Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This is a fun test blog I made with Betsy

I am having so much fun dinking around with this blog. I'm going to add a photo and a link inside my posting. If you want to add a link to your blog all you do is type what you want, like umn

Monday, March 05, 2007

I dig Dig Lit - but there's a lesson in Mindworks too

I'm a huge Rick Beach fan - I really liked his class about teaching digital literacy and just plain like the way he teaches. His introduction to Why Use Digital Writing was a good recap of his course objectives and basically, the course itself. Rick talks mostly about blogging and wikis as a means to "foster specific literacies associated with learning to write." I believe that the most important aspect of digital literacy is audience. It's fun for students, including us, to write for a wider audience than just writing to a teacher. It's also fun for students, myself included, to check out other blogs and find out what other students are writing. In other words, it great to write to a wider audience and be an audience member. The active participation in blogging is engaging and fun. After writing a wiki chapter, I think it's a great way to ask students to research topics. Again, audience comes into play and students engage on a different level - it matters to them if someone else might see their work. I disagree with Beach about chatting in chat rooms or chat area as a productive classroom activity. I have yet to see it work with teenage students, or even students our age. There is just too much room for too much goofing off and goofing around. Jenkins' concern is valid too. We need to teach our students dig lit to give them the currency they will need to navigate the world they will enter when they leave school. Students do need to be able to think critically about the digital, multimedia, multimodal world they live in.

However, Mindworks gives us a cautionary tale about dig lit gone too far. Here is the text of an article in March 5th Source/People section:

What if you asked a question and nobody answered?
Unfortunately, that's what happened with the March Mindworks. We've been experimenting to make Mindworks more interactive and interdisciplinary. The March assignment was for students to record themselves making music with found objects or handmade instruments. Their submissions would have been shown in a YouTube.com-style online feature.
We did not get a single submission, possibly a first in 25 years of Mindworks. In an unscientific e-mail poll, several teachers wrote that they liked the idea behind the prompt, but that the logistics of making instruments, composing or choosing music and finally recording it and sending it in were too much in an era of high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum. Others wrote that as teachers of English and language arts, the idea of suddenly orchestrating and producing a music recording was just too much of a stretch.

The dig lit we assign must purposefully connect meaningful learning and literacies with the student and the medium we choose. Kids are smart, they smell an assignment that wants to be "interactive and interdisciplinary" for its own sake and not for the sake of meaningful learning.

My website for this unit is Rick's teachingmedialiteracy.com - a great site for all of us to bookmark

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The reason is because I could've known a lot about grammar

I hate to admit it to the cohort, but Williams actually made sense to me, and was really helpful in helping me think about grammar. I'm embarassed to say, I have never thought about the difference between usage and grammar and reading Williams made a light bulb go off in my head. Our students do know a lot about English (the native speakers, anyway) implicitly. They know about the conventions of speech, which can help them with the conventions of grammar. I really liked that Williams thinks that teaching usage is equally as important as teaching grammar. I also agree with him that students need to expand their reperatiore of writing skills and conventions using indirect and direct instruction. I like asking students to become researchers of the language as they interact with people day to day.
My 10th grader is doing the dumbest grammar in his LA class. It's based on Latin roots and is vocabulary with virtually no context. It's hard for me and impossible for him to make sense of. That's one reason my mind was blown when I found out why. "English is a Teutonic language and is not based in Latin, which raises one of the more troubling difficulties with traditional grammar- it doesn't fit English very well." I just can't understand why schools continue to push traditional grammar when it seems clear from years and years of research that it doesn't work.
Dean comes to the same conclusion as Williams, that asking students to name the parts of speech or their functions doesn't matter. However, Dean and Petit show just how difficult teaching grammar is. Neither offer even a glimmer of a suggestion that makes any sense, on how to teach grammar or usage.

The conventions trait of the 6+1 traits addresses the grammar/usage issues fairly well. I've included a link to writingfix.com that will help plann lessons teaching convention http://www.writingfix.com/6Traits/Conventions.htm

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Meet me where I am!

