Sunday, 22 March 2015

So Long and Farewell

What an adventure. I am sad that it is coming to an end. As I reflect upon the course, and all the great strategies for writing which we were exposed to, I think about what I got out of this course. I appreciate looking at things like slam poetry and the 6+1 traits of writing, which will help me through my career, but there is one thing which I believe I gained from this course which stands out from the rest. It's the confidence, which came with working with a student, which I developed most in the short time we had at Hawthorne. I truly feel like I am capable of providing students with the instruction necessary to improve their writing abilities. What a truly special talent to have going into my career as a teacher.

I want to thank you for all the help you have given me to develop these skills which will translate into a successful career in the future. Best of luck, and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Final Day at Hawthorne

I have to admit, that I was a little sad to leave Hawthorne this Monday. It felt like I hadn't accomplished as much as I would have wanted to in the time being given. But I suppose that is to be expected considering how much time we really had.
I opened the stage for my student to choose what she wanted to work on this week. Since it was the last day, I wanted her to address any issues which she thought needed to be covered for her writing assignments. So I emailed her over the weekend and asked her to think of something she wanted some help with. To my surprise, she didn't want to talk about the writings for Mr. Harder's class, but something completely different instead (don't tell John). She was stuck in a writers rut, and had no idea what she wanted to write about for an upcoming history assignment on the Klondike gold rush. All she knew was that she wanted to write a letter from someone who went looking for riches. So we did what any 21st century learner would do. We googled it! I figured if she couldn't find any inspiration within herself, maybe looking at some online resources might spark some inspiration. I taught her a couple of tricks for googling things, and I showed her a couple of resources which she could look at for future projects.
We finished our session by just shooting the breeze. I knew she was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of school, so I thought maybe the best way to end would be to leave writing behind, and give her someone to talk to, even if it was only for a short period of time. I'm hoping that our conversation will remind her that she needs to find time away from her school work to talk with people and resolve her problems. I really believe that if she can put the pressures of school on the back burner that her schoolwork might actually improve. I wish I could be around to find out.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Editing: The Achilles Heel

Today I got the chance to continue the mentor process with my original student from Hawthorne. I decided we would be best served working on editing procedures. This student doesn't really have someone who can work on editing with her. Both her parents are first generation Chinese immigrants, and can not help her writing. Out of the three writing assignments she shared with me, the one which needed the most work was a summary of Zeno's paradox about Achilles and the tortoise. The formatting and spelling were decent, and easily fixed, but the organization  and the flow of the piece were choppy. She was explaining the paradox in a way which someone who didn't already know the paradox wouldn't understand. She, however, did not see the reason why the paradox hadn't been properly explained. So I gave her a few examples of why her sentences weren't fully clear, and we spoke about editing every sentence separately from each other, then working on sentence to sentence. Then, when we had cleaned up most of the short text, we tackled the couple of sentences which made her writing confusing. I asked her to explain what she wanted to say in those two sentences aloud. As she spoke, I acted as her scribe, writing out what she said near verbatim. The sentences we had come to together cleared up any confusion and made the piece fluent.  So I talked about voice recordings, or speech to text, thinking maybe if she vocalized, scribed, then edited, her writing might improve. Perhaps if she can improve her sentence fluency by speaking instead of writing her ideas, the editing portion will be easier to handle.

Maybe she might even be able to turn that Achilles heel into a strength!

“Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.” 
― HomerThe Iliad

Friday, 27 February 2015

That's Pretty Close to Plagiarism

Since the student I worked with the first week was away for this week, I was placed with another grade eight student. He is a very frank, and very open boy who likes to speak what is on his mind. Unfortunately, most of what was on his mind was the popular game Minecraft. There was more than a few occasions where the topic of conversation had to be brought back to writing. As I looked through his story, creatively entitled "Short Horror Story," I noticed a few things right away. First, his writing is well crafted and his grammar is near perfect after the first draft. Any errors I caught, he managed to point out before I could. Second, the story had a good flow to it and his use of conventions (capitalization, elipses, etc.) added emphasis in the necessary places. Third, his story was the exact plot to the "Thriller" video from Michael Jackson.

So we had the conversation about plagiarism. I told him that there is nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from another story, but that there is something wrong with copying the exact plot line. It was such an obvious rip off: the protagonist's name was Michael. That is when he admitted that he had forgotten about the assignment, and he wrote it in ten minutes right before meeting me.

So we spoke about the 6+1 traits. the word choice, voice, organization, sentence fluency, and conventions were well executed, and I felt that in the short time we had together, he would be better served talking about the sixth trait, ideas. He admitted to having difficulty coming up with his own ideas. He said he would usually just slightly modify the plot from another story, or borrow ideas from his peers. He knew that wasn't ideal and showed interest in becoming more creative with his ideas. Since his genre of choice is horror, I drew inspiration from some of my favorite horror writers. Often horror writers will start with the ending. Once they know what is going to happen, they work on the details of how the story got there. I showed him some graphic organizers which dealt with developing a sequence working backwards.

Hopefully that strategy might help him with originality in the future!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Mentoring students at Hawthorne

What an experience to get ourselves in to a school and work on helping students with their writing process. The nerves built up over the preceding weeks as I wondered what I was getting myself into. I questioned my capabilities of being a mentor for a young student. Do I have what it takes to help someone get better at writing? There is an automaticity to my writing which comes with years of practice. If I don't even understand my own procedures, how could I possibly improve someone else's? However, I quickly came to realize that the tricks and procedures which I have come to think of as automatic are easily accessed if I am being prompted to think about them.

