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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What mark will I leave on my students' writing?

(all quotes from Jeff Anderson)

I went to the ACTE conference this past Saturday and found myself reeling with ideas about teaching writing. This is always such a struggle- how do you teach someone to write? I have my own about what I can and can not do-  I can teach structure and form, I can give resources to expand vocabulary, I can even help students to properly insert quotations with commentary. However, I can't teach voice. They have to find their voice. How do they find it? Through practice and exposure. The best thing they can do is READ! See writing modeled. See writers taking risks.

"Imitation leads to Innovation."

"By exposing students we make them aware of things without realizing it."  

The question remains how do I help to encourage students as writers? During the keynote speech by Jeff Anderson, the "Write Guy", I began tweeting things he said that really stuck out to me. I am included the quotes in this blog post. Two of those I shared with my students today concerning their writing experience.

  "Create more opportunities for students to have a positive encounter with   writing."  

I started my class with that question today "give me an example of a positive writing experience." The students were excited to share about writing that they have had published, poetry contests they have won, recognition they gained from having their writing used as a "good" sample in class. What I noticed is that majority of these experiences occurred to students during elementary and middle school. I shared my own history of having writing be for me, the one area that I always received positive feedback. Poetry contests (I still remember every word of the poem), reading my essay in front of my AP class in high school (which was really shocking to my classmates since I wasn't the front row, valedictorian seeking student) and college fiction writing classes that made me feel empowered. These things remain vivid memories to myself and my students.

When I asked students to share a negative experience with writing they cited primarily high school experiences. Now, I do understand that there are some justifiable reasons for this. Not until high school are they asked to create writing that critically analyzes a work. The stakes are higher and they are no longer writing for creative purposes. But how do you juggle both?

In addition to the conversation I am having asked students to fill out a personal writing survey  Hopefully it will start our process of self evaluation and reflection and give us some data to direct what we need to focus on in class.

"We are a first draft society. Push students to reread what they have written."

I could take on a million different ideas here - but I have taken on an ambitious project of a portfolio for second semester. What is our focus? REFLECTION and EXPOSURE.

We will be taking more time to not only write the essays, but really focus on the reflection. I want to make a deliberate effort to conference with my students on what they are doing well. Also, by giving them this cover page I am holding myself accountable to give them very outlined directions for each essay, take time to look over sample essays and model writing together, and finally spend time looking back and analyzing the work. The hope is with four essays to look back over we can identify things we are doing well, and things to improve on. I hope this portfolio ends up being a good experience for all of us.

The thing I am really struggling with is what is my role? How do I effectively grade 400 essays over the next 4 months?

"Take out the guilt- grading everything students write makes you a bottleneck in the process"

My thought is that I read all the essays and give comments - mindful of giving a positive to each- and have them write a reflection for each essay. They will receive a grade for turning in the assignments on time.  At the end of the semester they will turn in the entire portfolio, but submit one essay for a final grade. I'm not sure yet if that will be doing them a disservice for gaining feedback in the form of a grade, or if it might alleviate some of the pressure and allow us to write and reflect without consequence?

"Give them the freedom to take risks."

What I find with teaching is that I need to also give myself the freedom to take risks. I rarely, even after 7 years of teaching the same thing, give the same assignment in the same way. And I feel a bit of comfort in the fact that I can say I practice what I preach and I am a reflective teacher. I am going to see how this works. If I feel like I am ending up with a product that shows their development as writers I have achieved my purpose. So cheers to taking risks!

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