Monday, May 3, 2010

Final Blog Posting for EDUC 548

"Thinking deeply about what we are doing leads us to ask better questions, break out of fruitless routines, make unexpected connections and experiment with fresh ideas." - Ron Brandt

A) What one strategy, article, concept, understanding or activity will you take away with you from this experience and apply to your current or ideal pedagogy?

B) Write at least three burning questions you still have in regards to writing instruction that you'd like to further explore at some point in the future as an educator.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This blog response will require some personal reflection about how you developed as a writer in school and your development as a writing teacher. The excerpts are derived from Linda Christensen's book Teaching For Joy & Justice and the question for each response is located under the excerpt. There are 2 questions to respond to this week.

In too many classrooms, grades are the "wages" students earn for their labor. Teachers assign work, students create products, and grades exchange hands. There are problems with this scenario. Students who enter class with skills- especially reading and writing skills- are rewarded with higher grades. They already know how to write the paper; they just need to figure out what the teacher wants in it. Essentially, they take what the teacher talks about in class and reproduce it in a paper. Students who lack these basic skills are at a disadvantage. Unless there has been an explicit teaching of how to write the papers, they don't know how to produce the products the teacher expects. This doesn't mean they lack the intelligence, desire to achieve, or capacity to learn; it means they lack skills. As a result, they receive a lower grade.

Let me pause to say that sometimes students can't write a better draft. They need more instruction. How fair is it to grade them down on a paper if they don't have the tools to complete the task? Is it their fault that they have made it to my class without academic skills? I don't think so. It's my job to teach them how to write, how to revise. I believe that most students would write a better draft if they could.

1. Describe your writing journey through school.
a) Did you enter high school with the skills required for writing or did you acquire them in school?
b) What or Who was instrumental in helping you to become a writer?
c) Do you only write for academic purposes or do you write for other reasons outside of the world of academia? (Currently)

Because I want my students to view their writing as a process, I refuse to let them be "done." If students turn in drafts that represent their best work at that point in time, they receive full credit for the writing. If students don't have drafts, they receive no credit. If they turn in rushed drafts that clearly aren't their best efforts, I return them and ask them to re-do the papers. Students regularly write and rewrite papers they care about a number of times.

Too often, writing-and thinking- in school becomes scripted (hence the five-paragraph essay) because scripts are easier to teach and easier to grade. Unfortunately, they fail to teach students how to write. Real writing is messy. And students often don't "get" how to write narratives or essays the first time we teach them. They need lots of practice without judgements; they need to be told what they are doing right, so they can repeat it; they need to examine how to move to the next draft.

2. Describe your journey as a writing teacher thus far in your career:
a) What strengths do you bring regarding the teaching of writing (whether you consider yourself a novice or expert)?
b) What is your greatest fears when it comes to the teaching of writing?
c) If writing does play a pivotal role in your daily teaching, describe its role - or- if you aspire to include writing in your daily teaching what are some obstacles you need to overcome as an educator to do so

Monday, April 19, 2010

Excerpt from Pauline Gibbons Book:

The sociocultural approach to learning recognizes that with assistance, learners can reach beyond what they can read unaided, participate in new situations, and take on new roles. This assisted performance is encapsulated in Vygotsky's notion of the zone of proximal development, or ZPD, which desribes the "gap" between what learners can do alone and what they can do with help from someone more skilled. This situated help is often known as "scaffolding" (Gibbons 2002).

Scaffolding, in the way it is used here, has three major characteristics:

A) It is temporary help that assists a learner to move toward new concepts, levels of understanding, and new language.

B) It enables a learner to know how to do something (not just what to do), so that they will be better able to complete similar tasks alone.

C) It is future orientated: in Vygotsky's words, what a learner can do with support today, he or she will be able to do alone tomorrow.

Scaffolding is therefore teacher support in action, and is the core learning and teaching for autonomy (Mariani 1997).

Excerpt from Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction

Recall that Tier One consists of the most basic words- clock, baby, happy- rarely requiring instruction in school. Tier Three includes words whose frequency of use is quite low, often being limited to specific domains- isotope, lathe, peninsula- and probably best learned when needed in a content area. Tier Two words are high frequency words for mature language users- coincidence, absurd, industrious- and thus instruction in these words can add productively to an individual's language ability.

Some Criteria for Identifying Tier Two Words
A) Importance & Utility: Words that are characteristic of mature language users and appear frequently across a variety of domains.
B) Instructional potential: Words that can be worked with in a variety of ways so that students can build rich representations of them and their connections to other words and concepts.
C) Conceptualized understanding: Words for which students understand the general concept but provide precision and specificity in describing the concept.

Return to our first blog post and look at the excerpt you selected to use for a mentor text. In that same excerpt notice the number of Tier One, Tier Two and Tier Three words used to construct the mentor text itself. Then complete the following exercise in this week's blog post:

1) Copy the mentor text you posted last week into your new blog post so that we can see it in this week's post. (If you feel like last week's post doesn't have any Tier Two words for you to use then feel free to post a new excerpt- no longer than one paragraph)

2) Choose between 3 to 5 Tier Two from the mentor text you posted last week.

3. Create student friendly explanations (not from the dictionary) for the words you selected. Try to include the words something, someone, or describes in your explanation.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Session 1 Blog Response: Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

Katie Wood Ray reminds us:

Through experiences looking at many different texts in inquiry with children, we came to realize that there was a difference between describing good writing and prescribing good writing. When we really engaged in describing good writing, we found ourselves talking about how it all works quite differently than we did when we only prescribed good writing, far away from the beautiful texts those prescriptions were meant to help create. And of course we had to face the fact that many of the things we had been taught about good writing simply were not true. As we looked and described what we saw, we were rewriting our own understandings about how good writing happens.

Over time, as we really looked at writing, we found that there was nothing to fear. Good writers don't pursue their craft with a reckless abandon. Instead, they have come to realize that language is there to be used, in any manner possible, to make meaning. Human beings invented language. Its use is not a fixed, rule-bound principle of the universe that existed before us or outside of us. Its use is an exchange between human beings, and because of that, it is alive and changing and growing, and it is never static, never one thing or one way you can put your finger on. To learn to write from writers you will have to make peace with understanding language in use, rather than language in principle.

For this week's blog response please post a piece of text (a sentence, a couple of sentences or a paragraph) that you've read recently that strikes you as "good" writing.

1. Describe in the best words you have what you think the author is doing (language patterns you see).
2. Describe why the author is doing it.
3. Why the writing itself resonates with you.

Do your best (and it will be hard) to not get hung up on needing to know the correct terminology, literary devices or parts-of-speech knowledge for everything you love about the way the language is constructed together. Just go with the best words you have to describe the writing at hand.