Tuesday, November 27, 2012


At the beginning of the semester, we were given objectives which were used to guide our learning and give it purpose.  Throughout the duration of the course, we have used this blog as a source for reflection on our learning, which in turn, has helped us meet the objectives.  Using this blog has been an effective way to help me further develop my understanding of everything we have learned about in class, but in a less intimidating way than other, more formal types of assessments.  I believe the use of this blog has helped me reach all seven student learning outcomes, but a few stand out more than others.

First and foremost, the outcomes pertaining to gaining knowledge of the relationship between the writing and reading processes and the role of metacognition in writing proficiency and reading comprehension have been met through many of my entries.  By blogging about the theories and practices we learn about in class and the readings we complete as a part of the course, my comprehension of the material was greatly increased simply because I had several exposures to it.  In addition, I became very aware of my thought and writing processes through brainstorming and reflecting in this blog.  So many times in past courses, all I learned in lectures did not stay with me long-term because I didn't understand it well enough in practice.  However, with this blog, I have been able to metacognitively focus on the course material, reflect on both my and other students' learning, and better understand the research we read through text.

The learning outcome related to gaining knowledge of the variety of genres that readers and writers use to communicate was met through this blog with several of my entries.  Even though we learned about the many reading and writing genres through the Tompkins (2012) text and the genre presentations in class, the reflections done through this blog regarding the genres have helped to substantially deepen my understandings.  Also, the learning outcome focused on gaining knowledge of the types of developmentally appropriate reading and writing assignments has been attained throughout all of my entries.  No matter the topic of each blog, I found myself reflecting on my own classroom experiences, and how that specific theory, instructional technique, or learning strategy could be applied in practice.  Especially when discussing the Hicks (2009) text, I reflected on and collaborated about digital technologies and new, up-and-coming learning tools which we were not always able to discuss in class.  The posts in which we were able to comment and reflect on other classmates' writings also helped to further my understandings of the material and the concepts. 

I have been very appreciative that this blog has been a part of the course requirements.  Writing and reflecting each week has worked to continually further my understandings of the content we learn in class, and learn from others' reflections as well.  I have enjoyed finding my voice through the use of this informal type of writing and look forward to applying it to my own classroom in the future for my students to benefit in the same ways. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Since the beginning of the semester, I have learned more than I expected to about all the different writing genres.  Because I have been in school for so many years and have written in all the genres we have learned about in this course, I felt as though I understood them all fairly well.  However, once I read Tompkins (2012) and participated in each of the genre presentations, I was proved very wrong.  I became aware of aspects of each genre and their specific features I didn't know existed, and learned how to apply each genre both in my own writing and in my practice as a teacher.

As I stated, I had a surface level understanding of most of the genres before we researched them this semester.  I understood the general structures of genres such as the narrative writing and biographies; I understood their formats and the basic terminology used within the genres.  However, I did not know the specific aspects of narratives and memoirs, such as the importance of scaffolding theme, or using autobiographies to form detailed writing pieces. 

I was thankful to have learned about both the expository and persuasive genres, two forms of writing which I did not know very much about but have a much better understanding of now.  I use expository texts in practice quite often, but don't usually apply the genre to writing, when it's actually very important.  I learned each of the expository text structures and their importance and learned how to apply expository writing in the classroom, even at the primary level.  With persuasive writing, I did not know anything about the genre itself or how to use it with students.  After researching it thoroughly and presenting the genre to the class, I understand its purpose and function in reading, writing, and speaking, and its importance in students' literacy development. I suppose these two genres still slightly intimidate me because I know the reality of their importance in student writing as they get older.  I teach SAT prep classes to high-schoolers and we work on the essay portion for weeks, which is all persuasion, and every student has difficulty with it.  It is my goal to understand the genres my students must understand in order to help them the best I am able, and this course significantly made a difference.

There were genres I had a significant understanding of, such as the poetry and letter writing genres, in which I did not feel as though I gained too much more integral information from the presentations.  However, from each and every presentation I became much more comfortable with applying the genre in practice at different levels, and was extremely appreciative of each group incorporating text lists into their presentations, creating a reference for each grade level for future use.  I think this was important because many times educators forget to use simple resources like picture books or novels to help explain an idea, when they truly can be very beneficial.


