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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Entry 8: Bless, Address, or Press

After listening to Shawna, Marsha, and Danielle’s presentation Wednesday night about the persuasive writing genre, I felt the importance of teaching this genre to my students. My 9th graders enjoy debating and I figured this would be a great way to lead into persuasive writing. After listening to their presentation and reading Shawna’s blog entry, perhaps it will not be as easy as I think. Shawn wrote in her blog: “They agree that persuasion is used everyday regardless of age or where one lives. Even young children use verbal persuasion to prove to their parents they should be able to stay up later” (blog entry 7). This statement tied into my earlier thinking that this will be an effective writing genre to teach as my students love to argue and persuade. But after the presentation and reading the blog, I started to agree with how Shawna felt about teaching adolescents the genre.
“I learned that I was correct when thinking that persuasive writing is a challenging form of communication, and not a natural form of writing or speaking. Students and adults alike must understand the problem, form an opinion based on that understanding, and most importantly understand the opposing argument” (Shawn, blog entry 7).
Why all students love to argue and debate, that does not mean that will automatically be good writers. Students need to still be taught the necessary skills of good writing that leads up to writing a strong persuasion paper. It is easy to argue their side of an argument, but if they do not see the other side’s argument, are they understanding how to actually persuade?

            Today at work I decided to start scaffolding the concept of seeing the opposing side’s viewpoint. While my three students were getting ready for their debate, I started talking to them about how they need to listen and learn about their opponent’s view point. In order to truly ‘win an argument,’ you need to have evidence that supports every part of your opinion. In order to do so, you need to understand the others side so you can have evidence disproving them. For today’s debate, I used the graphic organizer from p. 254 of Tompkin’s (2012) text. I had students fill out their points for the debate using the organizer so when they start using it for persuasive writing, they will already be familiar with the organizer. 

            While I introduce the persuasive genre to the students next week, I am trying to decide what is the best way to approach the genre. My students are hesitant writers so my initial approach will either make or break the unit. I plan on hooking my students with the concept that persuasive writing is similar to debates, except it is a more formal written text. Instead of starting to teach persuasive essays right away, I am going to start off with something smaller, such as writing letters. The letters would pertain to a topic that is important to the students, making it a more fun and personal assignment for them. 

            Through Wednesday’s night class, I realized I could use children’s books to initially hook the students into the unit. Since I borrowed Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin from the library, I will read that to the students. While Tompkins (2012) suggest using texts such as these for introducing the topic to kindergarten and first graders, I can easily see how it would be effective in introducing the concept to older students. The book is a simplified version of persuasive writing, allowing students to not be overwhelmed. Through this text I can have my students brainstorm and identify the most important pieces of the story. From there they can start brainstorming their own persuasive topics.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Entry Seven: Choice with Reading and Writing

For this week’s open entry, it is a bit harder to write as we did not have any assigned readings besides readings for our project. I did read a book that would fall under the letters/personal genre earlier this week. Actually I started and finished it within one sitting. I miss those days of having time to be able to read a book until I finish it, simply because it is so intriguing and good that I cannot put it down. If I said I did not have any time to do so I would be lying. I do have time but during this down time I have, I am usually too tried to go pick up a book and read. I was highly motivated to read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower because the movie just came out and I really want to see the movie. But I knew I had to read the book first or I never would. Sometimes I wish my students had the motivation to sit and read a book but I know this is difficult as I can barely get them motivated to read during class time. A few of my students are motivated and love to read. My 7th grader reads every day for 10 minutes before we start the day’s lesson. My principal walked in the room on Friday to speak to him and she was thrilled that he was sitting there, highly engaged in the book. One of my 11th grade coordinated studies student, Peter* picked Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto to read. He was supposed to read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and complete the assigned work. But he had no motivation to read it. Peter and I compromised on finding a new book. Of all the books I brought in for him to read, he picked The Communist Manifesto and I was overall pleased that he made this choice. Realistically how many students would pick this book for fun? Especially when I also brought in Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide as an option. After speaking to him about this, he seemed generally happy that I gave him a choice of what to read. Peter seemed even happier when I told him he could switch books if did not find the text engaging enough after the first few chapters. Seeing how happy and empowered Peter felt about having choice reminded me how important it is to provide students with choice. If I told him he had to read The Hunger Games, Peter would have read the text but not actively engaged with the text. He would have read it to answer the questions I provided him to do. But by giving him a book he picked, I am sure Peter will get more out of it than he would have with The Hunger Games.

