California English Journal


Table of Contents

February 2002

Lola Brown

Carrie Holmberg

Ron Featheringhill

Stephen Tollefson

Judy Wenrick

Jerry Camp

John Greger

Angus Dustan

Features & Departments

Editor's Column

President's Perspective

Brieger's Bookshelf

Letters to the Editor

Winner of the CATE 2001 Professional Writing Contest - Joel Kammer

Winner of the CATE 2001 Professional Writing Contest:
What's in a Grade?: An Ethical Dilemma
Joel Kammer

A graduate school professor once told my Literary Criticism seminar this anecdote about I.A. Richards, the influential professor, critic, rhetorician, and poet: Richards completed a good deal of graduate work at Cambridge, but never completed his doctorate, allegedly asking with disdain, "Who would examine me?" In retrospect, given Richards' historical importance and substantial contributions to the development of critical theory and thought, his question might not have been as arrogant as it first seems. When considered together with other stories of great thinkers whose thought processes or work habits didn't fit commonly accepted standards of the time and place, Einstein's failing math in school and the ridicule heaped upon the work of the earliest Impressionist painters come to mind, Richards' question gives me pause. Apocryphal or not, the story points toward a long standing and intensifying dilemma for me and, I suspect, for most teachers: grading and credits.

In an era of standards, or at least an era in which the notion of standards crops up in every element of the educational conversation, what are we to do with students who can meet or have met any and every standard, but reject or ignore the need to fulfill checklist requirements for advancement or graduation? I suspect everyone has had a student or twenty who are voracious readers and natural and enthusiastic writers, who read what they want rather than what they're assigned, and write from their hearts without regard to the demands of a given assignment or course. They might be alienated or just non-conformist, refusing to grade grub for philosophical reasons, or doing no homework out of sheer laziness: the Sidney Cartons, Ferdinand Tertans, and Holden Caulfieds of contemporary schooling. In some ways, such students are why I got into teaching English in the first place; often (when they happen to have done last night's reading and, sometimes, even when they haven't) they spark discussions to deeper, more complex levels, and all of us in the room learn in ways we wouldn't have otherwise. Their love of words and ideas and learning can enthuse other students and change the intellectual tone of a class. But when grading time rolls around and points are toted up, such students are often in danger of failure or loss of credits. To phrase the dilemma in its starkest terms, then, my question is what the awarding of grades and the awarding of credits represent. If goals and standards are the centerpieces of twenty-first century schools, should a student who reads widely, writes fluently, clearly and with authority, but has only turned in four of the eight required essays fail, and another student who has wrested meaning from Cliff and Monarch, and dutifully turned in all assignments, but cannot put together a clear and coherent paragraph much less an entire composition, pass? Since statewide testing results and APIs suggest that our real problems are with students at the lower ends of the literacy continua, my concern may seem trivial; but to me it raises a central question of our free public educational system: what is the purpose of schooling?

At 6' 4", Alex was immediately noticeable in any crowd of his high school peers, but he also stood out in ways having nothing to do with his height. He was an outstanding swimmer, a featured performer in his senior year production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, scored well over 1500 on the SAT (including a perfect 800 on the math portion), more-or-less ran the school's computer network and the library's computer lab, and, not infrequently, corrected my Latin. "I think you mean 'e.g.' and not 'i.e.' on this handout, Mr. Kammer," he'd begin, and then go on to patiently explain the difference. "You see, id est, meaning 'that is,' is used to introduce…." Other students would shake their heads and roll their eyes, but he clearly enjoyed such intellectual one-upmanship, which also set him apart from his contemporaries.

If he was sometimes pedantic, Alex was also insightful, wonderfully well read, talented, and, often, charming. He was certainly among the most able and best-prepared high school students I've ever encountered. And yet his performance in my class led me to crystallize my thinking on an ethical dilemma that has troubled me since I began my secondary teaching career, in the waning days of the Carter administration. While he clearly knew more than and could out-read, out-think, and out-write most if not all of his fellow students (and quite a few of his teachers, including me), Alex was constantly in danger of failing and, since it was a senior English class, in danger of not graduating. His situation caused me, for perhaps the thousandth time, to rethink the issue of the purpose, application, fairness, and, yes, ethics of grading and credits.