While reading through my followers' blogs, I couldn't help but notice Marsha's entry regarding persuasive writing, since she was my genre group member and we both learned so much about persuasive writing together.  Marsha discussed the important realization that many authors write persuasive genre texts at the primary and middle levels, instead of the upper level where persuasive writing is actually taught.  When doing research for my genre presentation, I too found this to be the case, where many upper level books were either nonexistent in the persuasive genre or were not nearly as helpful as the books written at the primary and middle levels.

The persuasive genre is difficult to teach for many reasons.  For one, students developmentally do not have a heightened awareness of others' perspectives and therefore have difficulty writing a piece according to the audience's reaction.  Yes, students can be taught the importance of having an opinion or can learn how to express why they believe what they do, but is this enough for truly effective persuasive writing? As a beginning stage, sure.  But to completely undertake the persuasive genre to its full potential would require students to write through a completely different perspective, which in my opinion, takes practice.

From an early stage, teachers can use texts to help students better understand the concept of persuasion, no matter the age of the students.  Using P and M level texts, even with older students, is beneficial by helping students learn to hold a position and use strategy to convince others of their position.  However, putting this into writing is much more complex.  Students must learn to understand the perspective of the audience they are writing to, and tailor their language accordingly.  Teachers should work to help students think, talk, brainstorm, read, and write from different perspectives as often as possible, not just to help students become better at persuasive writing from an earlier age, but simply because those skills are good to have in general.  Doing these things though, often causes adults to feel uncomfortable and pushed outside of their comfort zones, let alone students who are not used to it.  It is a very arduous task for students to cognitively grasp let alone apply in practice.  As a teacher, it is important to help students understand difficult concepts until they are independent in practice, and using texts to help support students' understanding is just one tool. 


When reading Tompkins (2012) and his discussion regarding narrative writing in chapter 8, I realized many things about teaching students writing which forced me to reflect on my practice.  Tompkins (2012) discussed the age in which children begin to understand the concept of a story, and how even though this story knowledge is often applied to reading, it also plays a very important role in writing.  Because stories have such unique structural elements, it is crucial for children to understand the different parts so they are able to compose stories and begin to be aware of the format of the narrative genre.  Of course, the amount of information students are given, and to what detail, is dependent on the students' age.  Students in the elementary grades should be taught the importance of sequence and teachers should be aware of the students' ability to retell stories, whereas older students would focus on character development and forming themes.

I think it is important to support students' writing at the level which is developmentally appropriate for them.  So many times, teachers expect more from their students than they are capable of or than is necessary at that time.  Elementary aged students should be helped to develop their ideas and simply put them into writing, with a beginning focus on organization and structure through lessons during writing workshops.  Teachers who feel as though their students' writing isn't very good, is only going to debilitate that student.  Students will all write at different paces, but will be modeling after what their teachers show them.  Writing collaborative stories as a class and having personal conferences with the students will help them understand and gradually allow them to be more independent in their writing.  In addition, helping students form good writing technique will help their literacy skills come full circle; students should become better speakers if they understand sequence well, helping them to orally tell a story in order from beginning to end correctly.

Tompkins (2012) helped me realize how important genre exploration is to students' literacy development and following a specific process is actually what the students need.  Students won't always be "good" at writing stories, and not all students will learn or become better writers at the same rate, but it's important for teachers to be aware of their progress and work to help them the best they can.  Through conferencing, writing workshops, and close assessment, students should be monitored closely enough to make consistent progress. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


While working through the writing process for the Genre Pieces Project, I found Caitlin Thomas' post intriguing and relevant to my recent experiences.  Thomas wrote about her narrative genre piece and the difficult time she is having with producing quality work.  Thomas shared, "When I begin to write, I notice that my voice becomes lost, because I want my narrative to sound as well written as those I have read" (Thomas, Entry 7).  I think this is a very common feeling among writers, where comparing your work to another author's work is easy and sometimes unavoidable.  However, being that our Genre Pieces Project is completely specific to our individual experience, so too will our writing voice show individuality and not necessarily match other work.  I understand how Thomas could feel lost in writing, but I think that may stem from simple inexperience with the genre.  She spoke about her writing in college being generally research-based, which makes her being uncomfortable with narrative writing quite understandable.  I think reading and learning from other narrative writing pieces and becoming comfortable with the genre itself will help writers like Thomas feel more comfortable, which she explained has helped but has also created a feeling of competitiveness.  To fight this off, I would suggest peer review and discussion.

