Thursday, April 28, 2011

Making Inferences

Making inferences is a skill by which students are often evaluated on state reading tests.  Additionally, according to Bloom's Taxonomy, analyzing implications is a higher order reading skill than comprehending text.  Therefore, good readers make inferences.  To make an inference, a reader or listener takes information provided by the writer or speaker, combines it with background knowledge and prior information relevant to the situation, and extracts an unstated or implied idea from the communication. 
Inferences are related to implications; in fact, they are the same thing.  The difference is relative to the position of the agent.  Speakers or writers may imply an idea, either consciously or subconsciously.  When an idea is implied, it is expressed without being explicitly stated.  If the listener or reader understands this unstated idea, he or she makes an inference or infers the idea.  For example, person A might ask person B for a ride home. If person B does not feel like transporting person A, person B might respond with the following statement, "My car is pretty crowded."  Though person B never clearly says, "No, I won't give you a ride, person A," this is the implied message.  If person A does not make this inference, person A might insist that he or she can fit in the trunk or sit on someone's lap, whereas person A will have to be more explicit.  When a communication barrier cannot be crossed, there is said to be a gap in understanding. 

The area between what is clearly stated and what is understood is much contended.  Whether in courts of law, classrooms, or casual conversations, implied messages are not always understood and inferred messages are often unintended or faulty.  Inferences are not always objective: they are subject to the reader or listeners beliefs and preconceptions, but they must be based on evidence or else they are assumptions, not inferences. Often times multiple conclusion can be drawn, particularly if the writer or speaker is being intentionally vague or ambiguous.  But in such cases where multiple inferences can be supported, and the reader is expected to determine a correct response, the reader must identify the best or most likely explanation.  Such as in the following example:

Example Implication
Kevin nervously went to the locker room after practice.  Today was the last day of try-outs and he wasn't sure where he stood.  Kevin always tried his best, but he wasn't the fastest, or the best hitter, or capable of catching a fly ball.  Still though, he wanted to be on the team because his dad loved baseball and Kevin wanted to make him proud.  A crowd of guys was huddled around the team list and most were celebrating.  After they thinned out a bit, Kevin looked for his name.  Jimmy Swanson, Kevin's neighbor, was standing next to him.  Jimmy hollered out, "Yes!  Shortstop," and pranced away. Kevin lowered his head and walked away from the list.  Water welled in his eyes.  It would be a long walk home.

So, did Kevin make the team?  Well, the answer isn't clearly stated in the text.  While it is possible to support both conclusions, one is much more likely than the other.  Although one could argue that Kevin cried because he was so happy that he made the team, this ignores the text that explicitly states that Kevin can't catch the ball.  Also, based on prior knowledge one might deduce that time seems to move slower when things are not going well; therefore, since time is moving slower for Kevin, he did not make the team.  Although it is never clearly state, based on the information in the passage, it is more likely that Kevin did not make the team or at least that his name was not on the list. If you are looking for more practice, check out these inferences worksheets at

Making inferences is more difficult than understanding and locating information in a text, but it is something that good readers do.  To make an inference, use your background knowledge or prior information to draw logical conclusions based on textual details.  Though your inferences may not always be valid, by simply making inferences you open the dimensions of communication beyond the explicit.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to Get a Job Teaching

Finding a job teaching is truly one of the most difficult things that I have ever done (three times).  This task is particularly difficult in a saturated field like English or social studies.  Even with years of meritorious achievements, proven student growth, and a record of community contributions, I still feel at times like I am stuck in my current position, but I know that nothing is more difficult than landing the first job.  In this blog post I will offer valuable advice to prospective candidates and particularly student teachers who, after leaving the worst unpaid position in the whole school, are likely to run into a stonewall of opposition in a field where the candidates are so ubiquitous that most administrators don't even have the time or decency to properly reject them.  Pay attention.

