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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Learning Log Entry # 12

Our last blog entry already?! This is crazy that I'm writing my final blog entry. This course has been so informative for me, as I've stated over and over again in my blog entries. I was a little unsure about keeping a blog because first off, I had never used a blog before and secondly, I thought for sure I'd be terrible at keeping up and actually finding things to write. I've found that this has been a pretty enjoyable assignment for me. I've actually started my own blog outside of this class (although recently I haven't had the time to write in it, I think we all understand why).

The student learning outcomes that were given to use on session one were ones that I gave a quick read and haven't looked at since then. As I look over them and think about my time in this class and my blogging adventure, I realize that as I was writing in my blogs about the topics at hand for that week I started to develop a deeper understanding for that topic. During the free entry weeks I would write about the genre for that week and reflect on my own experiences with that genre and how they shaped my view of the genre.

As I write these blogs each week I keep in mind that I have an audience and a purpose for these blogs. I'm writing not only for my own personal growth but for my fellow classmates and for Dr. Jones as well. We can all learn from each other and just from browsing at everyone else's blogs I've learned so many different strategies and ideas that I would have never thought of on my own.

I learned that as I engaged in the reading process I also engaged in the writing process in my blogging. I would write a little bit in my blog, save it in my draft, go back and revise if needed and I'd usually do this for every blog. I've learned to use the writing process in my own writing and how to reflect on it as well. My blog was a great place for me to reflect on my writing process and how I was growing as a writer.

Each week as we were given a new reading assignment, I learned about all of the different genres and how I can differentiate the activities in Tompkins (2012) in order to fit the needs of the age group and the needs of the learners that I may have in my classroom. The section on accommodating EL writers and struggling readers was especially helpful. Hicks (2009) gave me so much information on a world of digital literacy that I never even knew existed. I can now say that I know how to use blogs in the classroom, how to create a Google Doc and I know what RSS stands for. I had absolutely no idea what that was before. Tompkins (2012) also gave so many different assessment options that I was unaware of. As I wrote each week about any one of these topics I was able to think back to how I used them (or didn't use them) in my student teaching. I realized that I needed to change some of my thinking and that some of the ways I was going about assessing my students could have been done much better.

Through this blogging experience I've been able to share with everyone my struggles and my triumphs as a first time graduate student using the writing process for the first time! It's been an amazing way for me to learn as I go and to be able to keep track of my own writing progress even from the time I wrote my first blog entry. I feel like these blog entries have helped me to grow as a writer and that I've learned how to communicate more effectively in a digital way.

Learning Log Entry # 11

Now that we've finished all of the genre presentations, I've started to look back at all of the handouts that I've received over the past few weeks. There were quite a few genres that I was a little unsure of and yet some I knew more about, but enjoyed learning more about them. I gained a lot of new knowledge from not only the presentations, but from the readings as well. Everyone did an amazing job on the presentations and I learned so much! The best ideas come from fellow teachers (I think so anyway).

I think that up to this point, I've really learned not only the major differences between genres but how some can be interconnected. Narrative and biographies can be connected just as expository and biographies are. The descriptive genre fits in with every genre because a student's writing should always be descriptive. I learned a lot of new poetry formats and more about letter formats as well. With the descriptive genre, I was able to learn how much it connected with poetry and how well the two genres flow together. It was a really great experience to learn so much about a genre that I really enjoyed in the first place. 

At the start of the class I was pretty sure I knew a lot about personal, descriptive, persuasive, and biographical writing. I hadn't really heard the word "expository" before, but I figured it had something to do with nonfiction because the only other genre focusing on nonfiction was biographical. I knew that there were so many different types of poetry and I was so intimidated by that, so I was a little scared about that genre. I had heard of narrative but I wasn't exactly sure what it was, so I was excited to learn more about that genre. 

