Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Strategies for Students with Spelling Struggles

Many children have difficulty spelling. But did you know that this spelling weakness can affect both the writers they are today as well as the writers they will eventually become?

While spelling correctly is important, it can also be the source of disorganized and poor writing skills: especially in young children.

So what can you do?

Teach your child not to get hung up on spelling. This sounds like counter intuitive advice, right?

But it makes sense: you want your child to have a robust vocabulary and not shy away from using a great word simply because they cannot spell it.

Instead, teach your child to write freely and circle the words she doesn’t know how to spell.

Then, as part of  her proofreading, encourage her to look up the circled words and correct them. With this technique, you teach her not only to write freely and uninhibited, but also how to be accountable for finding and making her own corrections.

This technique fosters better writing and doesn’t distract from her train of thought during the first draft. In time, you will have a writer who uses both a vast lexicon of words and has the tools to edit properly.

And you just might be surprised to see your child’s spelling skills improve along the way!

Monday, October 26, 2015

SAT Word of the Week

The word gregarious is an adjective that means social, extraverted, or talkative. Children in a classroom are often gregarious and disrupt the teacher. In addition, animals are said to be gregarious when they live in flocks or herds: thy are social creatures.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Favorite Mark of Punctuation: The Colon

Yes, I know it is probably a bit odd to have a favorite punctuation mark. It's probably even stranger not to choose an illustrious piece of end punctuation. Nope. My favorite appears in the middle of a sentence - or perhaps a bit toward the latter half. 

I just love a well placed colon.

The colon is like a red flag for the reader to pay close attention to the information coming. A colon is used for two purposes.

1.       It can be used before presenting a list in a sentence.
I like all Italian food: pasta, lasagna, and bruschetta.
2.       It can also be used after an independent clause to draw attention to information that comes after it and further explains it.
I like all Italian food: it reminds me of my grandmother.

A well placed colon packs a punch mid sentence and makes the reader stop and take notice. After all, isn't it the writer's job to make an impact on the reader? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Whose job is it to Proofead?

It’s an age old problem. It’s something that teachers and parents talk about until they are blue in the face. It’s the one thing that can make the difference between adequate and excellent. It’s proofreading.

All too often, I read papers that are well organized, full of descriptive language, and clearly focused, yet they are riddled with spelling and punctuation errors. Many students do not realize that a simple once over in the proofreading department can improve their work a full letter grade!

One thing we can all do as educators and parents is to stop enabling this bad habit in our students. In my house, we have a strict policy: if my son brings me a paper to read, I hand it back as soon as the second proofreading error is found.  I am happy to take a look for style and content, but proofreading is not my job. It’s his.  

It can be helpful to sit with your student and make a proofreading checklist. Include the following things on the list: commas, incomplete sentences, spelling, missing words, and anything else where your student demonstrates a weakness. With beginning proofreaders, it may be helpful to read the work several time, once with each item on the checklist specifically in mind. Over time, proofreading will become a fluid endeavor completed in just one or two readings.

Secondly, even though spell/ grammar check is available on computers and processing programs, we should discourage our students from using them in place of their own proofreading. We don’t want our children dependent on spell check for proficiency any more than we want them dependent on calculators for addition. The skills need to be learned if we want to have successful writers.

So avoid the urge to proofread for your children. Hand it back after the second error. Teach them to use a dictionary. Let them proofread with you first and move toward independence. But remember: it is their job not yours!

Monday, October 19, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: NETTLE

The word nettle is a verb that means to annoy or harrass. It almost sounds like "needle" and when you needle someone, you keep poking and bothering them.

I was nettled by the girl's air of superiority. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Affect vs. Effect

Does Hemmingway's writing affect you or does it effect you? Not sure? Let's solve the problem once and for all.


The word affect is a verb. It is an action meaning to cause an emotional response or make a difference to the outcome of something. The word affect is something being done to you.

A movie affects you deeply if it makes you cry.
The weather affects you if it causes you to change your vacation plans. 


The word effect is a noun. As a noun, an effect is the change or consequence of an action. You can list effects.

The effect of the snow storm is that school is closed. 
The effects of the snow storm are closed schools, cold weather, and slippery roads.

Effect can also be a verb in some cases if it means to bring about change. You might join a protest to effect change in government. Effect as a verb is something that is being done by you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Grammar Testing as Part of a Job Application?

It is universally understood that mathematics skills are necessary in life regardless of the career path a student chooses. After all, taxes and tips need to be figured. Budgets need to be calculated and checkbooks balanced.

But it is becoming more and more understood that competent writing skills will be needed in the not so distant future as well. With the internet becoming a greater life presence in both home and work, communication skills are appearing more and more in the forefront of business.

It is becoming apparent that writing matters.

An article in the Berkley, University of California Career Center shows us just how important writing skills are to businesses—and
how essential they are to student success.

In a study of 120 American corporations hiring for professional jobs, CEO’s disclosed that over 80% of salaried employees have some degree of writing responsibility. These CEO’s said that “good writing equals good thinking.”

An even more important finding in this corporate study is the fact that when it comes to promotion within a company, writing skills are often a determining factor. One CEO stated the reason for this in simple terms: “If an employee is careless with his writing, then he’s likely to be careless with important company documents.”

