Write Away

English 479-01

The two passages I focused on for this blog are Danling Fu’s on ELL students, and Richard Kent’s on Special Needs students because I can incorporate this into my Unit 2 adaptations.

Danling Fu starts off her section on ELL students by saying, “”writing instruction rarely goes beyond practicing language skills. Teaching writing to ELL at the secondary level for communication or self-expression remains an uncharted territory” (2007, p. 225). What she is saying is that what ELL students seem to learn in school is just the English language and how to correctly use it, but classroom, retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/keenepubliclibrary/5446395340/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on 4/5/11they are not taught how to communicate their FEELINGS in this language. I totally agree with this because I feel like this happened to me when I took the Spanish language in high school. I can say certain things in Spanish, like “May I get water?,” “What time is it?” etc, but I never learned how to express myself in that language beyond what I was tested on. I was told what to learn, learned that, and moved on. This seems to be the same thing happening to ELL students, and it is not fair considering “one out of every five students (twenty percent) resides in a home in which a language other than English is spoken” (Newkirk and Kent, 2007, p. 226). ONE out of every FIVE. These students are not rare; in other words, there are multiple in a classroom, so they need to be taught more English then what they are obtaining in order to succeed in the world outside of the classroom.

I also like how Fu gives ideas on how to help ELL students learn, one of which is to ease them in to English. I like that idea. You cannot just throw English on a child who really has any background in it; English is such a hard language. I also like how she says journals and diaries help ELL students learn. I agree with this because it allows them to express themselves without the feeling of someone going back over and grading what they wrote.

All in all, the number of ELL students in a classroom is steadily rising, and teachers cannot just neglect these students. Fu gives many ideas on how to help these students learn ELL, so they can succeed.

In the next section on special needs students, Richard Kent says, “Although not everyone agrees with mixed groups, my experience has been that including everybody adds richness to our classrooms and schools” (2007, p.267). I agree with this statement. By treating students with special needs differently than the other kids in school, they will begin to think they are different, and I think they will start to do poorly in school. Everyone wants to feel accepted, so by separating them, one is only hindering the learning process. Also, to prove the statement that mixed groups are better, “Being in an integrated classroom helps students understand that everyone has Classroom, retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/keenepubliclibrary/5448223449/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on 4/5/2011something to give” (Newkirk and Kent, 2007, p. 273). Again, everyone wants to feel wanted, and by having an integrated classroom, every student does. It is imporant to incorporate every student in a lesson, even special needs students because that is when they will learn the most because they will not feel different from anyone else.

Before this writing class, I thought I knew almost everything I needed to know about my major, but I was sadly mistaken. I have Baby, Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerhouse_museum/3093477961/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on 3/30/2011realized what a little kid I actually feel like in this class sometimes because of my age. I believe I am one of two sophomores in this class, and probably the actual youngest person in age. That sometimes intimidates me. Everyone has had experience in the classroom it seems like, while I am doing my first practicum this summer. Sometimes I feel dumb or behind everyone else, but I listen and figure out what I need to know.

I am not saying this class is a bad thing; I am actually glad I took it before I had any serious time in a classroom. From my peers, I now know what to expect in a class, and what not to expect. I have learned what I need to know, and what I don’t really need to. For example, I found out all about the different places we need to do our practicas from this class because of how upset everyone seems to feel about it.

I am especially glad I sit next to Titus and Emma because they have helped me out the most. They have welcomed me in, and do not make me feel stupid if I have a question about something that they most likely already experienced.

What I am getting at is that this class is pretty intimidating for me because I am so young and inexperienced, but I am glad I am taking it at the time that I am because I am learning what I need to know when I become more in depth with my major, and what I should expect. I am also learning through my peers’ experience, and I am grateful for that.

Once I flippChildren with Jigsaw Puzzle, retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/3122867563/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on March 23, 2011ed open to the first reading of Dixon (page 151) I was automatically drawn in. I like grammar, and as crazy as it sounds, I

think it can be fun. I view grammar as a puzzle that needs to be solved, and I feel like if I can get my students to see grammar this way, then maybe I can get them to enjoy it too.

