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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Entry #4

On Monday I went to Mrs. Dolgas's third grade classroom with my cooperating teacher to support some of her students for ELA.  To my surprise and delight, Mrs. Dolgas began to introduce to her class their new writers workshop program.  I was so excited to see what format she had chosen and how she would introduce it to her students.  I immediately started to think about the readings that I had done for this class and the assignment of how we would structure our own writers workshop.  I found many of her techniques aligned with the strategies suggested in our readings.

Mrs. Dolgas started by calling the students over to the rug, she then pulled out her own writers journal and told them that they were going to start a writers workshop.  She explained that this was going to be time for the students to explore topics and free write.  That there would be structured assignments and free choice.  This goes right along with the readings as she plans on allowing time for both structured and unstructured responses.  This will allow for her students to pursue their interests and develop their creativity, while at the same time target specific skills.

Then Mrs. Dolgas jumped right into a targeted mini lesson on generating ideas.  She chose one strategy for generating ideas, explained it to the class and then shared an example from her personal notebook.  This mini lesson gave the students a starting point for their writers workshop.  They had a strategy posted on the board and the teacher had modeled it's use.  This also goes along with the format of a readers workshop that is mentioned in the articles we read for this class.  After the mini lesson the students were given 15 minutes to write using the strategy.  They had to write about a specific memory they had with someone that was important to them.  This is a perfect mix of structure needed for students to get used to writers workshop, while still allowing for student choice of topic.

Mrs. Dolgas shared the piece that she had written using the strategy with the class.  She wrote about the time she found out that her grandma had passed away.  She made a note to tell the class that they could write about anything they wanted and it did not need to be a sad story.  However, more than half the class wrote tragic stories that day.  This goes to show how influential the teachers stories are in shaping her students writing. 

The next day the teacher taught another strategy on zooming into a specific memory and really painting a picture.  This target corresponded with their reading target for the day, which was to make mental images.  This shows how Mrs. Dolgas was using the reading and writing process to supplement and support the other.  This goes along with all of our class readings, and shows that she can use both reading and writing to teach the same skill.  Mrs. Dolgas really focused on having students add "juicy details" in their writing and used their reading lesson as an example of good use details.  This helped show the importance of painting a picture with your words so that the reader can paint a picture in their minds.

Lastly, during center time Mrs. Dolgas let each student decorate their notebooks with pictures and color.  This helps the students create a bond with their notebook and really take ownership of it.   It also helped foster excitement for writers workshop.  I am excited to see how Mrs. Dolgas develops her writers workshop program and what the students create!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Entry #3

For this blog entry I decided to go back and complete my entry number 1.

I have had many experiences teaching writing in my student teaching experiences, field placements, and substitute teaching experiences.  There are different aspects of teaching writing that I feel very comfortable with, and others that I do not.  As a young professional it is important to remember what core principles you value and incorporate them in your classroom.

I believe that there needs to be time for students to write for enjoyment, in addition to more structured assignments.  The balance of these approaches requires the teacher to remember that free writing is just as crucial as the assigned writing assignments.  Free writing allows students to explore their creativity, pursue their interests, and develop their love for writing. Teachers need to make time in their busy schedules every once and a while for students to engage in free writing.  Too often, students begin to resent and avoid writing because their love for writing has been extinguished.  Choice and free writing will help to reignite the flame.  However, this does not mean that all writing should be free choice.  Certain assignments can and should be more structured.  This helps bring students out of their comfort zone and meet the objectives of a particular assignment.  It also helps students get to know different kinds of writing styles and gives the students an opportunity to practice them.  It also gives students a clear starting point, as some students struggle finding the motivation and ideas when it comes to free writing.

I also believe that conferencing with students is especially beneficial for both teachers and students.  It gives the teacher a glimpse of the strengths and weaknesses in their students writing and then will help them design lessons and provide interventions to target those gaps.  It also helps students stay on track learn how to successfully use the writing process.  It validates their efforts and shows that the teacher really cares about their writing and wants to help them improve.  Conferences can be done as a whole group, small group, individually, or student run.  Each format has merit and can be used in different situations.  Teachers can use both formal and informal conferences with students and is a good tool for assessing the students work and showcasing progress.  Student run conferences are a great way to make sure that students are reflecting on the writing process.  They will have to tell the teacher where they are, what they did well, what they need to do, and how they plan on getting there.

I believe that sharing student work is extremely important.  It helps students gain a sense of pride in their work.  It shows them that their writing is important and that it is not just for themselves or their teacher.  Towle (2000) claims that it "promotes excitement for literacy and defines the class as a community of writers" (p.40)  Sharing ones writing can help students gain confidence in their work.  But, sharing is not only about sharing your own work, it is also about listening to the ideas of your classmates.  It is a wonderful learning experience and can encourage students to take risks and try new things.

