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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Entry Five: My current feelings and standings on the class

Overall the class is going well. Usually by class on Wednesdays I am exhausted from teaching during the day and from the previous days. Although I am only part time, I plan for 3 different grades, teach four classes, and each class tires me more after the last. The classes are interesting and I try my best to always being engaged in what is going on in the class. But there are sometimes when I am overwhelmed from work and my mind begins to wander to what I am going to do about a certain situation at school. Or sometimes an event or comment in class inspires me to do something similar or related at work, and my mind begins to wander then. What has helped me though is taking some time off from my other part time job. This allowed me to focus more time on grad classes and teaching. I felt so defeated after class one night because I forgot to do an activity with one of the readings, due to the fact I was so overwhelmed and stressed from working, planning and my other class. This led me to taking time off from work until I was able to get a better grasp on planning and classes. Now I have more time to dedicate myself to grad work.

From this class alone, my understandings of the connections between reading and writing have developed a great deal. An example of this would be my last blog entry where I reflected on my misconceptions of the revising and editing process. These are not a connection between reading and writing, but they are an important part of the writing process. I believe that the more students read and transact with the written text, the better writers they become. Students who like a certain writer’s style of writing may develop the same style themselves.

Currently I engage in the writing process frequently, between this class and my other class. This class as of now requires more writing due to the weekly blog entries. My other class with Dr. Hopkins requires week entries as well, but hers are more concise and are on vocabulary. So between these two different blog entries, I often question, reconsider, imagine, discover, as well as clarify, refine, and synthesize. During my blog entry for week four, I completed all of those aspects of transacting. I started off with no real direction besides the topic I chose. Once I started on this topic, I began to question my own conceptions of revising and editing. While this idea came from Dr. Jones’ comment on how they are separate stages, I did not even question it until I began writing my blog entry. After questioning it, I decided it was time to clarify, refine, and synthesize my misconceptions through discovering what the difference was. Sometimes I do not always do this, especially with shorter writing assignments. If I am writing for a purpose, I often reconsider what I am writing and question my own thoughts. This is sometimes what gets us going on a topic. If I had questioned my own misconceptions, I never would have completed all the aspects of transacting.

Generally I think all the time when I am writing. Sometimes if I know what I am going to say my mind drifts to something unrelated and my focus shifts. Then I have to stop and refocus my writing thoughts. But when I am writing I always think. Typically I simply think “what am I going to think next?” As I begin to go farther into the graduate program and this class, my thinking has shifted more towards reevaluating and questioning my thoughts before I even really had time to type them out. The habit I would like to change is how I think during writing. I would like to spend more time transacting when I am writing instead of simply reflecting on my idea and thinking what I will write next.

Through this class I have learned many different learning activities or instructional strategies to use as a (literacy) teacher. One strategy I already used was the “If I Ruled the World” poem. This was far more successful in our night class. One strategy I look forward to using is how I teach the writing process. While I have learned the basics, I know I still need more work on this. This will come from each class session where I learn more about the writing process and ways to have students practice the process. In order to improve my learning, I need to keep attending class (not that it has being an issue) and keep participating in all the class discussions, activities, and readings. If what I want to learn is not addressed in class, I need to take the initiative to ask Dr. Jones outside of class as well as look up the answer myself.

Entry Four: Misconceptions about revising and editing

When writing open entry prompts, I always struggle with the starting point. So it becomes very easy for me to procrastinate writing the blogs. My motivation is lacking because I have yet to decide upon an interesting topic that will get the writing process flowing. After last week’s class, the topic of choice was prevalent. This led into many discussion posts on fostering student choice. I already wrote my previous blog on choice so I am going to shift towards another topic that was dominant in class, the argument of our dependence on technology.

Jamie originally wrote in her Hick’s wiki, “that the use of technology and the aids it provides, such as spell-check, grammar correction, and definition links, impede students' revision and editorial processes rather than enhance it.” This topic always concerns me as I do believe that we often rely too much on technology to fix our mistakes.  Microsoft word always fixes my mistakes for me. I have noticed I started to misspell the same words over and over again because they were always auto-corrected for me. If I fail to capitalize ‘i,’ Microsoft is right there to adjust it. I noticed this when I started replying to the wikis. If you do not turn the spell check on, your spelling errors go unnoticed. When I turned auto check on, the amount of red scare me a little. With Microsoft word, I typically fix words as I go as those red lines taunt me. If I see that I am misspelling a word, I fix it quickly. My problem with typing, I put less emphasis on each grapheme and morphine in words. Instead I focus more on what I am trying to say. When I hand write I know that unless I look up spellings, the word will remain misspelled, so I spend more time trying to correctly spell words. While it is not a good idea to rely on technology to fix my misspellings, it does allow me to spend that time I would have spent focusing on graphemes and morphemes on the content of what I am trying to say. Perhaps if we do want out students to use the computer but also focus on their spelling, we could turn off the spell check. Once they are finished, they can turn it back on and see what they misspelled. Then they can print out their writing and going onto the revising and editing process.

