseau, 1754/2009). 

Individualistic learning is a goal in many countries.  Japan aims to give every student equal educational opportunity according to his/her abilities.  Recent curricular reforms have been focusing not on uniformity and conformity but on creativity and individuality.  The goal is to provide students with the skills needed to survive in the 21st century; namely, the ability to identify problems, act independently, and adapt to new situations.  Compulsory schooling includes six years of elementary and three years of lower secondary.  Upper secondary schools, although not mandatory, have a 97% attendance rate (Watanabe, 2010).

South Korea’s educational focus is on diversity and individuality rather than uniformity.  Known for its stringent academics, the republic is now promoting vocational training and lifelong learning.  Also, the curriculum and College Scholastic Ability Test were restructured to allow 11th and 12th grade students to choose their own classes (Shin & Koh, 2005). 

Germany’s tripartite educational system sets primary students on an academic or vocational track.  According to governmental policy statements, the program was designed to focus on individual abilities and interests (Kubow & Fossum, 2003).  This concept is seen in the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (2008): “Every person shall have the right to free development of his [sic] personality” (Article 2).

Sages have, for centuries, advocated individualism and several academically successful countries focus on it.  Why then do American leaders cling to educational standards?  For true reform, policy makers need to look beyond the parameters of standardized education.  School curricula and structures must be changed.  Rather than attempt the impossible feat of equalizing intelligence, educators should center on individual talents, interests, and abilities.  

Individualizing education can be done through more student responsibility and less compulsory education.  A mandatory 12-year college preparatory curriculum no longer makes sense.  After earning a Grade 10 certificate, students should be given options to follow the upper secondary path of their choice.  Allowing students to choose their classes according to time preference, interests, abilities and goals would bring a college atmosphere to the high school campus.  To accommodate individual interests, high schools should be open longer and offer more courses.  Federal funds that are now spent on standards-based reforms could instead be used to hire more teachers in order to make this a reality.  After all, the key to equitable learning is not standardization but individualization.  When futures are put in the hands of the beholder, true equity in education will unfold.


Michele Ramstetter has taught disadvantaged students for more than 14 years.  A former teacher in her hometown of Buffalo, NY, she currently teaches English at a continuation high school in Orange County, CA.  She is a former reporter and a current PhD student.  Her dissertation research will determine whether differentiated school offerings can help predict the dropout rate.


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Feature Writer

Using Photography To Inspire Writing

By Hank Kellner

Hank Kellner is a retired teacher of English who has served as a department chair at the high school level and an adjunct associate professor of English at the community college level.

He is the former publisher of Moneygram, a marketing newsletter for photographer.  He is also the creator of many photographs and articles that have appeared in publications nationwide, the author of extensive reading comprehension materials for a publisher of educational materials, and a former contributor to Darkroom Photography magazine.  His self-syndicated series, Twelve Unknown Heroes of the American Revolution appeared in more than fifty newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Kellner's most recent publication, Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing, is marked by Prufrock Press.  His blog appears regularly at hank-englisheducation.blogspot.com.

The purpose of Hank's most recent work, Reflect and Write: 270 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing, is to inspire student writing through the use of poetry and photography.  

Most of the poems and photos have been submitted by students, teachers, and others nationwide, though some are directly from Hank.  Although Reflect and Write: 270 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing has not yet been published, all of its contents are copyrighted.  Teachers are free, however, to download selected contents for use in their classrooms.

Each selection will include a poem, a photograph, a direct quotation, and four trigger words.

We at StarTeaching kindly thank Hank for his permission to use the materials.


I Am You
by Casey Hills

I am a thousand flames that glow,
I am the sun on waterfalls,
I am the silent springs that flow,
I am the gentle breeze that calls. 

I am the diamond stars above.
I am the song that sings of love
I am the clouds up in the sky.
I am the birds that fly on high.
I’m all around you can’t you see?
I’m everything you want to be.

