Tuesday, June 10, 2008

writing test items and passages

As a teacher I gave oodles of tests to my students every year. Some of the tests helped me teach what my students needed to know, and others seemed to have no obvious purpose except to satisfy the legislature. Once I began working as a freelance writer it occured to me that someone was paid to write these tests.

After looking around and paying attention to posts about writing test passages and items on the yahoo group NF for Kids: writing non-fiction for kids, I realized this was a job market for teachers and former teachers who like to write, and decided to find out more.

Test items and passages are written for test-preparation materials as well as actual tests. Continental Press , like many other publishers, creates materials based on state standards. Since each state has unique standards, they need fifty versions of their test-prep workbooks for each grade level. That's a lot of work for freelance writers.

Here are some companies that I have heard hire teachers and writers for test-prep and test-item work:

Measured Progress


Educational Testing Service

Data Recognition Corporation




Sometimes editors provide passages, asking writers to simply create test items to go with them. Most editors provide clear guidelines about how many of each type of test question to write. Some editors provide a template of sorts for the test items, and others give samples of the style they use. Sometimes writers are asked to write original passages and test-items to match. My experience has been varied.

Let us know if you've been hired recently to write test passages, test items, or test-prep materials. I'd love to send in a resume, and let others know where to find work.

Good luck with your writing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

looking for ideas

Where do you get your ideas?

I go through periods where ideas come forth like Old Faithful, so quickly and forcefully that I walk around with a pencil tucked behind my ear and packs of sticky notes in my pockets. At other times, I have to depend on the creativity of others to spark an idea; skimming educational publishers cataloges, looking at websites, or spending time with a stack of workbooks, hoping an idea will spring forth. Certain places are more conducive to idea-sprouting - driving my car on the interstate, walking the dog, standing in the shower, and other places where writing down fleeting ideas is nearly impossible.

Marjorie Holmes wonderful book, Writing Articles from the Heart, has many practical things to say about the "magic of getting ideas." For one thing, Marjorie Holmes is a big believer in sitting down every day and writing. Make daily writing a habit, she says often. Not a new idea, I know.

But, I think she's right. I worry and worry sometimes about not having something to write about beforehand, but once I sit down, focus, and clear my mind of the worry, ideas usually come.

I think getting ideas is much like deadheading flowers. Every summer my large perennial flower garden reminds me how important it is to tend a garden. When I snip off dead blossoms with regularity, I get to wake up each day to a front yard in bloom.

Same with writing. If I sit down, put old ideas that aren't blooming into folders, leave the queries already sent alone, pay attention to new jobs and ideas, and look though old work for the seeds of new ideas, maybe my freelance career will stay in bloom, too.

I think I lose confidence as a freelancer when I stop deadheading. I might get caught up in a good-paying job and put idea-gathering and query-sending on hold. Or, if I don't hear from any publishers for a long stretch, I can become so discouraged that I feel unable to come up with any new ideas. Sometimes I sit for a long time, waiting to hear about a possible job, forgetting the daily writing habit.

Where do you get ideas? Your family, television, books, work, the web? Are you the kind of creative person who has ideas bubbling up with regularity? Or, do you go through periods, like me, where ideas just don't seem to come? What do you do when you need an idea and it doesn't seem to come?

Happy writing -

Saturday, May 24, 2008

take the holiday poll

So, how do you, my fellow freelancers, balance holidays (travel, family, etc.) with a need to work 24/7 sometimes? Take the poll and comment below.

Have a safe and restful weekend everyone -

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

write your own teacher guides

I ran across a excellent blog interview on the topic of writing curriculum guides for teachers to use in the classroom.

This interview is helpful for writers who want to find work writing teacher guides as well as writers for children and teens who want to create their own guides for their own books.

I would like to do more work writing teacher guides. What about you? Do you have any suggestions for finding this kind of work? Do you think there is business out there for writers like me who are former teachers? I'm thinking of some of you teacher-writers who visit this blog regularly...have you ever thought about offering this kind of service to writers? hmmm...


"Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com"

Monday, May 19, 2008

blog road trip

I wish I was going somewhere this weekend. My husband is taking two of my kids to a graduation ceremony in another state, and I'm staying home with the other two. I decided to take a virtual road trip.

Here is who I ran into:

Anastasia Suen posted her usual Monday Non-fiction Round-up. This is a great place to find kindred spirits if you write non-fiction. Go there just to check out the nifty WordPress Snapshots function - scroll over the links to writer blogs and a little snapshot of the blog pops up to give you a preview. Love this feature.

Lisa Albert sounds so very busy - a real writer who inspires me to keep sending out queries so, like her, I can walk into my dining room and wonder where to eat because the table is covered with work. I don't know how she manages a day-job and so much writing. No way I could pull that off.