Another comment from class that got me thinking was the revising and editing process. Dr. Jones informed us that they are two separate processes and are not meant to be grouped together. This got me thinking about my own conceptions of the editing process. I do tend to group revising and editing into one category. I suppose I do this because I do consider them to be one part of the writing process. To help my understanding of why I do this, I reflected back to chapter one of Teaching Writing, by Tompkins (2012). Since today is a Saturday and my motivation to be sitting in a library working on homework is diminishing, I skimmed my notes and the sections I previously highlighted.  Tompkins made clear that the two are separate stages; stage 3 is revising and stage 4 is editing. Of course I should already know this since we were assigned this reading in the beginning of the semester. But it was not really meaningful to me. Once I read it, I failed to process it from short term memory to long term memory. What really stuck with me from that chapter was the amount of time spent in the prewriting stage.  Tompkins (2012) defines revising as the stage where “writers clarify and refine ideas in their drafts” and it’s where the needs of the reader are met “by adding, substituting, deleting, and rearranging material” (p. 9). Once this is finished, we move onto the editing stage where “students ‘polish’ their writing by correcting spelling and other errors” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 12). In other words, we need to focus on the content when we revise and then move on to the details such as spelling when we edit. I have always completed these steps together. I reread my papers and fix spelling and grammar and content together. It never seemed wrong to me until now. By doing both together, I have to split my attention between the two stages instead of giving each stage the full attention it deserves. This leaves me spending more time completing each process and missing a lot of parts that should be fixed. I suppose my problem now is how do I split up the two processes? I always notice spelling errors and I start to fixate on those instead of the content. Is it okay for me to skip stage 3 and go to stage 4 first and fix all my basic grammatical and spelling errors? This way I can spend the time necessary for revising the content of my paper, without being distracted by the editing errors. Even though they are in stages, I believe it is okay for me to do this skip initially as long as it helps me revise my paper more efficiently and I actually do return to the revising stage.

Looking at my own conceptions of editing and revising, I wonder if my students have the same feelings as me. My concern is if I teach them the idea of two separate stages, will my students get overwhelmed and continually not separate the stages and/or not do them all together? The only way to do so would be to start teaching them this process. Tompkins (2012) mentioned the 6+1 Traits of Writing during chapter one. While I do not remember much about this, I do have the text somewhere in my piles of undergraduate books. I think it will be worthwhile for me to locate this book and reread it. My school principal and I were talking the other day about incorporating children’s books into secondary classrooms. She recalled a teacher who used a children’s book to teach each different writing trait. When the teacher wanted to remind students of a certain trait, she would just mention the specific children’s book used to teach that trait. I think this would be a really great way to teach the writing process to students so it becomes less intimidating to students. I am intimidated enough about teaching it and I know I have a better understanding of it then my students.

So I suppose the main point of this blog entry was not simply about our reliance on technology. It is instead on my own fears and misconceptions about not only the revising and editing process, but the writing process in general.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Entry Three: Writing about writing

For a while I was unsure of what to write for this week’s journal entry. This uncertainty stems from the fact that the journal topic this week was up to our own preference. Even though we all struggle to free write, it’s important to not only do so but to teach and encourage our students to free write. Many of the papers I struggle with the most were the ones that were a free topic. Once I managed to brainstorm out ideas for a topic, I usually ended up enjoying the writing process. Reflecting back on this, I most likely enjoy choosing my own topic because well, it is mine. I want to say something and I can write out whatever I choose. If I am writing an essay I have to find proof to back up my point and to explain my ideas and opinions so others can see where I am coming from. Of course not all students love this freedom of writing or we probably would not be taking this class right now.
To help scaffold students to the point where they are motivated to free write essays on their own, personal writing is a great step towards that end goal. Journals are an opportunity for students to practice free writing in the classroom. You can start off the journals by giving the students a topic, work towards multiple topics, and end at the students creating their own topics. While the journals may lack the same style as a formal paper, the journals still teach students how to free write. Gail E. Tompkins (2012) wrote that students write in journals to ask questions, explore ideas, activate prior knowledge, solve problems, and engage the imagination. All these skills built and expanded upon in journal writing are necessary and transferable to all different genres of writing. If you are giving students either an unfamiliar topic or a topic of their choosing, it is often easier for them to simply say “I don’t know what to write.” This line is a line we have all heard before. Before I would have thought the kids were perhaps being ‘lazy.’ But now, my thoughts turn to a student who is struggling with the concept. It is easier for students to say they do not know what to write than to admit they are struggling with something. Tompkins (2012) offers a quick fix for this common alignment of writing. He suggests having students, during pre-write, “brainstorm a list of ideas and pick the most promising one to write about” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 111). Brainstorming allows students to realize that the topic is not as difficult as it seems; they just needed help getting started. For one of my lessons in the next few days, I am going to have my students brainstorm a list that they can use as a reference. This way students will have a reference sheet and will not have to worry about being stuck. 
Tompkins’ (2012) chapter this week illustrated ways we can engage our students in the genre of personal writing. After watching Dr. Jones’ presentation/lesson on personal writing I felt that I learned a lot about the genre. Even though I read the chapter, seeing the various strategies explained and having to partake in a few, helped clear up any confusion I was having. One idea I know I will take from this genre is the double-entry journals. Tompkins (2012) wrote that “students become more engaged in their reading and more sensitive to the author’s language” through the use of double-entry journals (p. 114). Students become more engaged and sensitive through picking out quotes that might mean something or stand out, by writing a reflection. Even after using these for a while, the columns can be modified and adapted to a new topic the kids are studying. The adaptability is perhaps one of my favorite concepts of strategies; I love how you can change them to fit which ever topic you may be working on. For the next book I start with my students, I plan on using double-entry journals. Not only will it (hopefully) get the students as engaged as I am in the text, but start helping them understand the importance of interpreting and understanding quotes. While we all say to not focus on test prep, it is still an important aspect of us as teachers since the students need to improve their tests scores. Having the students grasp the concept of understanding quotes will in the long run, help them with their critical lens essays.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Entry Two: Digital writing and the modern age