I am you



Photo # 39 by Hank Kellner

“Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.”     
-Rabidranath Tagore




By Jakub Mistzal

Sunlight peers through
hotel bedroom shutters
to find a cigarette’s lazy smoky curl,
a rusted iron headboard,
dirty and neglected,
inside a sepia tinted world.

All is peaceful in the early stillness,
some people stirring,
others yet in slumber
by themselves
or with another.

Outside, a quiet murmur rises.
Somewhere a small dog yaps.
A man rests a moment on a bench
tired from his morning run.
Nearby a forest lush with green.

Like the sun, we are all reluctant
to rise and start another day.
There is no greater peace, it seems
than in our beds
still warm from body heat
and dreams.


Photo 40 Courtesy of Martha Walker


“The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.”     
Lin Yutang


Copyright 2009 Hank Kellner

These poem/photo combinations are from Hank Kellner's upcoming publication, Reflections: A Collection of Poetry, Photos, and More.


Hank Kellner is the author of Write What You See: 99 Photos To Inspire Writing. Published by Cottonwood Press ( I-800-864-4297) and distributed by Independent  Publishers Group, Write What You See includes a supplementary CD with photos. 8 ˝ x11, 120 pages, perfect binding, ISBN 978-1-877-673-83-2, LCCN 2008938630. $24.95. Available at bookstores, from the publisher,  and on the Internet at www.amazon.com and other websites. Ask your school or local librarian to order it.Visit the author’s blog at http://hank-englisheducation.com. The author will contribute a portion of the royalties earned from the sale of this book to The Wounded Warriors Project.


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Feature Writer

The Relationship Between Teacher and Student:
A Symbol of Love and Understanding

By Munir Moosa Sewani

Munir Moosa Sewani is one of the most famous, prominent and creative names in the field of Education for the past 10 years. He is a Master Trainer In Special Education, Post Graduate, Teacher Educator and a Teacher. He is a Freelance Writer and Photographer, in addition to his role as a featured writer for StarTeaching's newsletter for four and a half years now. He is an author of the famous self-published storybook for children titled "The MORAL STORIES FOR CHILDREN" and has also written a Biology book for Secondary Classes. He has written more than 100 articles dealing with social, health, educational and cultural issues, which are internationally recognized and published in famous world wide websites, newsletters, magazines and newspapers. 

He is also a Social worker, private tutor, career counselor, musician, lyrics writer and have multi- dimensional talents. His future plan is to write dozens of informative articles and to work for education and media, in order to explore hidden creativity.

You can contact Munir Moosa Sewani at: munirmoosa@yahoo.com 

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." (William Ward)

For an ordinary person, a teacher is a person who teaches students, but for students, the role of a teacher is far beyond our expectations. A teacher is a role model for many children. They imitate their teachers and many a times share all those things which they can’t even express in front of their parents.

When I joined the profession of teaching a decade ago, I had no idea about this field; but as time passed, I realized that this field has given more than what I had expected. But this field demands love, care, sympathy, understanding, and above all, a good relationship with students.

It's truly said “Children are like a pot of flowers. If you’ll give them proper attention, they’ll grow up properly; but if you’ll give them lack of attention or extreme care, they’ll be destroyed.” (Munir Moosa Sewani, 2006).

A teacher is a very important person in every student’s life. Understanding the needs of students is a challenging task for teachers. That trust can only be built if there is a good relationship between a teacher and a student. Research was conducted and 50 students were asked the question: what is the one line, which comes to your mind for your teachers? (Research conducted by Munir Moosa in March, 2007) Few of the responses are given below: I am fed up of my teachers because of their stupid threats! My teachers always support us and they always think good for us. They are really concerned about our future.

I am sure that sir (name undisclosed) was given severe punishments during his childhood. Now he has become mental and throwing tantrums on us. My teacher always insults me in front of all the students. I want to kill my teacher one. I love my teachers because I truly feel comfortable in taking their views in solving my personal problems.

These are some of the statements commented by students. What makes them say all that is something, which is to be assessed by us. Despite reading so many articles, news headlines, laws, etc., some teachers love to be staunch all the time. But a challenging teacher begins his/her teaching career by building understanding with their students.