What are grades, after all, and why are they such an important part of school? What do they measure? On what are they based? At whom are they aimed? Whose interests do they serve? How important are they? How, and how closely connected are they to standards? How comparable are grades in what it takes to earn them from year to year, classroom to classroom, school to school? What are teachers' obligations, ethical and otherwise, to students, parents, schools, employers, and universities for impartial and consistent grading? Once students have left high school, do their grades matter to anyone, ever again? If so, why? These and other, related, questions occur to me periodically, when my grades are due, if not otherwise. But the grades must be tabulated and assigned, the sheets bubbled, the transcripts updated; under the intensive pressure of semester or year's end, the"why" of grading all too often takes a back seat to the necessity of having grades, of handing in computer sheets and printing report cards whatever those grades are, however accurate they are.

Alex continued to hug the edge of failure through the fall semester, his grade hovering in the 55-58% range, a solid "F+." He did just enough of the assigned work that was graded to stay in contention for a passing mark, but never actually reached a passing level. Then, the last few weeks of the semester, we did a senior class-wide poetry unit, and Alex's interest and involvement increased enough for him to pass the class . On the day of the final exam, he did a wonderful job on the presentation assignment which was a portion of the final; he showed up without the accompanying journal and poetry collection, however. We talked at the end of class, and after some half-hearted attempts at excuses, he told me to just go ahead and flunk him. We talked a bit longer and worked out an agreement by which he would turn in the required work the next day, before my last final. He did, the work was exemplary, and I gave him a D- for the semester, a grade that I gave him with many qualms.

One Merriman-Webster Dictionary definition of "ethical" is, "conforming to accepted, esp. professional standards of conduct." But what are the ethical, that is the accepted professional standards, relating to grading student work, to granting or denying credits for it? "Ethics" and "ethical" come from the same Greek root as "ethos," meaning, according to Merriman-Webster, " distinguishing character, tone, or guiding beliefs." This suggests that there exists a set of guiding beliefs about grading that infuse any school's grading systems. Yet none of the three schools in which I've taught had such a system, at least not one spelled out explicitly enough to be both workable and fair. Teachers, perhaps under the "standard" of professional autonomy, individually chose how to weight factors such as quality vs. quantity of work, class participation, etc., and set their own requirements about late and make-up work, grading for groups, and so forth. In the dictionary definition sense, I wonder, is it strictly ethical to allow such discrepancies? Is it ethical, much less fair to students that two classes, both named "Senior Academic English," be taught by two teachers with very different ideas about expectations and rigor, where comparable amounts and quality of work might earn a student in one class an "A-," and a student in another class a "C+"?

Alex eventually failed his last semester of English, though he showed up and participated, in his way, through the last day of the semester. He told me several times not to worry about him, that (no disrespect intended) whether he passed my class or not wasn't important and would have no effect on his graduation. He needed to pass a junior college class for which he would receive concurrent credit, a year's worth of high school English credit for a semester of j.c. work, in fact. That would allow him to make up for the lost credits from my class as well as for a class he'd failed his sophomore year. As it turned out, he failed to complete the j.c. class also, and, for good measure, failed his high school government requirement. So Alex, perhaps the most able English student in his class, finished high school without a diploma, leaving me with many more questions than answers.

Joel Kammer teaches English at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, and is a support provider for the district's BTSA program


What's To Be Learned From an Active Listening Lesson Gone Awry?
Carrie Holmberg

This was the second time through a round of lit. circle meetings for my freshmen. Now November, they were familiar with the roles and routines of meeting in lit. circles from their September experiences. For this second round, I introduced a new twist: a focus on active listening.

Surveying my classroom I saw my ninth graders actively engaged in their four different lit. circle discussions. Five girls in one corner were discussing Drew Barrymore's Little Girl Lost. Rebecca's straight black hair swung forward as she leaned in to touch Victoria's forearm, exclaiming, eyes wide, "I know!" In another group, Muizz, a Passage Master, read aloud from Frankenstein as his groupmates followed along with open books. Muizz huffed and puffed upon finishing, exaggerating his breathlessness after "such a long sentence." Opposite them another group was talking about Go Ask Alice. "The Prodigal Son? Well, that's when…" Laughter was erupting from the Golden Compass group. "But, but, but…"Archana was saying. Her earnest expression hinted she was getting their attention to make a serious point. It looked as if their lit. circle meetings with an active listening focus had been successful, even enjoyable.

