March 8, 2007

Week 7

I have chosen to focus on the Jenkins piece for my final blog. When thinking about teaching the responsible use of technology, three things need to be examined. Access, transparency, and ethics are of major concern to teachers who wish to introduce the use of technology into their classrooms. By access, Jenkins means who can get a hold of the technology and how easily? The technology referred to here is in its most basic sense, a computer and internet access. Transparency refers to a student’s ability to transfer what they find in the technology to reality – differentiating between truth and fiction. Finally, the ethics come into play when outsiders have access to the same technology and can interact with a student. Who chaperones this interaction?
I believe that all three are good points and need to be thoughtfully addressed before a teacher introduces this technology into her classroom. Perhaps most salient is the ethics point. I believe that in school settings, types of technology such as blogs or wikis should be closed to the public and only permit members of the school community to enter.
In my experience IMing with a 6th grade class, the program used required membership. Therefore, outsiders could not join a conversation with a student. This is, I believe, an appropriate use of technology.
Here is a link to a page that talks about different ways to integrate Wiki into instruction in the classroom:

March 1, 2007


In response to a request for my sources, I will list some of them here. Please look to week two for Spandel and Williams citations.

Dean, D. (2001). Grammar without Grammar: Just Playing Around, Writing. The English Journal, 91(2), 86-89.

Petit, A. (2003). The Stylish Semicolon: Teaching Punctuation as Rhetorical Choice. The English Journal, 92(3), 66-72.

Wyngaard. S. (1996). Responding to Audience: Using Rubrics to Teach and Assess Writing. The English Journal, 40(1), 30-37.

Wolf, K. (1996). Portfolio purposes and possibilities. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 40(1), 30-37.

Week 6

I find it interesting that in the studies Williams discusses, there is no correlation between students’s studying grammar and their writing ability. I think this is an important point for all English teachers to recognize and remember. All too often, students who have difficulties writing are set up with grammar exercises to help them improve their writing skills. Williams states, “As far as their writing was concerned, studying grammar or not studying grammar simply made no difference? (177). He does point out however, that there may be other reasons students should study grammar other than to improve their writing skills.

Others, like Angela Petit for example, believe that teaching the convention and usage of semicolons encourages students to use semicolons stylistically to improve their writing. She calls for the teaching of semicolons and other forms of punctuation to be done contextually. For example, teachers should seek out texts that demonstrate the type of punctuation students are learning in class.

Deborah Dean takes a different approach. She seems to believe that teaching grammar directly improves student writing. Her method begins with a single sentence written in a form that students are not used to using in their own writing. Then, without labeling different pieces of the sentence, students are to create their own sentence in that same form. This exercise is supposed to broaden students understanding of sentence structures, without boring them with labeling the parts of the sentence.

It seems to me that studying grammar does have an effect on writing ability. The difference is between teaching contextualized and decontextualized grammar. There is also a difference in expecting student writing to improve after studying all sorts of grammatical conventions in general and focusing on one convention and its possible uses within student writing. Hence, teaching grammar in broad strokes does not make nearly as much sense as teaching specific skills and conventions that students can apply directly within their writing.

Here is a link to a site with ready-made worksheets, posters, and ideas for teaching grammar:
Some of this stuff is pretty basic but could be useful if students are having a hard time remembering pronouns for example.