During my 4th year of teaching, one of my students of class 3 said the following words to me “Sir, mayray daddy smoke kartay hai- mujhay bohat ganda lagta hai lekin woh kisi ki nahi suntay aur mummy ko be maartay hai isi liye may bohat darr jata hu. Aap please daddy ko bolo woh aap ki baat maan lay gay.” (Sir, my dad is a smoker and I dislike his habit of smoking, but he never listens to any one and always hit my mom, that’s why, I often feel insecure. Please talk to my dad; he will surely listen to you). I was deeply touched when the first time student started trusting me. That trust was based on student- teacher relationship. Students start trusting you if you are sincere to them. Days are gone when a staunch teacher was considered as the best one. Today, students need a good teacher not a villain; they need to learn rather than listening to dictating lectures; they need a friendly teacher rather than a strict one.

The relationship of a teacher and student is very sensitive. Once it is built with a positive gesture, a teacher can expect good outcomes of teaching.

According to a research review co-authored by Christi Bergin and David Bergin at the University of Missouri, students with positive attachments to their professors and institutions display higher grades and higher standardized test scores. Moreover, research was conducted in which the results concluded that children are more comfortable with their teachers than their friends, only if teachers are sincere to them. We all are teachers in some way or the other, but how many of us have achieved the level of satisfaction, is the question we need to ask ourselves. I would appreciate the readers to read the story provided below:

Once, a new child got an admission in my class. He just shifted to Pakistan from Afghanistan. When all the students saw him, they started hitting him, and made faces as if they did not like him. Few of the students even complained to me about his dirty clothes, while the others made lame excuses because they did not want to sit with him. One of the brilliant students of my class complained, "Munir Sir, this boy smells horrible. He is so shabby! I don't want to sit with him at any cost." At that time, an idea clicked to my mind to solve this dispute. The very next day, when I entered the class, that innocent Afghan student was sitting at the back, while other students were making fun of him.

One of the students, who were just sitting beside me, informed me that my socks were torn. Another student looked at my shirt and informed me that my shirt sleeves were torn. (Actually, I was already aware of that, but pretended as if, I had no idea). I replied, "Oh! I didn't know that; what should I do now? I think it's better for me to leave the class because I have worn tattered shirt and socks, and it's my presumption that you all would not allow me to be in your class in such a scruffy way."

One of the students exclaimed, "So what if your shirt sleeves and socks are torn. You must not leave the class at any cost. We don't want any other teacher to teach us." Another student exclaimed, "Hey! I have an idea. Let me ask the section head if she can arrange a safety pin for you?" At that time, I sparkled and replied, "My dear students, you all know that I have worn torn clothes, then why have you all requested me to be in your class?” One student responded, "You are our beloved teacher, and we don't want you to leave the class because you are the best teacher and we have no problem with your torn attire."

I replied, "You all love me and accepted me in any case. In the same manner, this new student has worn torn clothes and odor comes from his cloth. But is it wise enough to throw him out of the class or tell him not to come to school from the next day, just because of wearing untidy clothes?" I further added, "He is also human, and God always tell us to help every one. He is like your brother. If any of your brothers is in need, it's your duty to help." All the students realized and felt sorry for their harsh behavior. They all shook hands and welcomed that Afghani child. The very next day, I was surprised to see that boy's glinting face. It was like a miracle for me to see him mingling with other students. Spare clothes, books, stationary, etc, which were brought by the students for him. I still remember one of the students even brought soap and taught him how to clean his face and hands properly. My students are my strength and their motivation to help others makes me feel proud. 

The above story clearly reflects student- teacher relationship. If your students trust you, then the teaching can be performed successfully.

Here are some tips for teachers to have better relationships with their students. Few of the advices, I would like to give to the teachers are:

* Always love your students and care them like your own children.

* Respect your students and never hurt them in front of other students.

* Avoid corporal punishment; that will only left scars in their minds.

