Reading and Writing: Students Decide

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Ann

We are currently reading A Teacher’s Guide to Standardized Reading Test, and although it is mainly talking about standardized reading tests, I can’t help but make a connection to the standardized writing tests that students are required to take as well. As we have learned throughout the reading program, reading and writing work together, yet for two years, the state tested these two subjects separately. Just like a majority of the school in Texas last year, my school’s scores were dismal. Therefore, a part of my job is to incorporate more reading and writing into the different subject areas. One of the strategies that I introduced to all the freshman, sophomores, and juniors was RAFT. I used an article I found on the internet, and after reading the article to them, we filled out the graphic organizer that is used as a pre-write activity. What essentially transpired in each class was creative writing. It has been a very long time since I saw students get excited about writing. Many classes didn’t want the class to end because they were having so much fun creating a piece of fiction.

I couldn’t help but think of this experience as I was reading the first three chapters of Calkins’ book. There were so many things that I agreed with in these chapters, but I think the thing that stood out the most was when she says that standardized tests don’t do a good job of showing what kids can.  Again, I know that Calkins is talking about reading tests, but I believe that this true for most of these types of tests.  As I went into each classroom introducing RAFT, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if students were able to decide what kind of writing they did on the test. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses as both readers and writers, what would happen if the students were able to find out what these strengths and weaknesses were, and use them to their advantage? Instead of being told what they have to write, the students could decide that for themselves based on what they are interested in, and what they are good at.

This past week I was required to attend a writing workshop, and found it to be very helpful in regards to how to spread literacy throughout all content areas. As the workshop was drawing to a close, the presenters but a quote on the screen for Lucy Calkins: “ Children’s curiosity and their passion to explore the world are the greatest resources we could ever hope to draw upon in teaching nonfiction writing.” I think this proves that children need to be given more freedom in what they read and what they write. Once this happens, then we can really evaluate how these children are doing, and my assumption is that they are doing much better than any standardize test could show.

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Flexibility and Teaching the Writing Process

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Joel West

The reading-writing connection is something that scholars have been discussing for many years and studying in earnest for decades now.  While it may seem like common sense to most Reading and Language Arts teachers that these two skillsets are interrelated, many still teach these skills in isolation with the hope that students will eventually be able to “put it all together” in the end.

Writing is a necessary component of literacy that is all-too-often set aside in order to teach reading skills and strategies related to high-stakes tests, especially when writing skills are only assessed at very specific intervals.  Usually, several years go by between these writing assessments and students aren’t given enough opportunities in the interim to develop and hone their skills as writers.  When they are finally given these opportunities, it occurs under the looming shadow of yet another high-stakes test—and the vicious cycle continues.

When the time comes to address writing skills with regard to high-stakes testing, teachers must invest a lot of time in teaching writing strategies, more specifically, the Writing Process.  The Writing Process, as it is generally presented, is a linear strategy made up of the following components: Pre-writing, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Publication/Performance.  With some variation, these steps follow the standard approach to teaching writing to students, often prescriptively.

A book could be written about any of the steps mentioned above in relation to the Writing Process.  However, it is in the instructional approach in teaching the Writing Process that the connections between reading and writing can sometimes become fuzzy.  Sure, the piece of writing students may be working on does have a connection to what has been read or what will soon be read in class, but often the topics have been decided upon by the teacher, which doesn’t allow students to explore topics that may have come up within their own explorations of the text.

While it is great to learn all of these aspects of the Writing Process, it might be better for all parties involved to recognize the cyclical nature of the writing process.  Sometimes, when a writer is at the revision step, it is necessary to go back and explore the topic further.  Although it’s not pre-writing necessarily, the strategies taught as such might need to be employed once again.  Editing may have to happen more than once.  And, as most prolific writers know, there is no such thing as a final product.  There is rarely an example of perfect writing.  Final drafts are just that—drafts.  They can still be revisited for additions, amendments, and further revision.

