Sunday, November 25, 2012

Entry #12

Prompt: Review page 1 of the syllabus.  In what ways did keeping a blog this semester help you to meet the Student Learning Outcomes of this course? Is there anything else you learned that is not represented in the identified Learning Outcomes for this course?

The Student Learning Outcomes listed for this course are as follows:

Students will gain knowledge and competency with regards to:

1.    the variety of genres that readers and writers use to communicate

2.   the role of purpose and audience in writing and reading and the rhetorical voices used to address the desired purpose(s) and audience(s)

3.   the historical and contemporary theoretical models of reading and writing, including new literacy theories of reading and writing

4.   the relationship between the writing and reading processes

5.    the role of metacognition in writing proficiency and reading comprehension

6.   the types of reading and writing assignments that are developmentally appropriate for learners, including digital reading and writing assignments

7.   the role of writing assessment and evaluation in determining student writing proficiency and reading comprehension.

I feel that keeping this blog throughout the semester has truly aided me in achieving these learning objectives. This blog allowed me to keep form of "blog notes." I used this space to sort out my thoughts, to think about the important ideas of our readings and discussions, and find out what was puzzling or really intriguing. I was able to sort out my thinking and as I continued to write my blog I realized that my analysis of particular ideas and readings became more focused and related to my own pedagogy and classroom experiences. I think that this type of learning is reflective of the 5th learning objective -- "the role of metacognition in writing proficiency and reading comprehension." As I wrote my blog entries I began to notice that I was synthesizing my ideas from the reading with my own thoughts and putting it into writing. As I wrote, I thought critically about what I was writing and how it impacted me and what I thought. This synthesizing took a great deal of metacognition and combined both the writing and reading processes. 

Through this metacognition I was also able to more fully understand the learning objectives for this course. For example, learning objective number 6 -- "the types of reading and writing assignments that are developmentally appropriate for learners, including digital reading and writing assignments." First and foremost, a blog is an example of these digital assignments. I was able to personally experiment with and construct my own knowledge of the advantages and difficulties of using blogs and then implementing them into a classroom. In addition, through a number of my entries specifically, 2,3,4, and 6, I was able to explore and through blogging understand more clearly these digital assignments such as   RSS and Social Bookmarking as mentioned in Hicks (2009), as well as, wikis and digital conferencing. 

These are a few specific examples of how I was able to meet the Student Learning Objectives through the use of writing my blog. I do feel however that it also allowed me to learn more about myself, not only as a reader and writer, but a learner and person. Due to the Genre Pieces Project and the personal nature of this blog, I feel that self-expression and acting as a responsible and valued part of our class should somehow be incorporated into the learning objectives. Through my Genre Pieces Project and the constructing of this blog, I've realized more about myself as a learner and an educator. I always considered myself to be a technologically savvy person, but never considered how that characteristic would reflect in my teaching pedagogy. This course allowed me to reflect and analyze what type of teacher I would be in this area and what I really deemed to be important for my classroom. I feel that this is an essential aspect of this course because ultimately that is what we are all working for-- becoming good educators. This course allowed me to look at myself from a different perspective and more than most others take the time to reflect on my own reading and writing process rather than "the right way to read" and "the correct way to write." Taking the opportunity to realize this about myself is not only beneficial to me, but will ultimately help my students because I am now more aware of the recursive nature of the writing and reading processes and how my own self-assessment has allowed me to improve in both areas. Therefore, I know without a doubt I must give my students the same opportunities to reflect, self-assess, and experiment with how closely related and intertwined reading and writing truly are. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Entry #11

Prompt: As you reflect on all of the genres we have explored this semester, what have you learned about thus far about the specific features of texts (i.e., the specific features of the genres)?  Which genres did you think you knew well at the start of this class, but you now have developed a deeper, more principled understanding of?  Which genres did you not know much about, but now you do?   Which, if any, still intimidate you as a reader and a writer and why?