Lisa Schroeder reported on some funny and wonderful things that happened at an SCBWI conference. I'm not a member of SCBWI, and I've never gone to a writer's conference, but whenever I read about both I think I'm definitely missing out.

Someone else at Literary Mama wakes up at 4:00 in the morning to write with the dog. What else can you do when your children are young?

Speaking of moms, this one just finished her first year of medical school. How amazing is that? One year ago we were both sad that a cushy, good-paying, steady writing job ended, and here she is - well on her way to being an MD. Life does move on.

So, on down the road...The Urban Muse Writer just wrote on the same topic as a recent post - should you write for free?

Pieces of Me has a new blog site. Welcome back to the U.S.

L. Shepherd commented on the above-mentioned topic of writing for free. From one Bella Online writer (and former Suite 101 writer) - howdy and have a great writing week!

That's it for now. Let me know if you have a blog you think I'd be interested in.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

education wfh jobs update

I'm finally updating my wfh jobs links list along the right side of this blog. If you are looking for new job sources, scroll down until you get to: education wfh writing jobs . With luck, you'll find a company you didn't know about.

I'm sending out updated information to all of these companies. First, I checked each website to look for changes. Then, I looked through online catalogs (if there are any), and ordered catalogs that looked interesting.

Once I'm sure the company is still a good fit for me, I send a cover letter and resume, usually to Human Resources, Editorial, unless I have a current contact name.

I'd love to add to the list. Please share! If you have a blog with an excellent list, let me know.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

where are your kids when you write?

Where do you put your children while you write?

I don't really mean it that way, but, seriously, I'm curious to know how those of you who are parents are able to write at home with children around. Do you write while they are at school? Maybe you are like me and you wake up in the dark, early, predawn hours to write. Maybe you are a night-owl and write after your children are asleep.

Do you have a place in your house that is quiet, or do you have the ability to write with child-noise surrounding you - the ultimate in multi-tasking.

I do all of the above, depending on work I need to do. At times my laptop is on the kitchen counter and I work with family life going on around me. Some assignments require complete concentration for longer than a few minutes at a time, so I either work when everyone else is out of the house, pass the kids over to dad and escape to the basement office, or leave the house and write in my neighborhood library.

Being a WAHM freelance writer means I am home when kids are sick, when school has a teacher-work-day, and during summer vacation. But, it also means I have to make money and balance my family life, figure out how to finish an assignment on days when kids are home with strep throat, and teach my children to respect my time working in my home office.

So, how do you parents do it? Do you find trying to balance it all worth the challenge? What works for you?


Thursday, May 1, 2008

what do teachers want?

Teacher Appreciation Week in my house means a list is sent home by the Parent Association with items to send to school for the teacher each day. Sometimes my children and I are inspired by excellent teachers to go beyond the list, and sometimes we aren't. But in every case, I feel gratitude for these people who spend each day teaching my children.

I have spent the past ten months working in three schools with many great teachers who care deeply about doing their jobs well. I also noticed educational publishing trends that show publishers do listen to what teachers want. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week I thought I'd pass along these observations to my fellow education freelance writers. Here are the top things I noticed this year:

-Teachers wanting MORE, MORE (!) science and social studies content related texts because they have less and less time to teach those two subjects. The teachers use language arts time to squeeze in some science and social studies content by reading related text whenever possible. (although everyone admits this isn't actually "teaching" science and social studies - but feel it's better than nothing)

-NF book purchases for the classroom and library aligned to state standards (including math which even the upper grade teachers want more of)

-Need for more NF materials that can be used for differentiated instruction (ELL, hi/low, etc)

-Questions about instructional materials being "research-based"

Have you noticed these or any other trends since last year? How has any of this affected your career?


ps visit my post about my little Louella - a student who inspired me - Teacher Appreciation Week

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

should you write for free?

What do you think? Are there good reasons to use your valuable freelance work-time for no pay?

It depends. Sometimes different kinds of payoffs are just as important.

Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

I disagree. Sometimes there are good reasons to write for free. For example, I just started working as an editor in training for Bella Online. I'll be the blockhead Samuel Johnson talked about if this non-paying job ends up taking too much time away from paying assignments just to keep up with writing one article per week. But, I don't think it will. I'm a quick writer, and I chose a subject I'm passionate about. I have access to resources at home and many years of experience in the education field to draw on.

Many beginning and experienced writers choose to write for non-paying sites like Bella Online and Suite 101, so, what are some good reasons for doing it?

