Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Entry #12

I cannot believe that this is my last blog of the semester. It’s amazing how quickly time passes, and honestly, how much we learned in such a short amount of time. I normally think back to the beginning of the semester as it comes to an end; however, I have never written about it. I guess I’ve never considered paying attention to the objectives of the class and whether I feel that they were sufficiently met. As I consider this, I think about how important it is to reflect on anything and everything. We encourage our students to constantly think about what they’ve finished (whether it is a writing piece, a project, or a unit test). I don’t think we reflect enough as educators. It is just as important that we consider what we have learned. I feel that every Student Learning Outcome was sufficiently met throughout the course. Keeping this in mind, I will only touch on the few outcomes that I feel were most important, especially when I consider the conversations I engaged in through my blog.

Regarding the first outcome, I feel that keeping a blog did help me consider a “variety of genres.” Not only was I able to reflect in a few entries about the genres (and my questions about them), but I was also able to reflect on what I learned as a whole about each genre. (See my previous post here.) I think that I have an overall quality understanding of each genre and why it might be used.

The second outcome is something that took me an entry or two to get used to. I’m not used to writing for myself; writing based on what I think. I’m used to writing critical analyses of autobiographies for my English major, not writing on a blog about what I think about something. I feel that this is an outcome that blogging really helped me understand. I have thought frequently about my purpose for this blog, as well as my audience (considering that I feel most attached to this blog because I am writing to myself, I’d say I did a pretty good job of keeping my audience interested! Slight joke here.) In my blog, I also considered the importance of developing clear purposes and audiences for my students, as you will find in my blog entry here.

Regarding the fourth outcome, I feel that the relationship between reading and writing, in my mind, has been strengthened. I spent a great deal of time this semester considering different things I read. Whether it was my disagreement with the author, agreement with the author, confusion about a topic in the reading, or commenting on what the reading was about, my understanding of that text strengthened as I blogged about it. At the same time, I also feel that the way I wrote in each of these blogs tended to change depending on what reading I was discussing. There were times when I felt it necessary to point specifically to passages or quotes from the readings, and there were times when I felt that I had to alter the way my text looked in my blog to adjust to the way that I felt, or to enforce a point I was trying to put down. Reading helped me to consider how I wanted my voice to sound in my blogs. Did I want it to sound professional and eloquent or did I want it to sound comical and choppy? It was all dependent on my subject.

Finally, I would like to address the sixth outcome. This blog is a digital writing assignment. Without this assignment, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t ever have created a blog to discuss my thoughts on topics learned in class. Looking back on the semester, it is important to note that this blog enabled me to make sense of what I thought; it gave me an outlet to connect with and question my readings. Without a blog, I may have done these things, but definitely not as in depth as I did on Blogger. Through my reading and responding on this blog throughout the semester, I have developed a greater understanding of how to use digital resources for reading and writing (the most important being blogging), and how to influence the way that students think and the way that students think about how they think.

Overall, I think this was a great semester of learning and fun. Through this blog, I was able to articulate my thoughts in any way that I wanted to. I took ownership of this space. Although it is a very public space, it is also a very private space. I was able to think the way that I wanted to, and I couldn’t be told differently. Words flow in the blogosphere without thought and without concern. The prospect of using a blog with my future classroom is exciting. I think I still have some work with the idea of blogging and how to use it for a specific grade level. However, after engaging in one myself, over the course of the last few months, I understand the process and can better articulate it to my students in the future. Here’s to much, much more blogging!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Entry #11

I can’t believe that we've already gone through all of our genre presentations in class. I always forget how quickly the spring semester seems to fly by. To focus on each genre in this entry, I would like to do something a little bit different (and hopefully fun!).

This juicy genre utilizes a copious amount of extravagant words. Some writing may appeal to the five senses the way that warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies right from the oven appeal to our stomachs. The descriptive genre does so in order to paint an especially specific, tremendously terrific picture. An important focal point is figurative language, which is like the glue that holds descriptive writing together. Not to forget about is the use of dialogue in this writing, and as I’ve said before, “Who doesn’t love dialogue?!”