* Take your students for outing with the permission of your school so that students can feel cozy with you.

* Become a good counselor and provide them your valuable suggestions, whenever necessary.

* Mother Theresa beautifully quoted “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless. So be kind to your students.

* If the student fails to learn, the teacher fails to teach." –Therefore, we must look into our pockets rather blaming children for any failure.

* A sincere teacher does not look for one who performs the appearance of work. It means that appreciates student’s efforts and never let them down. If they do not perform well, help them to learn it and try to find the reasons behind it.

* Student-teacher relationship must be healthy, based on cooperation, mutual understanding with little bits of strictness.

* Never discourage students in sharing their ideas. Let them speak and give their views without any discrimination.

* Always be natural and express yourself without any hesitant.

* Give them chance to write on their own. Don’t ever try to showcase your skills. A sign of a good teacher is appreciating children efforts rather making them promoting rote learning.

* Know each an individual child’s capabilities and abilities and explore their creativity.

* Give them time to relax in class.

* If they regularly feel bored when you teach, try to arrange educational activity for them as an alternative resource to complete your curriculum.

* Give them incentives or reward when they perform good work. The reward could be a gift, star, stamp or just a good verbal slogan like Bravo! Keep it up! This positive gesture is required especially in primary classes.

* Try to teach according to the psychology of the students.

* Always remember that children are very sensitive, so treat them with gentle love.

* They notice each and every thing- from our dress to our gestures, so always be prepared for every thing.

Children usually ask us many questions and some times we don't know the answer to some questions. At that moment, just try to be loyal and tell your students that you'll search it and will tell them tomorrow or day after. In this way you'll not only gain trust and confidence, there will also be a strong bond of relationship on both sides.

Be a role model for your students not only by wearing extremely nice apparel, but also through your positive attitude and knowledge.

If any student makes any mistake in their copy, don’t punish them to re-write. That is the worst solution for a teacher. Look at your mistake because it is the teacher’s fault if a child does any mistake.

The tips will surely help all the teachers to build a stronger relationship with their students.

Best of Luck!


Grand Valley offers a Masters in Educational Leadership in Boyne City and Cadillac. If you would like to find out more about our program feel free to contact me at: jjudge2935@charter.net  or call me at 231-258-2935.

Many of the topics we will present will be for teachers seeking and administration position and for recently appointed administration. I will also receive comments from those who have just completed their first year as administrators. Since the program in Northern began eleven years ago we have placed over 60 GVSU graduates in administration positions.



Student Teachers' Lounge: 
For The Things They Don't Teach You In College

Defining Literacy

by Rozina Jumani

Rozina Jumani is a Development consultant associated with a number of Non governmenetal Organizations(NGO). Prior to this, she was with Aga Khan Education Services Pakistan for 10 years as a Professional Development Teacher and Counsellor. She has done her Masters in Islamic Studies and English from University of Karachi. She is a commonwealth scholar and completed her Masters in Education Planning, Economic and International Development from the institute of Education (IOE), University of London.

The definition of literacy is context specific. The parameters of literacy may vary from one geographical region to another and from one era to another. It can be as simple as just recognition of the alphabets, or signing of one’s own name, or may be broader in order to include the handling of equipment by studying manuals. Literacy has multiple meanings ranging from the simple ability to read and write, to interpreting and implementing ideas, knowledge and skills that a person may have required.

Some definitions of literacy focus on perception and decoding. For example, Spache (1964: 2) described literacy as “a series of word perceptions i.e. reading only”. Kaestle (1985: 34), described literacy as “the ability to decode and comprehend language at a rudimentary level, that is the ability to look at written words corresponding to ordinary oral discourse, to say them, and to understand them.”

These two definitions emphasize the aspect of skills to read the printed symbols and to map these symbols into the understanding of oral language.

