Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Entry #3

Open Entry 
Questions to consider: Why give students choice? How do we foster independent and/or collaborative inquiry? How can journal writing serve readers and writer?
“Inquiry and choice—a defining element of the writing workshop approach—allows students to pick topics, explore genres and styles, develop pieces, and select publication opportunities. It permeates the very essence of the workshop” (Hicks 2009 p. 15). This element of choice motivates students to want to explore and write. The challenge facing educators today is, how do we allow for student choice while still addressing various genres, topics, and components of the curriculum? Allowing students to choose their topics gives them a sense of empowerment and freedom. It makes them take ownership over their ideas. Journal writing is a way for student to explore their choices. It can be informal and expressive. Journals can act as a gateway to other genres and topics, addressing this challenge. 

When a teacher introduces journal writing into their classroom, whether it is a response/dialogue journal or simply a personal one, they usually start with a class brainstorm so students have a jumping off point. This brainstorm triggers ideas and sparks creativity in other students. Once a student has written freely in their journal about a topic, with no regard for spelling, grammar, or the looming right/wrong connotation, teachers can take these student developed ideas and have them meet standards. In a way journals can act as the pre-writing process of writing workshop.  Journal writing is one genre that I am definitely going to incorporate into my classroom and daily instruction. The dialogue created between a student and a teacher through journals has endless possibilities. I was truly inspired by the power of journal writing through Sapphire's book Push. The teacher, Ms. Rain, asks her students to write in their journal everyday. Precious, the protagonist, can barely spell words correctly, let alone write full sentences, yet Ms. Rain breaks through to Precious and the communication and relationship they create through this writing is so beautiful. I want my students to know that I support them and believe in them 100 percent. Steven Levy, an educational author, wrote, "Someone once said that children need one thing in order to succeed in life; someone who is crazy about them" (qtd. in Sousa and Tomlinson 2011 p. 17). Through journal writing I will create a safe place that lets my students express themselves. Through this genre I will convince my students how strong of an advocate I am and inspire a sense of hope-- hope that they will succeed, hope that they can write, and hope that they will improve. To apply this genre to the digital workshop, this interaction through journal writing can take place online or through blogs. Student choice can be used in this scenario as well. I can give my students the option of a traditional journal or a digital one. If they choose to engage in an online journal, these journals can remain private or go viral, students again have another choice to make. In addition, if they choose to publish their digital writings through a blog or wiki, this fosters both independent and collaborative workshops. Once a teacher introduces these ideas of digital publication and access students can realize a whole new aspect to independent and collaborative inquiry. If I allow my students this option I not only create a dialogue between them and myself, but I also open them up to conversation with their peers who may understand what they are going through even better than I can.

In Hicks (2009) chapter two, he introduces "fostering student choice and inquiry through RSS, social bookmarking, and blogging" (p. 15). Through the use of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), an online tool which allows a user to have the most up to date blogs, articles, and research sent to them at one location based on personal preference and choice, Hicks (2009) not only incorporates student choice, but also inquiry. In a time of the effervescent world-wide web, learning how to navigate these vast and at times treacherous waters is more important than ever. Using the RSS, teachers can monitor student research and still support their inquiry. Students can also use this RSS to collaborate and work with one another sharing their findings or connecting with others who have the same interests or questions.  The possibilities are endless.

I am aware that technologies like RSS and social bookmarking, or even blogging seem like a daunting aspect to add to writing workshop. If we do not introduce and expose students to the technologies and digital capabilities available however, we will never make them ready for the twenty first century real-world. I feel that explicitly teaching students how to use these tools would be an essential part of my classroom. 

Growing up, I was always the student that wanted to use the computer or word-process my writing. I always understood computers and could easily navigate my way on the world-wide web. Technology always intrigued me. My sisters would always put me in their home videos. I always ended up acting like the crazy person or bad guy. I was never the hero or the head singer in the band, and you could always guarantee that I was going to be a back-up dancer or the person "behind" the camera. It didn't matter to me, maybe I was too naive, but I just loved being a part of the process. It is this process of self expression that always drew me toward language. I also remember, however, being limited by teachers who felt that this technology was unnecessary. Maybe due to generational differences, they were unable to see the value and benefits that technology could have on my writing and expressive process. With this in mind, I could never stifle my students and their desire to express themselves through different modes. If tools such as RSS and social bookmarking can aid in my students' research and exploration process in a way that benefits and does not detract from their writing, who I am to hold them back? No, I need to be the advocate to lead them forward. Forward into the age of technology. Forward into a time where written expression surpasses words written on lined paper.

