Dr. Louis' Blog

Dr. Louis provides insight into practical, innovative, and effective strategies and best practices for teachers with questions and concerns about steps in JSWP, as well as designing and decoding writing prompts, literary selections, reading and annotating texts, classroom management, parent relationships, leadership, state and national tests, and much more!

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Cherry Blossoms Scatter

Dr. Deborah E. Louis
May 2, 2022

It is precisely because Cherry blossoms scatter That we find them appealing. Does anything endure for long In this world of sorrows? – “Tales of Ise” 125 Mother was sitting at her Singer sewing machine …

It is precisely because

Cherry blossoms scatter

That we find them appealing.

Does anything endure for long

In this world of sorrows?

– “Tales of Ise” 125

Mother was sitting at her Singer sewing machine nestled in the corner of our formal dining room when she called Alicia and me into the room.

“Girrlsss!” Her beckoning, soulful tone filled the hallways of our home.

To our mother’s loving New England voice, I, a ten year-old tomboy, and my sister, a twelve year-old genius and my hero, scampered from our peach-colored bedroom with twin beds placed against a beautiful and broad bay window where lightning bugs visited on warm, southern Texas nights. When we arrived, the reliable whirr of the sewing machine stopped. We hadn’t a clew of what she wanted: perhaps she would assign another Saturday chore of housecleaning, perhaps she would announce an upcoming evening event at which I could wear the new Easter dress that I had been allowed to wear only once, the delicate white fabric scattered with red cherry blossoms. She had not called for Jimmy, our little brother, so maybe it was just a girl thing, something about dinner fixings, a fitting, or maybe—a secret. She continued peering at the unmanifested fabric as she quietly said, “Girls, I need to tell you something. I have leukemia.”

What? What did she say? What . . . did . . . she . . . say? I stood there listening, but I didn’t hear. She didn’t cry, so I wasn’t afraid. She didn’t elaborate, so I didn’t understand. What was she telling me? What had to be for her and what should have been for me, a heart-wrenching revelation, was stated so matter-of-factly, that it felt like she was announcing a typical afternoon appointment or an errand to run, and Alicia and I would be expected to watch over Jimmy. And where was Dad? If this were really important, wouldn’t Dad be with her, with us?

I don’t remember what else she said, really. I only remember that spring was gone, summer had begun, a cool Saturday afternoon aired before me, and I should be out in it, riding my blue bike around the neighborhood or finding the tallest oak tree to climb.

It has been more than fifty years since that day, and I still seek the tallest oaks to climb; but, every once in a while I remember that afternoon. Like last night, after a memorable day at Pacifica Graduate Institute of Dr. Miller taking me “down and into” convex and concave mirrors, leading me forward and backward with images of Caravaggio and Picasso, of altered kaleidoscopes and rippled reflections, as I lay on my twin bed in the solitude of my private chamber, overlooking a garden where hummingbirds visit me on cool Santa Barbara nights, I cried for my mother’s comforting New England voice and the beautiful, scattered cherry blossoms.

THE PSYCHE AND PSYCHOLOGY OF AN AMERICAN TEACHER: A Depth Psychological Approach to American Education

Dr. Deborah E. Louis
February 26, 2022

“If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” C.G. Jung, (Collected Works, Vol. …

“If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” C.G. Jung, (Collected Works, Vol. 17, para. 287)


For the past sixty years, my life has been a part of the psyche and psychology of the American teacher in public education, and particularly, in the English language arts classroom. I was born in the 1950s to high school teachers: my mother taught high school English language arts; my father was a Physical Education teacher, as well as a tennis coach, football official, and basketball referee. At ten and for the next twelve years, my father hired me as a swimming instructor, teaching students whose ages ranged from two years old to seventy.

At twenty-two, I lost my mother; at thirty-two, my father. So my journey continued without the two greatest teachers in my life.

I worked as a high school English teacher for fifteen years, an adjunct professor on occasion, and a consultant for the College Board, Advanced Placement Strategies, Laying the Foundation, and others. Today, I have an educational consulting firm, Louis Educational Concepts, which provides professional development to elementary and secondary teachers. I am a Teacher. And as a Teacher, I believe that changes and challenges in education are normal in an industry that revolves around what is best for children, what is best for our future.

However, over the past two decades the acceleration of changes and unrelenting challenges to teachers are telling signs of a period of struggle which historically precedes transformation while also manifesting clearer and discernible phenomena that typically lie beneath the surface. The purpose of this 2022 blog series is to analyze the current state of flux in both the macrocosm of American education and the microcosm of the English language arts classroom and, from an archetypal and depth psychological approach, to provide insight into the underlying causes of the flux and solutions to the challenges that it poses for teachers.