It is observed that initially, the definition of literacy was confined to the acquisition of the basic skills of the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). Over a period of time, basic literacy was upgraded to functional literacy, expanding further into knowing to do things by using insight.  This transformation of literacy is, in fact, associated with its importance for the society as a whole, and to enable a person to effectively participate in the life

Though defining literacy is a very complex notion, it is important to deliberate upon it since the definition has far-reaching implications.  Some experts have emphasized cognitive processes in describing literacy, some more generally and others more specifically. For example, Goodman (1976: 51) suggested that “reading is a psycholinguistic guessing game”.  Venezky (1991:22) states, it is “a cognitive skill.” Calfee and Nelson-Barber (1991:13) describe it as “the capacity to employ language as a tool for oral communication.”

These definitions are consistent with teaching reading and writing as a cognitive process that involves the processing of information through such strategies as activating background knowledge, encouraging readers to make predictions, or writers to organize their ideas into categories.  

The below cited definitions from different countries indicate that despite the broadening of the description of literacy in literature, the working definition of literacy, as adopted by different countries has remained fairly simple at the skill level.






Ability to read and write in any language



In Canada 9th grade pass is considered as literate and according to this definition illiterates are only 1 % in that country.



Literate is defined as the one who can read with accuracy at a speed of approximately 40 words per minute and write or copy at a speed of 10 words per minute and take dictation at the speed of not less than 7 words per minute in any language.



A person is considered as literate who can recognize alphabets, read simple words, signs his / her name (eligibility for voting) able to read and understand a letter, or able to read certain part of certain magazine or of a certain newspaper.



Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write in any language, a short statement on every day life of 06 years and above persons



The definition of literacy consists of three components viz-a viz.

1.      Reading and writing the printed materials without spelling each word.

2.      Writing 80 words in 45 minutes without making too many mistakes.

3.      Reading four digit numbers and write legibly the first ten numbers.

According to UNRSCO (2002), It is currently estimated that about twenty percent of world's population aged fifteen and above is illiterate and that about 115.4 million school-age children are not in school.

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  TECH/21st Century CORNER

Handheld Integration 

By Mark Benn, 
Middle School Teacher and Technical Consultant

Mark Benn is a Technology Integration Coach for VARtek Services, Inc. Having just completed almost 25 years as an educator for Inland Lakes Public Schools, and having received a Masters of Science in Educational Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University in 2010, he now works in a position that supports teachers of K-12 classrooms in the southwest Ohio region that are interested in integrating technology into their learning environments. VARtek Services mission is to be the best provider of managed technology solutions for enhanced learning in the K–12 marketplace. Our website is: www.vartek.com

Integrating handheld computers, formerly called palm pilots, into the curriculum can be exciting to the students and unsettling to the teacher, but as you will see very rewarding. I introduced handhelds into my fifth grade classroom one and a half years ago. It has certainly been a learning experience.

From the beginning the students have been willing to do things on the handheld that they fight against doing with pencil and paper. They study harder for tests, take more notes, organize themselves more, and have the ability to learn through ways that can’t be accomplished in a classroom without them. I could go on and on, but here is a sample of what the students say about them:

I think handhelds are great! They really help you organize and they are WAY better than just paper and pencil. - Brooke
Handhelds have helped me out a lot this year. With handhelds we can study a lot easier with quizzler. Also we can stay a lot more organized with the programs tasks and calendar. We often take our handhelds home to use quizzler to study for our tests. We can practice our typing with the wireless keyboards and a typing program called Words Per Minute.   - Josh
Handhelds are very cool and make school very fun. They make it easy to write assignments so you don’t lose them. They make it easier to study for tests and keep track of homework. Having handhelds in school is a big responsibility and it teaches us to respect expensive items. Without handhelds school would be boring and slow. If we didn’t have handhelds many of us would lose our writing assignments. Without handhelds our grades would be lower and we wouldn’t do well in school.   - Noah
Handhelds have helped me in school a lot compared to a classroom without them. Handhelds keep many kids organized knowing that their work is always there and cannot get lost. They are faster and a more improved way to check your work or spelling. There have been tests showing that kids get better grades and improve their schoolwork. When tests do come up, handhelds are a better study program when you practice on them. They do have games…. But, the games are also put into practice typing or spelling programs. The handheld can also be used for enjoyment. Such as, non-educational games or reading. A classroom without handhelds would be at a bit of a disadvantage. I am glad that I am in a classroom that has them.   - Emily
Handhelds have helped me work faster and easier.  - Jack
Handhelds have helped me this year by being able to do my work faster and more fun. Also, I do not go through as much paper because I can store information in my handheld. On the handheld there is a program called quizzler. This program helps me to study by the teachers beaming us the quiz. It has the practice quiz on it so I can study as much as I want at home. It makes studying a lot more fun and easier. This year would have been extremely different without handhelds because learning wouldn't be as exciting and tests wouldn't be as easy to study for.   - Austin