  1. Get Certified in an Area of Need: This is the path of least resistance for someone new to the field. As with many other things in our world, the governing forces of supply and demand control the market.  There are more English teachers than math and science teachers because people who are good at math and science become engineers, financial analysts, or something else that pays well; contrarily, people who are talented at reading and discussing literature and history have few viable opportunities to earn a wage besides teaching.  This makes for a large pool of candidates responding to every posted history and English teaching position, and the competition may be overwhelming.  There is much less competition for science, math, and special education teaching positions, and if those don't interest you, there is an emerging need for technology teachers.  If you are reading this blog on the inter-webs, you might just be a good candidate for such a position.  However, getting certified to teach in an area of demand does not guarantee you a job.  Even as a math, special education, science, or technology teacher, administrators won't throw jobs at you.  You'll still have to go through the interview process.  But you'll get more interviews with less effort.  If you're too committed to your course to change it, you'll want to continue reading.

  2. Collect Artifacts: The term "artifacts" refers to student generated work.  Not worksheets, like the valuable reading worksheets offered at, but authentic student creations (think projects) like colorful handbooks, homemade board games, comic strips, or other work that will reflect your student centered approach.  As a student teacher, you have a fleeting opportunity to collect work like this.  Therefore, you should assign students projects where they have the opportunity to create standards based artifacts.  Select the best examples and tell the respective creators that you are very pleased with their work.  Ask them if you may keep their work to model the assignment to future classes.  This will boost their pride and confidence and you will be able to assemble a quality portfolio.  When I say "portfolio," I'm sure many recent graduates have flashbacks of the tedious, useless portfolio made in college for assessment purposes.  Rather, you should create a new, sleek portfolio containing only items of value: quality artifacts, letters of recommendation, special certifications, and other compelling documents.  This serves two purposes. First, you can show how creative your approaches to teaching are, and it is always more convincing to show than to tell.  Second, it will take the interviewers eyes off of you.  If you are being considered for a teaching job, it is likely that you will be interviewed by more than one person.  While you are making eye contact with one of the interviewers, the others may be burning holes through you trying to figure out if you're too soft, too ignorant, or otherwise incompetent.  What better way to divert their stares than by offering them beautiful, authentic student work at which they can marvel?  This approach will take the focus off of yourself and show them what you can do for their students.  So, if it's not too late, get something tangible out of your strenuous student teaching experience in addition to a couple letters of recommendation: assign your students opportunities to showcase their creativity and collect the best samples.
  3. Distinguish Yourself from Your Rivals: If you've ever been to a teaching job fair, you've probably been greeted by seas of skirts and armies of black suited robots waiting in lines that should have amusement park queues.  As discouraging as the scene may be, you will have a few shimmering opportunities to form memorable connections if your stars align correctly.  Such a connection could lead to an interview, which could lead to a job, which could lead to an exciting career, so help the stars out a bit by making an effort to distinguish yourself from the pack.  Here are a few exemplifying suggestions on how you might distinguish yourself from the others:

    • Wear an original tie or accoutrement: Though the fish tie might be a little much, wearing a tie that expresses some personality will more effectively create attention than the stripe, solid, or checkerboard patterns.  Of course, nobody is going to hire you based on a tie, but an outstanding accoutrement might create an opportunity for you to form a memorable connection in the hard earned moments when you do speak with administrators and recruiters.   