The Simple Keys to JSWP® Fidelity

Schaffer Admin
January 31, 2022

For teachers and students to implement the Jane Schaffer Academic Writing Program® with a high degree of fidelity, school leadership teams, grade level professional learning communities, and individual teachers must commit to a simple but key process. The process is …

For teachers and students to implement the Jane Schaffer Academic Writing Program® with a high degree of fidelity, school leadership teams, grade level professional learning communities, and individual teachers must commit to a simple but key process.

The process is quite straightforward:

The teacher-student cycle of practice and feedback is a continuous cycle needed to embed the JSWP® process into curricula and internalize the process into the minds of teachers and students.

  • PRACTICE – Teachers and students must practice the JSWP® scaffolded process to internalize their thinking about the process and to create “automaticity.”
  • FEEDBACK – Students not only need timely formative feedback sessions, but also teachers need regular constructive feedback. The JSWP® Scope & Sequence, the JSWP® Rubrics, and the JSWP “Look Fors” for Leadership Guidelines (JSWP® Essential Tools) provide teachers and their administrators with user-friendly guidelines designed to assist in planning and lead to program fidelity among teachers and their students. Using the JSWP® Essential Tools, the feedback cycle has a two-fold purpose for both teachers and their students: (1) to promote writing efficacy, and (2) to identify areas of difficulty or nonalignment within the JSWP® process.
  • PRACTICE – Students and teachers practicing the JSWP® process through modeling, collaboration, and independent work will yield fidelity and progress if both students and teachers receive positive reinforcement.
  • FEEDBACK WITH JSWP® IMPLEMENTATION INTERVENTIONS AS NEEDED – As warranted by the feedback cycle and an expected occurrence in the cycle, teachers and students may need additional training and instruction to correct any JSWP® process missteps that may occur along the way.
  • CELEBRATION – Affording time to celebrate the successes and gains for both teachers and students alike reinforces the efficacy of embedding JSWP best practices and provides FUN for all!

At Louis Educational Concepts, we work collaboratively with schools, leadership teams, departments, and individual teachers to ensure JSWP® fidelity. We can assist in the implementation of the JSWP® Essential Tools and provide focused professional development interventions and add-ons as needed. Our goal is your goal: to have students and teachers successfully implement this outstanding academic writing program so that they experience academic success throughout their school years.

Tangible and Intangible Standards: The Argument for Teaching Novels and Dramas

Dr. Deborah E. Louis
January 28, 2022

Dear Dr. Louis, I need your insight and expertise. As so much continues to shift and change in our district, we have had more and more questions about all things related to English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy. Some folks …

Dear Dr. Louis,

I need your insight and expertise.

As so much continues to shift and change in our district, we have had more and more questions about all things related to English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy. Some folks believe that by teaching a novel, students have more difficulty practicing standards multiple times. They believe that passage work might be more effective for multiple practice opportunities with ELA standards.

I believe that I am not an “either/or” but more of a “both/and” kind of teacher and coach. I think a novel has its place, and I think good instruction (multiple practice opportunities) can still happen with a novel. I also think that shorter passages can be studied while exploring a novel.

With all the ELA teachers you have encountered (across states and continents) is this issue becoming a dilemma with which folks are wrestling? Could you offer insight regarding how ELA teachers approach this question about reading novels in ELA classes vs. shorter passages in order to “prep” students for state assessments (at the same time, providing more skills practice)?

Thank you,

Kristi C.

Dear Kristi,

Thank you for your question. I am seeing this dilemma on a regular basis. And here is my response and my “not so humble” opinion. Nothing can replace the journey of a drama or novel. The benefits are more than I can name, but here are some of them:

  • We read literature in order not to feel alone, to feel a connection with humanity, and to learn from other generations and cultures. We discover characters who struggle with similar heartaches, joys, vices, virtues, depravity, goodness, epiphanies, weaknesses, and strengths as we. You might say, “Short stories provide the same.” To a certain extent, they do, but not to the degree and to the depth with which a novel or drama provides. The ebb and flow of life is played out in a novel, whereas a short story is – well – short and does not have as much time to delve into the inner recesses of the human condition. The journey of life is filled with ups and downs; so is the journey of a masterful novel and drama.
  • Reading a significant novel or drama builds stamina. In our current era of the need for immediate gratification, settling into a novel or drama teaches students that gratification also comes with hard work, serious study, and commitment. I find myself a little disappointed when I finish a novel or drama in which I have been immersed. I guess, in some ways, I have become one of the characters, as I have learned about the characters, their lives and struggles, and feel a part of the story through my imagination. I become part of the text.
  • I remember coming home after earning my undergraduate degree years ago. I visited my mother in the hospital. Before she died, my mother said, “Debbie Dear, I’m not going to leave you anything but this ring your father gave me and your education. Because no one can ever take away your education.” I think the same when reading a great novel. It’s always there. No one can ever take away what I enjoyed, what I experienced, and what I learned. Reading a novel or drama yields a sense of accomplishment, a sense of self. No standard or test score can measure this enlightened feeling.
  • Teachers and students become closer when they read novels and dramas together. They experience and share the journey and enjoy the exploration and discussions. Students practice critical thinking skills as they grapple with conflicts and the resolutions of those conflicts. Teachers learn so much about their students’ ideas and heartstrings; and, in return, students gain respect for teachers who have done their homework and are able to provide insight that no one else would have imagined! I am reminded of Sharon, an integral mentor in my teaching life. She was presenting a workshop on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Sharon said, “Why do you think Hester sewed such an elaborate and baroque letter ‘A’ on the bodice of her gown? Wouldn’t you think she would want to make it small so it would be hidden from view?” Some in the group talked about her being defiant. Others murmured among each other what they shared about this part of the novel with their students in their classrooms. But none of us really knew how to answer Sharon’s question. Sharon then reminded us of when we were all in high school and artfully drew the initials of our boyfriend(s) on our notebook(s). We looked at her inquisitively, and then we all realized that the “A” that Hester had so eloquently sewed stood for Arthur, her great, secret love. That’s why she had sewn it so ornately and so beautifully. Those moments make us smile and last forever! Another time, I was watching The Simpsons on television. Lisa and Bart had gone down to the dock to look for the missing Krusty, the Clown. When they entered the pilot’s cabin, the old sea captain was on the phone. And he said, “I’ll call you back, Ishmael!” When I shared that with the students, they looked at me with confusion and said, “So?” We opened Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and read the classic line “Call me Ishmael,” and I discussed “allusion” and the importance of cultural literacy. That’s why we study long works. We should expect our students to be thinkers and philosophers and thoughtful people. And to get the intelligent jokes! Long pieces teach them to develop these lifelong skills, appreciations, and standards.
  • With regard to standards and students practicing those standards and skills multiple times, any great classic has multiple opportunities to practice English language arts standards. In fact, look at your standards and select a handful to practice in any given novel. When I was a vertical team coordinator, we looked at our core literature and determined which specific skills and standards would be taught in the novels and dramas. Then we found dozens of opportunities in each novel. A team of teachers will find them. Divide and conquer. Determine the skills, divide the chapters among the group of teachers, and find those skills. They are there! Trust me. And feel free to contact me and ask for my novel skills spreadsheet!

Finally, like you, I recommend that we integrate short pieces, both fiction and non-fiction into the teaching of long pieces. With regard to writing, create a prompt that asks students to write short literary analyses and long expository pieces or vice versa. For example, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, teachers have many opportunities to teach many standards and ask students to write in the various modes of discourse:

  • Prompt #1:
    The Great Depression brought many unlikely people together. Carefully read about the Great Depression. Then, carefully read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. In a well-developed  multiparagraph essay, explain why this historical era brought unlikely characters together (1-2 body paragraphs; 2+:1; 1-2 chunks) and analyze how George and Lennie’s relationship evolves over the course of the novel (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+; 1-2 chunks per paragraph).
  • Prompt #2
  • Before you read — Of Mice and Men is about dreams (e.g., goals, hopes, and aspirations) that we have for our lives. In a well-developed multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks), describe one dream of your own or of someone you know; explain how the dream was or will be brought to reality; and discuss the significance of that dream.
  • Midpoint of the novel — Of Mice and Men is about dreams that we have for our lives. Read the novel carefully. Then, in a well-developed multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+, 1-2 chunks), trace one of the character’s dreams; explain how that dream will be brought to reality; and discuss the significance of that dream.
  • Prompt #3
  • Before you read — The belief in the American Dream–the belief that anyone can achieve a better life through hard work–has always been an important part of the American character. John Steinbeck, however, is questioning the reality of this belief in his novel Of Mice and Men. Consider your own opinion. Then, in a well-developed multiparagraph essay, analyze the current status of the American Dream. Determine whether it is still possible and, if so, discuss the dreams Americans have these days that might differ from previous years. (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks).

Thank you for reaching out! Keep reading and writing!

All the best,

Dr. Louis

Argumentation: Introduction to The Framed Thesis vs. The Open Theses

Dr. Deborah E. Louis
December 27, 2021

Thesis statement options

A thesis statement is a writer's promise that every word the writer uses supports his or her thesis statement. In argumentation, the thesis statement is critical.

When we first teach our students to write a thesis statement in an argumentative essay, we ask them to place their thesis in the first paragraph of the essay, the introduction. 