I think having handhelds is a privilege for several reasons. One because it keeps me organized. Another reason is that if you do an assignment on paper you could lose it, but if you do it on a handheld it will not get lost. Another is that with memos you can write anything at anytime. Also there is a palm reader that you can read books on it for reading or free time. Another reason is that there is a dictionary so you can look up words you don’t know how to spell or for their definitions. Also there are education games and games for free time or after a test if your teacher says. Those are some of the reasons why I like to have handhelds.   - Katelynn

I’ve had two years of students using handhelds and the sampling of students above duplicates what they said last year, also. As I said in the beginning, using handhelds in the classroom is exciting to the students. Now how about the teacher?

One thing I’ve come to realize is that as in any technology integration I can’t begin to understand it all. The students learn it far faster and easier than us older folk. My job is to be the coach. I introduce the lesson, provide the tools, the parameters, and then let the students take charge of their learning. My job is to be the coach, available to guide at all times. This means I can’t sit on the sidelines (at my desk), but I must circulate among the students working with them.

This is certainly a different way of teaching, and can be unsettling if you are the type of teacher that stands up front and talks to the students. In the end you will find it rewarding and the students will learn and retain far more when provided the tools (handhelds) and teaching style (self directed learning) that makes learning exciting and rewarding to them. We may have learned the other way, but today's students aren’t us. The world is changing and we have a chance to be a part of the change. 


Great BLOGS to read on the changes in the way students learn

Doug Johnson The Blue Skunk Blog
Ian Jukes The Committed Sardine
David Warlick Two Cents Worth
Will Richardson WeBloggEd
Kathy Schrock Kaffeeklatsch
Tony Vincent Learning In Hand



Mark Benn received his Masters of Science in Educational Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University in 2010.

Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 25 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.

Prior to teaching, Mark spent 11 years as Department Manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. dealing with emerging technologies.  He has been married to his wife Bonnietta for 32 years with one daughter and two sons.  

StarTeaching Featured Writer

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at mbenn@inlandlakes.org or at his blogsite:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/ 

Check out our selection of past articles, including more about groups and stations, from previous issues at:




 Guest Writer  

Teacher Professional Development 
for Teaching Reading

By Vince Welsh

Vince Welsh is CEO of Teacher Education Institute. TEI offers rigorous, graduate-level professional development courses for K-12 classroom teachers. For more about TEI, teacher professional development, teaching reading visit http://www.teachereducation.com.

In the wake of recent government regulatory acts aimed at improving teaching standards, schools are focusing more and more on professional development for teachers. School districts are concerned with how teachers can most effectively help their students learn. In particular, teaching reading is one of the major priorities of schools - literacy is the basis of learning for a student for the rest of his or her time in school, and success cannot be had unless the student was able to develop sufficient reading skills. This is why teacher professional development for teaching reading is so important in our current education system.

Studies have shown that the best way for schools to improve student achievement (via some sort of monetary purchase) is by spending more money on getting the most qualified teachers. One of the best ways to improve the quality of educators is to offer them the resources they need to improve their own skills - specifically skills in teaching reading. Teacher professional development can improve teacher skills, which in turn improves the quality of lessons for students. Lesson quality is improved more from improved teaching than it is from other variables such as the materials used or the book /curriculum being followed. Therefore a valuable investment for any school is in teacher professional development.

