Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Entry #8 - Bless, Address, or Press

Katie Mason, in Entry Six of her blog Katie's Blog, discusses teacher driven assessment. She stated "In my opinion, I think that we would wear ourselves out if we graded every piece of writing and offered consistent and meaningful feedback". She went on to say "Most students, who are apathetic to writing, will not take the time to read all of the comments and critiques written on their writing". I think both of the above statements hold truth in many classrooms, but I also think that teachers grading every piece of student work is not beneficial for many other reasons.

When reflecting on assessment practices and what I have learned throughout this course, I have come to believe that assessment must be strategic, purposeful, and very clear. When we do assess students of any age they must understand completely what and how they are being assessed. As educators, formal assessment can provide us with specific feedback as to where our students stand and more importantly, where they need to go. I think it very important to take that information and instead of having the mindset "this student must be able to... by ..." we must turn that around and think "what can I do to be able to help this student...". When assessment is used in that way, it is much more reflective and purposeful.

I also think it is important for teachers to use informal modes of assessment in their classroom. Tompkins (2012) wrote that “teachers need to ask themselves whether assessing each piece of writing will make their students better writers, and most teachers will admit that such arduous critiques won’t” (p.104). If this is the case, we as teachers can be observing, taking notes, or simply conferencing with student to gain a better understanding of what they need and what we can do to help. Using these methods of assessment are much less intimidating and will make our students better writers, rather than assessing them for a finalized grade only.

Mason also discussed in her blog the importance of communicating with students versus giving work a final grade and stopping there.

"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"

Tompkins (2012) would agree with Mason in that assessment should be clear and communicative, and not only based on grammar, mechanics, etc. Students need feedback that lends them to ponder, using higher level thinking skills to debrief on how they can make their writing piece stronger. It seems like that is what Mason is using in her own classroom. Instead of only assessing writing mechanics, she is trying to get students to make connections and elaborate on what they have already written. I think this is a pertinent part of assessment.

Just last week I was working with my writing group to discuss ideas we had and the starts of our Genre Pieces Projects. I was lucky enough to have a group that essentially broke down every single idea I had, giving me other viewpoints, only to build back up each part of my project much stronger than it was initially. They cause multiple moments when "uhhhh..." was the only thing out of my mouth, and many moments when I felt like I was completely starting from scratch! In the end, that informal peer assessment helped me to create ideas that I am proud of and genuinely look forward to expanding upon!

My hope as an educator is that I will someday have the ability to take a student who is anxious about an assignment, struggling with it, or giving up all together, and give them the motivation, confidence, and ability to think through their anxieties to build amazing pieces of writing!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Entry #7 - Open Entry

While working with my group on the "Teaching the Genre" project, I have been reflecting about my use of persuasive text in my own classroom. Prior to this project, persuasive writing and persuasive text was the genre I knew the least about, and in turn made me the most intimidated. Prior to research, I felt that persuasive text should be used with older children, and was primarily only a part of middle and high school curriculum. Without the research findings, I felt that the art of persuasion was too advanced of a task for younger students, without realizing that persuasive writing is all around me.

The article I read for our presentation discussed persuasive writing in children, adolescents, and adults, and the changes in writing as students aged. I learned that I was correct when thinking that persuasive writing is a challenging form of communication, and not a natural form of writing or speaking. Students and adults alike must understand the problem, form an opinion based on that understanding, and most importantly understand the opposing argument. Looking back, I think that is why I felt persuasion was used for older students. With maturity comes less egocentrism which helps students understand others' views. However, I learned that there are many ways to incorporate

Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, and Fanning would agree with Tompkins about many things. They agree that persuasion is used everyday regardless of age or where one lives. Even young children use verbal persuasion to prove to their parents they should be able to stay up later. In fact, when asked to generate an example of persuasion for our presentation I was thinking to myself "How in the world am I going to find an example!". I learned quickly that I have a ton! Even last month I created a persuasive PowerPoint presentation to persuade my fiance to wear grey tuxes at our wedding :) Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, and Fanning would also agree with Tompkins that students abilities to use persuasive text develop slower than any other genre. Because 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. Another agreement would be that a teacher must scaffold the use of persuasive writing in their classrooms. Prior to researching for this project, I had NO idea how I could even attempt to use persuasive writing in my own Kindergarten classroom. I knew my students could not grasp arguments and counter arguments, and understand we need examples to prove what we believe. I was anxious to even introduce it in my room because of this, and I did not want to set my students up for failure. 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.