All writers use a process of some sort, yet ask any writer about their process, and you might hear an entirely different answer from one individual to the next.  There should be a sense of flexibility with each individual’s approach to writing.  We should be sharing guidelines and best practices rather than hard and fast rules with young writers.

The Literary Catwalk: How Teachers Model

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

 

“Read, read, read. Read everything… and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…”

                                                                       – Mark Twain

 As writing is an artistic form of communication, and communication is a critical skill in our society, an individual who writes well has the opportunity to be successful in many different areas in life. As teachers, we hope to produce students who have a deep understanding of this form of art. Yet, because it is one of the highest forms of output, many of our students struggle. Over the past few years, I have sought to improve myself as a writing teacher and I believe I may have found the golden ticket; let it be understood that this golden ticket in itself is not enough for admittance into the Wonderful World of Writing, but it is hugely important in helping students develop as writers.

This past school year, I was in tears over how poorly some of my students were writing. We had been working for MONTHS on simply writing paragraph-length responses to literature and providing textual evidence as support. I had tried every formula that I knew of (ACE- Answer/Cite Evidence/Explain, APE, ABC… the list goes on) to help students understand what these paragraphs should include. I had given them examples that they had taped into their interactive journals. We had looked at and rated all of the samples that had been provided by the state, but all I had to show for it was a bunch of choppy sentences, some of which were quotes that students had slapped down in an attempt to fulfill the requirements of the formula. Why is this so difficult? I mused. What am I doing wrong? Then, as if from the heavens (or from the long-disregarded advice of a co-worker), the answer came. I have to show them! In my desperate attempt to right my wrongs, I sat down at my document camera the next day and wrote. From that point forward, writing was real for my students.

Modeling writing for students with my own writing has proven to have a number of benefits. As with many forms of text, a teacher’s writing can provide the input that students need to in order to produce written output. Students can begin to mimic my writing examples and use them as a springboard for their own ideas. Direct and delayed spill over occurs, meaning that the conventions, spelling, syntax, structure and vocabulary that I use often shows up in my students writing both immediately and in future writings. Once students become comfortable doing this on their own, they can begin to play with my style and bend it to make it their own.

Additionally, I make sure to model the entire writing process for my students in order to emphasize that even experienced writers do not jump straight into a final draft. When they see my extensive planning and multiple drafts, they begin to take more time in these areas. They also lose the fear of putting ideas on paper, because they understand that it’s ok to write something that isn’t perfect. This also provides an excellent teacher-student bonding opportunity when students are able to see that even their teacher makes mistakes.

Most importantly, students become increasingly motivated and engaged when they realize that people they know, including their teacher, actually write and use their writing as a mode of expression. When I made the choice to share my writing with students, I gained a little more respect from them. All of this together lowers students’ affective filters and causes them to “drop their guard” so that real learning can occur. That in itself makes it worth it for teachers to take the time to “walk the literary catwalk” and model good writing as a master writer.

Advantages of the Language Experience Approach

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Delma

I first read about the language experience approach (LEA) as an undergraduate in the education program. The foundation of the language experience approach is the students’ own experiences being written and read as dictated to the teacher verbatim, with no editing.  Then, the teacher and the students read the story aloud.  Through LEA, beginning readers can learn about the conventions of print, print directionality, basic punctuation and that what they say, that is, oral language, can be written and read. Other activities may include writing the story in their journal and illustrating it.

One of my class assignments was to design a lesson plan that implemented LEA during my field observations.  The students in the class I was assigned to were first grade emergent bilinguals.  They chose to dictate to me a five-sentence story about their favorite holiday, Christmas.  Below are examples of Kathleen’s and Raul’s copies of the story.

delma 1

delma 2

I realized, then, that students had authentic experiences that they were eager to share.  Seeing their own stories in print and reading them afterwards provided a rich learning experience for them while validating their experiences.   Just as they read what someone else has written in their textbooks and library books, their stories are meant to be written and read, too.

