A Road Less Traveled

Critical Literacy and Language Learning in the Classroom, 1964–1996

by Robert W. Blake (Author) Brett Elizabeth Blake (Author)
©2018 Textbook XVIII, 306 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 520


A Road Less Traveled: Critical Literacy and Language Learning in the Classroom, 1964–1996 takes us through what Robert W. Blake calls the "jaunty journey" of the English/English Language Arts classroom from its linguistic and literature foundations, to emphases on close reading techniques and structures to composing and responding to literature. A Road Less Traveled heads bumpily into the path of learning how to work with "non-native speakers" and other "basic" students toward a (re)-burst of a renewed interest in poetry and drama, reader response, a process approach to writing, and the diverse student, showing through the often winding and blurry road along the journey of our literacy travels over 30 years, that what we understood best about reading and writing has stood the test of time.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for A Road Less Traveled
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Section I: The English/English Language Arts Classroom
  • Chapter 1: Behavioral Objectives and the Teaching of English (Robert W. Blake (1971))
  • Why Behavioral Objectives?
  • Behavioral Objectives and Instruction
  • Behavioral Objectives and the Teaching of Poetry
  • Affective Domain
  • Cognitive Domain
  • Behavioral Objectives and the Teaching of Writing
  • Affective Domain
  • Cognitive Domain
  • Behavioral Objectives and a Stance Toward Teaching
  • Behavioral Objectives and Humanistic Values
  • Notes
  • Chapter 2: I See You, I Hear You, You’re OK: Humanizing the English Classroom (Robert W. Blake (1974))
  • Notes
  • Chapter 3: The New English: Hot Stuff or Cool, Man, Cool? (Robert W. Blake (1970))
  • Notes
  • Section II: Linguistics in the Classroom
  • Chapter 4: Linguistics and the Teacher (Robert W. Blake (1965))
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: Once Upon a Morpheme: An NDEA Institute in Applied Linguistics for the Elementary School Teacher (Robert W. Blake (1967))
  • Introduction
  • The Program
  • Post Mortem
  • Linguistics in the Elementary School: Where Do We Go From Here?—The Edpa
  • Chapter 6: I See What You Mean—But Not by Words: Extraverbal Communication (Robert W. Blake (1973))
  • The Dimensions of Proxemics: The Anthropology of Space
  • A Notation System for Proxemics
  • If I Don’t See What You Mean, I’m in Trouble
  • References
  • Section III: Writing and the Writing Process in the Classroom
  • Chapter 7: The Composing Process and Its Relationship to the Teaching of Writing (Robert W. Blake (1980))
  • Understanding Composing in Writing
  • Stages in the Composing Process
  • Activities for the Prewriting Stage
  • Advice for Writers To Give Themselves During the First Draft
  • Activities for the Revising Stage
  • Activities for Editing
  • Bibliography
  • Chapter 8: Teaching Ideas: Back-to-basics: How To Talk to a Writer, or Forward to Fundamentals in Teaching Writing (Robert W. Blake (1976))
  • The Composing Process
  • A Childhood Experience
  • Varieties of Writing
  • Skills of Writing
  • Better Sentences
  • Talking About Writing
  • Chapter 9: Composing for the Left Hand: Writing Activities for the Intermediate Grades (Robert W. Blake (1978))
  • The Right Hand, the Left Hand, and Luck
  • The Right and Left Parts of the Brain and Two Ways of Behaving
  • Intellect and Intuition in Writing
  • Modes of Writing in the Schools
  • Assumptions for Composing with the Left Hand
  • Guidelines for Teaching Composing for the Left Hand
  • A Baker’s Half Dozen Activities for Composing for the Left Hand
  • References
  • Chapter 10: Composing as the Curriculum: The Albion Writing Project (Robert W. Blake / Frederick B. Tuttle, Jr. (1979))
  • What We Planned
  • Inservice Agenda
  • What We Did
  • What We Learned
  • Bibliography
  • The Composing Process
  • Varieties of Discourse
  • Sentence Manipulation
  • Workshopping
  • Assessment and Evaluation of Writing
  • Chapter 11: Setting Up an Effective Writing Program in the Schools (Robert W. Blake (1981))
  • What’s the Problem?
  • Myths About Writing and Teaching Writing
  • What Makes an Effective Writing Program?
  • What Makes Up an Effective Writing Program?
  • Essentials for an Effective Writing Program
  • How To Get It Done