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!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Entry #6 - Open Entry

The way in which a teacher assesses student writing can either aid in the development of writing confidence or hinder that confidence development in students. As a college student, it has been difficult for me to get papers and projects back, with red ink on every page. I know over the past 4 years I have become a stronger writer, however I have lost much confidence in the task. Tompkins (2012) helped me to realize that there are many modes of assessing writing, and formal assessment of the final product is only one of them. 

Since my students are so young, and since I am teaching in a Day Care facility, I find ‘formal grading’ to be intimidating for me. I worry that since students are with me half day and with their school district kindergarten teacher the other half of the day, that parents expect our half day to be relaxing, unstructured, playtime. Since it does not meet those expectations, I worry about grading my students as a teacher would typically. Although I have these anticipations, I also know I need some sort of assessment for myself as an educator to know where my students started, what they have learned, and where we need to go next. Therefore, I have been using many informal modes of assessment to help me gain the information I need, without the ‘typical’ report card number grades.

Informal monitoring of writing can play a large role in younger students writing tasks. Through observing alone, I gain a better sense of what my students are learning and how exactly they are growing. Although this assessment may be subjective, as long as the teacher creates careful, thoughtful, detailed notes of observations it is extremely meaningful. Along with observing, I often find myself informally conferencing with my students. Oftentimes, this is an on-the-spot conference, that was not planned and students did not prepare for. Through these conferences I am able to informally visit each student at their own desk and see how their writing is progressing. There is no intimidation factor with this mode of conferencing since I spend a short time with each student, yet I still gain a better understanding of what that child is working on and what they may need facilitated.  

I also find myself gathering and reviewing writing samples. Even though we have not begun writing stories, over the past 5 weeks of school I have been able to gather written sentences, pictures with descriptions, and handwriting my students have been working on. Gathering all of these works in progress is a way for me to informally monitor student work, as well as for students to monitor their own work and successes!

When reading Tompkin’s (2012) work this week, I was trying to gather modes of assessment that would work for me in my classroom. The use of checklists stood out to me. I am currently not using them in my room, yet I think they would benefit both my students as well as me. The use of a checklist could help students understand exactly what I am looking for in their writing task, focus both student and teacher attention during the writing and assessing processes, and help students gain a better understanding of a certain piece of writing. For example, this past week my students were studying days of the week, and completed a writing task for me. The task included writing a sentence such as “On Wednesdays, I go to swimming practice”. Students were asked to think of a day of the week they have something important to them, and write a sentence and illustrate their sentence. Instead of me assessing these tasks, I could have easily used as checklist to have students assess their own work. The checklist would include pictures versus phrases to be checked off. Later in the year, or even within the next few months, I may even be able to use short words to describe the task to be checked off like the following:

O   Name
O   Capitol letter starting sentence
O   Punctuation
O   Best writing
O   Colored picture

Using this mode of assessment, students can learn to hold themselves accountable for their own work, and parents can see exactly what was expected and whether or not their child met those expectations.

There are many modes of assessment to be used in the classroom. The assessment used is strictly dependent on the task the students have been given. This week I have thought a ton about assessment I have been using, continue to use, and how I can change it to meet the needs of my students and be more purposeful.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Entry #4 - Open Entry

In the beginning of class last session, Dr. Jones posted the quote for consideration:

"When people write about something they learn it better" (Toby Fulwiler, 1987, p. 9) as cited in Tompkins (2012, p. 107). 
 While reading chapter 2, Developing Strategic Writers, I thought a lot about the impact the writing process has on students. The section on writing strategies really stood out to me since it was full of information I could use in my own classroom or as a college student at Nazareth. 