Through the personal genre presentations I learned that there are many different types of journaling options that students can be used and that they should be used with certain grade levels (which I wasn't really aware of). I had taught a lot of lessons on writing letters during student teaching so I knew a lot about letter writing and the business and friendly letters going into the presentation. I write so many emails in one day so emails were pretty self-explanatory to me as well. I love, love, love the descriptive genre. I am a "vivid verb" teacher and I think that teaching students how to use adjectives and how to avoid "tired" words to spice up their writing is so much fun, so I was so excited when I got to do the presentation on descriptive writing. I knew that descriptive writing encompassed adjectives, verbs, nouns, etc., but I had no idea that it included being descriptive through the way you use your dialogue or using sensory images to be completely detailed in your writing. I had so much fun writing the five senses poem about myself. Moving onto the persuasive genre, every time I thought of persuasive I thought of myself persuading my mother to buy me something or persuading my dad to let me borrow his computer. I understood that it is really easy to persuade someone orally but when it comes to actually writing a persuasive piece it can be tough. Other than poetry, persuasive pieces were my downfall. I really liked learning about the different types of persuasive writing and different teaching techniques to use along with those. I had assumed with biography came autobiography but I was unaware about personal narratives (tying into narrative genre) and memoirs, which I had no idea what that was. I was glad I learned the differences between not only the differences between the two genres (narrative and biography) but the differences between the types of biographies as well.

Next comes the genres that I was definitely not a fan of, and the only reason I wasn't a fan of them was because I knew little to nothing about them. A lot has changed now. The narrative and expository genres were the genres I didn't know much about. As they were talking about the narrative genre I realized that it was all about writing stories and it had to do with plot, theme, setting, etc. It didn't really scare me as much as it did before. The expository genre was the genre I didn't really know much about and after learning about it I realized that it encompassed so much and had so many different aspects to it that it was pretty interesting and it wasn't as scary either. 

I'd say that as of right now, the only genres that really intimidate me are persuasive and poetry. I have no problem trying to persuade someone by word of mouth but when it comes time to write a persuasive piece and state my opinion in a way that will change someone's mind about a topic, I'm still a little unsure and not very confident with the end product. With poetry, I know there are so many different types of poems available to write but when I hear the word "poetry" I still get really nervous. I think it's because when I was in high school I was forced to figure out the meanings to poems that I never understood and still don't understand and then I had to write about them. Even now, if you put a poem in front of me I'm not confident in my interpretation of it. 

I feel like these genre presentations have made such a positive impact on me and they were really rewarding. I learned a lot of great information and strategies to use in my future classroom. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning Log Entry # 10

As I was reading through everyone's blogs (once again I was quite overwhelmed with the amount of entries and the amount of really awesome things that were being brought up) I came across a passage in Jaimie M.'s blog. In her seventh blog entry Jaimie writes, " job as a hopeful teacher is to take away the frustration that certain lessons bring to students and to bring excitement back into the lessons of even the most boring topics...I needed to kick my habit of showing my feelings about certain topics."

I feel that a lot of the time when I was student teaching and even substitute teaching I would show my negative feelings towards a subject when I was teaching it. If something was boring it was easily shown on my face, so the students weren't very excited about learning the topic. Why would they be? If the teacher wasn't excited about it, why should they be? In this entry Jaimie was talking about the expository genre and finding new ways to teach the expository genre. Going into student teaching and even now I want to make sure that I can make learning fun for every student. I love to have fun in the classroom, while making whatever activity we're doing educational as well, so that students are having fun and learning at the same time. When social studies or science time comes around though, the fun sort of goes out the window for me, just as teaching writing of non-fiction texts. I'm the kind of teacher that likes creativity and I thought that you could only be creative in narrative or descriptive genres, but Jaimie and Gretchen showed all of us ways in which we could be creative in the expository genre as well. 