  • Basic Goals for a Writing Program
  • But Why Do It?
  • Chapter 12: Assessing English and Language Arts Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Writers and Writing (Robert W. Blake (1976))
  • Note
  • Section IV: Poetry in the Classroom
  • Chapter 13: Poets on Poetry: Writing and the Reconstruction of Reality (Robert W. Blake (1990))
  • Poets on Writing Poetry
  • Obsession with Words
  • Need for Solitude
  • A Tempered Confidence
  • Why Poets Write Poetry
  • What’s Poetry Good For?
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 14: Poets on Poetry: One Way To Write a Poem (Robert W. Blake (1991))
  • Early Memory
  • Prewriting Task
  • Charlotte’s Process
  • My Process
  • Chapter 15: Poets on Poetry: The Morality of Poetry (Robert W. Blake (1992))
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 16: Responding to Poetry: High School Students Read Poetry (Robert W. Blake / Anna Lunn (1986))
  • Background
  • The Study
  • The Process of Responding
  • Stages in the Responding Process
  • Conclusions and Implications
  • Bibliography
  • Section V: Responding to Literature/ Reader Response in the Classroom
  • Chapter 17: Using the Personal Response To Become a Learning Community: A Model for Secondary Students To Learn To Read Short Fiction (Robert W. Blake (1991))
  • Reading, Writing, and Interpreting a Short Story
  • To the Students (Pre-Reading Writing Task)
  • To the Student (introductory Discussion)
  • To the Student (Initial Writing)
  • To the Student (Small Group Discussion of Initial Reading)
  • To the Student
  • What Does the Main Character Learn about the Other Characters?
  • What Does the Main Character Learn about Herself?
  • Evaluating the Text
  • Becoming a Learning Community
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 18: Reader Response: Toward an Evolving Model for Teaching Literature in the Elementary Grades (Robert W. Blake (1996))
  • Abstract
  • How Reader Response Works in a First Grade Classroom: Practice Exemplifying Theory
  • Elements of Reader Response in a First Grade Classroom
  • References
  • Section VI: Drama in the Classroom
  • Chapter 19: The Play’s the Thing for Middle School Students (Robert W. Blake (1989))
  • Why Read This Play? (Rationale)
  • Knowledge the Students Will Assimilate and the Skills They Will Practice (General Instructional Objectives)
  • How to Teach the Play (Teaching Strategies)
  • Reading the Play as a Script
  • Reading Orally, Discussing, and Interpreting the Play
  • Discussing the Play as a Whole
  • Putting on the Play
  • Evaluation
  • Where Do We Go from Here?
  • References
  • Chapter 20: Converting Narrative into Drama: Using the Composing Process To Integrate the Language Arts (Robert W. Blake (1982))
  • Adapting a Play from a Short Story
  • Analyzing the Story
  • What Happens in the Story?
  • Who Are the People?
  • What Are the Ideas?
  • Retelling the Story
  • Rewriting the Story as a Play
  • Creating Original Fantasies: Stories or Plays
  • Learning Communication Skills by Converting Narrative into Drama
  • Section VII: English Language Learners and Other ‘Basic’ Students in the Classroom
  • Chapter 21: Starting Off a Non-native Student in a College Basic Skills Course (Robert W. Blake (1982))
  • Chapter 22: A New Look at Basic Skills Writing Instruction: A Teacher Workshop for Basic Skills Writing in the Secondary Schools (Robert W. Blake (1983))
  • Skills-Drill Approach To Basic Writing Instruction
  • What’s Wrong With the Skills-Drill Approach?
  • Planning For a Basic Skills Workshop in Writing
  • Assumptions Underlying the Workshops
  • Outline of the Three Workshops
  • First Workshop
  • Foundations of Teaching Writing and Teaching Expressive Writing
  • Workshop Evaluation
  • Teaching Expository and Persuasive Writing
  • Third Workshop
  • Sentence Combining, Assessing and Evaluating Writing, and Setting Up a Basic Skills Writing Program
  • Total Workshop Evaluation
  • Solving the Problem of Basic Writing
  • Chapter 23: How Can We Help Our Teen-agers? (Robert W. Blake (1966))
  • Section VIII: Teacher Education and the Classroom
  • Chapter 24: Is Teacher Education Governable? (Robert W. Blake (1973))
  • Problems in Setting Up Competency-Based Programs
  • University Roles in Governance of Teacher Education
  • The Influence of Public School Teachers
  • Professionalism in English Education
  • A Hypothetical Program
  • Index
  • Series index

