Farewell, dear readers

Many of you have subscribed to this blog for years. Some of you have given me valuable feedback and badly needed encouragement. Several of you have tagged after me from the time I began my first website, You-Can-Teach-Writing.com back in 1988.

I’m deeply indebted to all of you.

As Covid ceases to be a pandemic and, if the scientists are right, becomes endemic like seasonal flu, I suspect a good many of you will be leaving teaching. Some of you will leave because you’re reached retirement age and coping with Covid has left you mentally and emotionally exhausted. I suspect many more will leave because the mental and emotional exhaustion caused by Covid-caused has been compounded by disillusionment with public education. I hope each of you will find time to rest and recharge. Then I hope you’ll find a place to use your experience in settings that provide you with work that gives you pleasure.

I haven’t much hope to offer those of my readers who cannot afford to quit teaching now, except to say that Ukrainian teachers whose homes and schools were bombed to rubble are still teaching their students. As bad as your situation is, it can’t be that bad. What you must do, you can do.

With all best wishes,

Linda G. Aragoni

Reasons to read paper books

The Bainbridge, NY, Public Library put a blurb in the local Chamber of Commerce newsletter promoting reading as a hobby.  The item reads:

Research shows that reading an actual real paper books:
• helps you fall asleep
• reduces stress & lowers blood pressure
• fights depression
• helps improve memory and focus

I suspect reading “an actual paper books” does not improve memory of the content of the books over which the reader fell asleep.

©2021 Linda G. Aragoni

Watch my next expository writing project

I’m about to take a figure leaps gap in bridge surface
to a totally new expository writing project: a series of short, illustrated expository nonfiction stack of booksabout how to have pleasant experiences visiting in a icon representing nursing homeWhether you go to visit a resident who is part of your
icon for familyor as a call on someone as theiricon representing clergy personor,  as I did, spend time making new acquaintances as aicon for volunteerthere will be a book from the Title: Thanks for Dropping By series to meet your unique needs.

You can get monthly reports on my progress (or lack thereof) by giving me your email address and promising not to gloat if I make a fool of myself.

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

I look at 1919 bestsellers for Fine Books blog

For the fifth year in a row, Fine Books and Collections Contributing Writer Nate Pedersen picked my brains about 100-year-old best sellers for a January post  for the magazine’s blog.

screen shot of blog post

Nate is one of the co-authors of Quackery, a nonfiction books which I profiled here December 27, 2019. I met him through doing the retrospectives and that’s how I discovered his book.

Reading vintage fiction has been my hobby for years, but doing it systematically was a fairly recent decision. This year I’ll finish reading all the bestsellers of the 20th century and reviewing them for contemporary readers at my blog GreatPenformances. After that, I’m going to go back to being unsystematic again, starting, I think with Charles Dickens and some Elizabeth Berg novels I’ve missed.

Do you do any real writing?

I was once invited to speak to junior high students about my writing.

At the time, I was writing primarily for clients who needed informational texts generated quickly primarily on topics in the sciences, technology, engineering, and medicine.

I told the students I was usually hired when a company had some written project they wanted to do but which wasn’t a top priority.  Around November, if the client had some money left in the budget, I’d be hired to write the manual or instructional package they wanted before the end of the year when the funding would disappear.

A technical expert from the client’s company would brief me about the project. The most important information was a detailed description of the audience. One project I did, for example,  was a manual for mechanics in a third world country who have minimal formal education and whose first language is not English.

The client’s representative would hand me a stack of source material—journal articles, pamphlets, photocopies of images available as illustrations, the company’s previous publications on the topic, etc.—and an outline. We’d agree on some interim checkpoints, shake hands, and I’d be on my own until the first checkpoint.

At the first checkpoint, the client’s representative would make sure my work would be readily understood by the intended audience and that I was meeting or exceeding the output requirements.

When I finished my presentation,  a blond kid in the front row raised his hand.

“Do you do any real writing?” he asked.

I quickly thought of several responses, before settling on one suitable to the situation.

“No,” I said. “I don’t do any real writing.”


What is the world coming to?

I’ve been doing some catch-up reading in my RSS feeds this morning.

Among other things, I read a piece about how a new generation of web designers has emerged, people who were moved from a non-website job in their companies into web work because of a “natural flair” for web projects and their companies’ desire to have web work done faster and cheaper.

The newbies aren’t  detail people who honed their skills by years of work. Those folks who sweat over making sure sites were “compliant across every browser from an x-box to an iPhone” are looking for work—and not finding it.

Web designers who can make shoddy look good are trending.

What is the world coming to?

I also read an article in eCampus News about how America’s Generation Z—today’s school-age population—has no interest in having an IT career.

Generation Z wants their devices to work flawlessly, the help desk to help when they need it, but they don’t want to do any of that work themselves.

That attitude is a problem because without IT people, schools, healthcare, garage doors, and fuel pumps won’t work.

And without IT people, the next generation of devices won’t get off the drawing boards.

What is the world coming to?

More important, are we educators part of the solution or are we contributing to the problem?

Helping Teens Outgrow Adolescence

Efforts underway locally to begin a youth center have prodded me into thinking again about how teens become adults.

Cover of Escaping the Endless AdolescenceTurning its youth into adults is vital for this rural area, since the majority of students who go off to college never return. Unless the teens who stay here after high school become productive members of the community, the brain drain will kill it.

In Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before they Grow Old,  Joseph and Claudia Allen  discuss how parental and societal desire to shield children from responsibilities of adult life have backfired.  Instead of helping teens, we’ve turned them into wimps who can’t fill out a job application without asking Mom what to write. We’ve kept teens doing fun activities  instead of challenging them to tackle something tough but important.  Many of today’s teens don’t feel capable of doing any adult task alone: They suffer from what the Allens call “chronic success deprivation.”

The answer is not creating places where teens can gather to learn from other teens how to behave. That postpones or detours teens’ development into adulthood.

The answer is putting teens into situations where they work alongside adults to accomplish goals that matter to the community.

Principles for teaching adult roles

Escaping the Endless Adolescence provides five principles to guide parents and communities’ efforts to help adolescents morph into adults:

1. Include them.

Giving teens opportunities to participate in the adult world taking on adult responsibilities at home, school and in the community. Genuine volunteer opportunities are good. (Required “volunteer work” and school-sponsored volunteer days are bogus.)

2. Go with the flow.

Build on teens’ desire for autonomy. Given them tasks they are capable of doing that need to be done. Then let the teen figure out how to do it.

3. Connect, connect, connect. 

Adults need to keep offering a relationship even when teens act as if they don’t want to interact with other adults, including their  parents.

4. Ramp up the challenge.

Teens respond to real challenges that are adult-like, that leave them with a sense that what they do matters in the adult world, that they can function competently and succeed in the adult world.  Often that means turning over to teens something they can do but which well-meaning parents or teachers didn’t want to burden them with.

5. Give it to them straight.

Teens see through the “everybody is a winner” baloney. They need to experience some of the unpleasant aspects of adult life, such as getting negative feedback.

Adults often fear that helping teens grow up will take far too much time and energy.  In truth, teens are as skillful as toddlers at mimicing adult behavior. They just need good models.

Teens learn by observation

In the late 1980s, the New York State Education Department asked the distance learning program I directed to test distance learning with students identified as likely high school dropouts. At that time, it was widely believed that only the very best students were able to learn via technology.

Four schools agreed to participate. They selected students who had failed at least two eighth grade classes and were seen as unlikely to complete high school. Studentz were told they would be allowed to enter ninth grade that fall only if they completed the 20-day program. Completion meant only that they showed up for three hours those 20 days.

We pulled together a team of four teachers, put them in four different schools, each with a small group of students. Each teacher was responsible for presenting material in a certain subject to the entire group via the technology. In addition, the teachers had to do right along with their studentswhatever tasks the presenter assigned.

By the third morning, every student was saying, “please,” “thank-you” and “excuse me.”  Nobody told them to do that: It was what they heard adults do.

We also saw a big change in how students handled frustration. They observed how teachers responded to technology glitches or to another teacher’s difficulty using the technology. Those adults didn’t  resorting to name-calling or smash something.  They suggested options.

Those behavioral changes may seem trivial, but they signaled the students’ eagerness to prove they were up to adult challenges.

Not one of the students missed a class.  One pedaled a bike five miles to and from class when he didn’t have a ride.

They were on time.

They participated.

And all but one graduated high school within five years.

Related blog posts

Website Closing, Blog Remaining

Tomorrow I begin putting up the shutters and turning off the lights at my website.

Begun in 2008,  You-Can-Teach-Writing.com had a good run, with enough visitor traffic to put it in the top 5% most used sites on the web by 2012. That’s not too shabby for a one-person operation whose competitors are sites like the Purdue OWL, NCTE, and EDSITEment.

The decision to close the site was a long and painful one, which, typically for me, ended with a laugh as I was reading a vintage novel.

At one point in the Louis Auchincloss 1964 novel The Rector of Justin, a famous secondary educator,  quoting Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” asks  a longtime friend and colleague if  there isn’t still some “some work of noble note”  for him to do.

His friend replies that the work of noble note is “to quit while you’re ahead.”

I’m not ahead, but I’m quitting anyway.

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

This  blog, which has been a subdomain of the website, will be untethered and — fingers crossed — should continue to be available. It will, however, have a new URL, which will mess up the RSS and email content delivery until I can get things sorted out. I apologize for the inconvenience. Life happens.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Frightening Revelation from Teacher Trainer


Subscribers to a monthly ezine I published* for teachers were invited to give some information anonymously about their teaching assignment and preparation for teaching nonfiction writing.  As I skimmed forms completed recently, one caught my attention.

The anonymous respondent, whom I’ll refer to by a feminine pronoun simply since most of my subscribers are female, said her first language is not English. That’s not typical of my subscribers, but it’s far from rare.

She also checked that she was “totally unprepared for teaching nonfiction writing,” and that she had taught writing for less than one year. Nothing unusual there. Most of my subscribers report less than adequate preparation,  though most have been teaching several years.

She indicated most of her students are between 18 and 24 years of age.  That’s not typical of my subscribers, but neither is it unusual.

What caught my eye was the subscriber’s job: “Supervise teachers/administer edu program”

That is more frightening than anything I saw on Halloween.

[* Writing Points ezine ceased publication in November 2013]

Survey seeks K-12 educators

Educators’ social media use and First Amendment issues are the focus of a doctoral dissertation by John Andrews. He has received approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to carry out the study. He still needs K-12 educators to participate, according to his dissertation advisor, Jon Becker (@jonbecker)

If you are a currently practicing K-12 educator based in the United States, and you haven’t already done so, please consider completing the survey. The direct link is http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SM-EDU Don’t be scared off by the fine print. It’s the standard disclosure language for participants in a research study.