Do computerized programs help students become better readers?



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Do computerized programs help students become better readers?

During the past 15 years, computerized reading comprehension programs (having students take a test after reading a book) have swept the nation. Two of the most common programs are Renaissance Reading and Accelerated Reader.


The programs claim to increase the number of books that students read. The programs further claim that the more students read, the better they will read. Having students take tests on the computer reduces work for teachers. Most programs include an assessment test that identifies students’ reading levels. Students’ test scores are stored and tracked by the program. Some programs also claim to help students acquire technological expertise.
On the other hand, such programs have been criticized. Some critics say that schools have placed too much emphasis on these programs. In some cases, actual reading comprehension instruction has been replaced by computerized tests. Some opponents also say that forcing students to take tests and counting the tests as a significant portion of a grade makes students learn to hate reading. Some critics have also questioned counting one test as a significant portion of a student’s grade.

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Writing Situation:

Your school has to decide whether to renew its contract with the company which provides the computerized program for tracking students’ reading. Some members of the school council are asking if the program is a good idea. The school council has asked students who are interested to submit letters electronically expressing their views about the program.



Writing directions:
Decide whether you think computerized reading programs should be used in your school. Write an e-mail to the school council to present an argument to support your stance and develop your claims. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.


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Should 30 minutes of exercise be added to the school day?

As part of the nation’s new health and fitness program, every school has been asked to incorporate an additional 30 minutes of exercise into every school day. The plan has supporters and opponents.


Opponents argue that taking 30 minutes to exercise will require teachers to take time away from teaching other important subjects, such as reading and math. Critics argue that getting an extra 30 minutes of exercise is a good plan, but students should do the exercise on their own time. Students’ progress in reading and math is vitally important to the success of all schools. Some schools have also questioned how they can schedule all classes in areas appropriate for exercise for an extra 30 minutes a day. In addition, teachers have expressed concerns about needing ideas for physical activities for the extra 30 minutes a day.
On the other hand, supporters point out that an extra 30 minutes of exercise a day can help students become healthier. Students can improve their blood circulation and heart health; they can lower their blood pressure and overall weight. Supporters also argue that getting students into the habit of getting 30 minutes of exercise a day will encourage students to continue the practice as adults, which would lead them to better health over a lifetime. Supporters have also suggested that healthier students are smarter.


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Writing situation:

Your school principal is considering adding 30 minutes of exercise to the school day. He has asked all students who are interested to post arguments on the blog he has set up for this purpose.



Writing directions:
Decide whether you think an extra 30 minutes of exercise during the school day is a good idea. Write a post for the school blog to present an argument to support your stance and develop your claims. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.


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Should classrooms contain desks or tables?

Students’ learning is affected by many factors. Students who want to learn usually learn more, and students who study regularly often do better in school. Other factors also affect learning. The lighting in a classroom is important; the floor in a classroom can also affect learning. Even the wall color can have an impact. Another element that can affect learning in any classroom is the furniture that is provided for students. Most classrooms have one of two types of seating for students: desks or tables. Both types have pros and cons.


Most teachers agree that tables are better for students who are working in small groups. Most tables also take up less space than desks, and many teachers value the extra room. Tables are often more convenient when working on projects that have many materials.
Desks, on the other hand, give students more space to store their books and other items. If students are sitting at desks, classrooms may also be quieter because students usually are not sitting as close to each other as they would be at tables, and the temptation to talk is less. Desks usually give students more space to work.
Over the summer your school will be purchasing new furniture for classrooms. Teachers will need to choose between desks or tables and chairs for students.


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Writing situation:

An unexpected increase in tax revenue has given your school district thousands of dollars, and your school board, at the request of school administrators, has decided to spend the money on new furniture for classrooms. All teachers will be ordering tables or desks for students. Your principal has asked students to write letters supporting or opposing desks or tables.



Writing directions:
Decide which type of furniture you feel is best for classrooms. Write a letter to your principal, presenting an argument to support your stance and develop your claims. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.



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Should keyboarding be taught in the early grades?
In today’s world, most people agree that over 90% of all jobs do or will at some point require employees to use a computer. Most people also agree that students should be taught computer skills, including keyboarding, in school. A debate has arisen over when keyboarding instruction should begin.
Studies have shown that children can easily learn keyboarding skills even before they know their alphabet. Studies have also shown that children who learn keyboarding skills at an early age are far more proficient and accurate than children who simply began hunting and pecking and later had to relearn the keyboard.
On the other hand, some educators have questioned teaching keyboarding to young children. These educators say that children have other more important things to learn and that keyboarding should not be a part of the curriculum. Some opponents have also questioned whether children are developmentally ready or intelligent enough to use computers at young ages.