    • Kneel before them: While sitting at eye level with administrators and meeting them as equals is preferable, in my experience, at some teaching job fairs there are no chairs in which you may sit to interview.  In these situations, I suggest that you recognize your position and kneel before the administrators.  Though many people ignore its importance, body language has huge conscious and subconscious ramifications on your interactions.  If you are towering over administrators and bellowing about your perfect attendance all through grade school while showering them with saliva particles, you are mistaking the position for which you are applying.  You are to serve the administrators (and the students of course, but you're not interviewing with students).  Begin your service on the right foot... or knee, in this case.  Sure, you might get a little carpet lint on your suit pants, but the fifty people who interviewed before you will look haughty after you humble yourself before your prospective masters, and you might just score an interview out of the scene. 
    • Show your skills: Convince administrators and recruiters that you'll add value to their school.  Do you know other languages?  Excellent.  Boast of them.  Do you have experience in theater, music, or arts?  That's great.  Passionately speak of your experience and involvement in clubs and organizations.  Use your skills as selling points to establish your character and show the expertise with which you can better serve the children.
  4. Be Aggressive: There is a fine line that runs between pushy and persistent, but in the cases of love and the job hunt, you'll find more success occasionally crossing the line than never approaching it.  Don't let your fear of bothering "them" prevent you from realizing your dreams.  "They" are paid to answer your questions and respond to your queries, so let them do their jobs.  Make them tell you "No." Don't just assume that they mean "No," otherwise it will be "No."  After the first interview, send a follow up letter thanking them for the opportunity.  If they don't callback, call them and ask what the status on the position is.  The prize sometimes goes to the contender who wants it the most.  Be humble and be polite, but be persistent.  Nobody will blame you for trying, and if the job slips through your fingers, at least it won't be because you didn't try to grab it. 

  5. Use Your Telephone: With the convenience of electronic communication, many job seekers are solely using email to contact administrators.  But while digital communications continue to replace the analog technologies of yesteryear, something is lost in the transition.  Do not underestimate the power of a phone conversation.  There is some intangible human quality realized in voice communication that is not expressed in blocks of text.  Years of spam 419 scam emails have conditioned people to be suspicious of unsolicited messages.  Such feelings may lead an administrator to not read past the subject line of your cut-and-paste email contact.  Contrarily, if you manage to get him or her on the phone, his or her ears will be open.  While an email may forever go unread, a hand delivered envelope demands some level of physical attention.  However, all of this does not mean that you should be a Luddite.  In fact, if you have not already done so... 
  6. Upgrade Your Contact: Include a phone number, email, and web address on your resume.  Direct the recruiter's attention to the web address.  Don't have a website?  With a content management system like Wordpress, making a website is easy.  Though you might need some help with the installation, you can make a professional looking website in a weekend.  But if you want to invest even less than that, start a free blog here and slap some information about yourself on it.  Sure, your blog will be on a subdomain of (like this post), but many administrators probably don't understand the difference between a domain and a subdomain.  They will probably never visit the page anyway, but having a web address on your resume will make you look techie.  Just in case they do visit, however, you'll want to have some content on your page.  At the bare minimum, include all of your contact information and links to your resume, but while you're at it, throw some online reading tests up there by cutting-and-pasting the HTML code for super-tech points. 

  7. Open up Your Options: As you worked through your education courses in college, you probably imagined an ideal teaching situation.  Perhaps you wanted to teach at the school from where you graduated, or one within one hundred miles of there.  While some people manage to find their way into their ideal position, for each who gains admittance twenty are barred entry.  If you find yourself on the outside of the wall, fear not; the world is big.  Each filter that you remove from your job search will produce new opportunities.  Perhaps you never imagined working in a remote rural school district for $26,000 a year, a catholic school for less, or a poorly performing urban school where violence has a daily presence. Well, consider it.  Consider private schools, public schools, charter schools, and out of state schools.  If you're willing to chase it, you might catch it.  Each stipulation that you impose against your options limits your opportunities and opportunities flee with time.

  8. Apply Where Vacancies Have Not Been Posted: If you passively wait for job opportunities to be posted, you may miss out on unpublished positions with lower competition that spring up at random.  Perhaps these administrators don't want to wade through piles of resumes and streams of unfamiliar faces.  But for whatever reason, many job opportunities go unpublished.  Therefore, sending your resume to every school within your target area can't hurt if you have the stamps.  In the spring of 2006 I sent resume packages (each containing a cover letter, resume, and three letters of recommendation) to almost every high school in Chicago (about 90 packages).  I was given three interviews for my efforts.  Though these interviews did not convert into employment, none of the positions were ever posted online.  These were opportunities that I discovered because I blindly applied.  If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is going to stick.