Their Written Reactions
Later that afternoon, after the last student had left room 105, I read over their brief reflections. I had asked for their reactions to having the active listening activity added to their lit. circle meetings. Still enjoying that "good teaching day glow," similar to how I feel after hosting an enjoyable dinner party, I was surprised to see, from several students:

"I hated it."
"This was extremely annoying."
"The focus pretty much just wasted time."

I hadn't expected them to love it, but I certainly thought most would find it worthwhile.

Though not entirely successful, this teaching day had stuck with me. I had reflected on it for part of my National Board portfolio and shared it with colleagues. It wasn't until responding to this issue's call for manuscripts, however, that I came to some of the more important insights I will discuss.

I found my ninth graders were willing-though reluctant-to try verbal behaviors they didn't use with their friends in the halls. I considered how active listening in an academic setting differs from active listening in other settings, such as at a concert or with family. I was reminded that when introducing a lesson, it is crucial to establish a context that students can relate to. Finally, I was reminded that a good lesson deserves the chance to grow into a great one. Helpful colleagues and time to reflect can make all the difference in this regard. Mushrooms may spring from the earth by themselves overnight, but sound, successful lessons often need more time and nurturing than that.

Reasons for the Active Listening Focus
I wanted my students to recognize the ways they already did listen actively and to try some new ways. I wanted them to speak in academic language without losing the enthusiasm they showed when talking amongst themselves about pleasure reading books. They considered lit. circles fun. I wanted to keep some of the fun, but also ease them into academic discourse. I didn't want to teach active listening as a stand-alone activity, so I embedded it into an already-scheduled literature circle meeting.

I have found it useful, at times, to give my lessons two kinds of objectives, one for content, and one for process. Since we can't possibly teach all the content our students need for life beyond high school, we can wisely teach processes that will help them digest new content. I saw the lit. circle meetings as a fitting place to focus on the process of active listening while they dealt with content they, for the most part, enjoyed and found easy.

I didn't want them brainlessly parroting "active listening" phrases, but neither did I want them slouching and only reading aloud from their Role Sheets, as had sometimes happened in previous lit. circle meetings. Before a lit. circle meeting, each student views the pages read for that meeting though a particular lens, his or her Role. Some students focus on pivotal passages (Passage Masters), others on the various settings in a book (Travel Tracer), others bring music that could accompany the pages read, (Music Maker), and so on. These different perspectives are meant to spark discussions that will quickly move beyond their prepared Role Sheets. But if students don't actively listen to one another other, their discussions can stall. I figured that a process of focus of active listening would bolster the content focuses of their lit. circle discussions.

Creating the Handout
The night before the lesson I stayed up late. I knew we needed a working definition of active listening that I could use to elicit examples from the students. Freshmen take comfort in explicitness; they needed concrete, specific things they could do as active listeners. Then they could practice the skills in their own words. I knew of Dr. Kate Kinsella's "Language Strategies for Active Classroom Participation." Kinsella teaches her students specific phrases to use for several categories of active classroom participation, such as: asking for clarification, expressing an opinion, soliciting a response, disagreeing, affirming, and so on. I prepared a chart with four umbrella categories. Excited, I showed them to my husband. He asked, "Why do you do each of those? What purpose do they serve?" So I added a row, including purposes. I hoped giving each active listening strategy a purpose would engage those students who, like my husband, needed a "good reason" to act.

I left note-taking space for students to copy example behaviors and phrases we came up with as a class. Since I wanted to raise their awareness of active listening behaviors in action, I left space for them to make tally marks under each umbrella category. They were to note/mark when someone exhibited that category of active listening behavior. I excused them from tallying examples of Using Positive Body Language, however, because I figured there would be continual evidence of that.

The Handout
When I was done, it looked like this:

Active Listening Means…

Umbrella Category Using Positive Body Language* Summarizing/Restating Asking Clarifying Questions Taking the idea a step further w/example/counter-example
Why do we do this? For what purpose? To reassure speaker; to establish a polite environment To get everyone to understand the same point To tease out a deeper understanding To propose a deeper understanding; to challenge
Examples of this behavior (actions or phrases)
Left blank so students can write in examples
Place to tally   Space for tally marks for this category Space for tally marks for this category Space for tally marks for this category

*Definitions of respectful listening often differ among cultures. Most white Westerners, for example, are brought up to make eye contact when listening to their superiors ("Look at me when I'm talking you, young man…"), while Asians and Latinos are often taught to look down to show respect.


