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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. http://www.csupomona.edu/~uwc/non_protect/student/Journey5cp.htm