Thomas wrote, "I need to take advantage of my genre group members in order to receive proper guidance and feedback on my piece" (Thomas, Entry 7).  This was an incredibly important observation because of the real impact peer review and discussion can have on a writer's perspective.  My group made substantial progress this week through our brainstorming meeting, where we focused time on each member, listening to each others opinions and offering new ideas.  Each person in my group left the meeting with a new perspective on her writing and felt more confident in her work.  Tompkins (2012) discusses this importance of peer review and I believe it could help Thomas tremendously in her work.  Even though I am not in her writing group, the advice I would give is to consider using a voice different than her own.  Thomas is focusing her project on her vegan lifestyle, and writing a narrative piece from her own current perspective may seem a bit basic or unimaginative.  However, if she wrote about her decision to be vegan from her perspective but fifty years from now, or someone else admiring her lifestyle.  Putting a simple twist on the voice of the narrative could give it an edge that makes it feel more unique, less boring, and more intriguing for the audience, which Thomas seems quite concerned about.

Thomas discussed setting up a conference with Dr. Jones as another way to get clarity on her ideas, which is another important part of the writing process.  As teachers, we strive to meet with students as often as possible to check-in on their work and help them where it is needed; as students ourselves, however, I think we often mistakenly think we are outside of the need to meet with the teacher for help.  Conferencing with the professor can only help our progress, not only as a check-in to ensure we are on the right track requirement-wise, but also to get new ideas and perspective from the teacher herself.  Thomas is using graphic organizers to plan her narrative piece which would be excellent documentation of her progress, as well as any drafts she has, to bring to a teacher conference.

The Genre Pieces Project, even though seemingly simple on the outside, is actually quite challenging in causing us to step outside our comfort zone and extend our writing abilities far beyond what we're used to.  I think Caitlin Thomas' topic is unique and interesting, and she is on the right track to success.

Monday, October 15, 2012


While learning about persuasive writing for my "Teaching the Genre" project, I have found that many educators are anxious about incorporating persuasive writing into their curriculum.  However, even though it is often difficult for students or takes extra effort to plan for, persuasive writing is extremely important in the development of students' writing skills.  Tompkins (2012) answered teachers' questions and concerns regarding persuasive writing and the ages and content areas in which it could be used; these responses helped me feel more comfortable with persuasive writing and reflect on its future role in my classroom. 

One of the major concerns teachers have is the age in which students are able to be successful in writing persuasively.  It is a common misconception to believe elementary students are too young to hold and defend a position.  Burkhalter (1995) wrote about using persuasive writing with children and gave three specific reasons why it is so difficult; children have a hard time taking a stand on and issue and defending it with sound and convincing reasons, children must learn to write and think in a much different and more organized fashion than their typical speaking-based writing, and children must take on the highly demanding role of understanding the perspective of the reader, which is hard for writers of any age.  Burkhalter (1995) also discusses the differences between Piaget and Vygotsky's theories regarding development and persuasive writing.  Piaget's beliefs state children are incapable of higher level thinking until puberty, whereas Vygotsky's beliefs state children's learning precedes their development and are therefore cabable of such thought processes as early as they are taught.  The author writes "if children are given the chance to read and write persuasive essays, they may very well advance beyond our expectations and set the stage for subsequent gains in learning" (Burkhalter, 1995, p. 193), which I completely agree with.  All too often, teachers underestimate their students' abilities, which in turn, doesn't allow them to reach their potential.  Students need to be given opportunities in which push them outside of their comfort zone and challenge them to work harder and think deeper.  By teaching my students to write persuasively, for example, I will help them to work within their zone of proximal development and achieve more than they would otherwise.  First graders obviously won't be writing persuasive speeches on social issues like middle and high schoolers may be, but they certainly could be writing letters to their parents persuading them to go on vacation or drawing a persuasive poster for a favorite kind of ice cream. 

One of the other concerns Tomkins (2012) acknowledged was teachers thinking persuasive writing is not applicable across all content areas.  It seems easiest to incorporate persuasive assignments in ELA to adapt to book projects, etc.  However, I think it would be fun and still very easy to use persuasive writing in all subjects I teach; students could write persuasive essays about social issues in science, persuasive posters about being drug free in health, or persuasive letters about political issues in history.  The possibilities are endless and by incorporating this type of creative writing across all content areas, students would be stretching their imagination to take a stance on new and important issues, which they may not do otherwise.  My goal is to use persuasive writing practices in my future classroom no matter what age my students are and throughout all the classes I teach.  By doing so, I will know I'm helping my students take a stand on many topics and have opinions, consider others' viewpoints, and write and think on a much deeper level than other teachers who don't incorporate this writing genre into their curriculum.  Outside of writing, teaching persuasion will help my students of all ages to be better speakers, have higher levels of vocabulary, question others' ideas as well as their own, and to become passionate about all things, writing included.  I look forward to making this kind of difference in my students' lives.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Recently, many of my grad school assignments have posed emotional responses when I regrettably receive them back covered in red marks.  I understand why it's necessary to have edits, but it is awfully discouraging, especially depending on what kind of edits they are; edits to fix my word choice or grammar make me feel much different than those that are questioning my thought processes, which always tend to make me feel inadequate.  While reading Sommers' (1982) "Responding to Student Writing" for class this week, in which the author discusses in detail the topic of reviewing and correcting student work, I was impacted both as a teacher and a student and thought it fitting to reflect on here.