Now, as a graduate student, one of our assigned textbooks, From Phonics to Fluency by Timothy V. Rasinski and Nancy D. Padak, offers many more methods and techniques for implementing LEA.   As the students progress to higher-grade levels, teachers can continue to plan lessons using LEA.   These lessons can focus on a specific academic subject, with emphasis placed on the vocabulary, their prior knowledge of the topic, or their new understanding.  Teaching advanced grammar can be incorporated into any academic subject with LEA.  Indenting paragraphs, placing exclamation marks, colons, semicolons and commas in the appropriate places as the students dictate their experiences will provide them with an added learning experience.  Also, the use of conjunctions can be learned through LEA activities.

The language experience approach is a philosophy that has been studied and implemented for many years.  It has provided an advantage to students at all grade levels with their reading, writing and in the content areas.  Enriching students’ learning is important. LEA activities will provide this and, at the same time, it will encourage them to be a part of their own learning experience.

Spelling Trauma: An Anecdote of Frustration

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By M.R. Graham

Young writers go through a period during which they want to use words they do not know how to spell. They cope by inventing a spelling, just like very small children invent or mispronounce words. The standard teacher response to these attempts seems to be not praise for an expanding vocabulary, but criticism for nonstandard spelling. This is a problem.

Let me take you back a decade and a half to a fifth-grade classroom in a sizeable public elementary school somewhere in the bowels of Houston, Texas. The pudgy, bookish child at the end of the middle row is looking over the comments on her most recent Writer’s Notebook entry. She loves this activity. She writes reflections, poetry, and short stories. She writes lists and notes to herself and observations on her environment. Often, she illustrates them as well. Last night, she wrote a daily schedule for herself.

Unfortunately, she spelled it “SHEDULE,” and now there is a red mark at the top of the page, demanding that she copy over the entire passage using the correct spelling. She does the logical thing – raises her hand and asks for the correct spelling. She is told to look it up in the dictionary. There are thirty pages of words that begin with the sh sound, and schedule is not among them. She asks for help. The teacher tells her to try a different dictionary. A bigger one, perhaps.

She obtains a hall pass and makes for the library, aiming for the huge book on a podium by the door, the one she is not able to lift. There are more than fifty pages of sh words. Schedule  is still not there. She asks the librarian for help, but the teacher has contacted the librarian while the student was wandering the halls, and the librarian informs the student cheerfully that they are teaching her to find information for herself.

The student returns, defeated, to the classroom. She turns the page and begins to write a story, one that does not include the word schedule. The teacher takes the notebook away and insists that she keep working on her scheduling problem.

No one thinks to mention that there is an alternate pronunciation, similar to school, that could shed some light on the issue.

The student produces a number of attempts:

SHEDULE

SHEDUL

SHEDUAL

SHEDUALL

SHED YOU ALL

She remembers that vacuum has two Us, so she tries that.

SHEDUUL

Or maybe she was just enunciating too much?

SHEJULE

The teacher looks at the last couple of tries and tells the child that her attempts are stupid and getting progressively worse. Only bad writers spell like that. Having previously been praised for her poetry, the student is confused and upset. Is it possible that writing quality is determined exclusively by spelling? Can a good writer become a poor one? Is she a bad writer?

I hope this account sounds as ridiculous as it felt to me at the time. I was saved by having a reading specialist for a mother, one who refused to put up with this kind of garbage, but other students are not as lucky. Consider this a plea. Children learn to speak by imitating what they hear, and to write by imitating what they read. Look at what the child says, not at the mistakes they make while saying it, and give them good models to imitate. Language cannot be pulled from thin air.