The most powerful thing I read about assessing writing was Samantha’s letter at the end of Chapter 7 in Spandel. In a letter to a teacher, Samantha says, “just having the courage to put something on the blank surface before me is miraculous enough!” This is something I want to keep in the forefront of my mind as I assess writing.
Okay, I can’t say that reading about assessing writing has actually made how to assess writing any more clear. In fact, the more I read about assessing writing, the more it seems to me that teachers develop assessments, through experience, that works best for them and their style of teaching. This got me thinking about how I think I will assess the writing of my students and I’ve come up with a basic plan that steals from Wyngaard, Spandel, and (gasp!) Williams.
First of all, I think it’s important to have assessment going on throughout the writing unit. Some ideas I found useful for assessing throughout the unit were Spandel’s check lists for students, Wyngaard’s worksheets, and the good ‘ole peer review, which everyone thinks is a good idea. Since I’m a tool belt gal, I’m going to ask my students to use the 5 tools I talked about in my last blog as they workshop and peer review each other’s writing. All of these assessments will be worth points that will factor into the final grade for the paper. I’ll do this so the paper is not only graded on its final form but is assessed for the process as well. The final paper does need to be evaluated – like it or not. I especially loved Spanel’s ideas of grading with perception, compassion, and with an eye for what is useful for the student. I liked Williams’ idea – and Wynagaard talked about it too – of reading all papers quickly and putting them on a continuum. Then it’s important to go back and read papers carefully within the context of the continuum. Spandel’s rubric made sense to me too – beginning, developing, and strong with the focus always being on helping the student become a better writer, not fixing a grade on a paper. I’ll even take Spandel one step further and let students with a B or below redo their paper and turn it in again in order to get a better grade.
I’ll close with Samantha – as teachers we need to “meet me [Samantha], the writer where I am!”
The website I'm adding is http://www.rubrician.com/writing.html. I agree with Spandel that we should create your own rubric - but it's sure good to have a place to start! This site has rubrics for everything you can imagine and it ROCKS!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Let's call it a Tool Belt

One of the most useful chapters I’ve read this year is Spandel’s chapter on the Right to Write Badly. So many students (me included) feel that a masterpiece has to flow out of us in one draft. By telling, permitting, encouraging students to write badly, we open the door to finding great ideas and start the process of revision. Freewrite is a fancy way of saying, “write something, don’t judge yourself, and see what happens.” In other words, allow yourself to write badly. Once you’ve got your bad writing – and the good kernel of an idea that’s hidden in all the crap, it’s time to bring out Harper’s tool kit. I like the visual of a tool belt better than a tool kit because a tool belt is something you wear and is handy all the time. A tool kit can be set down, lost, or ignored too easily. I love the 5 main tools in the tool belt and their symbols. This is an article I will print out and put into use student teaching this spring. I think student writers will find using the tools and their symbols a way to work on revision that cuts right to what a student needs to think about revising. It’s easy to learn, easy to implement, and easy to use. I like it! I also like some of Tsudi’s ideas about revision, like have students write two introductions conclusions, write from a different character’s point of view, etc. to get the student thinking about opening up their first draft to different possibilities. I don’t like to call them unsettling because, to me, that has a negative connotation.
Barron and Spandel are into the modeling, which I think is cool. In a way, I think my inexperience as a writer is a good thing because I’m struggling with many of the same issues as the students and can model how to move from phase to phase of writing. Spandel’s idea of modeling the entire process of writing, including sharing and revision is spot on. You’re either in it for the long haul or you’re not! I did chuckle at Barron’s telling us that 4 is the right number for a group. Let’s get Williams and Barron in a cage match over group number!
I don’t agree with Spandel’s that you can teach voice. Our class discussion on voice was interesting –and got me thinking about it. I think voice can be manipulated by asking students to write from different character’s point of view – like Jeff and Jacob writing from their student’s pov. But voice is such a soulful, personal, beautiful part of a person that just can’t be taught. What I do really like in the chapter is Spandel’s suggestion to open students’ ears to the wide range of voices in literature and in our lives.
Please check out Teen Space - Internet Public Library for Teens. It's a fantastic site with tons of resources for you and your student. I've bookmarked the page that lists A+ links for revising and editing papers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Julia's Cooking up a FPT