I truly feel that the genre presentation for this course benefited me as an educator because I am not able to see the vast learning opportunities and content integration they possess. Before the start of this course I felt that I had the strongest grasp on narrative and expository writing. Much of this was due to my own experiences within the genre and having taught both genres in my own classroom. While I do not have as much experience writing expository text, I taught an entire unit on it my sixth grade classroom. This teaching experience allowed me to see just how intriguing and powerful expository text can be. The genre I thought I knew best was the biography genre particularly the autobiography and memoir aspect of it. Since this was my own expert presentation genre, I've now realized how much deeper an understanding I have for the genre and its relationship to narrative. I really enjoyed relating my favorite aspect of the biography genre, the impact of life stories, with narrative.

Something that took me by surprise was how little I knew, or maybe remembered, about the letter genre. It seems like such straight-forward systematic writing, that I forgot the elegance and sincerity that comes with letters and post-cards. In today's society we are so automatic. We want immediate responses, which e-mail sent straight to our smart-phones allows for. I feel that this almost tarnishes the beauty of letter writing. Recently my younger-cousin Patrick was sent to Marine basic-training. We could not call him or e-mail him. We could only write letters. We all wrote him letters, and I doubt most of ours followed the letter template perfectly, but it made me realize how precious words and communication are. For instance, his sister wrote him every week. She literally wrote him the day he left, and as soon as she mailed the letter, she couldn't stand the wait. She went home on her lunch breaks to check her mail. She waited at the door for the mailman or woman to deliver. Each time the mailman or woman came empty handed, without a letter from Patrick it pained her. Finally, about two weeks after he left, she went home on her lunch-break and received a letter from her brother. Well, needless to say, we were all shocked when normally this man of few words, who refused to take pictures with him to training, wrote a two page letter to his sister perfectly formatted the way a letter should be. He had the return address with the date, a greeting, a perfectly paragraphed body, and a complimentary closing with his awful, scratchy signature. While the letter was very cordial and didn't mention any agony of training camp or unbearable home sickness, Patrick did ask her to send him pictures in the next letter she sent. This brought everyone in my family to tears. Who thought that a letter, something that we seem to think of as long gone and forgotten could have such an impact on hearts waiting for a simple reply from a dearly missed relative. This truly made me realize the magnitude of what Tompkins (2012) says in her letter chapter, "It's important to teach students about letter formats; letter writing is a like skill they'll need, even in the 21st century" (p. 123). I recognize now more than ever how true this is. 

Descriptive writing has always been a somewhat intimidating genre because it seems like such a lofty tasks. Real writers, authors, are the only ones who can master descriptive writing. They incorporate original metaphors and similes that paint pictures in the mind and allow us to travel to different times and spaces without moving from our reading chair. While, the genre is still a bit intimidating, I really appreciate the way the descriptive writing experts broke down the techniques in their packet. While I was absent from class when they presented, their packet allowed me to understand more fully the elements of the descriptive writing genre; specific information, word choice, sensory images, figurative language, and dialogue. I knew that dialogue was part of the descriptive genre, but the way in which Tompkins (2012) explains its importance to the genre was something that I had never considered before; "dialogue adds power to writing and introduces a tension between characters. Writers use dialogue to move a story forward, provide information, and flesh out characters" (p. 141). From my prior writing experience I was aware that dialogue should be meaningful. I considered meaningful to be not just pointless banter that doesn't reveal anything about the story such as characters or the setting. Tompkins's (2012) explanation, however, conveyed to me that dialogue does much more than simply talk, it makes writing come to life. It reveals traits about a character without having to come right out and say them. It allows students to infer and move a story forward by bringing in multiple perspective and incorporating language other than narration. For example, using regional dialects or distinct speech patterns, not only reveals information about the characters, but also contributes to the setting, the time-period, and may give students information that they can use to infer about other aspects of the story. This makes teaching dialogue so imperative. 