  9. Survey Your Friends and Family: While it's nice to imagine a world where jobs are awarded to the most qualified candidates, often this is not the case.  Sometimes, and perhaps more often than sometimes, it's about who you know.  Therefore, much can be gained by networking within your social circle.  Every time you have a discussion with someone you know that extends as far as "How are you?" mention that you have recently graduated and are looking for a job teaching.  You might think that since these people are not in education, they have not connections with educators, but more likely than not, the person with whom you are communicating has a person in their family who is involved in education.  If they mention that their sister is a teacher, or that their dad's friend is an administrator, go out of your way to give them your resume.  While most of these connections won't be able to get you a job because the school won't be hiring, or because your resume will never arrive at the target destination, your connections are too valuable to ignore.  A good connection will get your resume on top of the pile at least. 

  10. Look Past the Last Day: As the summer wears on and the interviews dry up, you might lose your spirit.  Maybe you'll look into a master's program or consider a career change, but do not give up until you can truly go on no longer.  Though most schools hire in the spring and early summer, many poorly run schools don't satisfy their hiring needs until the final days before the school year and sometimes as much as two weeks after the school year has begun.  Even during the year, life happens.  People's plans change and opportunities arise overnight.  If after all of this you want to continue the job hunt, start substitute teaching and continue your job search internally. 
Finding a teaching job is not an easy thing for most people to do.  The competition is plentiful but the positions do exist.  I hope that these secrets that I've shared with you will help you realize your dreams and make the world a better place.  

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Whoa. Interactive Worksheets.

    So, I've been working on this new thing: interactive electronic worksheets.

    Right now, I've developed this idea to the point where teachers can post these activities on their websites and blogs. Here's how it works:

    1. Teacher posts this code to his/her page:

    <center><object width="640" height="480"  > <param name="Figurative Language Practice 4" value="figurative-language-practice-4.swf"> <embed src="" width="640" height="480"> </embed> </object></center>

    This code will display figurative language practice 4, which contains twenty examples of figurative language taken from Golding's classic novel, Lord of the Flies (shown below). There are many other electronic reading worksheets at and new worksheets are being added daily.  Unfortunately, (as with all flash) this code won't work on blogs, but it will work right here on

    2. Students go to the teacher's page and complete the activity.  Students have to enter their name, which prints out with the results.  This will cut down on one student completing the activity and printing 10 copies of the results page for each of their friends.  Since the answers shuffle, cheating will also require a little more effort.

    3. Students print their results.

    4. Students give their teacher the results.

    5. Teacher can count the activity as an extra credit grade or standard assignment (depending on how much access the students have to computers). No grading required. Just enter the grades.

    Cool, huh? I'm thinking that this might catch on. Anyway, try it out yourself.

    Pretty cool, right? I wonder what the future will hold.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Persuasive Attention Catchers

    Attention catchers, leads, attention grabbers, attention getters... By whatever name your school or state refers to them, it is important for students to start their five-paragraph persuasive essay with some sort of technique that will engage the reader.  This blog post will show you some tried and true attention catching techniques to teach your students. 

    1.  Ask a question or series of questions: This technique functions exactly as described.  The writer begins their essay with a question related to the topic or a series of questions.  Beginning an essay with a question can be an effective technique, because when people encounter questions, questions force people to think.  Because most people are trained to respond to questions, this can be a powerful rhetorical technique; however, students need to be taught to write proper questions.  They should understand that persuasion is an art, the art of mind control, really.  So it is not appropriate to begin your essay with a neutral question like, "Should students have cell phones in school?"  Merely rephrasing the prompt is not enough.  I teach students to put a slant on their questions.  My students are taught to begin persuading from their first sentence through their entire paper.  So a more appropriate question (or series of questions) is one for which the writer already knows the answer.  For example, "What if you were taking a difficult final exam and you were struggling to concentrate on a math problem, when a loud rap song began playing?  Would this help you focus?"  Clearly I know that it would not, and this is the point.  Good persuasion will force the desired response.