After reading this particular quote I took a look back at Tompkins' (2012) chapter on expository writing, just to see if I could obtain some new knowledge that maybe I had missed the first time around. I always thought that when teaching the expository genre you would state that it was a nonfiction text and then just go from there. Tompkins (2012) states that teachers should, "...share a collection of nonfiction books, including informational books, almanacs, guidebooks, photo essays, alphabet books, and biographies and guide students as they examine the books to identify the characteristics of the genre" (p. 213). I never realized that you could provide students with such a wide array of texts in order to introduce them to the genre. I would have never thought to introduce them to guidebooks or even an almanac, considering I haven't even opened an almanac since I looked at my grandpa's about 10 years ago!

Keeping in mind that I was apparently not the best at teaching expository writing, I really like how Tompkins (2012) gave me a lot of insight and resources to guide me through my education as a new literacy teacher. I really like how she gives real-life examples of how the strategies are used in classrooms and how they could be used. The "Types of Expository Writing" section on page 207 will really help me to not only use more strategies in the classroom, but it will help me to become more excited when teaching the expository genre, because I really enjoyed the idea of the alphabet books and the "All About..." books. I am so excited to use these new strategies in my future classroom!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Learning Log Entry #9

Well, fellow literacy classmates, is it just me or is this semester flying by?? As I begin thinking about this blog entry I think back to Jaimie and Gretchen's presentation on the expository genre. To be completely honest, I wasn't even sure exactly what the expository genre was until I opened up Tompkins (2012) and started reading. I considered it nonfiction writing, I never knew it had the term "expository." It's one of those "you learn something new every day" things I guess. During my student teaching experience, I didn't really have the chance to teach the expository writing genre but during my day-to-day substitute teaching students in the fourth and fifth grade classes would be working on essays which were expository. That's really all they would write, essays. They were practicing for PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment), which was Pennsylvania's standardized testing. They were being drilled in writing essay form and it was a mixture of expository, persuasive, and narrative, but one day I remember working on expository with one of the fifth grade classes. The students had no motivation whatsoever because the topic wasn't interesting to them, so they were extremely bored, and they were given a prompt and told to write. I really like using graphic organizers and I definitely think that they have their time and place and I think that students should have had the chance to use a graphic organizer, or even learn how to use one so that come testing day they could use their scrap paper to make their own. It was really frustrating for not just the students but for me as well because I was given instructions to have them write for about 30 minutes and then share. They wrote about five lines because they were so uninterested and I didn't have any ideas for ways to engage them. 

While reading through the chapter in Tompkins (2012) I found a lot of ideas that I really liked. Instead of students just writing in essay form there are so many different options that I had never thought of before. I think that my favorite was the Alphabet Book (p. 211). When I read that the students wrote down ABC and words that start with that letter I thought they were done, but I think it's a really good way for students to not only use expository but descriptive writing as well when they elaborate on the word they chose for the letter. A lot of students are really good at drawing pictures and don't get the chance to show that off so I think this is a really good opportunity to gain student interest by letting them know that they won't just be drawing but they can draw a picture as well. I know a lot of students draw when they're done with work or during indoor recess so they like to express their creativity in the classroom. 

Another emphasis that Tompkins (2012) made was to make sure that when we're teaching the expository text we tell students about plagiarism, what it is and why it's wrong (p. 213). Teaching paraphrasing is a must, and it's something that students will use throughout their educational career so the earlier they learn how to paraphrase the better. A lot of students, when doing expository pieces, take notes and they need to be taught the proper way to take notes in their own words instead of copying it straight from the text. I know that if I would copy notes straight from the text I don't learn anything, I need to put the words from the text into my own to make sure that I comprehend them. I think that the note-taking strategy is also a really good comprehension strategy as well. 

The expository genre has so many different characteristics and there are so many ways to teach it and so many activities to do with it that I wasn't aware of. I can't wait to try some of them out when I have my own classroom. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Learning Log Entry #8

As I started looking through everyone's blogs I started to become a little overwhelmed. There are so many blog entries! I hadn't even thought of that. I was reading through some of my followers' blogs and I found a passage from Katie's. She is talking about a personal experience she's had with assigning and assessing her students' writing:

"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."

