March 4, 2007

Media Literacy

I am a recent convert to believing in the possibilities that the media and technology can play in the classroom. In the past, I did not have a large amount of exposure to using such things as a blog, a wiki, or an RSS. The only things I did on the computer were check my email and write papers using Word. I always imagined myself as a teacher who would be somewhat ‘old school’ in that I would mainly use the traditional materials of pen, paper, and written text in my classroom.

In the past year through various coursework, however, I have been introduced to and gained experience with digital literacy and its possibilities in the classroom. It is amazing how many doors it can open with students. Such possibilities include class blogs where students can explore texts further and online connections to students from another country that improve student writing skills and cultural understandings.

As a teacher, it is important to recognize that students are already involved in an online digital world, which Henry Jenkins describes as ‘participatory culture’, “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for create and sharing one’s creations, and informal mentorship….? Many students participate in this culture through My Space, Facebook, Blogging, Live Journal, etc. We need to help students build on the skills and knowledge needed to improve these relationships with the changing world.

Helping students grow in the skills and knowledge necessary for improving digital literacy skills will involve much change in your curriculum, “Employing these various digital writing tools entails some major shifts in your own role as teacher? (Beach). We need to face this change with an open mind.

In a class last semester, we collaboratively created a Wiki under the guidance of Richard Beach to support his book Teaching Media Literacy. com: A Web-Linked Guide to Resources and Activities. This Wiki demonstrates the possibilities that media literacy can have in the classroom.

Click on the link below to view this online book.

February 26, 2007


Williams, Dean, and Petit all agree on one thing: grammar needs to be taught, but not in the traditional way that is still found in most high schools, “Teaching grammar is not bad, learning grammar in the traditional way is bad? (Petit).

Because of the traditional way that grammar has been taught and because of how it is treated in society, many people know of several grammar terms/rules, but lack the ability or memory to apply them in real life situations. Grammar has been taught out of context as individual worksheets for years. I relate well to this experience as I remember some of my ninth grade year doing mindless grammar exercises which we did not address again or relate back to during the rest of the year. These rules were left forgotten and I deemed them “unimportant?, after all, I felt like I knew how to write.

Deborah Dean suggests teaching grammar without the grammar terms/rules, but rather through modeling good sentence structure. Every day she models sentences to her students who are asked to imitate the sentence structure as they create a new one. This is helpful to the students because she often makes those sentences meaningful and related to the context of class discussion. Dean should, however, consider the fact that students will most likely, especially if college bound, be asked to define their sentence structure. While Dean gives them different examples of sentence structure, she does not provide them with proper names, such as what clauses connect where. Maybe after the students have modeled the sentences, you can provide them with the adequate terms to describe the sentence structure.

Petit offers an exceptionally interesting workshop of how to teach grammar to students: as a rhetorical choice, as a style. Students can look at grammar not as rules or restrictions hindered upon them as writers, but rather as choices they can use as writers to make their writing more powerful and meaningful. In studying grammar as a choice, Petit also connects the study to real life context as they examine grammar choices in current texts they are reading and in revision projects in the classroom.

Grammar taught the traditional way is disengaging and lacking in real life connection. It is time we change grammars’ reputation. We need to look at new ideas such as Petit’s and Dean’s and keep strategizing to figure out how to best help students in their academic need of grammar.

The following web page provides examples of traditional grammar exercises that do not connect to real life context:

The following web page provides traditional grammar taught through games…much more engaging than worksheets….

February 22, 2007

shaggy and scooby.bmp

SHhhhhaaaagggyyy! I fink theere's a rest rooddayy!


Vicki Spandel and James D. Williams present very opposing arguments on how students should be assessed.

Williams recognizes the reality of norm-referenced tests in society and our responsibility as educators to prepare students for that:
A great deal of assessment and evaluation is not about individual student performance but rather is about the performance of all students in a given school, district, or state. “Accountability? – the effort through mandated testing to hold teachers and schools responsible for meeting established standards of performance – is a reality that influences what teachers do on a daily basis. Effective writing assessment and evaluation therefore require understanding what underlies assessment in general…
I too believe that it is our responsibility as teachers to recognize the reality of state mandated testing, and to properly prepare our students for that societal construction. But to embrace it and stroke it with tenderness, I will not.

