Monday, November 4, 2013


In our readings for this week, the subject revolves around, you guessed it, digital literacy. Specifically, though, it is mostly focused on the use of visual media and its impact in our own lives. I feel as though it doesn't need to be argued that visual media has seen a boom unlike any other with the expansion of the Internet. From its humble foundings based in cat meme's and the early days of YouTube, it has grown into a behemoth that encompasses how many people live their day-to-day lives--and it represents a fundamental shift in how we view privacy and relationships. It has manifested in such services such as Vine and Instagram,  which exist solely to share visual media and creations with the world in a quick, easily-digestible form factor-- and also which are but a few examples of how our sharing culture, and the role of visual media in our society has changed us.

And so, back to our readings. According to Hicks, literature itself is concerned with the study of media. I was always told that writing visually and viscerally would help me get my point across. With the introduction of digital literacy and its growing presence in the classroom, our students' writing could definitely benefit from the introduction of visual media, especially considering Hicks assertion of what visual media can do to our writing: "decorating our story, illustrating a concept, or illuminating our viewers through the combination of media elements” (110). Having our students able to read visuals as literature is a lesson that can be learned from such an assignment.

In terms of our Digital Literacy Narrative, the readings helped me understand that I have to be diligent about not placing images and using them on the side, but rather putting them there for a direct purpose and in a meaningful way. They cannot be add-ons, but must remain instead an integral part of the overall product. This will be really interesting because to be honest, I'm still drifting on what I want my DLN to be. Like the spoken word poem/video we watched in class, I looked at my literacy narrative and saw a potential for a spoken word poem. I have already worked meticulously over this poem, making sure each individual emphasis, pause, and word has a meaning that is important to the whole piece. Turning that into a video without simply tacking on some cheesy music, however, is going to be the challenge.

It is true, however, that if I feel as if this is a good idea for my future students, then I must do this, and do it in a way that does not cheapen the experience. I want to create a visual that is simplistic, and accompanying music that matches the overall mood, but I don't want it to get in the way of the words I have spent hours meticulously putting together. I take poetry very seriously, you see, and I am rather a novice at using visual media outside of tacking them on to PowerPoint presentations. Using the information provided in the readings, however, I will hope to make great strides in creating a meaningful video for the class to enjoy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

Original Paragraph:

I was able to grab a hold of a few of her writing assignments, many of which centered around basic writing prompts for the grade level (i.e. argue for/against school uniforms, argue for/against technology in the classroom). She finds most of them boring, or generally uninspired. Like Smagorinsky (2010) states:

"...the problem with research papers is that students write on remote or uninteresting topics and that better topic selection will produce better papers" (p. 160)

For these assignments, she is prompted to turn in not only the final draft of the paper, but also the outline, rough draft, and any other related paperwork. Through examining her work as well as her grades, I was able to determine that Nailah has a working understanding of the conventions of grammar that is above and beyond what many students in her grade possess. She also has a firm grasp of what ideas are valued in the classroom, such as the ability to write a coherent argument, persuade, inform, etc.

Revised Paragraph:

A common issue in contemporary education is making lessons and texts relevant to a generation of students that often remain uninterested with the subject. In fact, Smagorinsky (2010) writes about the use of research papers:

"...the problem with research papers is that students write on remote or uninteresting topics and...better topic selection will produce better papers" (p. 160).

It is a given that a more engaged student body will put in more effort into the writing process and therefore produce better work. This is the challenge of the modern classroom. Likewise, in my personal conversations with Nailah, she had expressed that the assignments that she was given were, for the most part, boring or generally uninspired. They consisted of the typical argumentative/persuasive essays revolving around school uniforms or technology in the classroom, and were generally re-used year after year with minor tweaks. For these writing assignments, she is prompted to turn in the outline, rough draft, and final draft of the paper. Through examining her work and her grades, I was able to determine that, although Nailah is inherently uninterested in the assignments, she has a working understanding of the conventions o fgrammar that is above and beyond what many students in her grade possess. She also has a firm grasp of what ideas are valued in the classroom, such as the ability to write a coherent argument, persuade, inform, etc. However, it would be unwise to assume that students like Nailah will continue to produce high quality work if subjected to more years of un-engaging assignments. Therefore, it is important to realize that we must either create assignments that matter to the students or allow students the choice to create assignments themselves.