    2.  Tell a related anecdote: This technique can also be very effective, so long as the students understand a couple basic points.  First, the anecdote needs to be short.  Students must be reminded that they are writing persuasive essays, not narrative essays, so their anecdotes should only be a few sentences or they risk being perceived as writing "off-mode."  Second, the anecdote must be related to the topic.  An unrelated anecdote would be worse than forgoing an attention catching technique entirely; therefore, students need to understand that an good anecdote will be related to their topic and will set the stage for persuasion.  Just as when a student leads with a question, the anecdote should begin persuasion immediately.  The point of the story must somehow reinforce the writer's argument.  An anecdote that does not reinforce the writer's argument will make the piece of writing appear unfocused. 

    Sidenote: If you are currently working on a persuasive writing unit, perhaps this list of 101 persuasive essay topics will help you plan your unit.

    If I am teaching students to respond to a timed assessment, those are the only two techniques which I teach, because they can be used in nearly any circumstance.  However, if I am teaching the multistage persuasive writing process, I might teach these other techniques.

    3.  Startling Fact or Statistic: These are a little more difficult to use, as students will require means of research to locate such information; however, if the instructor does not find it to be unethical, students might be able to improvise some believable facts or statistics.  For example, according to a survey I took in my school, 7 out of 10 students who use cell phones in school are not on the honor roll.  Of course, I never took such a survey, but who would be able to prove that I had not?  Anyway, teaching such a method is a bit controversial, so perhaps it is best left out of your lesson plans, and it may be best to encourage students to only use the startling fact or statistic when they have the ability to research their facts.

    4.  The Related Quote: It's been said that no matter what you want to say, someone has said it better.  And while I don't wholeheartedly agree with this notion, I do know that there are a lot of really nice quotes out there.  If students have access to the internet or a big book of quotes, or perhaps they are well read and have good memories, than using a quote is a very classy way to get the attention of the reader and my favorite method of catching the reader's attention.  Of course, if students don't have those means available, perhaps they remember the words of someone in their life (Mom, Dad, Teacher), in which case they could still use the quote to begin their persuasive essays.

    This post has shown readers 4 ways to catch the attention of the reader in persuasive essays.  Remember, no matter which technique students are using, they angle or slant their lead so that they begin persuading the reader immediately.  May your students move mountains with their words.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Teaching Text Structure

    Students are often required to identify the structure of texts on standardized reading assessments.  For this reason, it is important that they are exposed to the various patterns of organization: cause and effect, chronological, compare and contrast, order of importance, problem and solution, sequence or process writing, and spatial or descriptive writing.  Each text structure is fully explained at  Each pattern of organization can be represented using a corresponding graphic organizer.  So the first thing that I do when teaching students about text structure is define the terms and show how each graphic organizer relates to each term.  Later, when they are reading passages to determine the text structure, I will have them put information from the passage into the appropriate graphic organizer.  This has three benefits:  First, it generally causes students to work more thoughtfully on the activity since they are graphically representing text, not just be filling in blanks or circling choices.  Second, the activity has a sort of "autocorrect" feature where if the text they are analyzing does not fit into the graphic organizer, students should eventually identify that they are mistaken.  Lastly, the activity is both student centered and time consuming, so that they may take ownership over there work while freeing up time for your to work individually with students who require more assitance.  Teaching students how to identify text structure is beneficial to all parties.  Learn more about teaching text structure at where there are worksheets, interactive practice quizzes, PowerPoint lessons, activities, and videos all available for free.