Williams argues that because of society’s tests we need to accurately assess our student’s progress. If then there is a situation where a student struggles and defeats that struggle with dramatic improvement, but remains behind the rest of the class, that student will still receive a below average grade, and their hard work will go unrewarded, possibly encouraging that student to give up on his/her efforts.

Vicki Spandel addresses these issues in The Nine Rights of Every Writer. Spandel suggests that students deserve the right to be assessed well which includes assessment with compassion, assessment that is perceptive, and assessment that is useful. I especially embrace the ‘compassion’ part, as students’ work needs to be rewarded to encourage them to continue, “So much of assessment is about identifying problems. But courage is what writers need most? (Spandel, 94). If we neglect an individual’s hard work to follow norm-referenced testing, it is as if we are mocking their work and considering it of no use.

Unfortunately mandated testing neglects individual needs of differentiation. Yes. We do need to introduce students to the reality of the norm-referenced tests and familiarize them with its testing strategies, but we should make sure students recognize that the mandated tests are not an entire measure of their ability. Students should be exposed to different forms of assessment that also recognize their individual talents and interests so they can continue to reach their full potential as learners.

To help and encourage students to go off topic, there is a great link of creative writing prompts you can use with your students:

February 12, 2007

Understanding Revision

The articles we read for class today all discussed revision, and many of them discussed the fact that several high school classrooms of today and yesterday have students believing that revision merely means adjusting occasional words here and there. Students also tend to dread revision because they feel it’s a consequence for writing a bad paper, “They see it as a punishment, a penalty for writing poorly in the first place? (Susan Tchudi, 27).

I also experienced the hate of revision during my high school years. There was never much focus on the activity, and my classmates and I often had a just-get-it-done-for-a-grade type of attitude, so I too was one of the rascals who revised by only correcting occasional words and rewording SOME sentences. In college, however, I grew to understand the importance of revision and the opportunities it presents for us to grow as writers. Perhaps this is because of what Donald Daiker mentions in his book Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Donald mentions statistics of more errors than praises commented on in high school papers, versus the more abundant praise given in scholarly college papers. (Note to self: balance praise and constructive criticism on papers!)

As a high school teacher then, we should attempt to make revision sound more important and appealing to high school students. Vicki Spandel’s book The 9 Rights of Every Writer tells us that students have the right to write badly. As teachers we should perhaps encourage awful writing to promote risk-taking and free-writing, “You need to create a lot of garbage to get at the heart of it – the real message, the thing you want most to say, the voice that is really you? (Spandel, 65). Revision then, may not seem like a punishment, but rather like a process to redefine one’s thoughts (recently discovered in the first ‘garbage’ paper) and organize them in a way that the selected audience can understand.

The link below will bring you to a website with a link to watch a video on revision. The video discusses revision and suggests different strategies to incorporate in the classroom. You will need to create a password to watch the video, however – my apologies!

February 5, 2007

Everything in Moderation

There appears to be a large controversy over teaching the five paragraph essay (FPE) to students. Do we teach the FPE to help students succeed in a society that relies heavily upon them in the business world, or do we teach them innovation encouraging a possible revolutionary writing format for the future? Do we teach the FPT to give students some direction, or do we allow the students to create their own direction.

Tracy A. Novick’s article Praise for the Five Paragraph Essay, suggests the FPE helps students who “have a difficult time making or supporting a point because they have no idea how to pull their ideas together….[who] lack focus, direction, voice, support, and very often, any mark of personality?. The FPE, according to Novick will help beginning and improving writers organize their ideas and help bring out writing skills. Novick also argues against the accusation that the FPE does not allow for creativity, claiming that even Shakespeare had strict guidelines within a sonnet, but nobody would consider him lacking in originality or thought.

Thomas Nunnaly also supports the FPE in his article, Breaking the Five-Paragraph-Theme Barrier. Nunnally, however, suggests helping students understand the FPE is not “an end in itself?. It is a teaching tool students can excel beyond, breaking the barrier by adding more paragraphs and building more onto their thought.

We live in a world where dieters are encouraged to either completely give up bread or calories, forgetting that both bread and calories can be healthy. The key to a healthy body is a well balanced diet, meaning taking everything in moderation.