ANYWAY, at the beginning of this section, Dixon says, “Discarding traditional drill approaches, teacher contributors in this section encourage students to self-diagnose their technical strengths and weaknesses to develop prescriptions for personal writing improvement” (2007, p. 151). I agree with this statement because self-diagnoses really opens up students’ eyes to what they are good at when it comes to grammar, and what they need to work on. This also helps the teacher because she can see what her students are good at, and what she should focus on with them more. Grammar is important in school because in order to write a good paper, students need grammar that does not distract the reader from what they are getting at in their papers.

As for the lessons in this section, I liked Lesson 52: “‘I’m Not Good at English’: Eight Basic Rules for Native Speakers” because of the visual handout that comes along with it. I think it is important to have a visual handout with grammar because grammar is hard for most people. If the teacher has her students take notes on grammar, they might miss something important in the notes that they write. When it comes to grammar, I think having a visual worksheet with all the information already on it is very helpful because it is in a readable form, and easy to access. The only pit fall of this lesson for me is how it is for NATIVE speakers. I think this is discriminatory. More and more students in school systems are not NATIVE to the area, and it is just as equally important to make a lesson that includes them as well; after all, America is now the tossed salad, and people are coming from all over to learn our language and culture.

The other lesson I like is Lesson 55: “Highlighting for Sentence Variety: Experimenting with Syntax.” I like this on because it mTreasure chest, retrieved fromhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/26436097@N06/3577438623/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on March 23, 2011akes the activity like a treasure hunt, which in turn can make it fun for the students. I think if the teacher wanted to, she could even make it in to a game so it is more competitive and make the students want to participate.

As for the Newkirk and Kent reading, this section was about the importance of brainstorming and its relation to writing. Donald M. Murray states, “Now I realize writing before writing is more important than I thought” (Newkirk and Kent, 2007, p. 18). I am in the same boat as Mr. Murray. Back in high school, I could write an essay for a class in one draft, edit it for grammar, and know I would get no lower than a B on that essay. College is a whole different playing field. I have to do at least three drafts of a paper now before I feel that it is good enough to turn in, and one of those drafts being a brainstorm sheet where I write my thesis and quotes I think I might use.

What I also like about this section is how Mr. Murry relates everything to writing, even daydreams. I never really thought about it, but the thoughts I put in my head before bed, or when I am off thinking in space, are actually forms of writing. The only difference is Thinking, Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/2551039289/sizes/s/in/photostream/ on March 24, 2011they are not written down. I liked Mr. Murry’s section better than the next section by Ms. Moher, but I did get one thing out of her section: When having student-teacher conferences, “engage the student in a dialogue in which her sense of who she is begins to reveal itself” (Newkirk and Kent, 2007, p. 28). What Ms. Moher is doing here is speaking with her student, getting her student to talk, instead of giving solutions to the problems of the writing assignment. I think getting the student to talk about her work will open her eyes up to the assignment, allowing her to figure out the problems she might have with the assignment, and allow her to clear them up herself.

Thomas Newkirk starts off this chapter by saying the NCTE beliefs, but he also adds one more that I believe is the best of them all: “…teaching writing–as difficult and time-consuming as it is–can reconnect us with reasons we joined the profession” (2000, p. x). I believe in this just like he does. By teaching writing, we, as teachers, can help touch the lives of our students. We can help those who struggle with writing, and once they finally get it, and we see that lightbulb moment–where their face lights up and they know it–it will feel amazing. If the student just can’t get it, and we are helping and helping, trying to get them to get it, we will feel good trying to solve this mystery that is writing to them. It will be a lot of work, but worth it in the end. Also, Writing, I feel, shows when a student trusts the teacher or not. If the student has a writing assignment, and he opens up a story that is personal to you, it shows he trusts you to read it and be apart of his life.

“We must learn from our past to create our future” is a very famous quote almost everyone knows. This is how Newkirk goes about this chapter. He beings by explaining how teaching writing in the 20th century came about. He realized, however, that “…the challange of the twenty-first century is likely to resemble the challenge of the twentieth: to cut through sheer curricular clutter that causes us to lose sight of the real goal of writing instruction–to truely engage students in purposeful acts of composing” (Newkirk, 2000, p. 2). I agree with him. He is saying what we struggled with in the last century will still be the struggle this century. We are more technologically advanced. That does not mean that the challenges of writing just go out the window. Sure, with computers comes spell and grammar check, but the student still has to write the paper for himself. No one does it for him. Teaching writing is never an easy process, and unless we get chips put in our head like the book Feed, where the chips do ALL the thinking for us, then we must learn how to write on our own.