RED = Revisions

Friday, September 14, 2012

Entry #2

Given the three elements of the framework Hicks (2009) notes in Chapter 7 – your students, the subject of writing, and the spaces in which we write – how would you describe these elements as they are currently present in your classroom and school?  (If you are not currently teaching, think back to your last teaching assignment.)  What do (did) you already have in place to begin your digital writing workshop?  What else do (did) you need to develop in order to make your digital writing workshop successful?

 In a time where technology is a ever-changing, it creates limitless possibilities for writing, reading, and interactive, digital learning. One of the newest technologies to sweep across school districts is the installation of SMART technology in the classroom. SMART technology, specifically SMARTboards, allow teachers to create interactive lessons. These lessons allow children to actively participate in constructing knowledge as well as physically and visually being a part of the writing process, from teaching mini-lessons, to modeling, to creating group writing.

 One of the most important aspects of the writing process is pre-writing. The SMARTboard allows for group pre-writing and brainstorming. This is even more beneficial at the elementary levels where students may need scaffolding during this stage of the writing process. Generating ideas allows the teacher to provide support for students who have difficulty finding inspiration or need motivation. When we think of using technology in writing workshop we automatically think of the publishing stage where we allow students to word process their revised draft. This is such a limited use of one simple digital technology. The SMART technology is just another way to incorporate digital writing into your workshop.

Moving beyond word processing, computers can be an essential aspect of your writing workshop. First and foremost, this form of technology, as well as the SMART technology, addresses several types of learning profiles and multiple intelligences. Computers, coupled with the internet, can engage students and be a useful resource for research. In today’s society, the internet and being able to find credible sources can be a challenge, but it is something teachers and students need to take accountability for.

While I have been a part of classrooms and writing workshops that utilize this technology, one form of digital writing workshop that I would truly love to explore is the use of blogs and wikis. While I have had some experience with this in my own learning, transferring it from a college setting to an elementary, intermediate, or secondary setting would be very interesting. The ways in which teachers can use blogs and wiki can vary based on the goals of an assignment. Using this technology can be an individual, small group, or whole class assignment. Teachers can use it as a tool for publishing and allowing students to reach vast audiences which Hicks (2009) strongly recommends; "Suddenly, writing teachers felt as if their students could have a purpose and audience beyond the classroom and school … blogs and wikis emerged, and push button publishing became possible for anyone, anywhere, the goal of publishing work for an authentic audience and purpose finally emerged as a goal for writers" (Hicks 2009 p. 127). With idea of a broader audience, teacher can also utilize wikis and blogs as a mode for collaboration in the early stages of the writing process. This collaboration can take place between classmates, students and teachers, grade-levels, or even classes from other schools or districts. This interaction not only motivates students but also holds them accountable for their learning as well as others. Hicks also stressed the importance of experimentation with genre. 

This type of collaboration through wikis and blogs can be used at any grade-level. As I aforementioned, transferring the level of sophistication of blogs and wikis to an elementary or even intermediate, and secondary setting poses challenges. I, however, feel it can be done meaningfully. For example, students in the primary grades can use blogs as a journal of sorts. While many classrooms use communicative journals as a way for students and teachers to have a dialogue and learn about one another as people and learners, blogs can serve this purpose. While it may be difficult for children in grades one through two to do this successfully, I feel with explicit instruction third grade students can successfully accomplish such a task. In addition, students can use Wikis in an intermediate setting as both a class resource and an instrument for guided reading groups. If I were to incorporate this use of Wikis into my classroom, I would use it in the content areas of science and social studies, that allows students to have conversations and discussions in regard to vocabulary or main ideas within an unit.  I feel, however, the most instrumental way of incorporating wikis is through guided reading. 

Guided reading often requires students to complete packets or graphic organizers. The goal of guided reading is to create groups that can practically facilitate their own learning. Through the use of wikis, conversations can take place in and away from school. For example, when students are truly interested in their reading they WANT to talk about it. Through wikis, guided reading groups can make predictions, build off each others comments and ideas, ask questions, and facilitate group discussions. Rather than simply filling out packets, students can create a forum of ideas that they want to bring and discuss with the teacher at the guided reading session. I could also use this as a tool for assessment which drives instruction. Based on the wiki discussion I will know what needs to be clarified or discussed. I will know what certain students strengths and weaknesses are. With this in mind, I also need to consider that this independent discussion is a difficult task and may need to be scaffolded depending on ability and reading levels. 