            This idea of choice with reading ties into choice with writing. After taking this class I am more aware of proving my students with choice when it comes to writing. Students will have a more meaningful interaction with their writing if they have ownership of it. When I was designing a project to serve as a capstone for The Hunger Games, I thought a great deal about how to create a project that served as a way to express a student’s creativity but also as a way to have the students write. I decided to create a multi-genre project that has nine different forms of writing. The first option, which is mandatory, is an essay. But to still provide the students with choice, I provided them with eight different topics. After writing the essay, students can choose any other project to complete. All the other projects are forms of writing, but are creative forms. They vary from writing a letter to the author, a news paper page, a commercial, to a poster with a summary. By assigning the essay I am able to see where their writing is with writing formal essays. Through the other forms of writing, I am able to see how they write when they write something that they wanted to do because (hopefully) they thought it would be a way to express their creativity. I provided general guidelines of what I wanted so students would have a direction to go in. Everything I want them to have is in the rubric that I made from the Rubistar website. Students will know exactly what their project needs to have to earn a top grade. This is my first time working with this type of project so I am hoping everything runs smoothly. When I was in school I loved having options for a book or unit’s capstone. Hopefully my students will appreciate this as well/

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Entry Six: Assessing Writing- When and How?

            On the last page of chapter four from Tompkins’ text (2012), a teacher raises the question of whether or not we should grade all of our students’ writing. While Tompkins gave several solutions to the question, she never gave a concrete answer. In my opinion, I think that we would wear ourselves out if we graded every piece of writing and offered consistent and meaningful feedback. Tompkins (2012) wrote that “teachers need to ask themselves whether assessing each piece of writing will make their students better writers, and most teachers will admit that such arduous critiques won’t” (p.104). This comment contains a lot of truth. Most students, who are apathetic to writing, will not take the time to read all of the comments and critiques written on their writing. As a teacher who assigns and grades work for 11th and 12th grade coordinated studies, it is important for me to provide feedback on their assignments. Since I do not have face to face interaction with most of the students, I spend time grading their work and providing both positive and constructive comments on their assignments. Only one student actually takes my comments into consideration and reflectively adjusts her work. Sometimes it does get frustrating proving feedback when no one cares. I do believe that if they do not actually adjust their work, they still take something out of the comments and apply that the next time around. 

            In my other classes, I assign much of the writing as a grade. I do not critique their actual writing though. Instead I skim through the writing to get the gist and grade them based on the relevance to the assignment. If the student is writing and is missing the main point, I will occasionally write questions back to them, in an attempt to get them to be more thoughtful. Luckily, I have small classes so if I did want to grade every piece of their writing, I could. But what would the point in that be? Students would eventually write to appease me and my demands and not for themselves. Writing should be a form of expression and not always for a grade.

            Grading based on effort ties into another question from the chapter. Someone brought up to Tompkins (2012) the struggle of how and in what ways they should assess writing. The way writing is assessed should vary. If we use one consistent form of assessment, students do not understand ways to vary their writing. They will eventually form their writing to the expectations of the assessment. But varying what you are assessing in their writing, students will continue to grow and develop as writers. One week you can focus on the mechanics of writing. The next week you could switch to fluency or content. By teaching the 6 + 1 traits of writing, you could assess students assignments based on what trait of writing you are teaching them.

            From last week’s class, we used the Rubistar website to create rubrics based on the different writing samples. When I was finishing my multi-genre writing project for The Hunger Games, I turned to this website to help me create assessments for the different writings. This was really useful as my writings arranged from creating a newspaper, a poster, a formal essay, to forms of advertisements. I was having a hard time typing out everything I was looking for in their writing projects. By providing the rubrics attached to the guidelines, students know exactly what I am looking for in their projects.