What would you do if you wanted to get your way but did not know how to do it? Why, learn about the persuasive genre, of course! The persuasive genre is one of the most important genres that we learned about. One of the reasons why it is important is that we would never be able to get our way without it! If I did not know how to persuade someone in writing, then I most certainly would not have gotten cookies from the persuasive group’s presentation, would I? Another reason why the persuasive genre is important is because I would be swayed far too many times to buy useless products if I did not know how to avoid propaganda. Most importantly, I know that the persuasive genre is important because I took time to learn about it; I am practically an expert.

The biographical genre has been around for a long time. Its offspring include autobiographies, memoirs, and personal narratives. Although all are very unique, they remain part of the biographical genre. Although the biographical genre is selfless and often talks about others, its offspring generally talk about themselves. Autobiographies love to talk about themselves, and they are often pretty lengthy. Memoirs also love to talk about themselves, but they normally cover a smaller time period. Autobiographies and memoirs are fraternal twins; they are very similar, but look a little different. Finally, personal narratives also talk about themselves and normally follow a typical timeline of events. The biographical genre and its offspring currently reside in a number of places including John Edgar Wideman’s Brothers and Keepers and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle.

The expository genre normally gives information about a topic; however, it can also tell the reader how to do something, among many other things. It has five typical text structures: description, comparison, problem-solution, sequence, and cause-effect. Each of these structures has a different purpose, but a text is not limited to the use of only one text structure. When writing in the expository genre, authors typically utilize nonfiction text features like a table of contents, headlines, and a glossary to help readers as they go through the text. Expository texts are typically high in vocabulary, and present some difficulties to students just learning how to read. Taking this into consideration, it is still important to provide experiences with expository texts throughout a child’s life, so that they may become more familiar with the structure.

Poetry is elaborate.
It can be structured.
                        But it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes the meaning will BOP a reader on the nose.
Other times, it will hide between the lines.
You can write about anything.
Like an elephant who likes to sing.
Poetry is scary like a tiger,
But it gets better with practice.

Those are the genres as I see them. I recognize that there is still a great deal that I need to learn about each of these genres. I am especially interested in how to incorporate technology into all of these. Tompkins outlines some ways in which technology might be used to write in each of these genres, and I would like to test them out. Considering which genres I still find the most difficult, I would say expository and biography. I say expository only because I still find it kind of boring. I don’t ever see my students getting excited because they get to write about the truth. (At least in my mind, that’s how I see it. Obviously, this is something I need to work on.) With biographies, I think that I just still don’t see when I will have my students write in this genre. I understand personal narratives, but obviously memoirs and autobiographies won’t be used. At the same time, even biographies don’t seem to be an appropriate thing to have my students write. I think that I need to dive deeper into these genres in particular in order to better my understandings of them.

Overall, I feel that I understand each genre much more than I did at the beginning of the semester. I feel more comfortable teaching each, and explaining some of the benefits to using each genre.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Entry #10

Before considering anyone else's blog, I'd like to say that I can't believe this is entry #10 already! It's amazing how quickly all of this writing adds up. I mean, it has to be at least 30 pages worth of writing. I like thinking about it that way. It makes me feel accomplished. :-)

Back to the assignment for this week. To bless or not to bless: that is the question. Just kidding. I'd like to send a huge bless over Jaci's way for her Entry #7 (See her entry here!).