The presenters also did a nice job of including key points about using dialogue in writing. Word choice, another aspect of the genre, goes hand in hand with dialogue. The packet mentions that the lead into dialogue, such as using the word "said" too often can subtract from the dialogue itself, therefore word choice and being cognizant of how you introduce dialogue is crucial. This introduction of dialogue also deals with punctuation. Dialogue is completely reliant on punctuation; quotations, commas, periods, ellipses. Dialogue not only needs punctuation to be correct, but it also needs punctuation so that the reader can more easily focus on what the dialogue is trying to say about the story rather than how it is presented. These are definitely imperative teaching points I will incorporate into my own instruction of the descriptive genre. 

Overall, I feel that the opportunity to explore these reading and writing genres was one that is vastly beneficial to my pedagogy and classroom instruction. So often we do not see the relationship between the genres in reading and writing. Using mentor texts as a way to connect the two is in my opinion the most important element I can take away from this aspect of the course, "Reading Improvement through Writing." Exploring and experimenting with genre within both reading and writing exemplifies how this statement is true.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Entry #10

Find Something to “Bless, Address, or Press” : 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).

While perusing my classmates blogs, I began by reading Lindsey Vay's blog and specifically her post on the persuasive genre. Her comments got me interested in my own opinions and perceptions of the persuasive genre. I then decided to look at the persuasive genre presenters' blogs. I felt that Shawna's blog had an interesting approach and reflection on the genre. Her reflection was very honest, "I now understand how naive I was as an educator. My 5 year old students persuade on a daily basis. They persuade me to have more play time, to go outside for 5 more minutes, to be able to play a game with friends, to skip math all together, and many more. This is natural to them. I've learned in the past few weeks that I can use this background knowledge of natural persuasion to introduce the genre in my room." 
I have to admit when I think about my preconceived notions toward the persuasive genre they align with Shawna's. The persuasive genre seems to be an extremely difficult writing genre, that teaches students to not only "argue for or against an issue, persuade readers to do or believe something, and challenge people to take action" but it also requires them to "think critically, differentiate between persuasion and propaganda, analyze arguments, and use oral and written language effectively" (Tompkins, 2012, p. 252).  These skills and pertinent elements of the genre require much higher level thinking and it raises the question, are young student developmentally ready to address this genre? I think, however, that Shawna makes an important point that persuasion can come in the simplest forms. Furthermore, Shawna's idea that to introduce the genre she could use students' prior knowledge as a jumping off point is a great one. 

Tompkins's (2012) agrees with this introductory activity and states, "Teachers introduce persuasive writing by showing how persuasion is used in everyday life. . . Students often brainstorm a list of examples of persuasion they notice in their family, school, and community" (p. 260). Introducing the genre in this familiar way is even appropriate for younger students. Shawna also pointed out that Tompkins (2012) states, "children's persuasive writing abilities develop more slowly than their abilities in any other genre" (p. 252).  Shawna expands on this notion by stating, "young children are egocentric, and have a hard time understanding other points of view, it is hard for them to understand  topic, choose a side, prove the argument, and understand the counter argument." With this in mind, making the persuasive genre familiar to students is even more crucial.  Thinking about my own classroom, I am excited to make persuasive writing and reading a functional skill and interesting aspect of my curriculum to my students. I can do this through mentor texts, showing ads, and opening my students' eyes to the persuasive and propaganda around them. In addition, because of the difficulty and complexity of this genre, I also want to make sure that my activities and assignments are centered around familiar and meaningful topics so that students can truly identify with and be motivated to use persuasion and interact with and recognize it in their daily lives.

