Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Entry #8

  Find Something to “Bless, Address, or Press” (to be completed before or after Session 9):  Spend some time reading through your peers’ blog entries.  Select a particular comment, reading passage, question, experience or issue raised by one of your peers in his/her blog entries that is meaningful or engaging for you.   Use this as the focus for this week’s entry. OPTIONAL: As you move through your peers’ blogs, consider leaving them a few brief responses or as Hicks would say a comment that would “bless, address, or press” (p. 83).

 As I scrolled and searched through my fellow classmates blogs, I couldn't help but notice the many great and in-depth, metacognitive conversations they were having. Once I read Lindsay's sixth entry for her blog, "The Adventures of R & W" (, I was immediately drawn to her comments on the 6+1 Writing traits, which Tompkin's (2012) explore in Teaching Writing.  I was immediately interested in this entry because the 6+1 traits are an aspect of writing workshop that I haven't explored in my own blog. I choose a couple of quotes from Lindsay's blog in-order to jump start my own thinking. I really liked how she elaborated on each of the six traits and connected voice to the emphasis Tompkin's (2012) places on student passion and representation. Lindsay wrote, "Tompkins (2012) states, 'when writers care about their topics, their voices are stronger. That's one reason why it's important for students to have opportunities to choose their own topics and to write about things that are important to them'(62). Writing for passion is strongly emphasized by Tompkins (2012) and is a significant factor when developing a writing piece." Giving students choice is something that we have talked about in class and a topic I've addressed in previous posts, however, this idea of passion and students having opportunities to write about things that they are interested in exploring connects to a writer's voice. 

Voice is one of the 6+1 writing traits. Lindsay discusses voice in her blog, specifically expression when reading. I think we can connect this idea of expression and voice to reading improvement through writing. Teachers give mini-lessons on expression, on adding dialogue to our writing, and on making sure our voice comes through in each piece. When students are able to recognize their voice, incorporate dialogue that is effective, and know that this dialogue should be read in an effective manner, students can carry these ideas over into reading. Once a student can master incorporating dialogue into their own piece, when they come across it while reading they may be more inept to read with expression and to recognize, "Oh! Someone is talking, I should read this like they would say it." Familiarity with the text feature of dialogue in writing can foster prosody when a student is reading as well.  I think that Lindsay comments on this connections between reading and writing in her entry when she writes, "Tompkins (2012) suggests using 'mentor texts to demonstrate how authors develop sentence fluency' (65). This is a great way for students to visually see an example of an author demonstrating fluency."  

We not only recognize this relationship that writing can have to reading, but I also think that like-wise, reading can have a positive impact on a student's writing. Tompkins (2012) refers to this connection through the use of mentor texts. Mentor texts are great examples for students to read that allow them to engage with a great example of a particular genre or even skill. For example, Lindsay's blog mentioned mentor texts that demonstrated fluency. I can't help but make this connection to my own Expert Genre Share. While researching, I came across an article that argued that teacher's often introduce biographies as a research tool, rather than as a mentor texts that allows students to explore the features of biography and then translate them into their own writing (Edmondson, 2012). In doing so, teachers are stifling the advantages and multifacetedness of the biography genre. Teachers need to use mentor texts so that students can use them as models and examples of how their writing should be, particularly with a genre as complex as biography. One of the most difficult aspects of the biography genre for students relates to memoirs. Memoirs require students to reflect and create a unifying theme. This unifying theme must create an overall reflection on that author's life. When students are in any grade of school this critical level of reflection is extremely difficult. If students are able to engage in exemplary texts, however, this aspect of memoir may become more clear and students could more fully understand the depth that memoir has and illuminates about the human condition and experience.

I am aware that this class is about reading improvement through writing, but I feel that it is safe to say that this is a two way street. While reading can be improved through a student's writing, I also feel that a student's writing can be improved through reading. Now, until this class, those are two ideas that I had never even considered. Now I can't believe the endless possibilities that this holds for my future classrooms and how much more deeply cognizant I am when I do read alouds or am teaching during writing and reading workshops.

Edmondson, J. (2012). Constructing and engaging biography. English Journal. 101.5.
              44-50. Retrieved by National Council of Teachers of English.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Entry #7

Open Entry:

As part of my Genre Expert Presentation I have been researching my biography genre. I felt that the best place to start was with Tompkins (2012). “Writers use the biography genre to tell stories about their lives or other people’s lives” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 230). The biography genre can be separated into four types of life stories, personal narrative, memoir, autobiography, and biography. Some elements of the biography genre are that the writer provides true accounts of people’s lives. Information is presented accurately, “so that readers can gain insight into their subjects personalities” (p. 230).  For each of these four categories of biography, however, the elements and characteristics change. In my opinion the most interesting of these biographies is memoir.

According to Tompkins (2012), memoirs include powerful images, vivid details, and link specific events in one’s life with a unifying theme (pp. 232-233). Memoirs are not just a retelling, but rather an individuals interpretation of their own life experiences, that is what makes memoir so interesting to me. While biographies are usually associated with the cold hard facts, memoirs can blur the line between fact and fiction. I like to call this blurring of the lines “story truth” verse “happening truth.” I discussed this notion in one of my classes here at Nazareth College, African American Autobiography. My class discussed that this story truth is the truth with which the author is able to use his life events to provide an overall message. As Maya Angelou said,  “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” I know for myself when I think about memories or when I tell a story I over exaggerate, embellish (imagine that!). Overtime, the story no longer takes the form of what ACTUALLY happened, but rather takes on this new life of how it is told. This happens for many stories and peoples. Does it make those stories any less true? Does it take away from what they really are trying to say? In my opinion no, they become story truth rather than happening truth.

Because oneself writes autobiography and memoir, there is also the notion that we all interpret experiences differently. Therefore, how I view an event in my life may be much different than how someone else who was part of that same event perceived it. This perception is what also makes memoir so intriguing to me. It is how we remember (memoir-memory).

Just as with any other student-writing, I think it’s important that when we transfer this genre to my classroom I understand that rather than fact-checking I want my students message to be strong. While I do understand, however, that facts are part of the biography genre, they give it credibility, I must also understand that it is the overall message of my student’s pieces that I want to emphasize. Therefore, if they say two dogs chased them and it was really one, or their older brother that they have only weighs 100 pounds when they say 200, I think I’ll let it slide and chalk it up to “story truth.” This notion of “story truth,” however, must be taken into careful consideration in my classroom because one does not want to confuse the personal narrative form of biography with that of a memoir.
Tompkins (2012) characterizes the personal narrative with, “focuses on one experience, written in the first person I, organized into the beginning, middle, and end, includes dialogue and rich sensory details, explains how the event has affect the writer” (p. 230).  In my opinion many of these elements are congruent with a memoir. From my understanding, however, the main difference between the two writings is that with a memoir the writer has now had time to reflect and think about this experience and what it means and where it is situated in regards to the rest of their life-experiences. Therefore, I feel that with a personal narrative, while it should have a plot as Tompkins (2012) notes, a beginning, middle, and end, and while it does detail how it affected the author, the affects may only be in the context of that moment rather than how it has impacted their entire life. Hopefully this is something I can clarify as I dig deeper into my research on my Genre Expert Presentation.