for many), and then they choose from the sentences the topic sentence they want to do their paragraph on. At the time they are completing the sentences, they do not know that they are creating topic sentences. This makes them realize that they DO have something to write about, and the life experiences and people they have in their lives are valid and interesting subject matter.
We all know what works and what does not. Mastering the written word is but one element at work in our classrooms. We are trying to teach our students that they have important things to say, that their voices are tools to success, and that there is a better life awaiting them if they can learn as much as p o s s i b l e . W h e t h e r w e u s e L e g o s , c e r e a l or scavenger hunts is students guide us in our boxes, music, irrelevant. Our
course changes, and we continue to follow that guidance by pulling our best practices from every part of our beings every day we enter the classroom, and they look to us for direction. Here’s hoping we all continue to find it.
When first given this topic upon which to expound, I was hoping a Hawaiian vacation was in my future; however, that idea probably doesn’t fit with the current Sinclair budget. Without that incentive, I would probably be one of those silent ones at a Steve Peha workshop. “Best Practices” is not an easy topic. And for me and most teachers, “best” never exists. We feel we can always be better, and what is “best” today can be better in the future. One of the really exciting aspects of teaching is the constant change of possibilities between what I am now doing for student learning compared to the possibilities of tomorrow. As Sharyn says, best practices are not magic or mythical. They come about when the teacher uses textbook theory to meet practical application. I am answering her call to share a best practice of the reading area and some best practices I have been using to help students succeed in college and beyond.
As a reading area, we are following the lead of the college with regard to common exit assessments for our three levels of reading. We have also initiated a writing component for Dev 064 and Dev 065 for this spring’s exit assessments. Dev 064 students will write a summary of a passage, and Dev 065 students will answer an essay question by writing a paragraph containing a main idea sentence, at least three detail sentences using transition words, and use correct grammar and punctuation. The theory behind this written communication is that students need to be able to read, think about their reading and be able to express in writing what they have read. The reading, thinking, writing connection is an important aspect of best practices in reading.
I truly believe in the interconnection of reading, thinking, and writing. One “best” practice I use is that every quarter, each of my reading students reads a book. All theory tells us that to be a good reader, one has to read. I use the analogy of Tiger Woods. Is he a great golfer because he sits and looks at his golf clubs all day? Thinking about golf is not the same as actually picking up a club and practicing the game. Reading is power, and one needs to read to attain that power. The past few quarters, my Dev 064 students have been reading Diamonds in the Dew by Nora Stanger, an author I heard at an Appalachian conference whom we were able to bring to Sinclair. The first quarter, I gave the students suggested questions to answer with each chapter, and we discussed the chapters as we all shared common experiences. In the next quarter, I decided that instead of suggested questions to answer, that students would benefit more from writing a summary of each chapter and then share, in writing, some of their own personal reflections. This taught the students the difference between writing a summary and opinion writing. One of the most interesting comments I ever heard about this book came from one student who said he didn’t realize that Nora wasn’t black until he saw her picture on the back cover. He realized that we share common problems no matter our race or ethnicity. He was one of the students who came to see Nora and who spoke with her after her presentation at Sinclair. Before this quarter, Dev 065 students chose their own novel or biography