Friday, September 28, 2012

Entry #5

Dr. Jones,

I feel as if this class is going well so far. I am learning a lot about the power of digital technology and the influences it can have on students' writing. I am also forming a new understanding of the benefits of having students engage in a structured reading/writing workshop, and how journaling can be a therapeutic expression of ideas for students which helps them interact with their thoughts and responses to texts they read. I came to this realization during your sample presentation on the journal genre when we each worked independently with a book that was written in that particular genre. You gave us the option of completing either a reading log, double entry journal, or a simulated journal/diary entry in response to our reading. Responding to the specific questions that you provided helped break up the text and made me think about it in a new way, and because of this I ultimately got more out of it. Also, I feel as if the information in the text and the specific questions that I answered will stay with me much longer than if I had simply read the text and moved on. This activity showed me that having students interact with and respond to texts they read through writing will make the information more meaningful to them, and will actively engage them in constructing meaning for themselves through guided questioning.

The weekly blog posts and forum discussions have kept me fully engaged in an active and thoughtful process of writing. Every time I go to post on one of these sites I have to think about what I'm going to write, how I'm going to say it, go back and revise what I previously wrote, include sources as well as my own personal experiences and thoughts, and proof read for mistakes or confusion before publishing it. I choose to engage in this kind of writing because I believe all of these steps are necessary to produce a thoughtful, well-constructed piece of writing. If I were to just pour my thoughts out into a blog post about anything and everything then publish without going back to consider what I've written, it would be an incoherent mess and people would get too caught up on the poor mechanics or sentence structure to be able to focus on the actual content. As of right now, I don't think I really need to change any of my reading or writing habits because I believe I am fully engaged while writing. Perhaps taking a little more time to organize what I'm going to say, or create a short but structured outline of my thoughts would be helpful. Also, maybe searching outside of our course textbooks for ideas or inspiration would keep me even more engaged in my writing.

As I mentioned previously, the reading log, double entry journal, and simulation journal/diary entry responses really opened my eyes as to how writing can influence meaning and engage students in what they're reading. I will definitely work to include these as instructional activities in my classroom. Also, Scott and Vitale's "Writing Wheel" was concise and structured and would definitely benefit students during the writing process; it also provides students with a visual representation of the writing workshop and what they should be working on during different stages of the process. This is a strategy I could see myself using in the future.

The only thing that I'm struggling with in this class are the projects -- they just seem very daunting and a little overwhelming at this stage because I haven't really gotten into them yet. I'm sure that once I start really working on them and putting 100% of my focus on them, I'll find that they're very manageable.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Entry #4

This week's focus has been on using digital technology such as blogs and wikis to motivate and engage students in the writing process. Throughout chapters 2 and 3, Hicks (2009) maintains that these types of technologies are considered "new literacies" and are re-designing classroom settings and reading/writing workshops (pgs. 27-28). Rather than striving to create a teacher-led classroom as was traditionally done in the past, Hicks argues that we should be working to create a student-led classroom where the students are allowed to choose what they want to write about and how they want to write it (with some structure and guidance, of course!).  I agree with Hicks, and I believe that teachers do a disservice to students if they do not try to incorporate technology and digital media into the curriculum. One of the specific goals of the Common Core Learning Standards is to effectively "prepare students to compete successfully in a global economy". If we do not teach students how to become literate in digital technology and collaborate with others using online tools and resources, then we are setting students up to fail in today's 21st century society. While students in today's modern day and age may be proficient in browsing the web, it is the teacher's responsibility to teach them specific tools that will help them pick through and critically examine what is oftentimes an overload of information available on the World Wide Web. Hicks (2009) discusses the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication -- or Rich Site Summary) as a great tool that students can use to automatically have relevant information on a certain topic emailed regularly to their accounts (pg. 19). I think that this is extremely helpful and would provide students with trustworthy and quality websites to keep in mind, even for future research for a different class or topic.

One of the greatest aspects of tools such as blogs/wikis is the ability to be interactive, yet informative. Teachers can use blogs in the classroom to have students collaborate and engage in the writing process, but we can also use them as informational texts on topics that are relevant to today's students. One instance of a blog that generated so much interest and energy from the current generation of students was the Kony 2012 Invisible Children blog ( Blogs have the power to kick-off an entire movement, and get today's students interested and involved in politics and current events. Through the use of blogs and wikis, teachers can easily incorporate news, current events, and politics in the classroom and have students interact with and add to these types of blogs -- generating interest in global issues, while still engaging in the writing process and with digital technology. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Entry #3

In this week's reading, Tompkins discusses the advantages of personal writing. Tompkins begins the chapter by giving us the scenario of Mrs. Wheatley's sixth grade class that is reading Tuck Everlasting. In this scenario, the teacher emphasizes that she would like her students to relate the story to their own personal lives because this will increase their comprehension and provide them with a deeper connection to the text (pg. 106). I agree 100% with this stance on personal writing -- I believe that there is no better way for students to build meaning than to have them relate the text to their own lives. During my undergraduate studies at Geneseo, I took a class that required me to find strategies that would help improve students' reading comprehension using a particular young adult novel to illustrate my examples. I chose to use the YA novel The Giver by Lois Lowry (which is one of my favorite books!) because the story is told through Jonas's perspective; students could see Jonas's thought process and better understand his motives. I found that there was a lot of research supporting Personal Reader Response Journals -- particularly William Brozo (1989) states that it is through a personal connection that a text becomes meaningful and memorable. In my "imaginary classroom," I had students keep a journal while reading The Giver. At certain points in the text when there was an important event that occurred, students would put themselves into Jonas's shoes and write about what they would do if they were in that situation. For example, after Jonas began seeing color and feeling emotions such as love, students were asked "Would you be able to continue living in The Community which is predictable and comfortable, knowing that in doing so you would be missing out on all of the wonderful things that life has to offer? Why, or why not? Would you stay, or would you go off into unknown territory, leaving behind all of your friends and family?" When students write responses to questions such as these, they are interacting with the story because they are placing themselves within that story and thinking about how they would react, compared to how the actual characters reacted. In this way they are simultaneously engaging in character analysis, personal reflection, character motivation, and perspective/point of view.