Julia Child, the famous chef, started cooking by opening The Joy of Cooking and, beginning with the basic formula of cooking, started to learn how to cook. She did not start making duck a l’orange or souffl├ęs because those dishes required a knowledge and practice that she did not have yet. Those simple basics, as boring and formulaic as they might be, were the backbone of her cooking. Writing is a creative process, much like cooking, that requires knowledge of some basic formulas, of which the FPT is one. This basic writing formula can be used on its own in situations that require a basic 5 paragraph format, or it can be spiced up to show a wider range.
There were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, with this week’s reading. Dean, Nunnally, and Novick agree in principle that the FPT is a useful recipe for students to know and if taught with “creativity and variety” like adding genre or with a “train of thought” as a unifying ingredient, can push the boundaries of the FPT. After all, is writing just using formula and convention in creative ways? We know a sonnet, a haiku, dialogue, etc. by its formula and conventions – it is the writer who stirs the ingredients together to make the formula work – or not work. A stinky sonnet isn’t rotten because its formula is a sonnet; it reeks because the writer didn’t mix it together properly. It’s not the FPT that is at fault, it’s the cook!
There are so many situations when a student must know and be able to cook up a very basic and uninspired FPT. Standardized testing does not reward “rhetorical analysis” it rewards “declarative knowledge” and as the scoring of these test becomes more automated, students who can organize and declare what they know in a formula easy to recognize and grade will be rewarded with higher scores. Whether or not we agree with the way standardized testing penalizes creativity and critical thinking, it is our responsibility, as teachers, to teach students how to write for these tests. To mix a metaphor, we need to play the cards we’re dealt. In addition, many teachers in other disciplines do not value creative FPT’s. But, if we teach our students the basics of the FTP and then teach them to add spices and zesty ingredients; they might even be able to, as Baron says, “deploy sesquipedalian words appropriately.” (Oh puleeeeeze – just say long! – and when have sesquipedalian words made a paragraph good?)
Replacing a basic recipe that has worked for years and years with a crazy new one that is more complicated and just as formulaic seems crazy to me. A formula is a formula and maybe, just maybe, we use the FPT because it works. That’s how Julia felt about her basic recipes and who would I be to argue with Julia?

The web site I'm listing is a U of St. Thomas website that gives the basic formula for FPT, compare and contrast and content driven and chronilogical essays. I know our cohort is creative enough to take these basic formulas and turn them into a delicious dish! The site is: http://www.stu.edu/organizing---structuring-your-writing-article-2119.html

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fight for your right!

To sort of quote the Beastie Boys, “you’ve got to fight (Williams) for your right to party” by choosing a personally important topic. Williams, chapter after chapter, seems to miss what makes writing good – heart, soul, and a personal connection from writer to subject to reader. I have my undies in a bundle about two things Williams says. The first is his statement that “few people, especially children, know themselves well” enough to write autobiography. That’s just bunk. At any given period of time we are often our own best writing material, and children are no exception. I love autobiographical writing coming from any age – and sometimes what people don’t know about themselves that is revealed in autobiographical writing is just as interesting as what they know. Instead, old farty Williams wants high school kids to write about topics they know a ton about like the health hazards of AIDS, locker searches, and high school preparation for the workforce. He lost me at the AIDS assignment. My second issue with my boy James is (of course) the group writing. How dumb is it to assign a group project to high school kids with the direction, “each group member will work on one part of the report, and then the whole group will put the parts together to make a complete paper.” I choose to work on the title. I honestly wonder if Williams has spent any time outside of a high ability high school class. Spandel has got it right with having students find their own topic. What’s fun about papers that come from a student’s interest is that the teacher can get to know the student better and forge a stronger connection with the student, which can in turn help the student produce better writing. Everyone wins. Spandel says that “defining a topic is central to the thinking part of writing” and though it may be harder for the student to get started, the product in the end is bound to be so much better.

Students are multigenre kids living in a multigenre world. They see people use different genres to unite a theme all the time. For example, comedian Sarah Silverman mixes comedy, music, and animation in the writing of her show. Students use their Myspace page to showoff their poetry and rap lyrics while using photographs to tell people who they are. As they take notes in class they draw, doodle, and write notes that may or may not be on topic. The world is muligenre, why not writing? I appreciate the step by step “how to” that makes incorporating multigenre papers into the classroom possible. I got a good chuckle when I read the more analytic science and math heads have a harder time with the multigenre paper. Oh well, they have lots of opportunities to write formulaic essays on the standardized tests and college applications. The quest for higher test scores just might be the multigenre paper’s demise. With larger class sizes and less instructional time, teachers may find it necessary to teach a more formulaic process and not have the time to give the students the pleasure of working on a multigenre paper. For me, I’m game to give a multigenre paper a try and may just work on my own along with my students.
My web link is an NCTE journal that is all about multigenre teaching. The link is http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/contents/106450.htm. There are articles from using a multigenre approach to teaching the classics to helping students understand multigenre texts. Good stuff! You must belong to NCTE to have access to this material.