Sunday, October 28, 2012

Entry #8 : "Bless, Address, or Press"

It was very hard to choose just one blog to respond to because everyone was bringing up really excellent points. However, Caitlin's blog entry #6 really sparked my interest when she discussed how we, as teachers, should assess our students' writing. Caitlin talks about how teachers tend to focus too much on conventions of a writing piece, and don't focus enough on the content and meaning. When a student gets a paper back with red pen all over it, it is disheartening and even if they got a good grade the sight of that red pen just screams "HORRIBLE!" As a result, many students' confidence in their writing plummets and they start worrying too much on what the teacher wants them to say rather than on what they want to say. I thought Caitlin put it nicely when she said: "Writing should be a creative and personal activity. When students begin to rely less on what they want to say, and more on what they think they should say, then the piece loses a voice. It then becomes the teacher's voice instead of the student." It's very unfortunate when this happens because writing pieces are generally supposed to be reflective and personal; teachers are supposed to encourage this, not hinder it. I know, personally, it is hard to draw the line between what should be assessed in students' writing and what shouldn't be. I don't want to discourage students from writing, but at the same time, it's not helping them at all if I don't correct spelling and grammar mistakes because they won't know what they're doing is wrong, and they'll continue to make the same mistakes. I need to find a balance between assessing conventions as well as meaning and content.

Another point that Caitlin brought up was the type of comments that we make on students' writing pieces. I think a lot of times we're too focused on just getting through the stack of papers, and we don't really take the time to write thoughtful and specific comments. Caitlin writes: "We want our students to be able to understand our comments/questions, and not feel overwhelmed or confused." While it's true that writing specific and thoughtful comments would take much longer, it is also much more beneficial to the student. Caitlin discusses the idea of assessment conferences to clarify or expand on comments that the teacher made.Taking the time to have individual conferences about students' writing would be ideal -- it might not always be a realistic option but for important writing assignments I think it would be an essential component that would help the student grow as a writer.    

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Entry #7

While researching the genre of poetry for my "Genre Pieces Project" I came across so many forms that I had no idea existed in Tompkin's (2009) chapter on poetry. I found it extremely helpful the way that she broke up the different types of poems and then sub-categorized them into different examples and forms. Throughout the chapter, Tompkins continually insists that students have an unfortunate misconception about poetry -- most students have the antiquated idea that all poetry needs to rhyme in order to be considered poetry (pg. 171). This misconception turns most students off to this particular genre because they don't believe they have the capabilities to come up with a rhyme scheme on par with Shakespeare or any of the other typical poets that are usually studied in school. However, Tompkins believes "the poem's message is always more important than adhering to a formula" (pg. 165). Tompkins stresses the importance of "sharing a wide variety of poems written by children and's important to include poems that don't rhyme" (pg. 171). By exposing students to a wide variety of forms (some that are as simple as turning a list into a poem!), you can broaden their definition of poetry and hopefully erase all of those negative connotations. That is the first obstacle that teachers have to work to overcome, is the negative connotation that poetry elicits from students (especially at the secondary level). To overcome this, Tompkins believes it is necessary to first ensure that your students have a basic understanding of the genre and suggests starting with a formula poem because it generally "makes writing easier for students who don't think they can write poetry" (pg. 171). I agree with her suggestion here because, in my experience, breaking  the poetry process up into smaller, structured pieces seems to ease students' fears a little bit. If I were to simply tell them to write a poem in free verse, they wouldn't know where to start or what to talk about. In my classroom, I would start by going through the formula of one type of structured poem and then model the formula and thinking process by constructing a poem together as a class. This would show students that poetry doesn't have to be hard or stressful; it is a creative and fun way that they can express themselves.

I think the "I Am..." poems and the Acrostic poems would be particularly useful at the secondary level to discuss and explore characters or themes during different units. I'm actually doing a unit on Harper Lee's book To Kill a Mockingbird and after reading this chapter, I'm thinking about having the students do an "I Am....Atticus Finch" poem to discuss his character traits and have students write from his perspective, which will also give them a lesson in point of view and how that can change between different characters.

One of the concerns that Tompkins acknowledges at the end of the chapter is how to assess poetry and I think this is one of the most important points of the chapter. Tompkins is adamant that students should not be tested or quizzed on their knowledge of particular formulas because "knowing, for example, that a haiku is a Japanese form composed of 17 syllables arranged in three lines doesn't make a child a poet" (pg. 176). Instead, assess students on a few basic criteria and try to avoid giving a grade for the quality of a child's poem because it may steer them away from ever experimenting with poetry again. I agree with Tompkins that portfolios or allowing the student to choose several poems from their writing folder to turn in for a grade would be the most effective and informative way to assess their skill and knowledge about the genre of poetry.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Entry #6

In this week's reading from Tompkins (2012), we start thinking about how to assess students' writing in a way that is not only valuable, but reliable as well. Tompkins stresses the importance of using multiple informal  procedures throughout the year to monitor and assess students' writing (pg. 84). I agree with this stance on writing, and believe that it is the most thorough and accurate way to assess progress, because you're not simply looking at one piece of writing and grading that with a sort of tunnel vision. Instead you're taking into account all of the writing that the student has done and how that one particular piece fits in and compares with all of their other pieces. This is helpful because every piece of writing that a student does showcases their ability and improvement (or lack thereof). By monitoring and mentally keeping track of how each student is progressing throughout the course of the year, it will be easier to notice when a student may not be at the level they should be, and consequently easier to provide supplemental instruction for that individual student.

I think that many teachers shy away from student portfolios or similar assessments because they believe that portfolios are not as valuable as having the student complete a final essay. While it is true that essays are the more traditional assessment, I believe that portfolios provide more insight into the student's actual ability than an essay does. With portfolios, you are giving the student multiple chances to showcase their writing ability and express themselves, rather than just one opportunity as you would with a traditional essay. Also, as mentioned previously, it is much easier to see the student's progress when it is in a portfolio.

Writing process checklists and assessment conferences are also beneficial (pg. 89). Students like structure and organization, so providing them with a specific checklist that they can gradually move through and "check" off when they accomplish a task would benefit them in keeping them structured. It also ensures that students are being cognizant and aware of where they are in the writing process, where they should be, and where they are going. It teaches them to recognize specific stages in the process, so that eventually they might not need to have the teacher or themselves physically check off a stage of the writing process, they will be able to mentally and automatically do it.

Assessment conferences would benefit students because it invites and encourages them to have an active hand in grading their own performance and ability. Tompkins describes these conferences on pg. 89, "teachers meet with individual students, and together they discuss the student's writing, identify strengths and weaknesses, and decide on a grade based on their goals for the writing project." By conferencing with the teacher and discussing their strengths and weaknesses, it will ensure that students are more aware of what they need to work on for next time through specific and personal feedback from the teacher.

In the future, I will definitely try to incorporate student portfolios, writing process checklists, and assessment conferences in my classroom and make an attempt to move away from the more traditional summative assessments such as essays.