As I aforementioned, my thoughts and feelings on the persuasive genre were bundled together in apprehension. My unfamiliarity with the genre as well as my uncertainty with what and how to teach it, made the persuasive genre seem like a taxing task. After the presentation and exploring the blogs of my classmates, it made me feel much more familiar and willing to really teach and inform my students about the benefits and functionality of it. I really loved and appreciated the way Shawna closed her post, "Persuasive writing is an important skill to master since it is used in everyday text. It helps to empower individuals to make decisions at work and in society on a daily basis. Whether you are writing a cover letter for a resume, talking to a friend or family member, selling a product, or discussing which cake tastes better, persuasion is all around us!" Helping my students to see the authenticity of persuasion and how it is involved in their daily life will not only engage them but allow them to see the importance and functionality it can have for them personally. Tompkins's (2012) chapter coupled with the presentation has encouraged and excited me to implement persuasive instruction into my classroom!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Entry #9

Open Entry:

“Too often, teachers assume that students are more comfortable writing stories instead of nonfiction, but researchers . . .  have provided compelling evidence that children, even those in kindergarten and first grade, can write expository text. Other researchers have reported that through instruction and reading and writing experiences, children grow in their ability to differentiate among genres (Donovan, 2001; Kamberelis, 1999)” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 202).

Tompkins’s chapter on expository writing coupled with the expository genre presentation gave me a deeper understanding of the importance of information text and the role non-fiction plays in the classroom. With the development of the Common Core, non-fiction texts are heavily emphasized as beneficial text that can span across the curriculum and into several subject areas. The use of this expository reading and writing provides limitless possibilities for the ways students can access new information and learn content. In my current classroom, we’ve combined our science and writing unit. The students explored a number of tradebooks and expository texts on weather. They used organizers, such as those listed in the Tompkins (2012) chapter, for example data charts. Once they collected this information on weather, they then had to write an expository piece on one aspect of weather they found interesting, whether it was hurricanes, different types of precipitation, or even the water cycle. I found that students who struggled with writing really enjoyed this expository writing because it was really scaffolded to their needs. So often students whine that they have nothing to write about or that they have writers block. This unit on weather allowed students to do their own exploration through reading, formulate ideas, record, and then transfer the facts they’d learned into writing. No student could say they didn’t know what to write because they had the information directly in front of them. I also noticed that when I took groups of students to the book room, they were moving away from narratives and stories, to information texts on topics they found interesting and engaging.

As is important for every genre, my teacher did a mini-lesson on the characteristics of expository text. She used a text to point out non-fiction features such as the table of contents, photographs or realistic drawings, labels and captions, figures, maps, tables and charts, all elements Tompkins (2012) mentions as defining non-fiction features. As I do my own exploration of the biography genre, I began to realize that several texts had similar layouts to these expository text features. For one, I understand that both the biography and expository genre are part of non-fiction, so I wasn’t surprised that they had similar features, but as the quote about mentions, “through instruction and reading and writing experiences, children grow in their ability to differentiate among genres” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 202). Due to this, I decided to look into some defining characteristics between the biography and expository genre and I found that expository texts’ main purpose is to provide information about the natural and social world such as addressing an entire species or the United States as a whole, whereas the biography genre’s main purpose is to provide information about an individual’s life, events or series of events. While I could see where students would be confused by these similarities, I think this exemplifies why it is important to do what Tompkins (2012) suggests and teach students about genre so that they are able to distinguish between them. One way to teach this is to use multiple sources that allow students to compare and contrast different versions of expository texts with one another, and the same with the biography genre. If students are able to explore the differences between one genre, they will be able to better understand the multi dimensionality of it and come to grasp the defining characteristics that differentiate it from other genres.

In my opinion, expository text really has endless possibilities especially for literacy instruction because it can move past simply reading a story and into the content areas where students are reading for information that can teach them the standards and content they need to know. In addition, textbooks no longer suffice. We cannot give our students textbooks and expect them to read, comprehend, and even worse subject them to round robin reading during classroom instruction. Tradebooks and expository texts fix this unfair method of teaching content and provide a valuable, meaningful, and easily differentiated way of helping all students to be successful across the content areas. I know that when I have my own classroom, my library will have a wealth of expository texts on topics I know my students will be interested in and WANT to read. I also know that my instruction will flourish with the use of expository texts and tradebooks as a resource for students to learn at a level and readiness they deserve.