So Monday, we walked into the class nervous and excited to get into the work. When it came time to pair up, the nerves went away as they normally do once I am set into action. I was placed with  an outgoing and funny young girl whose writing has a lot of room for potential. Although I wanted to take that first half hour to get to know her on a more personal level, she is all business. I was there to help her get better at writing, and she saw no point in wasting time going through the regular formalities. A quick introduction was enough to set the wheels in motion and start working on making her writing better. She spoke about her desire to increase her vocabulary, and to be able to express her opinions using "big fancy words." So we spoke about using a thesaurus while writing, subscribing to a word calender, and increasing her vocabulary by looking up any words she doesn't know while reading. More importantly, I tried to convey the idea that fancy wording can sometimes take away from the overall efficiency of one's writing. We spoke about working with the vocabulary she already possesses to make sure she is properly explaining her ideas in a coherent manner. I used my sister, who writes government documents for a living, as an example. Her job is to express the meaning and intentions of the policies into words which are accessible to everyone. Her work must be well crafted, but it also exemplifies the importance of conveying meaning efficiently.

Aside from vocabulary, she struggled to locate the exact places where she most needed improvement. But one thing became blatantly obvious about her writing as we spoke. She lacks confidence in what she writes, and how she writes it. She would say "this person does this better than me" or "I'm not very good at that." There is a level of anxiety which she gets when she even thinks about her writing because she is always comparing herself to her peers. We spoke about seeing her classmates as resources rather than competition. I told her that if she sees someone else doing something better than her, talk to them about what they are doing. Ask them about their procedures, and show them some of her own writing to see if they can improve upon it. I also spoke with her about being proud of, and focusing only on her own development. If we think  about it as a correlation chart, she is always comparing herself to someone else, and both her and her comparison are constantly improving. But she is only looking at the fact that she is still behind where the other person is. Looking at it that way, she won't ever look at her own improvements and be proud of what she has achieved.

Looking over her writing, there are some grammar and thought organization issues which we can improve upon. I left her the following quote in an email about the best way to improve her writing:

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.
- C. J. Cherryh

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mentor Texts

The Mentor text I chose was a movie review on the recent film American Sniper from the New York Daily News. I chose this text as a way to teach conveying meaning and intentions in writing for an English class. This type of lesson would probably be used for a grade 11 or 12 class. The review itself never actually gives a thumbs up or thumbs down type response, but the language used by the author implies a positive review. I think it would be an interesting way for students to grasp how language can affect meaning without being overtly stated. This lesson could provide students with deeper critical thinking skills in assessing bias and perspective, as well as writing skills to help properly convey meaning. Coming from a history background as well, it would be interesting to use this mentor text in a history unit. It might be fun and engaging for students to write a review of a movie through a historical perspective where they could argue for or against the validity of the movie as a fictional member of the society being depicted. In this case, it would be appropriate to use some of the mini-lessons from chapter 7 of the Peterson reading including spelling, grammar, punctuation, homophones, etc. The mentor text could serve as a guide by re-arranging sentences to convey different meaning due to poor punctuation, grammar, etc.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The problem of allowing too much creativity according to Calvin

Atwell and Peterson Response:

What stuck out the most to me from Atwell's article is the need for teachers to loosen the restraints they place on their writing curriculum. Teachers should be open to allowing the creativity of their students to come out in their writing, regardless of whatever preconceived notions you may hold about what "good" writing is. Taking into account the first two chapters of the Peterson reading, these concepts can be applied across many different subject areas and disciplines. The most important part of writing, not that grammar and spelling are unimportant, is expressing those ideas you have onto paper. Both readings stress the importance of sharing these ideas and editing your writing with your peers. The authors regard this practice as an efficient way of reflecting on strategies for writing, as well as for producing finished works.

Atwell claims that having a preset curriculum, with activities and assignments laid out, will limit the creativity of your students, and they will not produce their best work as a result. Having the freedom of choice allows students to produce a level of writing which best demonstrates their competency in writing. Atwell realized the importance of allowing her curriculum to work for her and her students, instead of having her students work for her curriculum. Through this change in process, she was able to see the real potential her students had in writing. She decided that relinquishing some of the power she held over the writing process benefited the students learning. If we are to take the Peterson reading into context, perhaps all subject areas can benefit from a more open approach to not only writing, but learning as a whole.

From my own personal experience, I believe there needs to be a balance between having structured, directed writing tasks, and open writing tasks where students have the freedom of choice. I really believe that leaving every assignment open may benefit students writing in the short term, but may not be conducive to preparing students for life outside of formalized education. For most people, it is a harsh reality that sometimes things need to be done regardless of whether you want to do it or not. This rule does not extend beyond the scope of writing.

Free Writing Assignment:

Free writing can be difficult. When you factor in a vast question, like "what is writing," the task becomes even more difficult. It took me a while to synthesise my thoughts, as random words flew into my head. At first, I jotted down words to describe writing (particularly my own writing).

  • words
  • messy words
  • creative
  • or not
  • books, journals, articles, diaries, letters, blogs, etc.
But as I wrapped my head around the topic, my thinking became more coherent, and the words began to flow.
  • Writing can be anything you want. It is fully open. There are limitless forms of writing which can be used to convey meaning, express, influence, entertain, bring about emotions, and excite. Or you can make your writing boring. It's your call. 
  • You can get completely lost in writing, taking you and potential readers to places as far as your imagination will let you go.
  • When I think about writing, the word structure immediately comes to mind. But the structures of language and writing are not rigid, they are flexible, and they are made to be bent, broken, and remade. I think about how words can take on new connotations, I think about how new words are made, and I think about how writing is constantly evolving as a result.
Clearly writing is what you make it out to be. There are no limitations to how far your writing can go.