February 22, 2007

Week 5

Assessing writing is no doubt a challenge for educators. The authors we read this week tackled some big issues in respect to the assessment conundrum. I have picked out some of the more salient points each writer made and addressed them here.
Williams made an argument for standardizing writing assessment. Not only does Williams believe that individual teachers should be clear and consistent in their assessments of writing, he calls for teachers across the nation and in different disciplines to standardize notions of good, ok and poor writing. I have to wonder if this is possible and if this is desirable?
Wyngaard calls for the use of rubrics to assess student writing. However, her example rubric demonstrated that the criterion used to evaluate the writing was not objective or easily measurable. Instead, Wyngaard asks teachers to respond to students writing emotionally and viscerally. While I am in favor of the techniques she uses during the peer workshop stage of writing, I’m not yet sold on the idea of using strictly subjective and emotional language in rubrics.
Wolf describes the different ways portfolios can be used to assess student writing. One of the fundamental attributes of a portfolio is that it is assembled over time. I wonder how much or how little time this should be? Is it possible for example, to teach a 2 week unit in which students pull together journals, free-writes, and a formal piece of writing and call that a portfolio?
Spandel makes an excellent point in her chapter on assessment. She essentially says that as teachers make their rubrics and decide WHAT they will assess in student writing, we are making decisions about what we want students to write. In effect, if we never ask students to write persuasively, they will never have practice doing so.
I was interested to see how some of the pre-packaged writing lessons found on-line deal with assessment. For this lesson analyzing character development through writing, the only assessment of writing mentioned is a rubric for student’s journal entries. It is good to note though, that a rubric is provided and the language denotes a far more objective evaluation of the writing than Wyngaard suggests using.

February 13, 2007

Week 4

Spandel makes an excellent point in her fifth chapter, “The Right to Write Badly.? She explains how some students will write in ways that they are sure are right and avoid taking risks at all costs. These students will avoid punctuation that they are uncomfortable with, avoid using words they are unsure of, and take their voice out of a piece of writing in order to stay neutral. I have been guilty of all of these things. Even in the most open and encouraging environments, I still stuck to what I knew through most of school. Now, I see students doing the same thing.
In another one of our readings for this week, Tchudi lists student after student who believes that revision is not useful in their writing. Later in the article, Tchudi explains that the students, after being exposed to her form of in-class revision, have changed their minds and are now believers in the process. I have to wonder though, how much did these students actually change their minds? Have the student’s stable notions of revision as a process actually changed to the point that they would employ their newly learned techniques on their own?
Both Spandel and Tchudi highlight one of the biggest challenges for secondary teachers. That is, how do we undo the negative preconceived notions students have about writing, revision, or anything we ask them to do in school for that matter? How do we (in sometimes a semester or less) get our cautious students to take risks? How do we motivate an entire class of students to take the revision process seriously and understand its value when they have already decided it won’t help them? I understand that there are different ways to revise and a multitude of prompts a teacher might use to encourage her students to take risks in their writing. I’m wondering though; how we get students to really see our methods, prompts, and strategies as different. I continue to see students at the high school level go through the motions. Anything they are assigned, they do, but it’s all the same to them – it’s all just school. How do I break the cycle and motivate students who have already made up their minds against the revision process or any other activity? How do I make it different enough that students actually believe they are learning and practicing something useful and applicable to their lives outside of school?
This lesson on Read Write Think has some useful ideas for introducing the different types of revision. I like how the lesson asks students to look at preexisting fairy tales that have been re-written to demonstrate how revision is not always editing for things like spelling or grammar. I think that popular songs that have been re-done or re-written over the years could be substituted for fairy tales in this lesson.

February 8, 2007

Week 3

Five paragraph essays, like many of the conventions teachers are asked to teach students, are meant as a place to start. I’m thinking about the types of things I want my students to be able to do in an essay. Some of my initial thoughts include: organize thoughts, support arguments with evidence, recognize audience and write in a style that best fits the needs of the audience, write until all points have been made and all ideas explored. Because I believe that conventions such as organization and supporting arguments are key fundamentals that all writers should be able to do, I may use the FPE to help me teach these things. Instead of stopping there though, I might move into a discussion of audience and ask students to list when the traditional FPE is appropriate. A discussion of different genres and when their inclusion in a FPE is appropriate would probably follow. Because I find it highly important to discuss with students when they should employ different writing styles, I find the FPE beneficial in that it demonstrates one type of writing that is suitable for a multitude of scenarios (standardized tests, other classes, possibly in the business world, and always as a place to start).
To move away from the formula that the FPE asks for but keeping with the writing conventions that it helps students understand, I’ve found a website that gets at the heart of the FPE without asking students to fill in the blanks. Instead, students are asked to answer questions and write until their thoughts are complete and their points have been made.