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This project would have never come to fruition without the insight of both Chris Myers and Shirley Steinberg who first believed in Robert’s “pitch” to compile several of his most important articles into a book. In doing so, they afforded Robert the opportunity to make a long-held dream of his to come true. And, at the final stages of this project, Jackie Pavlovic, Production Manager, helped me, Brett Elizabeth, (often on a daily basis) to ensure that Robert’s dream, indeed, would go from production to publication.

We would also like to thank the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) for the following permissions:

Blake, R.W. I see you, I hear you, You’re OK: Humanizing the English Classroom. In the “English Journal.” Copyright (1974) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. The New English: Hot Stuff, or Cool, Man, Cool. In the “English Journal.” Copyright (1971) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Once upon a Morpheme: An NDEA Institute in Applied Linguistics for the Elementary School Teacher. In “Elementary English.” ← xi | xii → Copyright (1969) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. How to Talk to a Writer, or Forward to Teaching Fundamentals in Teaching Writing. In “The English Journal.” Copyright (1976) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Poets on Poetry: Writing and the Reconstruction of Reality. In “The English Journal.” Copyright (1990) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Poets on Poetry: One Way to Write a Poem. In “The English Journal.” Copyright (1991) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Poets on Poetry: The Morality of Poetry. In “The English Journal.” Copyright (1992) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Responding to Poetry: High School Students Read Poetry. In “The English Journal.” Copyright (1986) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. The Play’s the Thing for Middle School Students. In “Teaching English.” Copyright (1989) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

Blake, R.W. Is Teacher Education Governable? In “English Education.” Copyright (1974) by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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A Road Less Traveled: Critical Literacy and Language Learning in the Classroom, 1964–1996 has been a long time in the making. Indeed, 1964 was a long time ago—over 50 years—a time in U.S. history where the rebellious, turbulent, political and economic climate collided with the changing nature (and face of) schooling in 1960’s America—an historical period in time when not only the Civil Rights Act (1964) was passed, but a “War on Poverty” was declared, and a crucial bill, the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” was enacted, ensuring federal monies be given to poor schools. And yet, bringing this project to fruition has also been a long time in the making as I, Brett Elizabeth, have watched Robert W. Blake, my father, mentor, coauthor, and best friend extraordinaire, lose his wife (my mother) of 62 years, and then succumb to the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease within a year’s time. Re-reading his journal articles, asking him to situate them in the educational context of the time, to recount his memories of being a teacher in the Armed Forces, a GED teacher, an English teacher and Vice Principal in a high school in upstate New York, to receiving his doctorate and becoming a professor of English Education, where he remained until his retirement, some 50 years later, has been both joyful, arduous, and ultimately painful. I now sit with a man who taught me so much about life and the field of education, who dedicated 60 years to the struggle of educating all our youth with respect and dignity, and could not now remember most of it. ← xiii | xiv →

And yet, there could not be a more propitious time for this collection to be published. Then, as now, the U.S. educational system finds itself once again mired deeply in the scourge of racism, poverty, segregation and the resultant inequities of schooling, as seen by accountability movements such as “No Child Left Behind,” and the “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS)—a movement begun by a group of business leaders and the National Governors’ Association (NGA), to direct not only what is taught in our schools, but also how it is taught, and then, how this so-called knowledge is measured. A return to a scripted “behavioral objectives” model is being touted, and basic skills (especially for those of immigrant and/or of-color backgrounds is being packaged.

