My views on the readings for 1/25/07
I delved deep into the thoughts and ideas of James D. Williams, and his philosophies on the best practices for teaching. I say to you James (can I call you James?), I think you may be onto something. These two chapters we have read are very insightful to the needs of the evolving educational process. By acknowledging that the old ways worked for some, but not for all, James has re-sod the playing field with the "process approach." At first, I was insulted by the fact that James viewed the education methods that led all of us to the intellectual self-renaissance that we have all embraced through our in-depth readings, poetic expression, witty banter, and our magical abilities to bore an entire group of Un-English-major-outsiders by delving into the subtext of a movie plot. Had not such educational methods of "[a]pplying rigid rules, studying grammar or composition topics, or reading works of literature," created are abilities? Are we, then, considered failures? At first I wondered if the evolution of video games, coupled with the Mtv-generation-over-caffeinated-ADHD-poster-children-reality-tv-worshiping-
internet-addicted-students lacked the ability to take the elements of the lessons I was taught and piece them together in a self-efferent way to create good writing. Maybe we are just smarter, more focused, problem solving types than those who only communicate through computer characters.
Through further reading of James' text, I learned that my assumptions, though astutely defensive, were irrational and wrong. His discussion of the process model just made sense (for the most part). By creating the steps of Invention, Planning, Drafting, PAusing, Reading, Revising, Editing, and Publishing; while equally acknowledging the universal ordering of each, James creates a blue-print for a better writing process.
James openly embraces writer workshops as though it were his only child. I am a fan of such methods, but I do not agree with all of his regulations. I like that he thinks there needs to be a step-by-step phase of creating comfort and trust among the group, to make them "friends" in order to receive each student's best writing and editing abilities, but I do not like how he argues that the groups must never be divided. I feel that keeping a group together may create more trust, but by separating the groups periodically (two or three times a semester) and restarting the process, provided the students with multiple perspectives.
James' goal seems to be to create a more constructivism based classroom, which I am all for. I would love to be more of a coach or facilitator, rather than a lecturer or know-it-all, but I wonder how long something this good could last for. In an ideal world, the teacher can implement to perfect writer work shopping groups of five students whom can excel through Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, respect each other's opinion, write fantastic papers, and remain on task in doing so; but in the real world, such things do not exist. Sure, you could go with Barbara Atwell and just speak louder than the bustling of the mass of students, rather than quiet them down, but to what avail? I am worried that doing such work shopping activities would be short lived when the students fail to find their niche in the group, are insulted by comments made, laugh at each other's work, do not speak English well enough to comprehend or express, or do not do their required assignments. As a teacher who intends to work in an inner-city school, those are the students I am more likely to get. I feel like James is getting us all ready to work in either a private school or idealistic suburban setting, but the harsh realities of the majority of moderns schools would not be able to do these workshops without the teacher playing an active role.
I do like his step-by-step model though. I feel that you can implement his methods in any writing assignment, and I agree that multiple drafts will help students learn to write better. I like the concepts of freewriting and journaling the most, because they do not have the pressures of being graded to scare the students into creating works that are made to appease the teacher, rather things that can be self beneficial.
Although I praise the stages, I think James is way off on the publishing stage. I do not think that publicly displaying, reading, or making a class binder are good ways to motivate the less competent writers. James points out earlier that creating a competitive atmosphere is a great way to get a group of students to bond, but it only works because students have a competitive nature about them. Therefore, this public use of the publishing phase will have some students feeling their writing is not as good as others, and that can lead to them feeling as though they are failures, not motivate themselves to write better. I think the idea of turning in a completed paper, on-time, after following the steps and working in a writer's workshop will give the students the feeling of accomplishment enough. No need to throw it in everyone's faces. If anything, the teacher can compile some quotes or sections they enjoyed in the papers to show the class.
This web page talks about using post-it notes as a way of editing papers and setting goals. It may come in handy if a whole group has to use one copy of a paper to edit.