If you are a new freelance writer without a lot of writing samples to send to potential editors, this type of job can pay off pretty quickly. Bella Online encourages new writers to think of this opportunity as a free education and chance to collect 52 writing samples - one per week for a full year. Think about it. For a year a new writer (like me) will post an article per week in public view for editors and the general public to comment on - and they do! When I wrote for Suite 101 I collected some good writing samples, plus, I got regular feedback from readers knowledgeable about my subject. These types of sites also claim the exposure can jumpstart careers as a niche expert, and I suppose that could be true.

free training
I have paid money to take online writing courses, and did find them valuable. Writing for a non-paying site is a "school" of sorts that requires you to pay in time and effort rather than tuition. There is a training period with actual required courses and deadlines. The information is valuable, especially if you are interested in writing online content.

the writing habit
If you are new, like me, it's not always easy to create a daily writing schedule. A freelance writing career requires writers to think with a business sense; get up every day and write!

One fear I've heard over and over from new writers is knowing when an article is done. Working for free as a niche editor online requires you to write and post weekly. No perseverating for weeks or months over one story, one article, one proposal is allowed when you must turn in an article every week.

So what do you think? Am I a blockhead? Do you ever write for free?

credit: http://www.stockvault.net

Monday, April 28, 2008

free education clipart

Happy Monday! Thought I'd pass along this website to those who write on education and parenting topics:

The clip art gallery at Discovery Education wins today's prize for offering loads of free, safe clip art for educators and parents. Their terms of service are clear and easy to follow.

Do you have a favorite free clipart or graphics website?

Have a happy and productive week!


Credit: "Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com"

Friday, April 25, 2008

education standards are hot

What's hot and what's not at the moment in education is often connected to education publishing wants and needs.

In a recent blog I wrote about why freelance writers should be aware of state and national standards. For example, if you are a non-fiction writer for children, standards will give you an idea what subjects teachers are required to teach for science and social studies. The standards influence choices teachers and librarians make when choosing books, teacher resources, and curriculum supplements. Think about it...if every child in the U.S. learns about the butterfly cycle at some point during the primary grades, publishers need to continue producing butterfly books and teaching materials so teachers don't get tired of using the same old stuff.

During the past week I had some time to kill in a school library. The librarian had stacks and stacks of catalogs, so I poured a cup of coffee and tooks extensive notes while looking through dozens of education publishers catalogs. You should try it! Very informative. It's extremely rare to find a catalog that doesn't claim to align their fiction and non-fiction books and curriculum products to state and national standards.

Here are some links to National standards you can bookmark or print out:

TESOL Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages

NCTM National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

NCTEStandards for the Language Arts sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association

NETS National Education Technology Standards

NSES National Science Education standards

NASPE National Association for Sports and Physical Education

Editors ask me to work with state standards, too. I can usually find each state's standards by googling the name of the state followed by "standards". There is often a link to the standards on each state's department of education website.

So tell me, do you use state and national standards when you write?


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

excellent publisher directories

I ran across three places on the web today that I just had to share!

Directory of Education Publishers

Directory of Textbook Publishers

Directory of Children's Literature Publishers

Hope your work is going well this week. Have any excellent links to share?


Sunday, April 20, 2008

finding a place to write

Paradise...I wish I could write here every day.

Not that I'm complaining. I have a great view of the mountains out my living room window.

But, the living room doesn't work as an office in a house with four kids, a dog, and a husband. When I decided a couple weeks ago to start up my freelance biz again, I brought the folding table up from the basement. The laptop and a second printer sit on it, just below a perfect view of the mountains.

Now that piles of files and books and loose sheets of paper are growing around the table, my family is letting me know it is time to haul my stuff back down to the basement office.


Basements. No view. Persistant chill. Funny smells left over from previous owner's cats.

On the other hand, I'll have plenty of space to spread out and a lot of peace and quiet. I guess that's more than lots of freelance writers have. Plus, I can always bring the laptop back up to the room with a view whenever the kids are out of the house.

Where do you write?


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Write content for struggling readers

Have you ever thought about writing for struggling readers?

I became aware of content created specifically for struggling readers while working as a dyslexia intervention specialist about ten years ago. Flip through education publisher catalogues and you'll see categories like Hi/Lo Readers, Leveled Text, Reading Intervention Programs, and research-based programs for struggling readers.

Reading levels
First, you need to become familiar with reading levels. Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Readability Levels is a good place to start. My experience has been that publishers tell me what readability guide they prefer. It’s good to be familiar with them all.

If you want a printable reading level chart that compares grade levels, guided reading levels, DRA levels, Success for All levels, Reading Recovery levels, and Lexile levels, check out this chart from Scholastic.

Hi/Lo Readers
Hi/Lo books are high interest for older students, but low reading levels. They are developed with older children and teens in mind. The subject matter and illustrations reflect the older students who might be embarrassed about their struggle to learn to read. If you have ever taught upper grades, you know students like to hold the latest big, thick, cool novel in their hands and look as though they are reading it. No older student wants to sit in class and read from a skinny first grade beginning reader.