Surprisingly, I had a very good time revising this paragraph, because I was able to spend so much time on one small portion of the work and really hammer in the details. In the original paragraph, I had received criticism about the placement and introduction of the quote, as it admittedly seemed a little abrupt and jarring without a proper introduction. Also, I personally felt as though the ending of the paragraph tapered off a little bit and didn't really have a solid conclusion. Why was I writing about the difficulties of modernizing essay prompts only to end in how wonderful Nailah's writing was. Needless to say, it didn't exactly click. In my revision, I tried reordering a few of the concepts, giving the quote a proper introduction, and creating a new conclusion that tied into the use of the quote. The lessons I take away from this revision project are the same lessons that I want to make sure my students understand--that my writing is a process and is always improving. There is never truly a stopping point unless you throw away the paper and never revisit, and there is always something rewarding inherently about fixing your own errors and making a work better. In our reading for this week was this concept of writing for the reader, and I agree that this is precisely the reason why outlining, drafting and clarity are important things to accomplish in my own writing. By embodying the habits of good writers, and being an active writer myself, I will be better equipped to help students find flaws in their own work and correct them.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shitty First (and Second and Third...) Drafts


As a future English educator, I would like to say this: I have now edited this piece 37 times since I wrote my "last" sentence, and it is still, as Hemingway put it so eloquently, shit. So let's get to it. The reading for this week focused on the one ugly, beautiful, irrevocable truth that all writers know deep in their wiry little hearts: when your page is blank, whatever is coming next is going to be the worst thing you've read all day.

I think we've all struggled with that reality at least a few times in our lives. How can we help ourselves? We've been raised through a system that promotes an idea about writing, and that idea is that a good writer writes only in permanent ink. A good writer doesn't have to scratch words out. A good writer never worries that his "backspace" button will break, because goddamn it, he or she never uses it. Think about it. How many timed writing tests do our students have to go through? Does timed writing really promote writing as a process? Does it give us much room to revise, to revisit, to grow?

I'm glad the reading tackled this subject, because it is a relevant one to any and all students of writing (and I would argue that that includes all of us). We need to understand something about writers: "They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the 
snow" (1). And if that is something that professional writers agree on, that is something we must make sure our students understand. They cannot be discouraged from being able to re-do their work. They must comprehend the fact that writing first drafts are more akin to piling up sand for later use than forming a castle.  They must realize, through our insistence, that spilling words onto a page oftentimes looks less like a masterpiece and more like spilled words. If we instill in them this idea, and strip away the fear of that first draft, I believe that they will write. And then we can focus on improvement.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Such Thing as a Final Draft

I often worry about one major thing when it comes to grading papers (and no, surprisingly, it isn't "time").

What I worry about is fairness.

I can tell when writing is bad-- when it is unclear, lacking purpose, overly verbose or overly concise. The only issue I have is recognizing writing that is good. What is good writing? With so many changing definitions and so many interpretations of good writing, how can I possibly be as fair? This isn't a math problem, where I can choose to only accept the final answer as a strict right or wrong. It isn't necessarily testable like the science lab reports all of us used to do in high school. The subject that we teach is inherently malleable, flexible, and subjective. How do I assess the writing of my students?

In The Six Traits of Writing by Spandel, a sentence near the very beginning that helped put my mind at ease was this: 
"When we think assessment, we usually think grading or testing. This is a very limited view. Assessment is looking within." (4)
The last part of that particular quote really strikes me. Looking within what, exactly? I believe that true writing assessment takes into consideration the writing, viewing it not as an end, but as a tool to look within the student--to truly understand the thoughts and ideas behind the writing, rather than just the writing itself.

I had a professor a few years ago who said this to me: "There is no such thing as a final draft. What you turn in will always have the potential to be revised, because writing is a process." It took me a long time to realize exactly what he meant. What you turn in for a grade may be the final chance you get at receiving the grade for the course, but writing is a process of revision, rethinking, rewriting, reimagining, re-doing, and reawakening. All drafts, in the course of things, are rough. Some may be rougher than others. Walt Whitman released nine editions and revisions of his magnus opus Leaves of Grass, working at it for 33 years of his life. Similarly, we as teachers must understand that the drafts the students turn in should not be viewed as the end of that particular road, but as simply another stepping stone towards even greater writing, and greater self-discovery.