David's Comment; Different Kinds of Active Listening
After the day's activity I asked for their reactions in writing. They ran from "The active listening made it funner [sic]," to "the talk was less natural," to those, which I shared earlier, from students who detested it.

One student's comments, however, really puzzled me at first. David, an athletic boy with sun-bleached blonde hair, often wrote about wakeboarding or snowboarding in my class. He wore t-shirts with rollerblade equipment-maker's logos, smiled easily, and sought to stay out of trouble and my attention. David's comments about the active listening focus for the lit. circle meetings caused me to reconsider the context in which I introduced the lesson. David wrote:

Personally the active listening thing doesn't work for me because I have to move around constantly. If I don't I'll just fall asleep or something. So I didn't follow the guide [my handout] very closely. I tried to follow the guide but it did not alter the fact that I listen just as well doing something.

For David, the term "active" listening must have seemed like an oxymoron. "Active" was wakeboarding, or grinding down some handrails in rollerblades, not sitting with face, shoulders, and knees toward the speaker, asking a clarifying question. What kind of "active" was that? His personal definition of "active listening" probably looked quite different from ours. Was he picturing an MTV pastiche of his peers as they stood around chewing gum, bouncing superballs or kicking a hacky-sack, and slapping each other on the back as they actively listened to each other? In contrast, we had listed "keeping still" among our Using Positive Body Language characteristics. To David, our tame phrases must have seemed designed-like much of school perhaps-to keep him from moving around, from "doing something."

But David hadn't struck me as someone who would find active listening difficult. If David felt that way, how about other students who really can't sit still? Some say the numbers of students with ADHD are growing. How could I broaden the context of my active listening lesson to be more inviting to all?

I already recognized that being able to participate in academic discourse effectively is one of educated/privileged society's gate-keeping skills. I wanted to ensure my students access to such settings. But David's comment set me thinking. Was there a "standard" way of active listening? To what extent is teaching my definition of active listening like teaching standard English to students who speak nonstandard dialects at home?

What if David represents students who need to be "doing something" [moving, fidgeting] no matter what environment they are in? How could I address their needs? The class could talk about how there are many ways to listen actively, not just four umbrella categories. By educating ourselves, we could make everyone more open and accepting of different ways of listening. We could also talk about ways such "non-standard" listeners could educate their group members about how they most effectively listen. They could learn to say, "I just want you to know that even though I'm drawing, I'm listening to you. It helps me concentrate on what you're saying." Doing so could keep non-standard listeners from being judged in ways that might limit their access to certain settings. It could also prevent them from having to subvert their personal listening style in favor of the standard one, reducing their listening effectiveness. Best of all, perhaps, it might give them the power of conscious decision-making. They could decide that in certain settings the trade-off between personal listening efficiency vs. fitting in with the dominant behavior style is one worth making-or not.

Backing Up in Order to Move Forward
How would each of my students have been better served if I had framed the activity differently? I was used to setting up writing assignments by starting broad, then narrowing down. (Of all the different kinds of writing, we're going to do expository; of all the kinds of exposition, we're going to literary analysis; of all the kinds of literary analysis, we're going to do the "kind" that will score well on the Advanced Placement exam…) To introduce a new reading strategy I start with the students' own experiences-how they read and re-read love notes, pondering the layers of meaning in every little word-then bring them around to the world of academia. I could have done similarly with my active listening lesson. Opening with a discussion of the many different settings in which we listen actively would broaden the context, engaging more students. We could have talked about the many different purposes we have when listening, and how a speaker's purposes affect our listening strategies. The shape active listening takes is a function of the setting and the listener's and speaker's purposes. We could have talked about how listening to a friend's directions to a party differs from listening to a classmate's oral presentation, or to a peer's response to the second draft of your literary analysis essay, the one you badly want to get an A on-and that's due tomorrow! Listening to excerpts of Donald Rumsfeld talking about military missions he doesn't want to jeopardize during a press conference differs from overhearing a father read a bedtime story to a child. Talking about these examples would have given them context for what they were about to do, and perhaps made it more meaningful for them. Broadening the context brings others on board. It's a strategy we often use in small and large groups with our colleagues. Sometimes during a meeting, as I'm jumping straight into details, my mentor will kindly interrupt me. "Can you back up a bit?" she'll ask, to include newcomers into the discussion. Our students are like perpetual newcomers. But they often lack a helpful colleague asking the teacher to step back a bit, please. Backing up bit is worth every step because then more folks are with you as you step forward.