Newkirk also makes a point that I agree with: Failure is inevitable. It is going to happen. Like I was saying last week, we all want that perfect class, where everyone is on the same reading and writing level, but that just isn’t reality. Kids are going to fail, even if you are the BEST teacher in the WORLD. Because of this, we, as teachers, must make a “game plan” about what a successful teacher is, and surprisingly, it is the little things that make a teacher awesome: slowness (but not too slow) that creates comfort, the exact pacing, having a clear purpose, precision of explanation (Newkirk, 2000, ps. 6-7). Basically, if a teacher is confident with what they are doing, they can be a successful teacher.

Another way a teacher can be a good teacher is by making everything relevant to the student. For example, Thomas Deans and Megan Marie talk about how they made Romeo and Juliet better for the students by making it more like them. The way they do this, is by making their learning incorporate into their community. By connecting readings and writings to real-world scenarios, and actually allowing the students to actively participate in these scenarios, the learning will be more fun and a little easier. For example, if you were to read a book that involved frogs to your third grade class, you could take them on a field trip to the local pond where they can see frogs in action, and even touch some. You can discuss with your class what they are doing and why they are doing it, and because of this, the students can now relate to the frog in the book.

For the Dixon writing, research is important and cannot be avoided. Not many kids like doing research papers, but there is a way to make them fun. My favorite two lessons in this reading are lessons 45 and lesson 50.

Lesson 45 makes research in a way of food: everyone likes food. It uses pizza (which seems to be many people’s favorite food). The students are to make a paper pizza, and each slice has a different role in the research the groups (the students are in groups) will be doing. It helps the students see a visual of what is important in the research writing process.

Lesson 50 is about self evaluation of the students. I like this one as well because when a student truly looks over their own work, they see what they feel they did great on, and what they feel like did weak on. It is a great reflection tool, and students should not be embarrassed. I know a lot of kids do not like peer edit in fear of what their classmate will say about their paper, so being able to do it themselves helps.

The part of the Newkirk and Kent reading was pretty interesting. I like how Richard Kent, in running his classroom, knew things would not always be hunky-dory and that his students would not always like what they were to do in class. We, as students wanting to be teachers, like to picture that perfect classroom: one where all the students behave and are all on the same level, and one where all the students love to come to class everyday. In reality, this will never happen, so you have to admit it to yourself as well as your students that not everything will be perfect all the time.

Kent gives a letter to his students explaining everything about his class. I like this idea because it makes it more personal, but what I don’t like is how long his actual letter is. Not every student will pay attention to a letter that long, but they really have to because then they would miss the ending of it where he talks about homework. That is what I also don’t like; he should have put the homework on a separate sheet so he knew they would see it because his letter is so long that not all the students will see it.

The one thing about this section that really stood out to me was when Kent says, “Most of us who have taught for a long time in the same place live on our reputations—the tricky part each year is living up to them” (Newkirk and Kent, 2007, p. 51). This is completely true. I remember being scared of certain teachers because of their reputation, and them living up to it. It is important to live up to what you create.

The second half of the Newkirk and Kent answered questions, which helped me a lot as I read it. It made me realize four big things:

1. Don’t Grade Everything. If you grade everything, then the students will only see your comments as reasons why or why not they did good or bad. In other words, they will not take your comments to heart like they need to be taken. Plus, by grading everything, it takes the fun out of writing. Let the students be able to relax for once in their stressful lives when it comes to writing.

2. Reward Students for Diligence AND Quality of Their Writing. I take this as, don’t just grade for how well they write the paper. Grade them for how well they meet the other requirements as well: peer review, paper meetings, etc.

3. Let the Students Make the Rubrics Sometimes. By allowing them to do this, you get their feedback on how they think you should grade their papers. Also, it helps with the quality of their writing because they key in on what’s important.

4. You, as a Teacher, Cannot be Perfect. We all want to be the best teacher and make everyone happy, but we can’t; it is impossible to please everyone. If you try to please everyone, then you will hate teaching.