Reading Rockets (a MUST-BOOKMARK site for education writers) has an excellent article on the subject of Hi/Lo readers.

High Noon books specializes in the Hi/Lo market. Click on “Hi/Lo Reading Books” on their home page to see their large selection of Hi/Lo books.

Remedia Publications also has a nice selection of High Interest content for struggling students.

HIP Books has an edgy, fun look that older struggling readers would be attracted to.

Reading Intervention Programs
If you are asked to write content for a Reading Intervention Program, you need to be familiar with common terms like these on the Reading Rockets website. This website was created to be a resource for parents and teachers of struggling readers, and is my go-to spot for a quick review of terms.

Most publishers who need writers for reading intervention programs have a clearly developed plan, and need writers to create activities and lessons within their framework. You might be asked to write lessons based on grade-level state standards in a different way so students who are not reading on grade level can read and understand the content.

Where are the jobs?
I don’t have an easy answer for this. It comes down to persistence and research – and of course good timing. It helps to have a degree in education and experience with struggling readers to land your first job, but if you are a good writer, writing Hi/Lo stories or leveled readers is a good place to start.

So, what have I missed? Any ideas or experiences to share?


Friday, April 11, 2008

work for hire works for me

I recently opened a fortune cookie that said, "If you think the fates are against you, they probably are." Everyone at the table laughed. Talk about the anti-fortune cookie. Since when did fortune cookies start offering up brutal honesty?

I'm hoping the fates will be with me as I finish up my literacy coach assignment and start looking for freelance writing jobs. When I first decided to be a freelance writer a few years ago, I got an awesome job as an activity writer for a book packager that paid the bills for a good four months. I got the job based on my teaching background, then, discovered I love writing activities and curriculum.

Unfortunately, jobs didn't come along so quickly and easily after the first, fateful opportunity. But, I'm hoping for very good fortune again. My plan is to check-in with my work-for-hire editors soon to let them know I'm available. I'm going to follow my own advice offered in my work-for-hire article. I'm also following a thread on the Non-Fiction for Kids yahoo group about whether or not work-for-hire assignments are cyclical.

There is agreement that while work-for-hire assignments don't follow a school schedule, they might follow school purchasing cycles and definitely follow school purchasing trends. Someone on the list mentioned ELL/ESL assignments being "hot" right now. I wasn't planning to highlight my credentials as an ESL endorsed teacher, but I definitely will after reading the posts. You can read more about what topics are "hot" in education in the International Reading Association What's Hot for 2008 annual survey article. These are only language arts topics, but the results are important trends freelance writers who work for the education market might want to pay attention to.

If you are interested in learning more about work-for-hire, read my article about getting wfh jobs, or my other article about writing wfh cover letters. Or, consider visiting these sites for more information:
Writing for the Education Market
writing for hire yahoo group
freelance writing jobs yahoo group
non-fiction for kids yahoo group

Have you ever done work-for-hire writing? Any thoughts or tips?


correlation jobs

The most obvious things are often right in front of my nose and I can't see them. I guess I don't focus on them because I'm distracted by so many other things going on in the world around me. (having four kids at home will do that...)

Correlating work for the education market is a completely obvious option I never focused on. Never even considered it until I read a wonderfully helpful article on the Writing for the Education Market blog.

Correlating is sometimes called "alignment", because the work involves aligning curriculum, activities, and other content to state standards. Everyone who works in the education market has to deal with state standards and alignment at some point. Some education market writing assignments I've worked on were already aligned, so, I was asked to create content - such as test questions, test prep workbook content, teacher resource activity pages - for each standard.

I've worked as a literacy coach all year. Much of what I do is think about what the state and national standards are, and work with teachers to make sure their students are presented with excellent, relevant instruction. I sit with teachers and look at whether time spent during the language arts block reflects the education standards of the district, state, etc. Two big questions schools ask before making curriculum choices are: is it research-based?, and, does it correlate with our standards?

A good place to check out how state standards affect the publishing world are company websites. I have written two teacher resource books for Carson-Dellosa, and just noticed their State Standards search page this week. If you have a favorite publisher, find out whether they align their products to state standards. If they do, they have to pay someone to do the correlating. If you are looking for a new source of income, and have education-related experience, ask your editor if this might be an option for you. I plan to spend some time looking into this more thoroughly over the next couple months, and will let you know what I find out.

Here are some other companies I'm going to check into for correlating jobs. I don't know what will happen since this is a new area for me, but I'll let you know:

Six Things
Red Rover
Quarasan Group
Waterloo Education

Do you have any experience as a paid correlator? Have any tips or suggestions to share?

And, while you are visiting Laura at her Writing for the Education Market blog, be sure to sign up for her email option. She posts good job leads for the education market.