Personal writing can also be helpful in simply gauging student's reactions or thoughts to certain events in the book and allowing them to express their opinions. Tompkins briefly discusses involvement responses in which students express their thoughts on the ending of The Giver (pg. 113).

Overall, I think that personal writing and reader response journals provide a multitude of benefits to students. It connects the process of reading with the process of writing and allows students to explore their thoughts on certain events in a story. Also, it allows students to respond to specific parts in a text rather than responding to the text as a whole. Breaking the text up like this will result in the students creating a deeper meaning and understanding the text on a more personal level.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Entry #2

  • Given the three elements of the framework Hicks (2009) notes in Chapter 7 -- your students, the subject of writing, and the spaces in which we write -- how would you describe these elements as they are currently present in your classroom and school? What did you already have in place to begin your digital writing workshop? What else did you need to develop in order to make your digital writing workshop successful?
Throughout Chapter 7, Hicks (2009) frequently mentions the fact that it is important for students to understand the audience and purpose for which they are writing (p. 127). Digital technology makes it possible for students to consider and work with an audience outside of the classroom, and to explore different subjects or perspectives based on who their audience is going to be. Similarly, the internet and digital technology makes it much easier for students to broaden their scope of reference, easily find new information or opinions to discuss in writing pieces, collaborate with others, and share their message with a broad spectrum of people. In my opinion, Google Docs is an essential digital tool that should be utilized in every curriculum. I had the opportunity while student teaching to experiment with Google Docs and found that it can easily encompass all three elements of Hicks' framework -- especially improving on the spaces in which we write. Using Google Docs, students had the opportunity to digitally collaborate with one another, going through the processes of peer-review, editing, revising, drafting, and publishing. It was a bit of a process getting started, because each student needed to create their own Google profile which can become confusing in a class of 20 or so students.  However, once everyone was familiar with the site and how it worked, they became quickly proficient in applying the writing process to cyber-space. It also eliminated the necessity of creating a physical learning space for students to collaborate because they could each do so from their own computer, no matter where they were in the room.

I was also able to implement Hicks' subject of writing through the use of digital technology. Most 21st century students are so experienced and literate when it comes to digital technology, using this sort of technology in the classroom is exciting and familiar to them. With tools such as blogs and wikis, I have seen students become more intrinsically motivated to accomplish writing tasks because they view the subject of writing differently; this element of intrigue is also due to the fact that students are now able to produce something that can be shared with the world -- not just with their peers and teachers. Publishing their work on blogs or wikis gives them a new sense of purpose, so they have more motivation to complete it. One of the most frequently asked questions that I got from my students was: "Why do we have to do this?" ("why do we have to write this essay?", "why do we have to write this poem?" etc., etc.). When I found a way to implement digital technologies into the writing process, the students were excited to work on their blogs because they could put so much more creativity and "features" into their writing (such as hyperlinks, pictures, video/audio clips, etc.) -- Of course I knew that the students were still engaging in the same writing process, but the students were so preoccupied with making their blog the best that it could be, that they didn't even realize how much writing they were actually doing. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Entry #1

  • As you reflect on your experiences teaching writing, consider what "feels comfortable": what core principles do you value and enact in your classroom? Time for writing? Conferring with students?  How have  those practices remained constant over time?
I believe that students need to feel a sense of consistency when being taught how to write in the secondary levels. As a teacher, it is essential that you first model what you expect from students before sending them off to work independently on what may seem like a daunting task to inexperienced and unsure writers. It is important to first lay out a consistent model in order to give students a frame work and guidelines within which to begin writing an essay or expository piece. In my experience, a handout that can be kept as a reference for students is very useful. There should be clear steps and a process from which to work off of; this will make it easier for students to visualize what their piece should look like, which will ultimately make it easier to get started and stay organized. As we discussed today in class, pre-writing is also a core principle which students should be required to experiment with. There should be a large portion of class dedicated only to pre-writing and getting their ideas down on paper, before beginning any sort of organization or thought for conventions. The downfall of presenting a model and clear format for students is that it definitely constricts their ability to be creative or try new things. This is something that I would like to work on in the future in order to improve my students confidence and sense of creative writing.

  • Consider your familiarity with a variety of technologies including word processors, digital audio and video editors, and online writing spaces such as blogs and wikis. What are some of the challenges you anticipate in trying to blend the principles of the writing workshop with these technologies?
The biggest challenge that I could foresee in trying to blend the writing process with digital technologies is that some students may be extremely literate when it comes to writing, however, they may lack proficiency in digital technology. This lack of digital literacy may restrict students who are more comfortable using the traditional pen and paper. Also, some students may get lost or distracted by the digital aspect of their writing (looking up images to go with it, using emoticons, playing with fonts) and lose focus on what is actually important -- the "meat", or content of what they're saying.