But, like in 1964, there is a revolution brewing in education. Parents (albeit, at this writing, mostly in well-to-do suburbs) are opting-out of common core testing, teachers are once again closing their doors, and teaching what they know is considered worthwhile. Schools of education, although under pressure from both the federal and state governments to conduct studies using quantitative and statistical measures, are conducting observational and ethnographic research that captures the power and promise of reading good literature, of keeping poetry in the curriculum, and of pushing kids to use the writing process to help them become “real” and engaged writers. Like Robert explained to us in 1974, we are in the midst of trying to “re-humanize” our English and English Language Arts classes, once again, by asking the fundamental question, “how can a [English] teacher make a classroom more humane?”

Before his illness, Robert and I gathered together 24 of (what we agreed upon were) his most memorable, published journal articles, and since then, I organized them into general themes—genres, if you will, that seemed pretty commonplace in ELA/English, ELL, and literacy classrooms, including for example, “poetry in the classroom,” and “drama in the classroom.” The first and last sections, however, are a bit of an exception. In the first, Robert introduces “the New English,” and the idea of “re-humanizing” the classroom, and in the last, Section VIII, he questions whether such ideas can really ever take hold. It is uncanny that these are many of the same conversations we, as educators in any field, are having today.

I introduce each section with a synopsis of each article, transitioning not only one section to another, but also one article to another, within each section. Many of these pieces begin with an historical and/or theoretical review, but all follow with real, classroom-tested ideas, activities, and strategies that Robert found worked in his classrooms and beyond. Section III is the longest section, ← xiv | xv → “Writing and the writing process in the classroom,” because that is where Robert’s true interest lay. Interestingly, again, today we see a renewed interest in teaching students to write better—to write at all, and organizations such as the Commission on Writing, and the Carnegie foundation have produced fact sheets and reviews on the topic. I should note there, that the states and federal government have gotten in on the act as well—for example, the Common Core State Standards heavily emphasizes writing across the curriculum in all content areas, with a firm push for teaching students how to write non-fiction, informational, and persuasive pieces to be “college and career ready.”

In this era of accountability measures and common core state standards, a return to what works in our literacy classrooms is a refreshing addition to the mandates holding so many of our students back, and/or leaving them behind altogether. Indeed in Robert’s and my own words from Literacy and Learning (2002) we describe the journey we hope more of us will embark upon as we move further into the 21st century; heads up; full of hope:

Literacy is a quest. As with all quests, we allowed the idea of literacy to lead us where it would [knowing that] literacy was no longer the special province of a privileged few but … an activity available to all people. From our own explorations, we are confident that the notion of ‘literacy for all’ will survive in [our] society just as it has done for thousands of years. No one government, society, school system, university professor, middle school teacher, or neighbor should have the power to decide whose literacy is most desirable, or what one tried-and-true method will best teach literacy, or most importantly that someone’s language (and hence literacy) is better than another’s. We urge you here, the reader, as educator, parent, administrator, or even government official, to join us in our quest: to read, to write, to learn; to engage your students and children in literacy learning, but most of all to question and to challenge. That, perhaps, is the greatest legacy modern literacy has given us (Adapted from, Blake & Blake, 2002, xiii-xv).

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In this first section, we have chosen what appear to be three quite disparate pieces—one on behavioral objectives, one on “humanizing” the classroom, and the last on what Robert termed, the “New English.” However, we think you will find as you read them (as a genre, perhaps) you may find, as we did, that Robert was attempting to show in the early 70’s how “rigid” our thinking about education had become.

In the first article, he reviews the notion that in part, behavioral objectives, should NOT be used for “problems of evaluation,” but rather as a “means for improving instruction,” by combining the cognitive and the affective as a “powerful way of looking at the learning process,” ultimately searching for the “humanism” in our teaching and in students’ learning.