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Writing situation:

As decisions are being made about next year’s curriculum, your principal and teachers need to decide whether keyboarding will be taught in the early grades. They have asked students in the upper grades to write letters supporting or opposing this proposed plan.


Writing directions:
Decide whether you think teaching keyboarding in the early grades is a good idea. Write a letter to your school’s principal, presenting an argument to support your stance and develop your claims. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.

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Should the school participate in the water project?

A major company has created a water-based drink that contains vitamins and minerals. As part of the promotion of this drink, the company is recruiting schools to be part of a research study on the effects drinking water may have on weight loss and student health as measured through school attendance. For one year, the company pledges to provide schools with four bottles of the new drink per school day for every student. The water should be available to all students during the school day. Schools are asked to keep track of bottles of the new product consumed by every student for the entire year. Students will be weighed at the beginning and end of the year and the data turned over to the company.


Opponents of your school’s participating in this project argue that little is known about this new product and that the vitamins or minerals could be harmful to some students. Opponents have also suggested that providing students with free water to drink could discourage students from drinking milk or fruit juice, which are healthy choices. Some critics have also questioned whether providing free drinks would cut down on school vending machine sales. Some teachers have complained about having to keep track of students’ water consumption. Teachers and principals are also concerned about the possible distraction that letting students have water in the classroom could have on learning.
Supporters of the project point out the positive effects that drinking water can have on the body. Water makes people healthier by helping all parts of the body to work more efficiently. Drinking water can also improve people’s immune systems. Fewer students who get sick means more students in school.

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Writing situation:

Your school council will have to make the final decision about whether your school will participate in this water project, but currently they are seeking input from teachers and students. They have asked students to submit their opinions in writing.



Writing directions:
Decide whether you think your school should participate in this water project. Write a letter to your school’s council, presenting an argument to support your stance and develop your claims. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.

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Should schools ban candy and soft drinks?
Michele Obama has argued that banning soft drinks and junk foods from the nation’s schools will lower the nation’s obesity rate among young children.
According to some statistics, 1 in 3 children in today’s K-12 schools are overweight, and some researchers have tied the obesity rate to the foods children consume in schools.
Almost all schools have vending machines, and almost all vending machines offer high-calorie sodas and sugary, salty snacks. Some reformers have argued that vending machines should be stocked with water or healthy drinks and fresh fruit.
Proponents of this plan cite the likelihood of obese children becoming obese adults. They also cite the links between obesity and various cancers, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Some supporters of removing candy and soda from schools have also cited the link between obesity and short life expectancies.
Some school administrators have argued against removing high-calories snacks from vending machines. In many districts across the nation, schools make money from vending machines. Some people are convinced that children would not buy healthier choices, and, thus, the revenue would fall. An immediate cause is that healthier choices would cost more, forcing students to buy less. Another reason is students may not be inclined to purchase food or drinks they do not like.
Some schools have argued that state or federal governments do not have the right to “censor” what schools offer in vending machines. Some other opponents of this plan have also argued that banning sugar and salt will make those ingredients even more attractive to youngsters and will prompt students to seek out those sodas and snacks outside of school.
Opponents of removing pop and candy from vending machines recommend that researchers should to look at the root causes of childhood obesity (lack of exercise, junk food at home, etc.).



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Writing situation:

The editors of a national online newsmagazine, Teen Talk, want to know what students think about providing candy and soda for students at school. They have asked people to write essays supporting or opposing having candy and soda in vending machines. Some of the essays will be published in the next issue of the magazine.


Writing directions:
Write an essay to be published in the newsmagazine for young people. Present an argument opposing or supporting candy and soda in vending machines. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.

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Should public schools offer single-sex classes?

Few researchers argue the claim that boys and girls learn differently. Biological and developmental differences affect how they learn. If students are offered single-sex classes, teachers could customize instruction to meet the needs of each. Girls are often more reserved and less likely to participate in discussions when boys are present. Boys often benefit from more emphasis on active learning.


Another benefit noted by teachers is that putting students into single-sex classrooms removes the barriers to learning created by students’ trying to impress or outdo each other.
Many studies have shown that students in single-sex classes do well academically, and several studies have published overwhelmingly positive results on state and standardized tests in elementary, middle, and high schools.
Another benefit, particularly in high schools, is that students in single-sex classes are more likely to take classes that are typically considered the province of the opposite sex. Girls may take computer science or engineering courses, and boys may take more drama or music courses.
Supporters point out that many of the nation’s most successful private schools offer students single-sex classrooms.
Some educators and civic groups have argued that separate classes for different sexes violates state and federal laws and possibly the Constitution because it leads to gender segregation. These opponents site Brown vs. Board of Education’s ruling that separate cannot be truly equal. Such classrooms would differ in instruction and curriculum and could lead to discrimination.
Opponents further argue that same-sex classes reinforces stereotypes, such as boys are more aggressive and girls are shy. Critics further argue that separating boys and girls is not preparing them for the real world of work, where they will have to work together.




