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. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Throughout discussion and reflection, I have been thinking a lot about authentic instruction and what it means to foster student choice.  I think it's an interesting experience, being a student while learning to be an educator; I am learning about myself as both a learner and teacher by using strategies and completing activities and assignments that I may be using myself with my own students.  It is FAR too often where teachers don't give their students the option to direct their learning by giving them choices, like what book to read, what topic to research, etc..  But I'm beginning to see it goes further than that.

Hicks (2009) discusses this important topic of student choice when he states, "choice, within reason, forms the foundation of a writing workshop; a firm belief that students can and will, with guidance, make appropriate choices as writers directs our thinking as teachers" (p. 15).  I strongly believe that giving students their choice fosters independence, responsibility, and builds character that could quite possibly never form if there was 100% teacher direction.  I'm learning this more as time goes on, especially through the genre pieces project in LTED 618.  Being given complete freedom to choose our project topic, the process by which we complete it, and the product in which is formed has truly been much more difficult than I would have imagined.  I would label myself as someone who is not a surface-level thinker, but someone who thinks deeply about everything, in detail and with great meaning.  So, when given the unlimited choice to pick a topic, I don't immediately think about my vacation or my favorite sport, I think about life, love, happiness.  As much as this is a part of me and I know my character would be drastically different otherwise, I often make things more difficult on myself by wanting to choose the hardest, most complex topic or process by which I complete the project.  I think this is an extremely important realization to take to my classroom, knowing I will have students that are also like me and may need some direction.  The direction I have gotten in class to help me make decisions regarding my project have not been directly instructed, but more subliminally guided, through activities in which help me brainstorm and break down my ideas into a format I can actually organize and work with. 

As a student, I have also been exposed to a great amount of resources available to me to help me through my projects, which I will use as tools for my students as well.  Hicks (2009) discussed the importance of "guiding students through the process of discovery and collaboration with digital writing tools" (p. 17).  Through the use of RSS and bookmarking tools, the access to podcasts and photo essays, and even the use of this blog, I have been able to learn an incredible amount about my topic through others' work and experiences, as well as self-reflection.  I think it is crucial to help students meet their potential by giving them freedom of choice in combination with setting them up with the tools they need to succeed. I am extremely grateful for the process I am going through in my grad classes, to be able to experience what I will have the opportunity to offer my own students someday...hopefully sooner than later.


Dear Dr. Jones,

Overall so far, I am glad I am a part of this course, and based on what I have already learned about teaching reading through writing, I know this class will benefit me in many ways.  I enjoy the structure of this course, the texts have been helpful in my learning process, and I find it refreshing to have new and different assignments compared to those of other courses.  In addition to learning many things to help me as a teacher, I have learned a great deal about myself as an individual and as a writer.  Prior to this class, I did not think about reading and writing as being so interrelated.  I knew both were equally as important and I understood the general avenues to teach each, but I have learned there is so much more than that.

I have appreciated all the writing and reflecting we have been assigned to do as a part of this course.  As tedious as writing can be, it has always been an outlet for me, and never before have I been able to use it as part of a reflecting and learning process as I have in this course.  The writing we have done as a part of class has allowed me to truly think about the readings, discussions, my teaching practice, my ideas, my life.  Through creating a blog, I have been able to think and rethink about topics in class as well as worldly ideas and how those things relate to me as an individual and as an educator.  On a day-to-day basis, I often don't get that time to reflect, and I knew it was important but know now how crucial it is for growth, success, etc.. I would consider myself an over-thinker. Some days that's a positive thing, other days it's quite negative.  In my writing, I find myself analyzing things in my head but not putting it to paper, which is what would cause the best kind of reflection, but never happens because of some sort of fear that surfaces; even if I know the assignment is about my own learning process, I think I have this fear that I am wrong and keep ideas to myself, which I know could easily limit me.  (Funny though, that I feel comfortable expressing myself in our text-based discussions on Moodle, but feel more insecure with my thoughts in my blog and my genre project writing).  I think it's an interesting concept, considering I would counsel my students against doing such a thing because I know how much they could grow if they didn't.  I feel that by the end of the semester, through continual reflection and genuine, authentic thinking during my writing, I will improve in this area, becoming more comfortable not just with my own thoughts but with other people seeing them.