Teaching students effecting writing formats and techniques is very similar. We should not teach only the FPE or another writing formula, such as the multigenre paper. If we did we would be missing important and crucial learning benefits that both offer. As teachers, we should be exposing students to all forms of writing to help their skills grow in the future, teaching all in moderation, rather than emphasizing one over the other or completely missing out on one such skill.


After browsing the web for topics on the five paragraph essay, I found an interesting website that helps guide students into writing a FPE. It is so restraining, however, that it gives students boxes and step by step directions, not allowing you to go 'out of the box'. Click on the site below to start your FPE.

January 29, 2007

Let Students Explore!

Again, I found a controversy between readings. In Williams’ book Preparing to Teach Writing, he claims that every good writing assignment should:

• Be part of a sequence designed to develop specific discourse skills.
• Tell students exactly what they are expected to do. The mode of the response should be clear.
• Tell students exactly how they are expected to write the assignment….
• Tell students something about the purpose and the audience for the paper…..
• Tell students what constitutes success, including some statement regarding the criteria the teacher will use to assess the quality of response. (Williams, 288-289)

Williams believes in concrete assignments that give students clear instruction about the writing process and what is expected in their papers. He believes students are not fully capable of exploring without direction, “When assignments ask students to ‘discuss,’ ‘examine,’ or ‘explore,’ they may express a teacher’s understanding of what is expected, but this understanding is based on years of education and experience. Students seldom know what they are supposed to do when asked to ‘discuss’? (Williams, 288).

Tom Romano, in his book Blending Genre, Altering Style, suggests bringing a different writing style into the classroom: multigenre papers. This style contradicts Williams’ ‘specified assignments’ by giving students a chance to explore their writing styles while learning about themselves and the world around them. Students can learn about topics through the use of this exploratory form which Romano provides working examples of. Romano suggests giving students examples of multigenre papers before assigning them, but also encourages students to create their own example of an exploratory paper on a learning topic.

While I believe Williams’ idea of forming assignments with exact instruction and process are ideal for grading purposes, I believe it is restrictive for students developing their mode of expression. To gain a full learning experience through writing should not be restrictive, thus I strongly appreciate Romano’s introduction of multigenre papers in the classroom.

I also find it interesting that Williams takes no consideration of students who need abstract assignments to learn. Romano, however, does consider the fact that some students work better with expository writing and states that “we should give such students opportunities to refine and further develop their narrative thinking skills? (Romano, 56). Williams does not consider the possibility that while some students may indeed have a hard time knowing what to do when asked to ‘discuss’, others may know exactly what to do, and if given proper examples and direction more students may also benefit from ‘exploring’ assignments.

The link below will bring you to a website that provides a brief overview of multigenre writing, lesson plan ideas, links to other resources, and even an example grading rubric for a multigenre paper.

As a personal aside, I did not know much about multigenre writing before reading Romano’s book, and I am so inspired by it! I want to write my own and definitely bring it into the classroom!

January 22, 2007

Pairing Students

After reading different writings about the process writing and its corresponding group work, I found a discrepancy between two writers’ opinions on placing students into groups.

In Barbara Carney’s article “Process Writing and the Secondary School Reality: A Compromise?, she addresses the issue of pairing students to read each others’ writings and offer each other guidance in their draft work. Carney suggests three options for pairing students: pairing students with similar ability levels, allowing students to choose their own partners, and having opposite sex partners.

In James D. Williams’ book Preparing to Teach Writing, however, Williams suggests contrary views on how to pair students in the peer editing process. For example, he believes that students should not be paired by ability level, “It isn’t a good idea to have all strong writers in one group and all the weak ones in another because collaboration thrives on input from different voices? (132). Williams also does not agree with allowing students to choose their own partners for fear they will become off task, “Groups composed of close friends usually fail just as surely as groups composed of enemies? (133).

It is interesting to note these two obvious differences in opinion between both writers, because both give good support for their opinions through their own experiences. I believe that both writers are correct in their suggestions because I am almost positive that all of these situations can work and also may not work. One must look at the class dynamics and learn about the individual students before making a decision on how to place them into pairs or groups. Some students may not like each other but can still work constructively together, whereas others do not have that same temperament. Teachers may have to experiment to discover what works best for each individual student.

Click on the link below to read a description of peer editing in partners and how different students can collaborate their knowledge to make each others' writing more effective. This may come in handy for teachers as they think about the possibilities of pairing different students:


Testing this blog to see how it works