For a brief background about my teaching position, I currently I teach 7th grade, 10th/11th grade, 9th grade, and am in charge of 12th grade independent studies at a local alternative school.

According to Hick’s chapter (2009), “Creating your digital writing workshop,” the students, the subject of writing, and the spaces in which we write, are all essential to the dynamics of digital writing. When it comes to working with students, we need to understand and learn what they are capable of when it comes to digital literacy. Every day I interact with a student who claims they cannot read or write. Every day my response is the same, “yes you can.” Sometimes they are another student will respond back that they do not need to read or write to be at this particular school (I work at an alternative school). I am quick to respond with questions asking them if they text, use Facebook, go shopping, or even navigate the halls in the school looking at words because if so, they can read and write. From this I can easily interpret that students do not connect digital materials to reading and writing. Through my interactions with the students, they use computers as a crutch. The other day one of my independent seniors was asking me if I had internet set up to my one student computer in the back of the room. I told her she did not need internet for the work she was doing since she was reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and answering questions on them. After asking her why she needed it, she said she was looking up the answers for the questions. I told her no that was not the right way to answer comprehension questions; she said why not, I already read the chapters. A similar incident occurred earlier today when my two 9th graders wanted to use the computer to look up the definitions instead of using the dictionaries from my room. In my opinion many students today do not understand the importance of using a computer. They see it as an easy way to get answers. They do not see it as a way of expressing emotions and opinions through digital text. There is not a connection between the digital texts on the computer screen to the classroom except as a source of easy answers. This brings me to wonder if the newer generations of students will continue failing to see the connection?

            When teaching digital writing, it’s important to under how and when we teach students to use this. I remember in elementary and middle school learning how to use computers and type of my writings in Microsoft Word; to transfer my written work into digital expression. Today I wonder if there is the same focus on teaching digital literacy as there was when I was growing up. I mean after all, I remember when we first got a computer and how exciting it was. Are we assuming because today’s student typically grew up with a computer that all students have the same equal knowledge on digital literacy? I have used online blogs before but using it in class the other night was painful and confusing. It is hard knowing what and how to teach digital writing when you are starting in a new school and do not know what the students have previously learned. Until I know for 100% what the students already learned, it is best to teach the basics. As I am designing a research paper for my seniors, it is easier to assume they know little about proper sourcing and researching. If I assume they know about resourcing and researching and they do not, the students will struggle with the paper and thus struggle with the writing. 

For me it is hard to teach students how to use wikis, blogs, etc. online because I have one nonworking computer, one laptop, and one desktop in my room. The laptop is typically set up with the projector and students are not allowed to use the teacher’s computer, thus leaving no computers for students to use. I only have a projector on wheels so I cannot even work with students on digital literacy through a Smart board. Since students are not assigned homework, the only time left for digital writing is during class time. Even if my other desktop was working, how would the kids share it? Ideally I would have four or so computers in a classroom so students could rotate on the computer. The school would have a large library, computer lab, and a laptop cart for students to use for digital writing. The computers in the room would be set up on a long table so students would be able to have room for their materials. This would be in an ‘L’ shape in the back of the room, with a table in the middle. The middle table would have writing supplies for drafting and/or editing. On the walls would be descriptions of different kinds of digital writing as well as shortcuts for Microsoft Word. Students would be allowed to share and collaborate with other students on what they are writing. Through creating an open work environment, students will be able to help each other on any questions they have with digital writing.