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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 :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Learning Log Entry # 5

Dear Dr. Jones,

Overall I think the class is going really well. It's been very informative and I've really enjoyed it. I've learned so much about not only handwritten writing but digital writing as well, which is a new concept for me. Before this class I had thought of reading and writing as two different subjects. They are graded separately so, I never really considered them interrelated in that they feed off of one another. I believe that having good reading strategies accelerates writing strategies. Being able to understand parts of a text help a student when they are writing. They know that they should be writing from top to bottom, left to right, and they know how paragraphs are formed. Eckoff (1983) states that "...children may learn structures from their reading and use them in their writing." (607) I find that that is especially true when they are studying a specific type of text over a long period of time.

I feel as though when I'm writing I'm doing it almost unconsciously. I just write to get it done and don't really think about it. During class though I am forced to think about it, which I think is a great thing. It gives me ideas and engages me wholly in the writing process. When we do specific writing activities not only does it engage me and make me think about what I'm doing (which makes me a better writer), it gives me strategies that I can use in my classroom. I know that out of the list that you mentioned: to question, to reconsider, to imagine, to discover, to clarify, to refine, to synthesize, the only one I can really see myself doing is refining. I go back to make sure that all of my grammar is correct and that all of the conventions are okay before I turn it in. It's not to say that I don't take my writing seriously or that I don't spend a lot of time when I'm writing papers for presentations, but I don't go through the stages of the writing process and honestly, I never have. I think that it's been a great help thus far and I think it's really going to help as I start my midterm in my theory class! One major reading/writing habit that I have to change would be my prewriting stage. I don't spend any time prewriting, I just go right into writing. I would really like to spend more time figuring out exactly what I'd like to write and jot some ideas down and get an idea of where my writing is going instead of staring at a blank page for hours until I finally come up with something. I actually write my piece on paper and then type it (which I know a lot of people think is an extra step) but it really helps me to figure out my mistakes when I'm transferring from paper to screen.

I feel like a lot of the instructional strategies I've learned come from Tompkins (2012) and the article by Towle (2000) on the reading process. From Tompkins (2012) I've learned that I need to model the skills in the writing process for students until they become familiar with them. I can't just model it once and expect them to understand and automatically know what they're doing. It takes time, so I need to be patient. With reading workshop, I've learned that that also takes time and that it should be a routine. It has many components that students are actively engaged in, so I need to make sure that students are involved in the learning activities and are able to work together and that I can use one-on-one instruction effectively.

The only struggle I'm really having is just being so overwhelmed at this point with the amount of "stuff" I have going on. It's not just in this class but in my life as well. Trying to juggle three classes with huge projects, moving into an apartment as well as preparing to get married is a HUGE amount of stress on me. I've not been myself lately and I'm hoping that once I'm married (on October 13) and the wedding planning is OVER that my stress level will go down and that I will be back to normal and back on track. You're doing a great job as a professor and I really enjoy this class.


Kayla Goss 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Learning Log Entry # 4

Free entries are so difficult for me. You would think they'd be so easy because you can write about whatever comes to your mind, but there's just so much that comes to my mind when it comes to the field of literacy that I don't know where to begin. My first thought, though, goes back to the Kucer & Rhodes's (1986) article and the two different strategies that they suggested to use when writing. I'm one of those "writer's block" kind of girls and it just comes so easily to me. I've been staring at this blank page for a day just wondering what to write, because I'm at a loss for words. I decided to look back at the strategies, and focus on my views on those, and how I think I could use them in my classroom.

When I first read about the card strategy I thought it was a pretty cool idea. I got the main idea of it from the detailed description of it, but Kucer & Rhodes (1986) suggested only giving three to four index cards to start out with. I didn't think that was a sufficient amount, especially since you need more "meat" in your paragraph to make it a good one. Anyway, I kept my mind open and continued reading. After I figured out what it was and how it worked I thought it was a really awesome strategy that a lot of students, especially students that struggle with writing could benefit from. My topic for my genre piece project is planning my wedding and I had no idea where to begin. I know what I did but to actually WRITE about it was a completely different story. I was so excited when we actually did the card strategy in class on Wednesday! I went through eighteen cards (just ask Lindsey M, she was a trooper). After doing the activity I realized that 3-4 cards is definitely not enough for students, but handing them a huge amount of index cards could be really intimidating for them, so I'd probably give them about six or seven to start out with. Then once we started writing (I chose one of my genres as a blog entry) I went to town! I couldn't stop writing, I knew exactly what my topics were, what I should be writing about, and my creativity flowed from there. I was really proud of my writing and I think it's going to show when it's published. I think students will really enjoy this activity and being able to receive other students' inputs on the order of events and doing the same to their peers I think is a really cool idea. It gives them a fresh perspective on their writing. Lindsey actually helped me realize that some of my elements should go in a different order, it just made better sense.

The second strategy, the puzzle strategy, is a little different. The students are given a text, something totally different than what they've read. A completely new piece of text to them (which I think is a great idea so that students don't know exactly what's going on). Kucer & Rhodes (1986) state that, "...The text should have some structural similarities to others they have read, the concepts should be easily understood, and the text should not be too lengthy." (192) In other words, don't give them a four page text that they will look at and think it's in a completely different language. Until they get used to the puzzle strategy, as teachers, we need to stick to text structures that the students are used to working with and are used to reading. Don't throw them a curve ball! Then the text is cut into different parts and the students will put the parts together in the order that they think they belong. Cutting in the middle of paragraphs is too confusing, so I thought it was really good advice when Kucer & Rhodes (1986) said that we should cut the parts in a "natural order." (192) This is a small group assignment which I think is great. Once everyone is finished they will compare their answers with each other or they could compare it with the original text.

Personally, if I had to choose one of the two strategies to use in my classroom it would be the CARD STRATEGY! It just seems so much more useful and it is really fun to do. It also creates peer interactions and it get students involved in each others' writing. I think it's such a good brainstorming activity and any age group would enjoy it.