I thought she made a really good point when she said that if she graded every writing piece students are just going to write for the teacher, not for themselves. I can think of this as not only from a teacher's perspective but from a student's perspective as well. When I was in school all of our writing pieces were graded. I hated when we had writing time even if it was just for fifteen minutes out of our eight hour day. We wrote about what the teacher wanted us to write about and how she wanted us to write it. We were writing for her and it was a terrible experience. If students are writing just for the grades, like I did, it's going to create a negative attitude towards writing that won't change, even until you get into college. Writing papers was still my least favorite thing to do.

As a teacher, just like as a student, writing was my least favorite subject to teach and assess. I put my negative attitude aside and tried to make writing as positive as an experience for my students as I could but most of my students were struggling with writing. In college I wasn't taught the writing process or how to effectively teach writing so I felt like I was left in the middle of nowhere. I went back to the age-old "You must grade everything!" and I graded all final copies along with their drafts. It was a pain, not only for me but for the students as well. They were so discouraged and I just felt like I couldn't give them a truly positive attitude towards writing if I didn't have one myself. Reading Katie's blog entry made me realize that mechanics aren't the most important part of the writing, they certainly are important, but making sure that the students are able to comprehend what they're supposed to be writing about and that they are on topic is what's really important.

While rereading through Tompkins' (2012) chapter on assessing writing I found two measures of assessment that I really liked: checklists and assessment conferences. Checklists can be used at any point in the writing process, both to keep the students on task and afterwards, to make sure that they've completed everything. I  think this is a good idea for students to fill out so that they become responsible for their own writing and just to make sure that they're using the process in order to produce better results. Tompkins (2012) states that, "Writing process checklists can also be used in conjunction with product assessment; teachers can base a percentage of students' grades on how well they used the writing process and the remaining percentage on the quality of the writing" (p. 89). I think this is really important. It will let students know that the writing process is really effective and that if they use it correctly and if they use it (period) it will increase their grade. I think assessment conferences are an awesome way for teachers and students to work collaboratively in order to come to a conclusion on a student's grade. It also gives the student a chance to know what he needs to work on and what his strengths are as well instead of just receiving a grade with no explanation. Tompkins (2012) states, "Atwell (1998) keeps these conferences brief, and at the end of the meeting, she and the student develop a set of goals for the following writing project or grading period" (p. 90). One downfall of these conferences is that they may take a lot of time, which is why I think I'd have a hard time fitting them into a scheduled time period.

There are so many ways to assess writing and so many different opinions and stemming off of Katie's response this is what I found and how I feel. I think that the way that she conducts her assessments is a very efficient and effective way to assess writing so that students are not only writing what they're supposed to be writing but they're writing for themselves as well.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Learning Log Entry #7

Getting back into the "groove of things" has been extremely difficult. It seems like I've become a stranger to blog writing in the past few days! I've been thinking a lot about the projects that we have coming up and the progress that not only I'm making in this course but that my writing/expert share group and I are coming as well. As an individual I think I've grown so much as a writer. I've learned what each stage of the writing process is, what it entails, how to teach it, and now, how to use it. I've been in each stage of the writing process except for editing, revising, and publishing and the amount of time it takes to get a quality product is awhile but the time is definitely worth it. I feel like the process is necessary when writing, and if it's helpful to me it will definitely be helpful to students. I've been working on my first genre piece and I'm ready for it to be edited and I can actually say for once in my life that I'm proud of my writing piece. Learning and implementing the process has made me feel that way and this course has helped me to realize how beneficial it is intrinsically.