Setting them Up for Difficulty: Tallying as they Talked
I learned that having the students analyze at the same time they were participating in a discussion was asking too much. They felt pulled away from discussions they were otherwise enjoying. One student reflected:
I don't know how it is for most people, but for me, I can't listen to someone talk and write at the same time. When we used the worksheets, I couldn't concentrate on what my group was saying. Instead, I paid more attention to the worksheet rather than listening to my group.

I could have altered my objectives for the lesson. Rather than have all students both analyze and use the active listening strategies at the same time, I could have had one group discuss as another group, or even the rest of the class, watched and tallied. This fishbowl arrangement works well for a variety of purposes. Or I could have had one member of each group observing and tallying. This observer-tallier position could rotate every five minutes so that everyone got to do it during the same class period. It might give the groups a "musical chairs" quality for the day, but there might be some advantages in that. A tallier noticing an adroit use Taking the Idea a Step Further with an Example or Counter-Example could then jump in and try it themselves with her own example/counter-example. A different format would short circuit the meeting from turning into a competitive tallyfest. Some of the boys in the Frankenstein group got silly. Albert reported that "Every other word we heard was 'Huh?' [ostensibly an example of asking for clarification] and Tom ended up with sixty-something points." Since when had the tally marks turned into points?

Another group revealed their desire to have a lengthy, meaningful discussion rather than focus on using the active listening strategies. Michelle wrote:
This was extremely annoying; we wasted more time than we ever have before. The best example of one of us using these expressions was when Chirag was explaining why he couldn't possibly draw all the colors mentioned in the book, and Archana said, 'So, what you're saying is you're lazy.' Most of us tried as hard as possible to ignore this sheet, so that we could focus on the discussion, and not just our unofficial "who can find the funniest way to say these things" contest. I love lit. circle discussions; please, just give us the whole period to talk [Eventually I did.]

As teachers sometimes we get rigid in how we want learning to be acquired. I know it sometimes happens to me. I often expect my students to do everything I direct them to, for the entire period of time I allot. I saw some groups stop tallying and toward the end of the period I let them go, but part of me was disappointed that all of them didn't follow it through to the end (though one part of me acknowledged I had asked for the moon). Sarah's reflection reminded me that students don't have to do 100% of the activity to learn valuable lessons from it. Students will also learn more than we expect them to learn. We need to leave room for this, not micromanage. Sometimes we need to allow them to fail. And always, helping them reflect on learning events is important. Sarah wrote:
We sort of ignored it [the tally sheet]. Every once in a while, someone would make some sort of comment about needing to fill the sheet out, and the rest of us would murmur agreement, but none of us actually complied.
Which isn't to say it wasn't a valuable idea. In fact, it seems an excellent idea. If our lit. groups were easier to understand/control, they'd teach us even more. The worksheet was a good way to start that. I think the reason our group didn't participate is because sometimes it's easier to pretend something doesn't exist than to think and work.
Sarah also reminded me what we know as the adults in the room. We have to keep our standards high. We need to call them on their laziness, not cave in to their ignoring-it-so-it-will-go-away behaviors. Sometimes we have to push them hard to grow their Zones of Proximal Development.

Actively Listening to My Students
Just about all my students said the experience felt unnatural. We talked about this. Actually, they whined. They complained they sounded fake. One student said loudly, "I hated it." I didn't want to hear that. I don't design lessons expressly to torture students. But the book How to Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish taught me that students benefit from having their feelings listened to and acknowledged. Then they are willing to problem-solve, ready for learning. It wasn't easy to have students I worked with so closely vent their negative feelings for a lesson I had stayed up late creating (I always find criticism harder to take when the creation is fresh). But I listened. I gave them space, time, and respect. Then, it was like magic, they were ready to hear and accept my point: that it was natural for a new skill to feel unnatural at first. They soon agreed that doing something that was unnatural to them was the purpose. They were trying on academic language, language their friends weren't using They conceded that active listening skills were important and useful to have. They bought into that. They saw that even if they didn't like the taste, the vegetables I was giving them were, in fact, making them stronger.

That's, finally, what I learned about active listening: if my students felt listened to, they were willing to accept what I was trying to teach them, even if the lesson didn't go as I had planned.