One of the things that we have been talking about a lot in my 600 class is how to motivate students and provide them with a real purpose and a real audience. When students don’t have the opportunity to write to real people, and they are forced to use their classmates and teacher as the identified “audience,” writing becomes old very quickly. Honestly, I couldn’t argue with that if I tried. I remember how boring it was, growing up, and only being able to write essays for my teacher. I wanted to write letters to other people. I wanted to write poems from different perspectives for different audiences. Unfortunately, the set-up of most schools requires students to complete unrealistic writing assignments where they discuss a “life-changing event,” for example. The aforementioned topic was actually a requirement for my sixth graders during student teaching. I remember laughing when I read the assignment because I couldn’t even think of a life-changing event for myself at the age of eleven. How on earth could these kids be expected to follow suit? A few of them started writing furiously, one wrote about his uncle killing a man (obviously life-changing), and the other, confused, wrote about how she played outside with her dog the day before. I felt awful that this was the kind of writing assignment they were required to complete. Most of my students sat there for most of the writing period and slapped something on the page with ten minutes left. I can’t agree more with Jaci when she says, “Why would a child want to write about something they really don’t care about when I am going to be the only person reading it?” My students could not identify with the writing prompt, nor did they find it interesting that I was going to read them and grade them. There was no awesome outcome for their writing. Of course these are the same students who hate reading and writing as they get older; it’s because we force them to hate it! I must be an anomaly for going through similar writing assignments and actually choosing to get a second major in English. (Although, I have always been a little nutty with books.)

I also agree with what Jaci says about teachers being afraid to use technology. I am reminded of my student teaching placement at Hope Hall. My teacher was one of the few who still had an overhead projector. I was shocked when I walked into the classroom and did not see a SMARTboard. How on earth was I going to teach on a chalkboard? I felt strange. I remember bringing in my laptop for a few activities with the kids. In small groups, we watched videos and listened to songs that helped them understand topics. My teacher had absolutely no idea why I was doing any of those things. She was content to teach with overhead sleeves and chalk.  My undergraduate classes at Naz have taught me so many great things about technology. I know how to use SMARTboards and document cameras and many other things. My teacher, although young, was too afraid to try any of it. She was not interested in taking risks in the classroom. Jaci commented in her entry that, “It truly is amazing how much is out there for educators to incorporate into their classrooms.” I completely agree. One of the things that kind of stinks is that some teachers see this as a scary concept. The fact that there are so many different ways to include technology into the classroom seems an impossible feat for someone who does not understand technology. When I consider all of the technological advances for the classroom that we have learned about this semester, I can say that it is overwhelming. However, when I also consider the fact that not all of these things need to be used at once, it does not appear to be a daunting task. We have learned that some teachers simply start with a blog. I think that this is a great way to start incorporating technology in the classroom. Adding one piece of technology a year, or even more, will help to balance students into this world as it changes what being literate means.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Jaci’s post about technology and the issues with purpose and audience. I hope that someday, both of these struggles with be water under the bridge in the grand scheme of education.

I mean, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Entry #9

As I was reading Tompkins’ chapter on biographical writing, I spent a great deal of time thinking about autobiographies. As an English major, I have taken three separate African American literature courses; all of which are based on autobiographies. The course that I am currently enrolled in looks at autobiographical texts as far back as the 1800s and as current as 2010. This class in particular has helped me realize how important it is to read autobiographies in order to develop an understanding of my own life. At the same time, I have a much greater understanding of how to portray information in various ways, and how to strengthen my arguments in essays. Across this huge timeline of texts that I am reading this semester, I have learned about what style of writing is usually included and how it is important to follow in an autobiography. (Arguably, this also follows to any other kind of biographical writing.) The importance of including only the vital facts in an autobiography also plays on the necessity for an author to appear credible and truthful. There is a fine line in this style of writing. Readers are easily impressionable; they recognize when authors are not being entirely truthful. This being said, I consider the importance in any essay to appear truthful. In an essay on the definition of literacy (which I just completed in my 600 level class), it was very important for me to include only the most important facts that surrounded my own opinion of literacy. If my word choice suggested I was unsure as to what I was saying, then my reader most certainly would not accept my definition as a possibility.