I value the texts we have been working with this semester so far because of all the instructional strategies and activities we have learned about through them.  Learning from Hicks (2009) about author's craft and the MAPS heuristic has opened my eyes to the writing process in many new ways, to help both my ability to teach my students to be better, more purposeful writers, as well as improve my own writing.  I genuinely appreciate Hicks' (2009) website recommendations for blogs, wikis, RSS, and photo essays; the sites I have gone to I can see using with my students or using personally.  Hicks' (2009) ideas regarding consistently turning traditional assignments to digitally-based assignments is extremely helpful as well as eye-opening because so often teachers feel limited or think there are no other options, when in reality there is ALWAYS an alternative.  Turning something as traditional as a memoir and making it into a podcast, or having students create a blog about an action research project with photo-sharing are new, authentic ways to help students become more creative in their thinking and feel true ownership over their work.  I know it's a common topic of discussion that there is no time for technology or it's better to stick with traditional forms of instruction but I don't think that could be any farther from the truth.  I have also very much appreciated Tompkins' (2012) intricately detailed text regarding the widespread but underused amount of options students have in their writing.  I look forward to creating assignments where students can use all genres in their reading and writing, helping them to learn about the writing process, about the content in which they're writing, and especially themselves as creative writers.  One of my biggest fears is holding my students back from their potential and I have come to realize how easy it is, through even just the use of teaching genres, to help students succeed.

I'm having a difficult time this semester balancing schoolwork and life.  It's always unfortunate to me that I have so many pressures put on me by work, school, and a million other things that I am unable to focus on school as much as I want to.  I am in my last two semesters of grad school, and even though it's crunch time, 80% of the time I feel like checking out.  I know it's pure exhaustion, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or all three at once.  I know time management, motivation, and endurance are all things that need to be at their peak to keep from feeling defeated, however those things have not been coming easily.  I honestly enjoy the content of this course, and enjoy the assignments, but always feel so overwhelmed especially by the idea of clinic, my TARP, my portfolio, and many other things that I just have a hard time giving it my all.  I am continually working on this by setting short term goals and organizing priorities so I can give focus to each thing.  I have a higher disappointment pressure in myself than anyone else could place on me, and feeling like a failure comes easily, which leads to more stress.  It's one big catch-22, stuck between a rock and a hard place, love-hate relationship...but I know that each day only lasts so long and things always seem harder at the time.  I think I can, I think I can. :)

Thank you for always being there and for giving me the opportunity to learn what I have and what I know I will continue to learn; your knowledge and character inspires and pushes me without you even purposely trying.



While studying psychology in my undergraduate courses as well as in a graduate action research course, I learned about countless studies in which observed human behavior and how to incorporate research into the classroom.  I feel that doing so could truly benefit the teacher, allowing the studies' findings to drive instruction, and in turn, benefiting the students because they are being taught on a more individual level rather than only using cookie-cutter lessons.  In reflecting more on Hicks' (2009) chapters two and three, and on teaching students to communicate both on the Internet and face-to-face, it makes me think of an interesting study that could be done.  The study I was considering is based on the concepts of students feeling more invincible and comfortable with their writing when communicating digitally as compared to feeling more restrained and impulsive when communicating in a face-to-face conversation.

When students are able to communicate via texting, emailing, online chatting, blogging, etc., they are not only able to think, plan, revise, and edit their work, but they also tend to lower their inhibitions regarding their language and content filters; that is, they often times use a different tone, use different words, and say different things than they would if they were speaking to the exact same person but face-to-face. Conversely, students feel more pressured when communicating in-person; they have less time to think and plan their words, and impulsively saying what they feel now results in immediate consequences that did not exist with digital communication.  (When I say students, I understand most people of all ages demonstrate the same behaviors in both situations, I am simply referring to students for this reflection).  It would be very interesting to see if these two means of communication and the typical behaviors that go along with them changed when combined.  I imagine the study looking something like our grad class did when we had a textbook chapter to outline with a group but had to do all collaborating online without discussion in person, even though we were all sitting in the same room.  The study would consist of students, either with or without relationships, conversing in person but digitally, where they could filter their language and use any and all revision steps they wanted to but the consequences would be immediate as in face-to-face communication because he/she would be sitting next to or across from them.  I hypothesize that students would end up at neutral grounds, where they were cognizant of what they were saying because the person was in close proximity but still also used a good portion of the editing process they would use online at home.  Teachers could carefully track student behaviors as well as have an educational discussion about the study afterward, seeing how students felt about  digitally writing to the person right next to them.  Students may be somewhat familiar to this concept because of "table texting", where text messaging occurs between people in the same room, and other activities of the like; however, similar to how we felt in class doing this, it should be a fairly new idea to most students.  Teachers could use the results to this experiment to guide instruction, teaching students how to balance their digital and face-to-face communication, so there is not too much of any characteristic in either form but instead they are both learned to be respectful, effective, and reliable forms of communication.  I think it's our job as teachers to continually use research-oriented brains to help us re-think our instruction in new, valuable ways, working to always understand our students better to best prepare them for their futures.