Jim Gray Tells All

Teachers at the Center: A Memoir of the Early Years of the National Writing Project,
by James Gray (National Writing Project, Berkeley, California 2000)

Reviewed by Jerry Camp

First: full disclosure. Jim Gray changed my life. Of course hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teachers could say the same thing, but in my case it
is literally true. A participant in the second summer institute of the Bay Area Writing Project (see pp. 67-69, "close to being a total disaster"), I
went on to work for the writing project for four years, presented many workshops and got to travel to Germany and Spain for the project, and
finally, as a direct result of my connection with Jim, got two jobs any teacher would kill for: a year as remedial writing instructor at the College
of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas, and five years as Language Arts Coordinator for the military dependents school system in the Mediterranean.
Despite these gifts (and my deep love for Jim), what follows is an objective look at Teachers at the Center, Jim's "Memoir of the Early Years
of the National Writing Project."

That said, the first point I would like to make is that the book is pure reading pleasure. When considering writing the history of the writing
project, Jim was advised by Art Peterson, the NWP editor, "Why don't you tell stories? You're a good storyteller. Tell stories." And that is what
Jim has done here. The book is in no way a dry recording of the progress of the National Writing Project; it is a narrative (Jim correctly subtitles it
a memoir) of more than fifty years of Jim's life. And it becomes clear, as the reader reads Jim's stories, that the writing project is not just an idea
he developed, but is in fact the synthesis of the experiences, influences, and thinking that made up his life.

In my view, the book is really three books. The first part of the book is Jim's reflection on his early years as a teacher. It details the influences
on him as a young teacher of high school English, but mainly Jim shows what he did in his classrooms during these years. And he shows his early failures (we all had them) as well as his discovery of what worked to get kids excited about reading and writing. The key to Jim's teaching was, from the beginning, or before that in Miss Popham's English novel class in Jim's own high school, "students at the center." This is the part of the book I really love. When I was a beginning teacher in the sixties, trying to learn what kind of teacher I wanted to be, there was a deluge of books by "super teachers," teachers who were succeeding with students who had had very little success in school previously. These books, by James Herndon, Herb Kohl, Dan Fader, David Holbrook, Jonathan Kozol, and a dozen others, showed losers becoming winners when teachers let students take charge of their own learning. I inhaled these books, and it's great to discover another one.

Though he didn't write a book at the time, this is what Jim had been doing in his classrooms in the fifties. He began leaving the anthologies on the
shelves and built his literature program around student-selected books from his growing classroom library of books scrounged from used book stores and the Salvation Army. Students would follow their own tastes, Jim would circulate and briefly talk with each student about what he was reading, and on Friday everyone would sit in a circle and each would tell about his reading.

I would have liked this part of the book to be longer. Once Jim gets started telling teaching stories, I want him to go on and on. Readers who
will really benefit from this part of the book are teachers: young teachers who, like me when I was young, need models of great teaching, and writing project teacher-consultants, who can compare their experiences to Jim's and will benefit from knowing that the whole magic of the writing project idea grew directly out of the founder's beginnings, not as an academic, but as one of them. In terms of the overall message of the book, this section really identifies the root of the writing project's teachers-teaching-teachers model. These are the experiences that shaped the
project, making it different in kind from previous top-down teacher "improvement" programs.

The second book within this slim volume describes the origins of the Bay Area Writing Project itself. Again, it is great reading, not because it
shows the full-blown "Writing Project Model" as a brilliant concept put into action, but because, as with his first year of teaching, Jim fearlessly
shows the times when the project failed as well as how it ultimately succeeded. It shows the project emerging, as it were, from the ashes of
"The Poly High Debacle" and "BAWP Bombs at Acalanes," not to mention the second (my) summer institute that Jim finally called off a week early
because nothing was working as it should. Current and prospective directors of other writing project sites will take heart from the early
failures and learn from the model that emerged from them.

The key chapter here is "A Year in the Life of the Writing Project." By tracing each of the events in the project's year, Jim shows how, step by
step, a successful summer institute is put together, becomes a working "family," and then moves out to the year's work providing inservice to the
schools. If the reason for the project's success had to be summarized in a single sentence, I'd pick the one at the top of page 84: "The writing
project is not a writing curriculum or even a collection of best strategies; it is a structure that makes it possible for exemplary teachers to share
with other teachers ideas that work." Jim, I remember, was continually worried that other directors didn't fully "get" the full project philosophy,
and here he gives his shot at making sure they "get it right."