As for the Dixon reading, these lessons were about portfolio writing. I did one portfolio (that I can remember) when I was in public school. It was a college portfolio in my AP English 12 class my senior year. What was required were two college entry essays (which was actually really hard because we had to SHOW not TELL), two college applications, a reflection letter, and I think one more entry. This sounds awful, but since I already knew I was going to Longwood (because of soccer), I did not take it all too seriously. I know, however, it helped many of my classmates and it did help me with my creative writing.

Classroom, retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesclay/3509154015/ on 2/24/2011

The reason I mention the portfolio I did is because that is what I thought of when I saw these lessons. The two lessons I like the most were lesson 22 and lesson 27. Lesson 22 uses personal letters as the writing focus. I like this idea because it is personal. I feel as if students are more likely to write more and write better if they cn write about something they actually know (since it is their lives). Lesson 27 uses technology which I like because technology is a common thing now and needs to be used in more classes as well as lessons.

Just hearing the words “standardized tests” makes me want to vomit. I HATED them when I was in public school. I remember they were always given at the beginning of the year and were always the same question: “should students wear seatbelts onaschool bus? Why or why not?” It was awful. There were probably about two more reoccuring prompts throughout the years, but the seatbelt came up more then once.

Saying this, when I read Gardner, I was interested in what she had to say. I agree with her that these tests are useless and do not seem to help kids because “Any sense of audience is left for the students to discover (or, more accurately, completely invent). There’s no feedback and no discussion of the grading criteria” (Gardner, 2008, p.67) . I remember always wondering who my audience was and having to make up my own audience. That wasn’t that bad, but I was scared it wasn’t what my grader would want. There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to standardized writing tests. It seems as if correct form gets more points in these tests then critical thinking, and Gardner says this as well. That does not help students because any other form of writing they do is based on both, but more for critical thinking; therefore, when they write for these tests, all of their writing “morals” go out the window.

As a teacher, however, you have to practice for these tests. As much as you might hate them, it plays a part in if the students pass the grade or not. Gardner knows this, and throws in her ideas on how to help students get something out of it. First and foremost, “Learning to read the writing prompts on these tests is essential to success” (Gardner, 2008, p. 69). If the students don’t, they will not be writing in a way that the graders want. Next, Gardner gives ideas on how to help the students practice. She says the first time you teach it, do NOT time the first test. This way, the students can do all the correct writing steps and look over their work so they know how to respond when it comes time for the actual timed test. She also says gives a variety of timed writing. This is smart because some timed tests might be asking for a journal entry instead of an essay, so if students have practice in all types, they will feel prepared.

I wish I had this advice from one of Gardner’s students when I was writing these tests in schools: “Close eyes and refocus when distracted” (Gardner, 2008, p. 73). I was so nervous I would run out of time, I never stopped to relax. If I had, I would have most likely written a better response.

Unlike Gardner’s broad (but helpful) ideas of lessons, Dixon has more narrow lessons. The two lessons I liked the most were lessons 65 and 66 on pages 185 and 188 because they dealt with incorporating college writing in to the lesson. I strongly believe in teaching students how to write for college because colleges expect more then high schools, and these lessons help the student see what a college would be looking for on an essay exam. Lesson 65 actually takes Regent’s essay exam and the students are to practice writing for it.

The one lesson I did not like was lesson 63 on page 181 simply because when I read it, I felt like the students are writing a literary analysis paper, but with no time to write a good one. I do not find it like standardized tests for the fact that those tests give you prompts and you are to respond and most are opinionated. Sure, some of them have quotes from famous works and the students are to respond to those, but this lesson is having the students find the quotes and write a timed paper. What I am saying is that the papers will not be good papers because they have no time to think about the whole work as a whole, and this lesson is based like a literary analysis paper. I also do not like this lesson because it is about Shakespeare and this will make Shakespeare more intimidating than he already is.

Tom Romano (2007) in Teaching the Neglected “R” says it best: “As students move through school, they write fewer and fewer poems, metaphors, images, stories, and narratives. Exposition becomes their sole writing diet: reports of various kinds, summaries, essay exams, traditional research papers” (p. 88). Students’ essays are usually boring and not very well written because they have to write about what they do not want to write about. In addition, I feel that essays are poorly written because of how we, as students, are taught to write them in the school essay format that Gretchen Bernabei (2007) talks about on page 73. The essay format is the 5 paragraph essay. This type of essay has SCREWED me over, BIG TIME. I thought I was a professional at writing essays in high school; I wrote in the 5 paragraph form, got my point across, and got A’s on my papers. Now, in college the 5 paragraph does NOT fly. Luckily, I learned that quick, but not all people are that lucky. I want to teach my students NOT the five paragraph essay, but instead the format that will help them in the long run, or make them write about boring stuff. I know they will have to write about some boring stuff, but I want to give them choices so at least they feel like they have a say. I feel like teachers take the easy way out teaching the 5 paragraph form, and that is not fair to students. I want to prepare them for the real essay writing.