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Writing situation:

Your local school district is considering single-sex reading and math classes for approximately half of all students in middle and high school next year. Before the final voting, the school board is asking teachers, parents, and students to share their opposition or support.



Writing directions:
Write a letter to the school board, presenting an argument that supports or opposes single-sex classes in middle and high schools. Provide reasons and details to support your argument.

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Should the driving age be raised?

Thousands of teen drivers crash every year, and thousands of teens die as a result of these crashes. Recently, there has been a national call for raising the driving age.


Raising the driving age, currently 16 and even as young as 14 in one state, will assure that fewer teens will be on the road, and will guarantee that fewer teens are injured or killed in automobile accidents. Raising the driving age would also protect other drivers and passengers who have been in wrecks caused by teen drivers. Research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has shown that older teens are less likely to have crashes on the road.
In Great Britain, teens must be 17 to drive, and in the European Union, teens must usually be 18.
Some parents have argued against raising the driving age because they do not have time to take their teens to activities or to part-time jobs. They have claimed that some teens will have to drop out of after-school or community activities or give up their part-time jobs.
Some insurance companies have noted that delaying the driving age for teens will dramatically reduce their revenues, and some car lot owners have expressed some concerns about selling fewer vehicles if fewer teens are driving.
Some teens have argued that inexperience rather than age causes most accidents and have asked legislators to consider lengthening the time that a teen has a learning permit before he or she can try for a permanent license.
Other opponents of raising the driving age have pointed out that teens are more likely to attempt to engage in other tasks while driving: talking, texting, eating, and drinking. This group has recommended that laws be enacted to encourage teens to behave more responsibly when driving, rather than raise the legal driving age.




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Writing situation:

Congress is considering a federal law that will raise the national driving age to 18. Representatives and senators are seeking input from their constituents. You can express your opposition or support by going to the national website and sending e-mail to your lawmakers.


Writing directions:
Write an e-mail to your state’s federal legislators, presenting your argument. As you oppose or support this proposed federal law, provide reasons and details to support your argument.


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Writing situation:

Your school has received a special grant. The money must be spent on equipment or resources that students will use outdoors. Students, parents, and teachers were surveyed to get ideas. The two most popular ideas are (1) a shelter with tables and benches and (2) an outdoor basketball court. Your school’s online newsletter has asked students to respond by developing an argument for one of these two possibilities.



Writing directions:
Decide which idea you think would be better for your school. Write an argument to be placed on your school’s online newsletter. Support your argument with strong reasons and relevant evidence.



AC-11




Writing situation:

Your school has decided to add a class to the curriculum for students in your grade. Which class will be added has been a source of many discussions. One group wants to add a speech class. Another equally strong group wants to add a Spanish class. Your school’s online newsletter has encouraged students to submit arguments in support of one of the classes.



Writing directions:
Decide which class you think would be more beneficial for students in your grade. Write an argument to be placed on your school’s online newsletter. Support your argument with strong reasons and relevant evidence.



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Writing situation:

Your school has announced that floor coverings in classrooms will be replaced over the break. At the present time, some rooms have tile, and some rooms have carpet. When the flooring is replaced, all rooms will have either tile or carpet. The school council will make the final decision, but they have asked for input from students.



Writing directions:
Decide which type of flooring would be better for your school. Write a letter developing an argument to be submitted to your school council. Support your argument with strong reasons and relevant evidence.


A-1




Do computerized programs help students become better readers?

During the past 15 years, computerized reading comprehension programs (having students take a test after reading a book) have swept the nation. Two of the most common programs are Renaissance Reading and Accelerated Reader.


The programs claim to increase the number of books that students read. The programs further claim that the more students read, the better they will read. Having students take tests on the computer reduces work for teachers. Most programs include an assessment test that identifies students’ reading levels. Students’ test scores are stored and tracked by the program. Some programs also claim to help students acquire technological expertise.
On the other hand, such programs have been criticized. Some critics say that schools have placed too much emphasis on these programs. In some cases, actual reading comprehension instruction has been replaced by computerized tests. Some opponents also say that forcing students to take tests and counting the tests as a significant portion of a grade makes students learn to hate reading. Some critics have also questioned counting one test as a significant portion of a student’s grade.




Writing situation:
Several new students are moving to your area and have to decide which school to attend. You want to help those students.


Writing directions:
Write an article to convince potential students to come to your school. Describe your school and give students specific reasons to support your argument explaining why they should decide to come to your school.


Writing situation:
Several new students are moving to your area and have to decide which school to attend. You want to help those students.