When I first entered the literacy program at Nazareth, I was asked to write a literacy autobiography in the course I was in. This was a semester long process, and allowed me to reflect as a person first, and then as an educator/writer/literate person. I was asked to think about three literacy events that stood out to me and made me the person I am today. One of them was an on going event happening from birth to about 3 years of age. This event consisted of my mother reading me the same text before bed every night. The text was written by Robert Munsch, titled "I'll Love You Forever". This book had such an impact on my life, and my relationship with my mother in general. However, I never really sat back and thought about that impact! last year, when taking the course, I was asked to reflect and think about why the literacy event was so meaningful to me. In doing this, I was able to draft a lengthy paper regarding all three of my events and their meaning. During the semester, I spent a large chunk of time monitoring while I wrote. I had a hard time not 'blabbering' about life in general when discussing something so emotional. I spent a great deal of time narrowing my paper itself, and getting rid of the 'fluff'. In doing so, I really found out what was the MOST important part of my life story to me, as well as what would be important to another reader. Every time I proof read this paper, I was able to get a different take on this event in my life. That really struck when group members would proof read my writing. Although it was difficult at first, to allow someone to read emotions and ideas that were so close to my heart, getting another opinion or a different take on the event only allowed me to understand more about myself! Every time I sat down to work on this project, I questioned the event, myself, the project, my audience, the purpose, etc. This helped to clarify the meaning of the literacy event every time I sat down to work. 

Although this is just one example of an extensive work I produced while in the Masters program at Nazareth, it proves the point that while I was involved with the writing process, I was able to learn even more about myself. Day one of the class I took an event that I knew meant a lot to me, and through writing I was able to learn more about it. You would think if it is your own story, your own emotion, and your own relationships you would know all you can about the event, but I learned quickly that that was not the case. For the first time in my life I was encouraged to take a step back and analyze that situation from multiple standpoints, and not only did I leave that class understanding more about the text I used, but I learned more about myself and my wonderful mother as well :)

Entry #5 - Letter to Dr. Jones

Dear Dr. Jones,

Class is going well! I enjoy every opportunity we have to meet, and all activities planned during class. The technologies we have learned has taught me a great deal I can use in my classroom, and some I already have! Most of the programs we have been introduced to I honestly had no idea existed and they have such benefits to using them in the classroom. I also have been reflecting on the writing process itself. Even more so than with Hicks (2009), I can take Tompkin's (2012) ideas regarding 6 + 1 traits, writing strategies, and writer's craft and directly relate it to my group of 5 year olds!

I have developed a much stronger understanding of the connection between reading and writing. I have seen this first hand in myself. I have been given the opportunity countless times throughout the semester so far to use writing as a bridge between reading and processing or thinking. Every week, as I complete my blog entries or drafts for the blog, I am using the knowledge I got from the text read prior to construct my own understanding and meaning of something new. I have questioned myself and my tactics, as well as new learnings, more in this course than I have my whole college career. Once I think I am on the right path (in any assignment we have done) I think of a reflection or question which leads my mind back to square one, and I end up with my questions than before!! Although this process seems to lack benefits, I know that the art of questioning itself is cyclical. Through this questioning I am in turn discovering new things which leads to clarification... eventually :).

My reading and writing habits in general have already changed drastically. Prior to the first day of class, I viewed the writing process as a one direction process where you continually move towards a final product. I now know that it is the process of writing that should be stressed! Whether the process is digital or written, it lends to a variety of higher level thinking skills one does not develop without involving the writing task. As an example, the stressed collaboration process has made such an impact on me and on my classroom. Being able to collaborate and discuss, regardless of the distance or time between the collaborators, has changed the way we write. I have learned more from my group members in the past 5 weeks than I ever would've learned myself in any course. Being able to see things from a new perspective is key in this understanding, and it is a entirely new view on writing. I also love the 6 + 1 idea introduced in Tompkins (2012). Habitually, when thinking about writing specifically, I was not able to separate the goals into traits to be used. As previously stated, the product was in mind versus what was done in the process.