As I mention the importance of including facts and portraying ideas in a certain way, I am also reminded of the other Tompkins chapter for this week on persuasive writing. Persuasive writing is a very similar topic in that when you are trying to convince a reader of something specific, you must be sure of what you say. At the same time, you must also present truthful ideas in a concise manner. I think about the difficulties I had growing up when it came to persuasive writing, and I do not understand how no one else saw the connection between biographical writing and persuasive writing. To someone who did not understand how to write persuasively, constantly reading persuasive texts did absolutely nothing for me. I did not understand the structure. I remember one teacher in particular who offered no help as to how to write a persuasive essay in middle school. When she handed back my essay, it had comments on it like, “Argument is not strong enough,” and “Why didn’t you do this instead?” I was so frustrated that she could not offer me this kind of attention before the assignment was due. As a student, if I had been presented with biographies and autobiographies and was asked questions about how much I believed the author and what information I thought was missing, then I may have been able to understand persuasive writing more effectively. At the same time, I think that I would have been more invested in the process of persuasive writing because I would have been able to develop the kind of audience my writing was trying to convince. Tompkins says that persuasive writing uses “a ‘hook’,” has “a clear position,” and “concludes with a summary of [the] argument” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 252). All of these things can be apparent in biographical writing as well, more so in autobiographies than other styles.

To come back to my experiences at Nazareth, I think about how little time I spent engaging in any sort of biographical texts before Nazareth. I think that I am confused as to why teachers do not include this writing and reading genre in their classrooms more often. I remember, at a young age, completing “About Me” books, and other writing pieces similar. My question is why does this style of writing stop as we grow up? Do our personal lives become less important when we can write about “real stuff”? (My quotes around “real stuff,” of course, refer to what people outside of a school consider important.) We learn so much about how word choice, text structure, intended audience, and many other things impact our writing when we write about ourselves. All of these things are also important when we compose any other type of writing piece. Knowing that a great deal can be learned from the biographical genre is one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is recognizing how much students love to read about their favorite people. Giving students a chance to read about their favorite football player or singer makes reading interesting and personal for them. At the same time, composing biographical pieces is just as interesting to students. When it comes to writing about themselves, they are proud and happy to share anything they can think of. When it comes to writing about others, they are excited to conduct interviews or do research on someone they know in order to gain the coolest information. Building on students’ strengths and interests is what makes writing high quality. The more a student takes pride in his or her work, the more teachers are able to sit back and watch them succeed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Entry #8

I am really interested in Sarah’s blog entry from February 18th. In it, she talks about the benefits to writing online via blogs, etc., as well as the benefits of actual writing. I find it an important topic to think about, especially as our society moves to a more virtual one. One thing that Sarah said that I found very interesting was that “traditional writing, in [her] opinion, is a far more personal process than virtual writing will ever have the capacity to achieve.” At first, I felt obligated to disagree, feeling that online writing has a great deal of benefits to it. There are so many interesting ways in which you can write and put in that “personal” touch. I think about how easily the internet, especially blogs, has made it for people to rant about anything. After their rant, they are able to share it with millions of people that they could not possibly reach. I can only imagine that so many things have changed because of what people say on the internet. However, now that I have considered it more, I think that I agree with Sarah. The internet does provide a great deal of places for my personal input and opinions, but writing on paper keeps it to one single audience, myself. I think that I am much more willing to say what I think when I know that no one else will read it. Personal writing on paper is much easier for me to “thought dump.” I think that this may be simply because I grew up writing on paper first, and technology became implemented into my writing. I got used to computer-writing as a final product, that I no longer understand the concept of brainstorming on a computer, especially online. To me, online writing is a completed product that everyone will read. I know that people say writing is never complete, but publishing something online seems pretty complete to me.

As I flip-flop back and forth with the “best” way to write, I think that I realize how difficult it is to choose. Anyone who refuses to accept the other side is doing a horrible injustice to themselves, as well as their students. As much as I have difficulty writing online, I know that my students will grow up in an age where a large percentage of writing happens online. More newspapers are moving to online only prints. It is my duty as an educator to make sure that my students learn as much about writing, in as many innovative ways, as possible. The possibilities that technology present for writing are exciting and challenging; both of which are things that I could never possibly pass up. I am excited for the unique experiences that I can create with my future students.