Writing directions:
Write an article to persuade potential students to come to your school. As you argue your position, include strong reasons that could convince students to consider your school. As you support your arguments, consider the counterclaims from those who may feel differently.

Writing situation:
Your school’s janitors are having to spend an extra two hours a day cleaning. They have complained to your principal about students not cleaning up messes. Your principal has asked for suggestions.
Writing directions:
Consider your thoughts about this issue. Write a letter to your principal, describing the problem and arguing for possible solutions. You will want to give strong reasons to support your argument.

Writing situation:
This fall your community is participating in a beautification project. The committee in charge is encouraging every business to make their buildings and the area surrounding them look better. Your school has not decided whether to be part of this project.

Writing directions:
Consider your position on this issue. Write a letter to your principal, arguing your position. Be sure to include specific details and specific reasons to convince your principal to support your argument.


Writing situation:
Many schools across the nation are promoting reading by having every student and staff member in a school read the same book. Your school is searching for suggestions. Students will be voting on books at the end of the month. Next week, at an all-school assembly, students in all grades will be given an opportunity to give a speech about the book they think everyone should read.
Writing directions:
Write a speech, describing the book and making an argument for everyone in your school to read it. Be sure to give several reasons to support your argument.


Instructional Strategies

Idea development – WHAT, WHY – Here the HOW will be brief.

These strategies push students beyond “Because I like it, that’s why!” reasoning.
1) Analyze the audience. What criteria would an audience consider important for a movie or show?
2) Brainstorm possible ideas with your class. This prompt is a good one to introduce at the end of class one day and have students bring in ideas the next day.
3) Now, look back at your audience analysis. Have students make a list of criteria that should (or should not) be considered in the book’s selection.
4) Finally, have students explain how the movie or TV show measures up.
5) A possibility – If you want to do another activity with this prompt, have students use the same points generated in #5 and propose another show or movie, based on those criteria.
6) Possible paragraph practice

Writing situation:
Many schools across the nation are promoting reading by having every student and staff member in a school read the same book. Your school is searching for suggestions. Students will be voting on books at the end of the month. Your school has set a blog, so students can share ideas.
Writing directions:
Write a post for the school blog, describing the book and making an argument for everyone in your school to read it. Be sure to give several reasons to support your argument.


Writing situation:
When school began, the halls were sparkling, and the rooms were spotless. Now that school has been in session a few weeks, some parts of your school are not clean. You would like to make the situation better.


Writing directions:
Make your argument on ways to make the situation better. Write a letter to your principal arguing your position. Be sure to support your argument with strong reasons.

Writing situation:
For some students, the highlight of the year is a field trip. Now that gasoline and diesel prices are so high, students get to take fewer and fewer field trips. Your principal doesn’t want to eliminate field trips entirely and has asked students to suggest an educational field trip that would be no more than 15 minutes away. You have an idea.


Writing directions:
Consider your feelings on this issue. Write a letter creating an argument for a specific trip. As your support your argument, consider the counterclaims from those who may feel differently.


Writing situation:
Some parents and school personnel are concerned because many students are now spending 5-6 hours each day playing video games and watching television.

Writing directions:
Consider your position on this issue. Write an article arguing your position. Support your argument with strong reasons. As your support your argument, consider the counterclaims from those who feel differently.


Instructional Strategies

Idea development – what, how, why


1) Audience – Analyze your friends.

Why are they watching television and playing video games?


2) Now, based on audience analysis, brainstorm other ways they might spend their time.

Try to think of 10-12 different ideas.


3) Work to think of possible categories.
4) Then brainstorm for memorable category titles.
5) Next, make a t-chart for each category, listing the idea in the first column, and at least one reason for following the suggestion in the right column. Why should your friends accept your suggestions?
6) Discuss the organization within the categories. The discuss organization of the categories in the article.
For Another Day

7) Introduction – Try a question that requires more than a yes-no answer.


8) Conclusion – Summarize main points. Make a promise or a prediction.
9) Have students write one body paragraph.
10) Have students write either the introduction or the conclusion.

Writing situation:
Your school is very concerned about students’ attendance. A committee made up of teachers and students have been looking at ways to encourage students to come to school every day.

Writing directions:
Consider your thoughts on this issue. Write a letter to the Attendance Committee, arguing for strategies you think would encourage students to come to school every day. As you write, be sure to support your argument with strong reasons.


Instructional Strategies

1) Analyze your audience.


2) Draw a t-chart. Label the left side “Strategies” and the right side “Why.”
3) List 10-12 possible ideas. Keep your audience in mind as you list.
4) Have students share ideas. Make a master list.
5) Now rank the ideas from weakest to strongest. Some of the ideas can probably be combined.
6) Brainstorm reasons why each idea would work.
7) Possible paragraph practice

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