The second article, “I see you, I hear you … Humanizing the English Classroom,” builds on this notion of humanism by suggesting that we care for our students—that we show our students that they are indeed, “worthy of love and respect,” as they move through the journey of learning. By first defining “humanism” through the literature of Plato, Chaucer, Faulkner, and Vonnegut, among others, he shows us how he believes this can, and should, be done.

And finally, in the third piece of this section, written in 1970, he begs the question, “Why are kids so turned off to learning?” Robert makes the crucial ← 1 | 2 → point in this article that we must afford our students opportunities to use their language in the “widest variety of ways,” eschewing the “excessive dogma” we see returning today in demonizing our students’ dialects, cultural texts, and local literacies, Brian Street has written so eloquently about. Essentially Robert reminds us, we need to “enter the global village; the “world city” together if we are to move our language and literacy teaching and learning forward.

Imagine if you can anyplace on our planet in this moment in time where society and/or schools talk about a “global village,” and a “world city.” Today, we close our schools and our borders, allowing families and children, literally, to drown. The children who do make it out of their war-torn countries, find themselves, much like the 1970’s in the U.S., laughed at, spat upon, and told by their very own teachers that their language and culture is inferior.

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Robert W. Blake (1971)

Why Behavioral Objectives?

Very shortly after I had started teaching English in the secondary schools, I was asked by our department chairman to set up a course of study for college preparatory students in the ninth grade. My objectives for the year were as follows: 1. to establish and review basic tools of language; 2. to introduce students to fundamental techniques of expression, both oral and written; 3. to continue the study of basic forms of literature; and 4. to introduce students to fundamental approaches of critical appraisal of literature. At the time, I thought they were pretty fair statements of what I wanted to go on in my classes and, I suspect, I would not have been amenable to suggestions about revising my objectives so that they were in behavioral terms. I was fairly sure that what I was doing was academically sound; whether or not it was pedagogically appropriate didn’t seem important.

Since that time, however, I’ve become less sure that what I had done could have been fully justified, and I’ve become more than vaguely dissatisfied with how I taught writing, literature, and language in the high school. As a result of my dissatisfaction, I’ve tried to think out better ways of having kids come to learn in the widest and deepest and in the most exciting fashion the basic facts, skills, and understandings of the discipline that I have come to have ← 3 | 4 → an allegiance to and affection for, the discipline which—for lack of a better term—we call English. I think I’m pretty typical of conscientious English teachers of average intelligence who wish to improve the teaching of their discipline. Furthermore, now that I’m concerned with the direct preparation of some fifty English teachers a year for the secondary schools—who themselves may come to be responsible for some six or so thousand high school students—I’m even more concerned with having them be prepared to encourage these kids to become as proficient as possible in reading and writing, to know a lot about the study of English, but, most of all, to come to have pleasure in doing the sorts of things those people who have been well educated in English characteristically do. I’ve devised some techniques which seem to work, but the one activity for increasing the success of English teaching in the schools, to my way of thinking, has been that of formulating behavioral objectives for the teaching of English.

Behavioral Objectives and Instruction

Although the idea of specifying behavioral objectives in terms of what students can actually do was originally discussed with problems of evaluation, I’m chiefly concerned with behavioral objectives as a means for improving instruction. All of my college students who are to become English teachers or graduate students who are working for advanced degrees in English Education must write behavioral objectives for each aspect of teaching English. As a result of having worked for several semesters on writing behavioral objectives, we have come up with a few suggestions for anyone who wishes to start the process. Setting up a behavioral objective in the right form is not too difficult; the setting down in written English fairly precise objectives for use in the teaching of a play like Hamlet, on the other hand, is something that tricks of format cannot prepare you for.


XVIII, 306
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVIII, 306 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert W. Blake (Author) Brett Elizabeth Blake (Author)

Robert W. Blake received his doctorate in education from the University of Rochester. Since that time he has written over 60 books and articles over his long career as an English educator. He was Professor Emeritus with the State University of New York. Brett Elizabeth Blake received her doctorate in curriculum from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Following in her father’s footsteps, she has published over 20 articles and books in her field of literacy/applied linguistics and ESL. She is currently a professor and senior research fellow in The Vincentian Center for Social Justice and Poverty at St. John’s University in New York City.


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