It's eerie how well this concept fits in with the surge of digital literacy education in classrooms across America. Although I had never had the experience of truly experiencing digital education, the core purpose of digital literature rings true with the opinions expressed thus far. According to Hicks:
“Digital writing tools allow teachers and students unprecedented access into the writing process. From blog posts that accumulate into a collection of work, to draft upon draft of revisions that are automatically stored in a wiki’s history or in an online word processor, students are increasingly able to easily archive and return their work over time” (108).
The key take-away is in that last sentence. Returning to their work. How we grade may be subjective, and how we teach may change, but what all teachers need to understand is that their class is not the sole provider of literature and discovery. Their class shouldn't be the end. Your teacher's desk is not a place where ideas come to die. It is a place to spark discussion and growth--and if all teachers would keep that in mind, I believe grading papers wouldn't be so bad after all.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Writing Instruction (and Destruction)

Writing is a multi-step process.

I don't think that first sentence was very controversial. In fact, I don't think it's controversial at all. You'd be hard pressed to find a writer who claims that writing doesn't involve any sort of planning, or drafting, or revision. You'd be harder pressed to find a less divisive opener. I'm really patting myself on the back here.

Likewise, learning to write is a multi-step process.

Now at this point, I must be pulling your leg. I've made two relatively universal, outright boring, non-controversial claims-- and not only that, but I've given them their own paragraph. Why? Well, listen:

Those concepts are relatively simple sounding. I think most people would agree wholeheartedly. When Jesus commanded humanity to love thy neighbors and enemies alike, I'm sure his followers were all for it. But then they got back to their homes and saw that insolent enemy neighbor not taking care of his weeds again, ensuring that the remainder of the day would have to be spent guarding my prize-winning lawn from the infestation next door. Thanks, Dave. Life is always more complicated than it seems.

And so, my point: if we all agree that learning to write is a multi-step process, why do we go about teaching it as if it isn't? Writing in many schools is a barrage of five-paragraph instruction and regurgitation, utilizing a form that, while effective, has been beaten to death and drained of its creativity. The writing these students produce is standardized because the instruction is standardized because the tests are standardized. What we demand from them is not a love of writing. It is the ability to be clear. Is that important? Absolutely. But unfortunately, clarity is only one step of the ladder.

The readings this week illustrate the same inherent frustration of many who realize that this system cannot and should not last. We expect our students to learn to write like this, never fully realizing the potential connection between writing in the English classroom and personal writing, only for them to throw it out when they reach college. Professors don't want to read that kind of writing. Nobody does. Most importantly, the students don't want to, either. This is why the inquiry based writing instruction is, albeit imperfect, a breath of fresh air to writing instruction. It emphasizes student involvement, de-emphasizes stringent rules, and fosters avid writers. In our reading, it is written: "students will be prepared to meet the demands of writing in a world with constantly evolving conventions and expectations, because what they know about writing is not static; they've learned how to learn about writing" (Ray, 247).

I particularly like the relationship between this and the integration of digital literacy, which is finally being recognized in classrooms all over the country. Our readings acknowledged that “creating a web-based text is very similar to creating a print-based text” (Hicks, 36). With an emphasis on drafting, planning, and revising--along with an increased consciousness of audience and purpose--digital writing (such as blog posts like this) can definitely be incorporated in the classroom to reinforce the idea that writing for class and writing for fun can and should overlap.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote,
except for money." - Samuel Johnson
It is with this in mind that the mini-lesson becomes so crucial to the writing workshop. This form of instruction is quick, and, if done well, can grab and retain the students attention. In the long run, teaching students how to write through explicit instruction is definitely not as effective as allowing students to explore other works and model and adapt techniques through interesting and engaging reading. It is through a systematic adoption of inquiry based instruction and attention-grabbing lessons that our students can learn now only how to write, but why. It can help them understand that writing isn't just a grade-- it is a way to explore & discover, to convey, and to conquer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Teach is to Change is to Grow

I believe that at its fundamental level, all teaching revolves around the concept of change. Change of the self, of the student, of the act--those are crucial for all types of learning, and through that change, comes growth. Let me explain:

Heh. Apple. Get it?
Teachers are the guardians of transformation. During the most tumultuous time--youth-- teachers are there, for many hours a day, as oftentimes the only adult with the possibility of extended adult influence outside of parents. I don’t think we, as a nation and as a people, realize that invaluable potential for growth, and the importance of our teachers to the future of our children. A good teacher can provide the spark that starts the fulfillment of a student’s goals, aspirations, and desires. A bad one can be equally devastating. And so, when people say that anyone can teach, I say, true, it doesn’t take a particularly special type of individual to stand in front of the room and assume the position of a teacher. But to not only be present, to be alive in and with the room, to inspire the thirst for knowledge in a group of often uninterested, misguided, or apathetic students--that is quintessential to a good teacher. And such a positive influence, responsible for so many future voters, citizens, workers, and creators can work wonders in the long run, even if it is not immediately apparent in the short run. In this way, teachers are the harbinger of change.