Kyle Weins, CEO of iFixit and founder of Dozuki Software, goes
one step further. In his article in the Harvard Business Review, Weins says, “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar.” Both of his companies have a zero tolerance for grammar and writing errors that make a person appear sloppy and intellectually unprepared for the workplace.

As part of the hiring process, applicants of iFixit and Dozuki are required to take a grammar test. It doesn’t matter if the application is for stocking shelves or writing programming code...a grammar test must be passed.

When confronted by those who say that grammar is not an indicator of performance or intelligence, Weins vehemently disagrees. If a person goes to 12 years of schooling (at a minimum) and still can’t properly use commas or choose the correct variation of there and their, then they are not a quick enough study to work for him. Carelessness with writing and grammar shows a carelessness in the way other matters are approached, Weins maintains.

Furthermore, in this world of internet communication where face to face contact and relationship building is not a factor, a person’s word is all he has to make a sale. Your written word is your reputation. Good grammar is your credibility.

Whether it is right or wrong, people will judge you based on your ability to write clearly and properly.  Weins unapologetically defends his practice of testing employees for grammar proficiency. “All applicants say that they’re detail oriented; I just make my employees prove it.”

While some of his fellow CEO’s  are critical of Weins, others are   beginning to consider similar steps. It appears to be inevitable that the future of employment and promotion will require a higher standard of writing and grammar proficiency no matter what the profession. It makes sense, then, that writing education needs to take a greater precedence in schools and curriculums nation wide. But until standards change, it may just be that the proficient writers among the current college graduates will be the ones that rise to the top most quickly.

Monday, October 12, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: SUPERLATIVE

The word superlative means of highest quality or degree. You may be familiar with superlative adjectives which is the highest degree of an adjective such as big, bigger, biggest. Biggest is the superlative form...the highest quality or degree.

In the question above, the answer is A. extremely good.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Proper Article Usage: A or An?

So many students don't seem to have a concrete plan for when to use the article a and when to use the article an. They are NOT interchangeable and learning one quick rule will fix the dilemma forever!


Use the pronoun an before a word that begins with a vowel or the sound of a vowel. (Remember that the vowels are a, e, i, o, and u.)

It is essential not to miss the key word in the rule: the SOUND of a vowel.

an apple
an octopus
an hour

In these examples, apple and octopus begin with vowels. The word hour, however, begins with the consonant H, but it sounds like the vowel O. Since we pronounce the H in hour like a vowel, use the article an. 


Use the pronoun a before a word that begins with a consonant letter or has the SOUND of a consonant.

a ball
a towel
a university

In these examples, beach and towel begin with consonants. The word university begins with a vowel, but it has the sound of a consonant. The U in university sounds like a y in you-niversity. Therefore, use the article a. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Online Learning: The Great Equalizer

With Online Scribblers immersed in its 4th year, it is only natural to reflect upon its continued development and growth. In doing so, one question continues to present itself: What are the advantages of online learning?    

The answer appears evident. Online learning affords students a unique educational experience emphasizing superior accessibility, individualized pacing, and custom feedback.    

First, online learning allows every student access to experts in their field no matter where they live. Previously, students in metropolitan areas had greater access to higher education and renowned professional experts. Now even students in rural, less inhabited areas can learn from the best. Even more importantly, these students can collaborate and learn together. Their diversity lends a greater depth to the learning process. Online learning equalizes opportunity among all students.

Secondly, online learning allows students to progress at their own pace and around their schedules. No longer must one student spend an hour on a lesson that made sense to them in 20 minutes. Similarly, a student who struggles with a concept has the chance to repeat and review it as many times as needed to fully grasp it.

Online learning also allows students and families to forge their own academic experience. It is flexible.  A family might travel frequently: no problem. A student might deal with intermittent health concerns: no problem.  A student might be pursuing a competitive talent: no problem.  These students don’t need to choose between their specific interests or circumstances and a quality education. Online learning makes everything possible.    

Finally, online learning allows teachers to provide individual and customized feedback to each student. The teacher can push an excelling student a bit harder while praising and encouraging the smaller accomplishments of a struggling student to affecting greater confidence. It eliminates the competition in education and focuses on the outcome. No two students are the same and neither should be their education.

In many ways, online learning is akin to having your own private tutor. And similar to the special relationship that develops between a student and their tutor, a unique relationship evolves between online students and their teachers. There is no hiding in the back row of the classroom or sinking low in a chair. There is no waiting for the outgoing student in the front row to answer all the questions. Online teachers get to know each student personally. Each student is held to a higher level of accountability and responsibility for their work.    

In a traditional classroom, a teacher has a finite amount of time to communicate a lesson, discipline, and develop a rapport among students. What a feat! However, online learning accelerates this one to one relationship between student and teacher. And once a level of comfort is achieved, the real nitty-gritty of learning can flourish.    

So, while knowledge is both power and the road to success, online learning just might be the modern face of education in today’s world: the great equalizer.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

SAT Word of the Week: WHET

The word whet is a verb meaning to sharpen or prepare. 

For example, you might say that the commercial whet your appetite for Italian food. The commercial advertising Italian food sharpened or made you salavate for the food. 

One might also whet or sharpen a knife before carving the Thanksgiving turkey.