In order to teach them the real deal, you have to help them out: “Without some guided structure, many struggling students would be unable to produce writing at all” (Bernabei, 2007, p. 74).  Students need directions, and I agree with Bernabei when she says this. What they also need is prewrite before they start writing. Dixon (2007) gives a good lesson on prewriting on pages 83-85.What I like most about this lesson is the free write sheet that goes along with it. It gives the students an example of how to do this activity and it allows them to write how they speak; in other words, they just write what comes to mind without having to worry if it is grammatically correct or not.

Not all the writing activities in Dixon’s book are about writing, however. Some incorporate reading, and ways to make reading fun. Take for example Shakespeare. Not many students like him, and struggle with his work. With this lesson, the students get to make a choice (because I am all about student choice). They get to chose a play of their choice and teach it to the class. I find this extremely cool (but that may be because I like teaching). They get to work in groups so the course load should be evenly distributed. This makes Shakespeare seem a little easier in my opinion.

My only question I have on this reading is how to go about teaching poetry. I know poetry is important, and I agree with Maureen Barbieri whole-heartedly that poetry gets that boot when it comes to what is taught and what is not, but how do you teach how to make poetry? If I taught it, I would go about giving the students notes on the different type of poetry, and then have them go from there. How do you grade it though? I struggled writing poetry and was always scared on how I would be graded. Do you grade it for format or for what it means? Poetry is a good form of self explanation, but it does not come naturally to all of us.

For this chapter, I mostly focused on the figures because I feel like they gave me a better and easier understanding of what Gardner was talking about in the chapter.

I like the list on page 50 of audiences that teachers are supposed to help the students navigate through. This gives the students an idea of who to write to, and which people are appropriate at what times.

The figure on page 53 is also helpful to students because it helps them decide a point of view to pick in their paper. It also lets them know that tones such as “angry” and “annoyed” are in fact two different things and should be treated that way. I am not saying the students can only have one point of view, but that the point of views are different.

With the chart on pages 62-63, I never realized how many different types of genre there were. I think this is helpful to students because it gives them a broader range of choices to write about. This way, they feel like they are in control because they do the picking.

First and foremost, I agree with Garner’s three goals for a writing assignment: “Define the writing task, explore the expectations, [and] provide supporting materials and activities” (35). It is good to have goals, especially when it comes to writing. Writing is no easy task, but making goals helps make it just a little easier.

I whole-heartedly agree with Gardner when she states, “I want to encourage ownership of the project by giving students more choice in what they write about” (39). I have said this since the first day of this class, and I am glad someone else agrees. It makes writing more exciting and tolerable.

The only idea I do not like is the peer review mentioned on page 41. Peer reviews are good and work, but only when students take them seriously. To be honest, when I was in high school, I just “went through the motions with them,” meaning I just did them, and I did them fast because I found them pointless. My classmates felt the same way; therefore, I never got anything out of them. I felt like my teachers used them to take up time in the class period or because they did not feel like teaching that day. It is good to see and hear what your peers think about your paper, but only if they actually take it seriously.

When I first read this chapter, I knew I has seen the NCTE Beliefs before, and then I remembered I have them in my syllabus. I think these are interesting because I find them all true. I also like how the text gives an explanation of her experiences with each step.

The one that sticks out the most to me is when she is talking about point four: Writing is a tool for thinking. She opens up with, “I love ‘light bulb moments’–those moments when you’re working with students and you see their understanding of a sudden new idea or concept” (16). I loved having those moments when I was in high school, especially when it came to Algebra, and my Algebra teacher loved them to. To work so hard to understand something and then finally getting it is such a wonderful feeling, and I bet it is for the teacher too. They work so hard for the student to understand what they are teaching, putting it in different ways to hopefully light up that lightbulb, and when they finally do, I bet it feels great. I cannot wait to be able to feel this when I am a teacher.