Some methods and skills that teacher professional development should cover include: how to interact with students in a collaborative manner, how to bring outside experiences into the classroom to enhance learning, how to promote learning outside the classroom, how to motivate students towards educating themselves and exploring new things on their own, how to show that teachers care for their students and really do want to help them learn, how to recognize and develop a student's strengths, and more.

In teaching reading especially, it is important for a teacher to be able to recognize what a student is struggling with and how to help the student improve. Because literacy is such a valuable skill in our society, teachers absolutely must develop skills to promote reading both in the classroom as well as in a student's daily life outside of school. Learning to teach in a way that makes learning fun is crucial when it comes to teacher professional development. While being knowledgeable about a subject (chemistry for chemistry teachers, math for math teachers, etc...) is important, it is also important to take it to the next level and be able to understand different methodologies for teaching, to be aware of topics that often cause trouble for students, and then to have plans for how to deal with the problem areas and make sure that all students are learning to the best of their abilities.

In summary, teacher professional development is a valuable investment for school districts. Since the quality of teachers is the one things that has the most impact on a student's success, helping teachers become the best that they can be is the most logical way for school districts to achieve high student accomplishment. For example, a teacher's strategies for teaching reading can be improved via teacher professional development. By using these strategies in the classroom, a teacher can motivate his or her students towards success.


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Outdoor Education
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Courtesy of K12Academics.com

Outdoor education (also known as adventure education) usually refers to organized learning that takes place in the outdoors. Outdoor education programs often involve residential or journey-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous challenges such as hiking, climbing, canoeing, ropes courses, and group games. Outdoor education draws upon the philosophy and theory of experiential education and may also focus on environmental education.


There are several important trends and changing circumstances for outdoor education, including:

Climate change


Physical fitness

Risk aversion

Risk management

There is much anecdotal evidence of the benefit of the outdoor experience; teachers speak of the huge improvement in relationships that often follows a trip, and delinquent students are sometimes offered an outdoor education program as part of a behavior management program. Hard evidence to show that outdoor education has a demonstrable long term effect on either behavior or educational achievement however is harder to identify; this may be because the variables involved are too complex to be separated.


Article courtesy of K12Academics.com




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A secret governmental agent investigates the grisly aftermath of Sigma

A pioneer family meets more than they expected on the trail north

A campfire tale of ancient betrayal handed down through the Omeena Tribe

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Journal Writing
(part 2)

This is the second in a series on developing Journal Writing in your classroom, a writing technique that is applicable to any grade and any subject area.

I use a grading system that makes the journals easy to grade.  In my class, a full page is given ten points (ten being the maximum per page).  However, I'm a stickler; the students must write a full page, right down to the last line on the paper.  I do allow the top eight lines for brainstorming, though I don't always require it.  Students are always allowed to use the brainstorming lines if they wish. 

I require at least one page at each journaling session, which lasts from ten to fifteen minutes.  Students are required to write constantly until the time is up, or until they reach a full page.  However, before they are allowed to go on to another activity, they must show me their completed work.  Students may also write more than a page for extra credit.  I give out ten points for each full page beyond those required.  For example, we may have three journal sessions in a week, so the weekly grade is out of thirty points.  If a student completes five full pages, their score is fifty points, twenty of them extra credit!

I don't mind offering the extra credit, since usually the ones who take advantage of this are your A students anyway.  And since I want to promote as much writing as possible, I strongly encourage every student to write for extra credit.

Journals are the only form of writing that I allow to be done outside of class.  Mostly this is because I allow students to write for extra credit (only promoting more writing!)

Students are allowed to share their writing with the class afterward, though no one is required to share.  I tell the class they may read all or just part of their writing, or just tell about it.  The remainder of the students are allowed to keep writing during the sharing time, and must stop when there are no more to share.

I strongly believe students should be allowed to keep their journals when the year is finished.  For many students, putting down their private thoughts in class can lead to a lifetime of writing.