Specifically, I have learned more about many writing strategies I can use in my classroom. When reading, my focus went to the elaborating strategy Tompkins (2012) discusses on page 34 and 36. The reason this stood out is because in the past, I always found myself having a hard time teaching students how to elaborate. Especially working with younger students, it is difficult to ask them to expand their ideas into more complex thoughts and details. When reading, I found that it is easier to think about if students brainstorm and explore the idea they are writing about. During the exploration phase, I thought back to the RSS discussion. If students had a safe environment to explore and get more information, it would not only solidify their motivation but also allow them to elaborate without feeling the need to add 'fluff'. I also focused on the narrowing strategy discussed in Tompkin's (2012) work for the same reason as elaborating. I found it is difficult to 'teach' students how to narrow and specify information when writing, which is why I enjoyed this section of the chapter as much as I did.

I also appreciated Tompkin's (2012) discussed regarding the 6 + 1 traits. Prior to this course, I did not even know I was incorporating many of these themes into my classroom. For example, when reading about the ideas trait, I instantly thought of my classroom. Since I am working with such young students, I need to be creative in how I introduce and use the writing process. I have used wordless picture books in many classrooms to discuss author's craft and the development of ideas in a story. With the use of those, as well as read alouds, I have been able to teach and implement specific aspects of the 6 + 1 trait with even the youngest of students. That is what I love about Tompkin's text. When reading Hick's (2009), I have a hard time thinking of ways to implement the wonderful ideas in my own classroom. Tompkin's (2012) helps me to adapt all of her insight and manipulate it to fit my own room!

In general, this course so far has been an eye opening experience. I honestly look forward to what is to come.

Shawna Wright

Entry #3 - Open Entry

I received a variety of responses to my discussion question for Chapter 2 of Hick's (2009) text. During this question, I wanted to focus on student choice. My question read as follows:

"While some elements of our curriculum require us to engage all students in similar topics... research and writing can also be self-directed based on students' own inquiry and choice in topics" (Hicks, 2009, p. 17).
What opportunities do you have as the teacher when you offer your students choices in reading and writing? What challenges are you faced with when you offer student choice in your classroom?

Before receiving responses, and when reflecting on this question, my mind went to my current classroom. I am teaching in an ideal (in my opinion) teaching environment. I am working for a childcare facility teaching Kindergarten both half and full day. When I started the program, I was given nothing to work with. I designed the curriculum, the curriculum map, the standards, etc. During the design process, feeling overwhelmed was quite an understatement, however looking back I am realizing what an opportunity it has been to have my own choices as a first year educator. I was able to pull from everything I have learned in graduate school as well as under grad and make choices based on those learnings.
As I made choices for myself and my students, I quickly realized what was going to work and what was not. Unfortunately, since I had no one to tell me these things ahead of time, it was all a trial and error experience. Although, that may not have been such a bad thing. I was forced to learn quickly from my own mistakes and reflect every second of every day. These reflections helped me to become a stronger, more purposeful educator and help my students grow as well.
I think student choice can be related to my first year teaching experience. It is the hardest thing for me to do as a teacher is let students choose something that may not work out as they planned. For this reason, I think choice needs to be limited for students to learn the most from it! For example, my kindergartners get 15 minutes of D.E.A.R. time everyday, to choose texts that they want to. However, I limit their choices by giving them a shelf of books I know they will be successful in 'reading'. 

To be perfectly honest, I have noticed that giving students choice almost makes more 'work' (and I use that term loosely) for the educator. What I mean by this is it takes more preparation, anticipation, and reflecting to allow students to make their own decisions in the classroom rather than making those decisions for them. It takes a purposeful, well organized teacher to be able to anticipate student choices and decisions and use those to work in the classroom. 

Overall, the Hick's (2009) text as well as the technological tools we have learned about in this class have given me such a different outlook on student choice in my classroom. I now have the ability to give my 4 and 5 year olds choices that I did not know how to do before. This has increased motivation tremendously in one of the most important grades of their school career!!