Thinking about how technology is changing the way that we write has also led me to thinking of how technology has altered the way that we read. In a generation where students grow up reading off of computers, iPads, and e-readers, I fear for the loss of books. I am all for learning about and using technologies, but I am not sure that I will ever get over buying actual books and reading them. I love the process of flipping pages and “getting to the end” of the book. I think that what prevents me from changing my opinion is my refusal to try out any of these new technologies.

What I find interesting is that I dislike reading via technology, and am much less open to changing that fact than I am with writing. I enjoy writing much more on the computer. My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that I find a greater interest in reading than with writing. I dislike my lack of attempts to try different ways of reading, especially when many of my classes have provided me with opportunities. Whenever I have articles presented to me as links online, I print them out to read like a book, instead of directly off the computer screen. Some of this may be due to the fact that I wear glasses for prolonged reading, and computer screens tend to strain my eyes. However, most of it comes from my strong “dislike” of reading anything unless it is in print. Although this class has opened my eyes to many of the benefits to writing, as well as how much fun it can be, I think that I will forever be a bookworm in the worst way. I need to make conscious efforts to change my opinion, especially because I am slowly making gains with online writing. If I can accept the writing process as a technology-based process, then I can also help myself to understand the reading process via technology as well. I need to be cognizant of how it affects my students, as well as myself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Entry #7

This past week, I have done a lot of reading for my “Teaching the Genre” presentation. I think it is most interesting that of the four articles that I read, all of them mention that a teacher must utilize her students’ prior knowledge. I think I found it interesting because, when I was in elementary, middle, and high school, my teachers rarely took interest in our prior knowledge. Instead, we were given a textbook, told to answer the questions, and then a few weeks later, had to memorize the information for our quiz. If so much research has been done about how students learn expository texts best after teachers activate their background knowledge, then why did I suffer through most of my schooling, expected to just remember whatever I read?

To be honest, I do not think that it takes much more effort for a teacher to activate prior knowledge, or implement a short activity to give students that prior knowledge. For example, during my practicum placement last summer, I created a decimals, percentages, and ratios lesson that used Skittles. During the lesson, I incorporated information about rainbows so the lesson had a dual purpose. What I did not realize was that my students lacked any background knowledge on rainbows. Instead of plowing through the lesson anyway, I took the time to pull up some information and pictures on a computer for my students. We discussed where rainbows come from, and why we can see them. I found that the remainder of my lesson was quite successful after I took the time to discuss rainbows with my students. Granted, it took me off track and the lesson took a huge chunk of the day to complete, but my students remembered what they learned. When I consider what would have happened had I ignored their confusion, I think they would have learned the information. They would have taken it in, and it would have left them after 24 hours, if I was lucky.

Putting this back into the context of expository texts, passing on small pieces of background knowledge is not difficult. In one of the articles that I read by Gregg and Sekeres (2006), multiple ways in which a teacher can activate or establish prior knowledge for students before they read are mentioned. While reading, I thought about how creative many of the ideas were, but how simple they were at the same time. Teachers (although not all teachers) frequently assume that doing these kinds of activities “just adds extra work.” Honestly, it may. But in my opinion, putting in the extra work early on, prevents all of the extra hours spent at the end of the year when students have not reached the point they are supposed to be at. Many of the articles talk about how much prior knowledge aids comprehension. I recognize that this is important during all reading, but because expository texts naturally use larger vocabulary words and complex text structures, students are more likely to respond well to a reading if they have something to use that benefits them. Prior knowledge is one of these things. If I had teachers growing up who encouraged me to activate what I already knew, even if it was very little bits of information, then maybe I would have had more success in reading expository texts (especially those awful, terrible social studies textbooks).

