Sunday, September 15, 2013

Can we write unplugged?

As I'm sitting in my favorite coffeehouse, I am looking around and pretty much everyone has a laptop or mobile device.  Clearly, we are in an age where this is common.  For instance, I am checking student blogs, and writing a post myself, so I need my laptop.  But....what if I was working on that great american (YA) novel?  It's coming...someday.  If I were writing, would I HAVE to have my laptop?  I tend to think no, because I still like to draft and invent when I write.

Beginning Wednesday, my College Writing students will draft their first official paper-- a narrative essay.  I told my students on Friday that we would do a writing activity on Wednesday that would possibly lead into their first paper.  One of the students asked "Should we bring our laptops?"  Not an unreasonable inquiry....but then it occurred to me....can people write without electronic devices?  I explained that there would be no research and that we would be conducting activities that would allow us to write in spurts, that we are not writing in a linear manner.  The student simply said "Ok." and went on her way.  But that got me will others react?

Maybe it's because I went to high school in the 80's, but I still like to keep a notebook or tablet and jot things down before I write.  I did this when I wrote my dissertation in 2011.   In Stephen Reid's The Writer's Purposes  he mentions 6 stages to the writing process:  Understanding the Task, Gathering Data, Invention, Drafting, Revision and Editing.  I tend to discuss "invention" in great detail with my students.  Typically, I have found that students like to stare at laptops until and idea comes to them.  I use Reid's example of invention of a means to start with.  He suggests that this is a very messy process and that it's just getting the ideas out.  Some of the invention tasks include:

  • freewriting
  • directed freewriting
  • listing
  • clustering
  • webbing
  • outlining
I think there is great value in this stage, and that one doesn't need a computer to do this.  Sure, it's more common to "write" on a laptop, desktop or tablet....but what if you just sat down....pen and paper....and invented using one of these strategies?   I know for me, it just gets the ideas out.  And I'm a visual it helps to get ideas on paper and actually SEE them before I write about them.  The biggest challenge I get from students is that they don't need to do this stage.   They do it in their head...then they write the most amazing papers.

I challenge you to invent the next time you have to write.  Whether you are a student, a teacher, a parent, a boss.  I mean, many of us make lists....right?  Grocery, chore, tasks, ect.  So when you have to do some more formal writing...try to invent.  The next time you have to send that angry e-mail to a colleague or friend....practice may find that once you get the thoughts out, you don't necessarily have to send they are out.

I love writing, and teaching writing, across all subjects.  But I know sometimes I panic and put it off, just like everyone else.  But if I take the time to invent....well the writing process just becomes easier and I am more proud of my work.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

a question from the shy kid in the back

Wow....what a summer!  Or should I say what a spring AND summer since I haven't been on here since February.  But, I am asking my students to keep blogs this semester, and like a good educator I model for my students, so I will be blogging regularly once again.

As we go back to school one of the things I always think about is how I can get everyone to partake in the conversation.  I know there are students who don't like to speak, therefore they may never ask a question for clarification, they may never give their input, though input from everyone is valuable.

A while back one of my Writing for Non-Print Media students shared poll-everywhere with the class.
The idea is simple.  The instructor posts a question, and students are able to respond by texting to a number that appears on the screen. The name "poll-everywhere" is actually a bit misleading, as you can also post open-ended questions.  I've made a sample poll for my readers to take.

Clearly there are concerns about having cell phones in the classroom, but I really don't think this is going to hurt anyone.  We live in an age where we are consumed in technology, media and methods of why not be proactive? 

I will be using this tomorrow in my College Writing class, in hopes that I can engage students and encourage them to respond to the reading.  I really like that they can do this anonymously, because many times students have told me "I was afraid my question or comment would sound dumb."  Poll-everywhere gives all students an equal voice.  And if they don't have cell phones, I would encourage a small group, where they take turns texting. It's my hope that using poll-everywhere is just the beginning for some students, and that they learn that their voice is very important in the classroom.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sharing the gift of literacy

Often times when we hear the phrase "giving back" we think it's an ideal idea.  It's always a wonderful idea to give something to someone when they need it, especially if we are in abundance.  But we often think "I just don't have enough money to spare..." or "I don't know how..." or "how can I be sure my donation will be received by the proper party?"

I've found a site that allows students, educators, scholars and anyone with books to give to those that are lacking literature.  The site is called It is a national non-profit agency that allows those with books to give to classrooms that are in need.  It's very simple.  You can create an account, search by school or by book and send.  Sometimes teachers request class sets, but sometimes they only request a few books.  The site is easily navigable, and you have the option to request or send less than a class set.  Some teachers are looking for as few as 4 copies of a text.  In order to request books, your school must be listed on the site .

I really can't think of a great way to promote literacy especially to students in schools who need more books.

Some ideas I have are suggesting that students in my current classes give up one of their texts to donate to bookmentors.  I even wonder if I could convince my class to send a set.  I know it's hard to give up a book, especially if you are an educator or college student....but I just think this is a unique way to promote literacy because you can share a specific book with a specific class or teacher.