January 31, 2007

Week 2

I’ve decided to include the following quotations taken from this week’s readings because they highlight some of the stark differences in these writer’s philosophies.

“Especially problematic is the fact that talented and experienced writers also have interesting stories to tell; typically, students do not because they have not lived long enough? (Williams, 284).

“Everyone, even a toddler, has writing-worthy moments. Everyone has topics that touch his or her heart? (Spandel, 25).

That’s probably why I’ve clung to Spandel and taken some of her words to heart. For example, I love her idea of asking students to assign the teacher a topic and then watch the teacher start to write. This shows students an authentic way in which to begin the writing process. Plus, we are always assigning the work; it would be nice to turn the tables for our students once in a while!

One other Spandel thought. Right now I’m really interested in how all of these people writing about writing and how to teach it suggest actually doing that. I do find Spandel’s writing a bit fluffy and idealistic. I would like to see some more concrete examples of how her ideas play out in the classroom. Hence, I found a concrete book list created by Spandel. It’s particularly helpful because it categorizes the recommended books by trait (organization, voice, word choice, etc…). Also on the list are teacher resources for writing. Check it out:

Spandel, Vicki. (2005). The 9 Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers.

Williams, James D. (2003). Preparing to Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice (third edition). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

January 25, 2007

Week 1

Of all the texts assigned for this week, Barbara Carney intrigues me the most. Her philosophy on the compromise of process writing seems, to me, the most concerned with authenticity of the writing experience in her classroom. For this reason, I am also drawn particularly to her ideas. Since I envision myself using some of her techniques exactly as she describes them, I want to discuss them here to help me commit these ideas to memory.
Carney emphasizes student ownership and student choice. Often, I have trouble thinking of ways to provide choice for students and still focus them towards the same goal. She gives a simple example of how to provide choice for students: the goal may be for students to write about character analysis but the choice comes in to play when students are allowed to choose which character to write about. This is a small choice that does not affect the overall outcome of the assignment but will inevitably present different challenges to different students based on the character they choose to analyze.
The second point that I’m sure to emphasize in my own classroom is waiting until the end of the writing process to focus on mechanics and grammar. Without giving it much thought, I immediately think that any revision or editing of a piece of writing necessarily includes an emphasis on mechanics and grammar. However, I am now far more inclined to see the advantage of leaving that focus out until the very end of the writing process. Carney points to the ways that revising which concerns itself with focus, organization, and development of ideas naturally works out much of the usage and grammar issues on its own.
There is another way however, that much of the grammar and mechanics are worked out without a focus on spelling, punctuation, and so forth. That is, when students meet as peer tutors, Carney relies on a specific method that I have not been introduced to before now. She arranges two students directly next to one another. Then, the student who writes the paper reads it aloud while the other student follows along. Reading the paper aloud is the part that helps students work out awkward sentences or misused words. The other significant component of this method is that the only person who writes on the paper is the person who composed it. The peer tutor is there to offer suggestions for improvement that the writer can either use or discard. This seems like a powerful tool in encouraging students to take and feel truly responsible for their own work.
I’m impressed with Carney’s attention to creating authenticity in the writing process. I’m also pleased to see that she has invented ways to encourage students to feel personally responsible for their writing. I’m anxious to try this peer editing technique and hope that it helps students care more for the writing they do in school.
Carney, Barbara. (1998) Process Writing in the High School: Fifteen Years in the Making. The English Journal, 85(6), 28-36.

I found a link on the National Writing Project website that takes my thoughts about revision one step further. This article discusses the writing process and how Standard English comes up against other languages.