Hicks (2009) talks about audience pertaining to one of the most important uses of wikis and blogs. I think one of the coolest ways to use wikis and blogs would be through connections to other classrooms or schools. For example, if students in my room are reading To Kill A Mockingbird and across the hall in another 8th grade classroom students are reading this great novel as well. We may as well take our discussion beyond the classroom walls and connect with another 8th grade. Collaboration of ideas not only motivates student but holds them accountable. It creates relationships and learning that extends beyond an academic setting but into a social one as well. This digital collaboration can foster a greater sense of understanding and stimulate new ideas. Between the classrooms we can have competition and cooperation. Furthermore, at the end of the unit we'd HAVE TO HAVE a combined day of watching the movie with discussion to follow. This collaboration within the school can be taken in so many directions and has too many advantages. Extending beyond my own school is also a possibility.

While in the Rochester City School District, I was able to observe a writing workshop that focused on the letter writing genre. The teacher arranged for my students to write with another second grade class in Greece. The students wrote back and forth and at the end of the unit they used Skype to video chat. Each student was able to meet his or her pen pal and talk about something they learned during the writing workshop. Following the video chat, the students were asked to write one final letter to their pen-pal as a final assessment. The students were much more motivated and focused on editing and revising because they could now connect who they were writing to with a face and wanted to make sure their published piece was an excellent one.  This was a creative way to review, assess, and introduce students to the practical uses of the letter writing genre.

In the twenty first century there is truly no choice but to adapt and take initiative to stay current on the multitude of technology available for teachers and students. While more veteran teachers, or young ones who are not technology savvy, may find this to be a challenge it is still a necessity. Now more than ever collaboration between teachers and administrations is essential. It is the job of administration to make sure their teachers are implementing, as well as, fluent with technology and that they are providing opportunities for workshops and professional development. It is teachers’ responsibility to take the initiative and participate in these workshops and professional development opportunities open minded. Teaching, like all others, is not a stagnant profession.  Education as evolved and reformed throughout the decades, much of this evolution has been positive. Unless we are willing to embrace the digital workshop that Hicks (2009) so passionately advocates for, we are failing our students and placing them at a deficit in today’s reality. Believe that change is good and that technology enhances the mind, the process, and the product of learners.  

**RED =  Revisions

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Entry #1

As you reflect on your experiences teaching (or perhaps simply assigning) writing, consider what "feels comfortable":  What core principles do you value and enact in your classroom?  Time for writing?  Conferring with students?   How have those practices remained constant over time?
At the same time, consider your familiarity with a variety of technologies including word processors, digital audio and video editors, and online writing spaces such as blogs and wikis.  What are some of the challenges you anticipate in trying to blend the principles of the writing workshop with these technologies? (OPTIONAL):  In regards to the evaluation criteria for this assignment : What concerns, if any, do you have about the way this assignment is evaluated?  Is there any language in the rubric that you are not familiar with or that does not make sense to you?   (See Rubrics on final pages of this handout.)

Throughout my undergraduate tenure one of the most important aspects I took away from our studies was a social justice/ activist approach to teaching. While it may seem obvious that teachers should treat their students with equal respect, this is not always the case. Therefore, one of my core principles in my classroom is creating an environment where all of my students feel valued and important, safe, and full of unbreakable hope-- hope that they matter in my classroom, hope that once they walk out my door their possibilities are endless. This core principle, that each of my students matters, individually, and that it is my job, my responsibility, to go to bat for each of my students no matter how many curve and screw balls are thrown at them. This ideal is the foundation for how my classroom functions academically, socially, and emotionally. How does this notion relate to reading and writing?

Writing is a form of expression. Through writing my students can get to know one another and in turn I can better know them. They can reveal to me there inner most thought and proudest moments. Because my students are important, I take the time to meet with them, conference about their writing, praise them for what is great and give feedback for what they can improve on. I display their work. I let them publish and share their work. I find their strengths and when they have worked hard, and I know they have done their best I vow to make them feel like the absolute best. Fletcher and Portalupi (2001) say conferences should be “‘short and punchy. Engage, listen, react as a human being. Find something to celebrate in their writing and point it out to them.’” (qtd. in Tompkins (2012) p. 19). . . . TO BE CONTINUED.