Until reading this article, I had not deeply considered all the issues surrounding responding to student work.  Sommers (1982) pointed out "as writers we need and want thoughtful commentary to show us when we have communicated our ideas and when not, raising questions from a reader's point of view that may not have occurred to us as writers" (p. 148).  Yet at the same time, "we (as teachers) do not know in any definitive way what constitutes thoughtful commentary or what effect, if any, our comments have on helping our students become more effective writers" (p. 148).  Why is this I wonder? Why are teachers not prepared and taught how to incorporate responding to student work into our pedagogy? After reading and reflecting on Sommers' (1982) ideas, I now understand how much this important yet often under appreciated aspect of teaching can truly impact student success.

When students write, it is difficult for them to think ahead about how the reader will respond to their work.  Therefore, when we comment on student writing, we must work to create the presence of a reader by making them question their work, understand its purpose, develop control over their writing, etc.  As Sommers (1982) agrees, our comments help students know they must do something different, and without the comments, students will easily think they communicated everything appropriately and there is no need for revising.  In my own work, if I receive a paper back with very few or no marks, I would assume the reader understood everything I wrote and there was no need for further interpretation.  However, that rarely happens.  But I would like to receive helpful comments on my work, not only ones that are critical or forced without explanation.  I say this because oftentimes, and Sommers (1982) agrees, teachers' comments are quite arbitrary and subjective, leading students to lose individuality in their work, and make the changes because the teacher wants them, not because the student thinks it should be changed.  I know this is an issue from personal experience, where many times I have changed (and still do change) my work simply because my teachers wanted it a certain way, not because I wanted or even understood the changes.  Sommers (1982) believes the biases teachers have determine how they will comprehend the texts they read, and in having them, end up critiquing student work based on their own writing skills.  I think this is absolutely a downfall of teaching (and parenting for that matter), where educators unintentionally limit student growth because they don't give them a chance to make mistakes and learn through discovery. 

Another major aspect of this topic is the difference between editing (changes to improve spelling and grammar) and revising (changes to improve meaning).  I believe the majority of the time, teachers should only be correcting for content, meaning, purpose, etc.. So often, teachers mark up papers because of spelling and grammar errors, forcing students to focus on these mistakes which gives the impression that they are more important than the other ones.  Sommers' (1982) states "our goal in commenting on early drafts should be to engage students with the issues they are considering and help them clarify their purposes and reasons in writing their specific texts" (p. 155).  Teachers should not read student work expecting errors, and marking up their work just for the sake of making changes, but instead give students ideas about their writing, about how to improve, and help the students to see what their writing says from a different standpoint.  As hard as it may be, teachers must focus on their role as a reader, not anything more important or of high power; simply someone with more writing experience who can offer the students ideas on improving their work in an effort to help them become better writers, not to simply force changes without reason.  To help with this, I think it is important to incorporate writer's workshop into the classroom on a daily basis.  If teachers can create the type of environment where students are able to easily read each others' work and make corrections objectively, the teacher can then focus on the "meat" of students' work.  This not only helps students become better writers by learning to work through the process on their own and with their peers, but it also helps teacher-student relationships because there could be more revision through conferencing toward the end of the process instead of a frustrating amount of red ink at the beginning.

Teachers should be working to make as many processes as natural as possible for their students, creating skills that become innate for students and ones they can use independently in their work without continual teacher support.  I appreciate the process that goes along with my major writing assignments my last two semesters in grad school, where I am continually drafting, receiving feedback, and re-working my writing to make it better each time; by doing this, my professors will have helped me in such a way that I will end up with work that I can take ownership of, be proud of, that demonstrates my knowledge and growth overtime.  My goal is to do the same for my future students as well.