In argumentation, the thesis has two parts, a subject and a claim. The subject is the topic or issue of the argument. The claim is the writer's assertion regarding the subject. Some writers also include the counterclaim in their thesis statements.

A thesis statement may also be written as a framed thesis or an open thesis, which is the topic of this month's Vlog.

The Best Laid Plans: Literary vs. Expository Prompts

Dr. Deborah E. Louis
November 1, 2021

Glasses on a book

Good afternoon, Dr. Louis:

Please see below a prompt that I made for our students this week on Chapter 6 from Of Mice and Men. If you have time, let me know what you think and what changes need to be made to make this an effective writing prompt. Thank you.

Tim B.

Los Angeles County Office of Education


Of Mice and Men / Chapter 6 

Original Prompt: George and Lennie had a friendship that was rare during the Great Depression as it was every man for himself.  Think about the dream George and Lennie shared of having a farm. How did this dream keep the two men going during a difficult time? In a (2+:1) expository paragraph explain what the dream of owning a farm meant to George and Lennie. 

Dear Tim,

I love your background sentences in your prompt and the trigger sentence, the sentence that focuses the students' reading and leads to the task. Here’s my question: Isn’t this a literary analysis? If it is, the ratio would be 1:2+. This prompt gives me a perfect opportunity to illustrate the difference between literary analysis and expository writing!


Let's start with LITERARY ANALYSIS, also known as RESPONSE TO LITERATURE. We'll focus on your prompt, and I'll guide the thinking behind creating a sample one-chunk response to literature paragraph with a 1:2+ ratio.

TS: The dream of owning a farm meant a sense of freedom to George and Lennie.

CD: Here, the students open their novel to Chapter Six and find discussions between George and Lennie, which provide evidence of their dream to own a farm.

CM: What does the evidence above (CD) say about the characters' attitudes. What tone is created within their discussion?

CM: Why is it important for George and Lennie to dream?

CS: Thematic – Why is setting their sights on this dream about owning a farm important Steinbeck's purpose and/or themes in this novel?


An EXPOSITORY piece would ask students to explain a concept (e.g., the meaning of success; the importance of having a dream; how perseverance can make a difference in a person's life). The students would need one or more examples to support their thesis statement. They would also need to write more sentences to explain their selection of evidence within their body paragraphs, and for that reason the ratio for Expository is 2+:1. We train students to access their knowledge or research evidence from history, entertainment, literature, people, sports, or science (HELPSS).

Perhaps, one student decides to use his or her knowledge of how dreaming was an important theme in Of Mice and Men to explain the importance of having a dream.

TS: Dreaming gives a person hope for the future. (Notice how this sentence is about life, not OMM.)

CD: In John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, Lennie and George dream of owning a farm. They discuss what will be on the farm, including rabbits . . .

CD: Even Candy, the old ranch worker, considers investing his own money to help buy the farm. He and George put pencil to paper to determine how much they will need.

CM: The dream of owning a farm in gives George, Lennie, and Candy something to think about and hope for during an era filled with struggle and defeat.

CS: Dreaming helps people to get through the mundane and difficult times in life in hopes of a better today and tomorrow.

Next, the student decides to access his or her knowledge of a famous person in history to support the idea in a second body paragraph:

TS: Furthermore, many important changes in history started with a dream.

CD: On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the historical speech, “I Have a Dream” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

CD: In this speech, he discusses (create a list of what he discusses).

CD: Add more evidence from the speech.

CM: King’s dream was so vivid and convincing that we as Americans believed in it and embraced it.

CS: Sometimes people with dreams can significantly change history.


The final suggestion for high school writers is to teach them how to use the literary present tense when they are writing about literature. Longfellow said, "Time is fleeting/Art lasts forever." So, one hundred years from now, George and Lennie will still be discussing their dream in Chapter 6. So, you might consider writing your prompt in the present tense.


Prompt: George and Lennie have a rare friendship during the Great Depression of the 1930s because this difficult period in history left almost every man for himself. Think about the dream that George and Lennie share about owning their own farm in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. Consider how this dream keeps the two men hopeful during their struggles throughout this harsh economic time in history. Then, in a one-chunk literary analysis (1:2+), analyze what the dream of owning a farm means to George and Lennie. 


So, Tim, the difference between literary analysis and expository writing is that in literary analysis the writer focuses on plot, conflict, setting, social mores, characters, and style devices that reveal the author’s purpose and message. Whereas, expository writing occurs when the writer uses examples from HELPSS to define a concept, in this case -- the importance of dreaming.

Thank you, again, for an important question!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. Louis

Teachers are welcome to send Dr. Louis a question or concern.

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