If you have the time, please check out bookmentors today.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Teachers embrace digital learning strategies

As someone who teaches pre-service teachers about the benefits of new literacies and technologies in the classroom, I was quite interested in the following article found here. To summarize PBS Media Learning took a survey which revealed that today's teachers absolutely want more digital learning in the classroom.  I am not surprised by these results, but I did find it problematic that some of the largest findings in this survey had to do with engagement. For example, the first icon on the top left of the article (you know...where your eyes naturally go as you read a page) mentions that "74 percent of teachers say that 'educational technology is a student-motivator.'"  I have no problem with using technology as a motivator, but I don't think that is a strong argument for using technology.

Naturally students in this digital, post-MTV age find digital content enticing.  Look at all the students with ipads, kindles, nooks and i-phones.  Just today I almost hit two young adults texting and crossing the street.  (or perhaps they were facebooking?)  Clearly I love and value technology.  And what's not to say that I've never crossed a street while texting.  But my point is...I think it's a thin argument to use technology as a motivator.

The survey did redeem itself, however. Some of the cognitive value was mentioned.  Awesome.  For example...73% of these teachers said a benefit of technology was that it responds to a variety of learning and 74% of the teachers said that a benefit was that it "reinforced and expanded content."

I am very happy that many studies and surveys today are looking past engagement.  I think that the argument that technology engages is simple. Yes, the engagement is valuable....and engagement is necessary for learning.  But that cannot be the most important factor when it comes to using technology in the classroom.  I just hope more and more educators start to look at cognitive values of technology.  Because it's not enough to get technology in the's what we do with that technology.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Elements of Standardized Testing

Several times yesterday while tooling around on facebook I came across an article titled A Warning to College Profs From A High School Teacher.  After ruminating for a night and reading the article a second time, I have to say that I feel for Strauss.  I was fortunate to have all the say I wanted in my curriculum development while I taught high school for 9 years.  And as a college professor, I once again have that advantage.

I have to wonder though....if I hadn't made the leap to university...would I still be teaching high school?  I honestly cannot answer that question.  I try to stay in contact with what is happening in school districts.  Though I am a professor in an English Department, I teach several English Methods courses to the Secondary English Ed majors.  I try very hard to avoid being in "the ivory tower" because I witnessed that in my graduate program and swore I would always stay connected to the "real world."  But after reading this article I really started to worry.  How can we keep good teachers in schools of the curriculum is becoming more and more rigid.  I think I might have an answer.  At least I hope I do.

Consider the skills on which students are being assessed.  For example...everyone knows that students have to learn to make inferences.  But does that mean you have to skill and drill it?  No.  One of the best experiences I have had with teaching inference was seating the class in a circle and having them read aloud the play Sorry, Wrong Number, a suspenseful piece in which a woman over-hears a plot to murder her.  The clues were becoming more and more obvious that the woman was going to be murdered that at one point one of my students yelled out "Mr. O....this woman is so stupid!"  I asked why she thought that and the student told me that there were several clues in the story that suggested she was the intended target.  I then looked at the student and told her that she made an inference.

The student learned the concept before knowing what the concept is called.  This is quite similar to an instructional method called concept attainment.  The difference is that in concept attainment the instructor gives positive and negative examples of a concept, and the student, seeing the similarities in positive attributes, is able to identify the concept.  The point of the comparison is that rather than saying to my students..."today we're going to learn about inference" and then giving them a definition and a few unrelated examples...we dug deep into a text...found solid examples that CONNECTED to a text....used/discussed them authentically....then learned the concept.

I think the same could be done with other strategies. Context clues, for example, can be taught while teaching almost any piece of literature.  Have each student pick out a word or words that they aren't 100% familiar with, note the page number and take a guess.  By pairing and sharing they will discuss and hopefully, eventually come up with the correct meaning of the word.

I know that re-developing lessons takes an incredible amount of time....but my point is that if you are a future or practicing teacher, try not to become discouraged with what you HAVE to teach...and try and focus on the WAYS you can teach.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

You go English Majors!

So while my doctorate is in English Education, and while half the courses I teach are required courses for secondary English Education majors, the reality is that I am an English Professor in an English Department.  And while I couldn't be happier at the variety of courses I teach, I am often asked by people "What can you do with an English Degree?"  I am constantly stating how English majors are typically well versed in reading and writing, something that ANY career requires.  The path may be less direct than it is for a Business or Technology major, but every job out there, in one way or another, requires reading and writing.  But I always forget, that there's more to it that that, which is why I am so happy to have found this article which essentially suggests that there is a lot of complex cognition going on in the department of English.  In other words, yes, there is a lot of reading and writing, but there is so much more than that, as the authors suggest.  Creativity, does have value.  That's the number one reason why I went into English Education.  If I can't find creative ways to teach and assess...then I'm not happy.  But not everyone that majors in English wants to be an educator.

Give the article a read if you are interested in majoring in English or if you are curious as to why the major has value, or especially if you know someone who is interested in majoring in English.  Like I said earlier...the career path may not be direct....but there are a multitude of positions out there that require complex thinking and analysis, skills that all English majors acquire.