The readings from this class have helped to consider and reflect on what is really important when it comes to writing workshops.  They helped me to shape my core principals and my concepts of writing workshop.  One of the major ideas that has been recently put on my radar has been the idea of a digital writers workshop.  This is not something I have seen in practice or have even heard about before.  This new idea drove me to think of my ability to teach students to use the technology necessary to implement a digital writers workshop.  While I feel very confident in my abilities to navigate and create most technologies such as Microsoft, Google, wikis, blogs, and websites I am not sure how I would be at explaining the process to children.  I fear that I would lack the ability to effectively explain these resources to children in a way that they can understand and remember.  I also fear the instances when technology fails.  Everyone has an experience when the internet can not be reached, the computer crashes, or some unknown problem arises.  I believe that I can overcome my fears by having a very detailed plan of instruction and a back up plan.  If I write out the steps to navigate or create a blog and give them to students they will have it in front of them to consult even if they can not understand my directions.  Lastly, having a backup plan for the instances when the technology fails is a must!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Entry #2

Troy Hicks claims that "Digital writing changes a number of dynamics in the writing process, and there are implications for three of those dynamics that seem to be more pronounced: the students we teach, the subject matter of writing, and the spaces in which writing occurs" (2009, p. 125).  These three elements vary based on which district, school, classroom, and student you are working with.  I am currently completing my practicum in Discovery Charter School in Irondequoit, NY.  This charter school serves K-3 students, with a preference for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The population is mainly African American.  I have only been in my placement for a few short days, but the first step to designing a successful digital writing workshop would be to get to know my students.

The students at this school are young, and their exposure to and experiences with technology is varied.  While some have computer, smart phones, iPads, and such at home, others do not.  It is important to do a screening of the class to see what forms of technology they are familiar with and others that need to be explicitly taught to them.  Hicks (2009) provides questions such as how your students view digital writing, the ways they think digital writing enhanced school writing, and how often they access the internet or computers.  These questions will help you learn the unique needs of your class and will give you a starting point.  Hicks also provides steps to take with your students in regards to digital literacy.  Some suggestions include, creating a blog or a wiki for the class and working with a small group of students to create a project with digital writing tools (p. 129-130).

I could use these suggestions as I work in my practicum placement as I pull out students for intervention services.  The charter school has two computers in most classrooms and a few laptops that can be used.  There are also a a smart board in most rooms.  I would use the suggestions above to work with these students on different skills and strategies.  There are numerous resources on the web that would be beneficial in addition to the ones mentioned in the book.  It is important to remember that the students are young and may not be fluent in navigating the web.  One way I could use digital literacy would be to create a personal blog for each student and use it as a place to post their work, list their activities and chart their progress.  I could do the first post my self, and then assist the student in the future until they were their own blog master.  This blog would be a good way for parents to stay informed of their child's work as well as a great resource to pull up when discusing a studnet with another teacher or the building principal.

In regards to subject and what we teach about digital writing it is important to remember that digital writing changes based on its purpose and context.  The definition of writing as putting words on paper or screen is not longer sufficient.  We need to consider what it really means to be a writer.  Hicks (2009) suggests that you ask your self and your students what counts as writing, what you enjoy about digital texts, and what is common about good writing in both print and digital forms.  It is also important to consider what the writing process looks like in regards to digital writing.  Hicks also suggests that we create and show our students a variety of different digital writing tools using a variety of different genres and reflect on why they are useful (p. 131-132).

My students are relatively young and still learning and developing their writing process.  I suggest that they should be taught both writing in print and digital modes.  This way they will be familiar and comfortable with both modes as they continue their schooling.  It will also help them distinguish which forms would be most appropriate for different tasks and assignments and be more willing to take risks.

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Digital writing should be taught explicitly by a teacher and also thought virtual spaces.  The structure of both spaces needs to match up and be appropriate in regards to the goals we are working towards and students we are working with.  Some important aspects of the classroom set up include the height of the computer screens, when to use laptops versus desktop computers, and ease of motion in the room.  In regards to the virtual spaces you need to decide what tool is best for the task, what the usernames and passwords will be, and how do you encourage students to share and respond to each other’s work.

I believe that Discovery is in a pretty good spot with resources to start a digital writing workshop.  There are two desktop computers in the classroom and a cart of laptops that can be used as well.  The smart board is also a great tool, especially when it comes to teaching lessons, modeling, and large group activities.  I believe that a computer lab would be the next step to take to really make the digital workshop a success.  This will allow for the students to gather in a central location and each student will be able to have their own computer.  There will need to be a lot of explicit instruction and modeling to teach the concept of the digital writing workshop form the start.  The students will have to learn what to do and what not to do during this time.  I am sure that with time and commitment the digital writers workshop will be a success!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Entry #1

I have had many experiences teaching writing in my student teaching experiences, field placements, and substitute teaching experiences.  There are different aspects of teaching writing that I feel very comfortable with, and other that I do not.  As a young professional it is important to remember what core principles you value and incorporate them in your classroom.

I believe that there needs to be time for students to write for enjoyment, in addition to more structured assignments.  The balance of these approaches requires the teacher to remember that free writing is crucial and time must be allowed for students to explore their own creativity.  Other assignments can be more structured, and this helps bring students out of their comfort zone and meet the objectives of that particular assignment.  Free writing should be used to help foster the lover for writing in students and remind them that there are many uses for writing.  Too often, students begin to resent and avoid writing because their love for writing has been extinguished.  Choice and free writing will help to reignite the flame.

I also believe that conferencing wtih studnets is especially benificial for both teahcers and studnets.  It gives the teacher a glimpse of the strengths and weaknesses in their students writing and then will help them design lessons and provide interventions to target those gaps.  It also helps studnets stay on track learn how to successfully use the writing process.  It also validates their efforts and shows that the teacher really cares about their writing and will help them improve.  Conferences can be done as a whole group, small group, individually, or student run.  Each format has merit and can be used in different situations.

....TO BE CONTINUED