As a witness to these early years, I wish Jim had given a little attention to one thing that helped make the project the revolution it was. He talks
about recruiting the finest teachers, but I would have liked him to show more of them as performers. We see a bit of Bob Tierney, the biology
teacher who conducted "more workshops than any TC in the history of the writing project." What we don't see is why. It is simply a fact that, in
addition to being a great teacher, Bob is also one of the funniest human beings alive. If he had chosen stand-up comedy instead of high school
teaching as a career, Bob would have eclipsed Bob Hope. We see Miles Myers as a superb administrator, but we don't see Miles as the superb
teacher-presenter, in many ways the opposite of Bob Tierney, dry, academic, but with such an incisive mind that his presentations had teachers in awe of his understanding both of students and of what worked in the classroom. We get a mention of Keith Caldwell, but I'm sorry we don't get to see him performing, telling his bizarre classroom stories with a deadpan humor that mesmerized his audiences, students as well as teachers. I don't know if Jim could tell potential site directors that they want to seek out not only great teachers, but also great entertainers (and I'm convinced the two are really the same), but those of us who were there know that this is why BAWP was the best education show in town.

The third part of the book shows the growth of the writing project from BAWP to the California Writing Project and, simultaneously, the National Writing Project. It is this growth, from a single local project to 178 sites at universities in every state that makes this book an essential document. The writing project is clearly an idea that changed the face of education, and this section records the way that happened and the educational leaders who were able to perceive how revolutionary the writing project idea really was. Jim identifies many supporters who were crucial figures in the project's growth. Among these were Roderick Park, Vice Chancellor, Provost, and Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University, and Paul Diederich, the dean of evaluators in the field of English and the author of Measuring Growth in English. If these evaluators had not understood Jim's vision and contributed their support to its dissemination, it could never have had the impact it had. The history is enlivened for us less historical-minded readers by Jim the storyteller, here borrowing stories from other National Writing Project pioneers. Mary Ann Smith tells the
story of the Mississippi Writing Project and the beginnings of federal funding of the National Writing Project. I was also fascinated to read
Denise Patmon of the Boston Writing Project telling about moving the writing project toward diversity when she discovered she was the only black person at the 1981 meeting of site directors.

To summarize (objectively, of course): this is a great book that should be read by all teachers, all actual and potential writing project site
directors (no worry here-site directors must have read the book the day they received it-just to reassure themselves they really were doing it right) and every educator who wants to know the truth about the idea that swept the nation. But finally, the greatest strength of this book is that it is (as is the writing project itself) the projection of the personality of a man perhaps little known outside of the movement he gave birth to, but beloved by virtually all who ever came in contact with him. This book is, in a real sense, the life of Jim Gray, my mentor, my friend, my almost father.

In closing I want to quote Ken Macrorie, one of the most influential writing teachers of our time: "TEACHERS AT THE CENTER" is the most brilliant
teacher book I've ever read or expect to read."


Editor's column
-Carol Jago

California's English Language Arts Standards feature two full pages describing listening and speaking skills. I wonder how many of us have read them. By the tenth grade students are expected to "formulate adroit judgments about oral communication and deliver focused and coherent presentations of their own that convey clear and distinct perspectives and solid reasoning." Can the 15-year-olds at your school do this? Most of mine struggle with focus, peppering their speech with "really" and "very" and "ya know" even in relatively formal presentations. Listening and speaking are essential skills that deserve much more curricular attention than they currently receive.

In many ways oral and aural skills are more applicable to the "real world" than any of the other standards. I worry, though, that since listening and speaking don't feature in any of our current tests they are being given short shrift. Imagine if students were expected to memorize a poem and deliver a dramatic reading as part of their standards-based assessment. Or if their electronic portfolio included a video clip of students engaged in small group discussion of a piece of literature or controversial issue. What if students were asked to listen to a famous historical speech and then write about the speake'¹s use of rhetorical devices? While the cost of such assessments is likely to prevent them from ever becoming part of our state test repertoire, listening and speaking need to be taught.

In truth, most kids want to be heard. But with 36-37 students in the typical California classrooms it is hard to find time for every voice. Who does most of the talking? The teacher, of course. Students listen with half an ear and their eyes on the clock. On the following pages you will find essays by CATE president Aaron Spain, Ron Featheringill, Carrie Holmberg, and Lola Brown which offer ideas about how to make listening and speaking an integral part of your curriculum. They also explore the reasons why it is so important to help students listen with head and heart as well as speak their minds.