And that is what a teacher must embody. A common contemporary issue in education is how our education system can properly prepare the students for the adult world, considering the fact that we often have no clue what this world will look like down the line, or even what it will look like at the end of next week. So, I say to the teachers of the world, and to the administrators, and to the communities and parents, teachers must embrace change. They must be second students of change the same way our students, our children, have been born into it. To remain a stagnant rock in a river means eroding away. It is a mistaken belief that the world is stagnant, and that the students must be shaped, much like putty, to fill the box that has been pre-made for them. To say that teachers must prepare the students for the adult world is ignoring one crucial fact: that, although we are all participants in it, they have the capacity to become the creators of that world; they have the capacity to create their own box, to solve the problems of their world--and each and every one of our students deserves that chance.

All of this may seem overwhelming. What is one teacher, a small cog in a looming system, to do? The answer, unfortunately, is that there are countless struggles, both in and out of the classroom that stand in the way. But that doesn’t mean teachers cannot embrace change now. That doesn’t mean that teachers, as individuals, can’t create lasting impact within these confines. Teachers cannot lose hope, or be worn down; that is imperative. And what does embracing change look like in the contemporary classroom experience? It means allowing students the room to grow in whatever capacity they view as genuinely useful, even if teachers can’t understand the immediate value of it. It means assuming the values that they, as a student body, assume. For example, if digital literacy is a growing part of their world, and our democratized, participatory culture, who are teachers to deny in the classroom that which is essential to the lives of their students?

Students will be stubborn. They, as a whole, have grown weary from the system of public education. They have grown tired of being told what to think, and how their thoughts are unimportant, misguided, or irrelevant. While it is true that not each and every one of a student’s varied desires are worth pursuing in the long run, it is nothing short of a tragedy when a student is convinced that their desires on the whole are without merit. But a simple act, a change of stance, a willingness to embrace the fact that the world is changing and that our students are changing in ways that we sometimes can’t understand, is the first step in a long, arduous, but invaluable journey to becoming a good teacher.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Case Study Interview 1

Student: Nailah (N)
8th Grade Gifted Language Arts

*I chose Nailah because, although I see her reading in class and staying relatively on task, I had not, up until asking her for this interview, ever seen her speak in class.*

E: Hey, thanks for sitting down with me and being OK with me interviewing you. I don't need your social security number or anything too personal, I just wanted to talk to you a little about your reading habits and uh, stuff like that. I notice you read a lot in Mr. Peek's class. What book is that?

N: Uh it's a book called Vampire Kisses 3. It's OK I guess.

E: So what other reading do you do? Like, outside of just class readings?

N: *Long Pause* I really--I mean, uhm, I like Harry Potter. I've read all of those. I like Historical Fiction and Paranormal Romance or Fiction. Fantasy and stuff like that is alright.

E: And what about besides books? Do you like texting with your friends? Or, you know, go on Facebook, Twitter, or thing's like that?

N: I mean, yeah. I go on Facebook and uh, I like texting with my friends and stuff. I don't really like Twitter or anything.

E: Yeah, me neither. It's, like, idk, all the rage apparently.

N: It's weird saying I'm following someone.

E: Just a little creepy. Are you caught up on Bad Boy? **Side note: Assigned reading is Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers**

N: Yeah, I finished that already.

E: You like it?

N: Not really. I mean, it's alright I guess.

E: It's a little different than...what you've said you enjoy reading out of class. It's impressive you finished, though. OK. How about your writing? Do you do any writing outside of class?

N: *Pause* I write short stories. Like, I'll go and uh, in class I'll write down something in my notebook and then go home and write stuff. I like writing poems, and you know, essays and stuff. I don't know. I do them when I have time.

E: That's really impressive. I uh, don't know if it's cool to say this, but I was worried that I'd have to really push you for answers, and you've been awesome. Like, in terms of your reading and writing, it's definitely awesome that you do it outside of school and stuff. I could tell that you enjoyed reading, I just never really hear you speak up much in Mr. Peek's.

N: Yeah, I mean...I don't know. I like writing and reading.

E: That's awesome. It really is. Hey, so thank you again for letting me sit down with you. I'll be getting to know everyone over the year, so thanks for putting yourself out there for this interview so early on.