In Breakthroughs: Classroom Discoveries About Teaching, Peter Trenouth, a high school English teacher writes about an activity he used with his students to strengthen their descriptive writing. He had found that his students’ writing assignments were often “mired in hollow thought or stilted prose”. Even “creative” assignments would come back “weak, either mechanistic or formless.” He discovered that getting his students to write descriptive papers often solved this problem. However, I appreciate how he asks why students should learn to write more descriptively, other than saying its to meet state standards or testing requirements. He developed an answer: descriptive writing should be “anchored in experiences” if they are to have meaning. Meaning does not stand by itself and when we experience the sights, sounds, textures, and odors of life, and we describe them with language, we give meaning to life. Continue reading
I have worked with English Language Learners of all ages, ranging from a second grader to doctoral students as well as helping my mom with her master’s thesis and my dad with his doctoral dissertation. They have all been native Korean speakers, whose first language is Korean. I think I will write about the doctoral student I am currently helping edit her articles and dissertation proposal. I guess I’m in a slightly different position from the students I work with because I am most comfortable communicating in English but I am also comfortable speaking in Korean (as long as it is not in a formal setting because I lack a lot of complex vocabulary in Korean). I am most struck by my student’s courage to study at the PhD level in a second language. For myself and many other native English speakers I know, writing a dissertation is a daunting task but ask any of us to write it in another language, then, I think we would honestly be at a loss. However, my student is very positive and approaches the language barrier as just one hurdle to deal with and she does this in a very matter-of-fact way. She knows what she wants to say and knows her research inside and out, so it is just a matter of communicating it in a way that her audience can understand it. As I read her writing, I notice that she tends to write in the language that I have come to associate with academic writing – writing that I sometimes have to read over and over again before I can make sense out of it. I think this has something to do with Korean syntax. Formal Korean tends to take on a very passive voice. For example, it is the type of writing where, “the ball was thrown to me” rather than “John threw the ball to me.” So, I find myself switching gears in my head as I read her writing – from trying to visualize what she is saying, to trying to connect it to anything I know. Koreans also tend to struggle with using articles in their writing or using the correct article because we don’t use articles before a noun. A monkey is “monkey” and “please pass the salt” is “salt to me pass, please.” I still don’t know how to teach my students to use the correct article in their writing. I think this is something that has to be innately learned through being immersed in the English language for a long time. My dad still has trouble with it.
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth
Dedicated to: Elizabeth Slifer
When I was around 9 years old, I almost lost my two front teeth. So, the song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” almost became my childhood theme song. We were living in Nairobi at the time on a large compound with many other young missionaries – it was very communal. We had our meals together and worked together. My younger sister and I shared a room, which was, now that I think about it, a converted porch. Our room served as a bedroom, with our steel, green bunk bed on one end, and a dining room, with a small dining table on the opposite end. The walls of the room were draped in long, slightly sheer curtains to cover what were actually long windows. Continue reading
Monday, June 21, 2010
I’m trying to put together my demo for teaching personal narratives. As I research for materials that could potentially become my contentions, I have found a common theme running throughout the articles that I’ve found. The authors say that having students write about their personal lives helps to validate them within the classroom. Basically, I am beginning to understand how powerful personal narratives are in helping students to understand who they are in the contexts of their past, present, and future. It is through writing about their lives that students can make sense of their past, present, and future. Writing about our lives is a lot like storytelling. Telling stories brings pleasure to the listener and, I believe, situates the story within a culture, time, place, and event, and, therefore, gives the storyteller a clear identity. Continue reading
For the most part, I have felt out of my element. However, I feel like it has pushed me in a good way to learn new technologies (i.e., iMovie). I am enjoying the work that we are doing because it keeps me focused and thinking about writing and teaching. I think the challenging part is the continual collegial aspect of it – having to talk about teaching and methods and theories, etc., without feeling completely at ease about my knowledge. There is a lot going on – the days feel packed. I think it has been a challenge to continually blog, respond, meet in groups and respond, while reading, working on our own videos and projects – all at the same time. I love the aspect of being challenged to express myself in new ways – through blogging and maybe trying out different genres of expression.
Another aspect that has been challenging is the push for creativity. I know that teaching requires a great amount of creativity but I am realizing that I can only think creatively for a specific amount of time (i.e., while working on a project like our interview videos).
I’m afraid to say this but I think my approach to teaching writing has been more of a procedural one. We’ve used Lucy Calkins in the past to teach personal narratives, creative writing, and persuasive essays. However, because both my co-teacher and I were new to teaching writing in general, we heavily relied on her scripted versions for our first year, even with help from Haeny Yoon to organize and plan out our units.
This article was eye-opening for me in that it helped me to reflect back on my own writing experiences in school in a new light. I always took it for granted that the way I was taught to write, particularly expository texts, was the standard of good writing and had been for decades. As I read the article, I kept thinking how much I appreciated Kathleen Yancey’s concise explanation of the history of teaching writing. Like she explained, reading was always associated with intimacy and comfort, while writing was anxiety-producing. I think this characterized my own reading and writing experience growing up as well. Reading was a pleasure but writing was a chore. From a teacher’s perspective, it is comforting to realize that a lot of the writing instruction we use now was developed through research, yet it isn’t the only way that students learn how to write. Yancey also mentioned that more writing seemed to occur outside the classroom, and that is something I whole-heartedly agree with. If my students’ only writing experiences were to occur in the classroom, I would be concerned about their development and advancement in writing. It is also comforting to know that we do not have to confine our students to the rigidity of the writing process because every student processes, thinks, and writes differently. I think this can give students greater freedom and space to understand themselves as writers. I also agree with Yancey that writing within social networking sites online has expanded what it means to be a writer because writing is a social act. We write, most of the time, for an audience.
My writing process usually begins with mulling ideas, topics, and information over and over in my mind. I need time to read, research, and talk to people about it. Then, I need time to make the information my own – understand it in a way that I can explain it in my own way. As I research, I’ll take notes. I think very well when I take a walk, lay down, or, many times, when I’m sitting at church (it’s about the quietness). I need to get away from the computer, the books, and the paper to get some distance from the writing and to process it in my mind. I used to think I had to map out my writing manually before I started writing but nowadays, I’m able to organize my writing in my mind in chunks or sections. I think this gives me flexibility to change the writing in my mind before I begin the actual writing process. As I process and organize what I will write about, I think about the audience. My biggest fear is wondering what people will think about it – will they be bored? Confused? I think I have a silent dialogue with the ideas – I see the words or ideas presented visually on the page. I find myself, like Ralph Fletcher described in his book, What a Writer Needs, that I have an inner dialogue with myself. If I feel sufficiently connected to what I am writing about and feel confident that I believe what I write, I usually don’t have any problems publishing the piece.