If you'd like to check out a list of journaling topics, check our website at the following quick link:   www.starteaching.com/free.htm.  Again, you may feel free to use any or all of these, and they may lead you to think of many others of your own.  You can also use any of our Weekly Writing Prompts from issues of our newsletter.  I encourage you to send along your own topics to add to our calendar.

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Recipe for a Happy New Year

Themes on Life

Think carefully about the special, successful ingredients for your new year...

    Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time. Cut these months into thirty or thirty-one equal parts. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time (so many persons spoil the entire lot this way) but prepare one day at a time.

    Into each day put equal parts of faith, patience, courage, work (some people omit this ingredient and so spoil the flavor of the rest), hope, fidelity, liberality, kindness, rest (leaving this out is like leaving the oil out of the salad dressing— don’t do it), prayer, meditation, and one well-selected resolution. Put in about one teaspoonful of good spirits, a dash of fun, a pinch of folly, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor.


What's New @ StarTeaching?


Hello readers!  Welcome to your second December Issue of Features for Teachers in 2012!   

This month, we bring another great poetry/photograph selection from Hank Kellner from his upcoming book, Reflect and Write. We also finish up our series on Outdoor Education and Journaling, and add new articles on reading, literacy, and technology.

As always, we have free activities (from Mary Ann Graziani and Frank Holes Jr.) and articles with practical ideas and techniques to be applied directly into your classroom. 

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Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies That Change Student Attitudes and Get Results

Judy Willis



Coming Soon:

Preparing for Student Teaching

Technology & Teaching: 21st Century Teaching and Learning

Writing Process and Programs

Article of the Week


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10 Days of 
Math Problems
by Mary Ann Graziani

Day 1 Margaret made 140 cookies. If she needs to seperate them into 6 baskets, how many will fit into each basket and how many will be left over?
Day 2 Esty needs treats for 25 members of her class.  If the recipe calls for 1/8 cup flour per treat, how much flour will she need in total?
Day 3 A recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar to make 12 servings.  If 30 servings are needed, how much sugar will be needed?
Day 4 Tori needs 18 inches of ribbon to make a gift. If she has 145 inches of ribbon total, how many gifts can she make and how many inches of ribbon will be left over?
Day 5 Jake's car gets 22 miles per gallon.  If he has a trip of 920 miles, how many gallons of gas will be needed?
Day 6 A resort hotel costs $129.00 per night. If the Smith family wants to book a vacation and they have $850 to spend, how many days can they stay and how much money will be left over for souvenirs?
Day 7 The candy company can stretch 357.5 feet of taffy in 5 days.  On average, how many feet did the company stretch each day?
Day 8 Thomas made 10 trips to the store this month, driving a total of 162.8 miles.  How far did Thomas drive on each trip to the store?
Day 9 A restaurant serves 3 slices of bacon with each breakfast platter. If 58 platters are sold on a Sunday morning, how many slices of bacon were plated?
Day 10 8 tablespoons of coffee grounds are required to brew a pot of coffee that produces 72 ounces.  If 500 ounces are needed for lunch at a restaurant, how many tablespoons of coffee grounds will they need?

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Tech-Ed Articles

Check out our entire collection of technology articles, including:
* 21st Century Learning
* Integrating Technology
* Computer Literacy
* REAL activities you can use!




Science Activities For Any Setting
By Helen de la Maza
Plant Life Cycle Hike
(click for PDF)

Decomposition Detectives
(click for PDF)

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Helen's Science Activities


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Inspirational Quotes
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Check out our entire collection of inspirational quotes and photos from our 5 years of newsletters.  





Learning in Hand is an educator's resource for using some of the coolest technologies with students. Tony Vincent
Tony is a teacher who wants to make education effective, relevant, and fun. He knows handhelds are small computers that can make a big difference in classrooms!  He hopes Learning in Hand inspires and motivates teachers to use technology that students crave.






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Using Photography To Inspire Writing
By Hank Kellner

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Article of the Week
"Civil Rights - How Far Have We Come"
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"The Internet Is Spying On You"
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