As far as our expert share goes, after meeting with my group I'm really excited for our presentation. I had never met Caitlin or Katie and I really think that we are going to work well together. All three of us have a passion for teaching and we had really amazing ideas for our presentation. I've worked with some groups where some members haven't meshed and if group members disagreed it was chaos. The three of us all seemed to be on the same page and we are really excited about our interactive activities for the class. I think that the expert shares are a really great idea and will be really informational, especially for me since there are some genres that I'm not very knowledgeable in. I'm really looking forward to hearing everyone's presentations and doing all of the interactive activities that everyone has planned (those are my favorite). I accidentally read the chapter on the persuasive genre a week early (I guess I was getting ahead of myself, I wasn't really back into "graduate school mode"). I was never very good at writing persuasive pieces and I'm still not very persuasive, even when I'm speaking. At my job at New York & Company I have to persuade people to sign up for credit cards and I'm not very good at that. I figure if I can't even convince someone verbally how can I do it in writing? I'm looking forward to hearing the persuasive genre's group presentation and learning a little bit more about the genre and how to teach it. I think it's going to be a really fun class!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Learning Log Entry # 6

This week has been totally crazy for me, so I figured I better get going while I'm ahead. Is that the saying? Let me get back on topic. While I was reading Tompkins (2012) this week there was one section that really stood out to me because it's the type of assessment that I have the most experience with. Rubrics have been a part of everyone's lives since we were younger and they've continued to be an assessment tool that we became familiar with throughout our entire schooling career including undergraduate and now graduate classes. During one of my classroom assessment courses at Bloomsburg University in PA we spent an entire two weeks focusing on how to create your own rubric. We were graded (using a rubric) on how well we could create our own rubric. As Tompkins (2012) states, "Rubrics can have 3 to 6 levels, with descriptors at each level." (p. 95) One of the elements we were graded on was whether or not our professor thought we chose the right number of levels for the grade level we chose and that our descriptor words were clearly thought out and could be given to students without questioning from them. I was baffled because I'd seen rubrics, been graded by them, but NEVER did I have to create my own. I had no idea how to create my own. I didn't even know what subject to choose. It was awful. I finally finished (at the last minute because I couldn't figure out exactly what to do because the professor's descriptors weren't very clearly thought out) and luckily I got an A but it was one of the hardest assignments I've ever had to do in my college career.

When I finally got to student teaching it was time to grade a writing assignment where the students had written a letter and were able to type it on the computer (which I had described a couple blog posts earlier) and for some reason I thought, "Hmm, I think that a rubric would be a great idea for this!" I thought I was outside of my mind to go about making another rubric. I found that making a rubric when I wasn't being graded for every little thing was so much easier and way less stressful. Tompkins (2012) explains that, "Some rubrics are general and can be used for almost any writing assignment, but others are designed for specific writing projects." (p. 95) Thinking back, I think that my rubric was a little too general for the project. I should have been a bit more specific with what I was assessing, but now that I have more knowledge on assessing writing, I think that I'll be able to do that once I get my own classroom.

Another thing that Tompkins (2012) chapter showed me was that I really didn't know a lot about assessing writing. In my first grade student teaching classroom my cooperating teacher graded solely on conventions of grammar and spelling, so that's what I did. Now, I know that that's not the best way to go to assess a student's writing. I feel like I would have had a lot more assessment opportunities if I would have been assessing the students during their writing. Taking notes while they were doing writing and while I was talking to them about their writing really would have helped me when we were starting new projects or talking about what they wanted to work on next. I never knew that that part of writing could even be assessed. I thought that writing was assessed on conventions, not the process.

One piece of advice that you receive as a teacher is to do self-assessments of yourself or reflections of your teaching. I think that Tompkins (2012) idea of students doing self-assessments of their writing is a great idea for not only them to assess their writings but for us as teachers to get an idea of where they think they stand and how we can combine our informal assessments with their self-reflections about their writing.

Going completely off topic I want to point out something else I read in Tompkins (2012) that I thought was really interesting. She states that, "Most teachers spend too much time practicing for writing tests, not too little." (p. 103) I actually agree with that. When it is time to take Pennsylvania's state assessments writing is drilled into the students' heads and they practice prompt after prompt until they are so sick of it. It's even boring to teach writing. They don't focus on writing at any other point in the year except for about a month before the state assessments. Teachers spend over an hour a day straight just focused on writing prompt after prompt. It's exhausting for both the students and the teachers.

I just want to thank everyone so much for all of your support and your congratulations! I'll see you all in two weeks :)