Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reflections: Part 1 Being a Teacher of Writing

Part I: A Teacher of Writing
This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. More than 90,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Check out the educators resource tab! There are entire curriculum guides from upper elementary-adult education available to download completely for free.

For the 1st part of your blog response this week please click on the link below to hear a This I Believe essay written by professional skateboarder (and San Diego native) Tony Hawk:


Please construct a This I Believe statement that pertains to being a teacher of writing. You determine both the topic(s) you want to cover, the length of your statement and how you want to attempt the prompt. It is your opinion. Feel free to utilize anyone else you've read from this semester to support your statement.

Reflections: Part 2 My Experience As A Writer

Part II: My Experience As A Writer
For the 2nd part of your blog response you will complete your reflection paper of your WRG texts online. Here are the questions you need to address in your blog response:

1. Describe how you felt getting feedback on your own writing/giving feedback to others in a WRG.

2.. Describe times during the process of writing that you struggled. What did you do to try to resolve the problem?

3. Describe a suggestion from a peer that you used and why OR Describe a suggestion from a peer that you didn’t use and why?

4. Where will I go from here? Will I publish it? Share it? Expand it? Toss it? File it?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

National Writing Project

Writing is Essential
Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand our changing world. Writing is a bridge to the future.

Our Mission
The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

Our Vision
Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.

Who We Are
Unique in breadth and scale, the NWP is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. We provide professional development, develop resources, generate research, and act on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities.

The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity. We work in partnership with institutions, organizations, and communities to develop and sustain leadership for educational improvement. Throughout our work, we value and seek diversity—our own as well as that of our students and their communities—and recognize that practice is strengthened when we incorporate multiple ways of knowing that are informed by culture and experience.

A Network of University-Based Sites
Co-directed by faculty from the local university and from K–12 schools, more than 200 local sites serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sites work in partnership with area school districts to offer high-quality professional development programs for educators. NWP continues to add new sites each year, with the goal of placing a writing project site within reach of every teacher in America. The network now includes two associated international sites.

National research studies have confirmed significant gains in writing performance among students of teachers who have participated in NWP programs.

The NWP is the only federally funded program that focuses on the teaching of writing. Support for the NWP is provided by the U.S. Department of Education, foundations, corporations, universities, and K-12 schools.

NWP Core Principles
The core principles at the foundation of NWP’s national program model are:

Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.

Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level.

Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.

Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing.

Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.

There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others.

A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.

Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.

1. Go the National Writing Project website at www.nwp.org

2. Find the tab at the top of the site "Resources" and click on it.

3. On the right side of this page their is a list of "Resource Topics" available for you to select from.

4. Click on the one "Teaching Writing"

5. From this page select an area of interest and browse through the articles provided under that topic.

6. Choose one article, read it (they are short) and summarize it for this week's blog post.

7. Go back to the "Resources" page and select another topic (Professional Development, Teaching Reading, Research, Teacher Research/Inquiry, Standards & Assessment, Policy & Reform, Being a Writer).

8. Choose one article from this new topic area (NOT Teaching Writing), read it and summarize it for this week's blog post.

9. Final response is a critique of the NWP website itself: 1) What surprised you? 2) What challenged you?


Example Post:

Title of Article 1:
Quick Summary:

Title of Article 2:
Quick Summary:

What surprised you?

What challenged you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who Are You As A Writer?

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) What is your opinion of the writing instruction you received 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 fear when it comes to the teaching of writing?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mentor Text Exploration: Vocabulary (Tier 1,2,3)


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.

Student Samples from Mentor Text

Below are the student samples derived from Building A Writing Community Unit last year in my 4th Grade Classroom.

I have provided a few selections to get a taste of the type of student work derived in a real classroom using the mentor texts as a way to build a writing community.

Please note that the students write these drafts in their composition books and I've typed up their selection for public viewing. This means that I've assisted in their editing for spelling conventions only to help the reader with fluency. I've not revised or edited their actual words from their composition books used to convey meaning. Every teacher decides on their level of editing control when student samples are provided for public viewing.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Moving Away From Prescriptive Towards Descriptive Writing Pedagogy

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 that is NOT from our assigned articles (could be from an online blog post, newspaper article, people magazine article, advertisement etc.)

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 OR STRESSED OUT about 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.