The Process of Creative Writing

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Jacquelyn Zambrano

Students in my fourth grade class were always reluctant in writing sentences; much less writing a story. In my first year of teaching writing and incorporating the writing process, students would zone out and not much meaningful learning was going on in my classroom. I quickly learned that the best way for students to grasp the writing process was to model it. I have found that my students enjoyed and were engaged in giving me ideas to create my story. Teaching the different types of writing was an exciting process for me. I particularly enjoyed teaching creative writing and would see the benefits it would give my students.

Since creative writing could be fictional, fantasy or pretend, my students enjoyed the pre-writing step. As a class, we would decide the setting of the story. I would usually begin with a fantasy story. They would get so excited to pick the premise of the character, place, and problem. Starting the rough draft step was always a teachable moment, from reminding them to indent to it’s ok to make mistakes and erase and/or draw a line through the deleted words. Students would have a hard time understanding that page was not their final draft. Getting their ideas to flow and make connections to form the story was sometimes a challenge. They would get ahead of the story and would not build up to the good points. I would have to slow them down and guide them in elaborating their ideas. At times, we would revise our work as we wrote by cutting ideas or adding extra information. Editing would occur if the students caught the grammatical error along the way or at the end of the story. Creating our final draft was always ceremonial. I would type it up and place in a sheet protector with a nice border. Other students would read it, and my students would have a sense of pride. In my school, I would team teach with another teacher. I had two classes that I would write a different story with. You would find them comparing their stories and deciding which one was better.

1237098546824050827StudioFibonacci_Cartoon_zebra svg medI would do this several times before they attempted to create their own story. One prompt I completely enjoyed using was “How did a zebra get its stripes?” Every year, it would amaze me the ideas my students would come up with. One student wrote that the zebras earn their stripes by being responsible. The main character was irresponsible and struggled with earning its stripes. Another student wrote that zebras were once all white. At school, the milk that was being served caused them to get stripes. Once the other zebras saw how beautiful they looked, they wanted some too. My students were very inventive with their ideas in creating a story. Even though it was fictional, they were problem solving within their story.

Creative writing has a special place in the exposure of what students learn in the classroom. Sadly enough, many teachers don’t have the luxury of teaching this to their students because of their other obligations to the standardized test. Narrative and expository writing are very important types of writing, but creative writing allows the student to explore their imagination. It is endless the stories they can write. I only wish that students are given the opportunity to write more in the classroom.

The Importance of Language Experience Approach

This semester in READ 6310 students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Marlissa Martinez

Learning how to read is a skill that not all children are ready for. I believe that applying the language experience approach in the classroom is essential for students to emerge into reading. I’m a Pre-Kindergarten teacher at John H. Shary Elementary in Mission, TX.  I feel the necessity to provide my students with the foundation for learning to read. It is imperative that I instill the love of reading to my students, and what better than through the language experience approach, where they are able to authentically connect with the text and content.

This approach is based on the students’ language and experience. I started to expose my students by dictating stories in our morning messages. I would dictate and write the story in chart paper, then, I would point to the words and read the stories.  With times students started dictating their own story. The steps for teaching this is that first, we need to provide an experience that serves for the writing. We can share experience approach in a whole group setting where we can discuss a school experiences, or as simple as having a pet. Next, we discuss the experience prior to writing. The purpose of the discussion is to generate words to review the experience so that our students can dictate comfortably. This discussion can begin with an open-ended question. Then, we record the dictation. In a group setting you record it on chart paper, and individually you record it on writing paper. After this is done we read the text aloud pointing to each word. Students enjoy reading and they can take turns rereading.

Every day during our morning message we develop rich language experience approaches, the topic is broad and students are engaged. By doing this students were able to develop a language experience approach individually. Every Friday I call students one by one and have them dictate a story to me. I like that they are able to see that their thoughts have meaning. They are also excited to see that they have developed a book that they can share with others, but most of all understand and learn how to read. This text become reading material that has meaning and that is authentic to the student. Because the content is based on their experience, they are usually able to read the text easily.

I believe that this is an effective way to help children emerge into reading. Their own writing can take them to another world, where they can imagine the unimaginable.