To change the subject, one of the things that has been on my mind since my 600 class last week is the role of technology in the classroom. I think it is just the fact that I am still fuming over how many people in the class said that books are the only “real” way to teach students. I guess in my opinion, how can you be an aspiring teacher (or a current teacher) and assume that books are the only proper way to teach students. I am confused over the stigma people put on technology. Technology has allowed more advances for our country than anyone could have ever dreamed. Assuming that books and paper are the only things that provide “real” learning is a rudimentary and underdeveloped thought. I think about all of the progress from this class that I have made, especially in my ways of thinking and writing. Of course, I should give it a rest because many of those people in my 600 class may not have experienced and learned about the benefits of technology in the classroom. To finish my thought, I think that one of the most important characteristics of a teacher is that they are consistently open to trying new things. Writing technology off as an improper way to teach severely hinders the way that students learn, comprehend, and remember.

Gregg, M. & Sekeres, D. C. (2006). Supporting children's reading of expository text in the geography classroom. The Reading Teacher, 60(2), 102-110.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Entry #6

I was quite intrigued with the reading by Nancy Sommers. As an English major, I have read more than my fair share of papers. Everyone thinks "English major" also means "Designated essay reader." Unfortunately, I do not have the same belief. Nevertheless, I have read history papers, communications and rhetoric papers, and others. Never once did I consider the quality of my comments on the paper. When Sommers discussed the way that common teacher editing puts grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and content errors on the same wavelength; they are all equal in the writer's eyes. I never considered what my comments on papers might be doing to the writer. I know that I am equally a victim when it comes to essay commentary. Whenever I see someone has revised my paper by saying that something does not make sense, along with a missed comma, I view both of those mistakes as equal on the playing field. Sommers's article made me realize how wrong this was.

I have to admit that after reading Sommers's opinion, I was slightly skeptical about not commenting on student errors; however, when I read chapter four in Tompkins's text, I came to a better understanding of the process of revising and editing student work. Near the end of the chapter, Tompkins says that "focusing on error correction doesn't ensure that students become capable writers" (Tompkins, 2012, p. 104). This led me to think about all of the times a teacher corrected my paper by adding in a semicolon instead of a comma or a period. I never understood how to use a semicolon. In high school, I would sometimes throw one into a sentence, just to see if I would get a comment from my teacher about its "wrongness." It actually was not until I took a grammar class here at Nazareth that I learned the real purpose of a semicolon. I think that sometimes teachers can get carried away with looking over a student's work, and not realize how much they are asking for.

I am reminded of my second student teaching placement at Hope Hall. I was in a second and third grade classroom that consisted of seven students who were all emergent writers. My cooperating teacher took the term "emergent writers" far too seriously. She engaged the students in a frequent amount of picture drawing and coloring, over writing because she said that what they wrote was impossible to understand. It nearly killed me. Most of the student assessments that I observed with her involved making sure that students colored in the lines or could draw a picture of healthy snacks; not once did she assess my students through writing. I was so interested in her fear of allowing the students to write. When it came my time to take over most subjects in the class, I jumped directly into writing. During a unit on character development and citizenship, I had the students keep booklets that included their personal descriptions of character traits such as respect and responsibility. I asked the students to write what they thought. I did not ask for a specific number of words or sentences, for fear that they would be nervous about completing the assignment. As they wrote, I circled the room and verbally asked students what they were writing about. I took brief notes about the process each student used because to me, that was more important than the perfection qualities in their writing. Walking around the room allowed me to guide students with spelling, but a majority of their work was completed individually. My teacher was quite surprised, upon the completion of their booklets, that each student had created an acceptable number of coherent sentences and phrases that involved each character trait. As I consider the ways that I tied in assessment to the unit, I also think of the ways that Sommers's opinion of teacher comments on work would have been helpful to me. Most of my comments appeared as praise. "Good!" and "I like your example!" were far too common. Although these writing pieces were not intended to be revised, edited, and published, I understand that I could have done a lot more with their writing than simply give it a grade and send it home.

While I did learn a lesson about taking risks with my students, I also recognized the importance of allowing students to just write. Too often, students are set up for failure because of a teacher's assumption that they won't "live up" to the expectations of the assignment. I tried something, and it worked.