Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Entry # 3 Journaling & 6 +1 writing traits

Thinking back on my experience teaching in the inner city of Cleveland, I think about the difficulties I experienced teaching journal writing. In the beginning of the year, this was a very difficult thing for my second grader to do.  I wanted my students to write for ten minutes each morning using a prompt, such as: what did you do this weekend? what things make you happy? What makes you sad? All different prompts that i believed the students could answer without a problem. However the moment I told the students to begin writing it was a sense of fear that came over them. They instantly had no idea what to write and were completely stumped. It was as if I was asking them to write on a topic they had never heard of before. They could not grasp the idea of writing for any amount of time. This was something that needed to change throughout the year. I had to come up with different ideas to encourage the students to actually write during journal time. 

I started by encouraging the students to talk with their neighbors about what they wanted to write about before they began writing, this in a sense worked as the students pre-write/they conferenced with their friends and came up with a number of ideas to write about. Next big challenge was to get them to put their thoughts on paper. I had to explain that during journal time the spelling of tough words were not important, I wanted them to just use their inventive spelling and write all they could about the prompt given. 

It was around this time when I began attending different writing workshops. The 6 + 1 writing traits were in my option the answer to my problems! The workshop went through each of the traits and gave me different books to use to help the students understand each trait and to help me as a teacher teach the students each trait. The first trait is Ideas: having the student choose an interesting topic, this was something I needed to encourage my students to start doing, having them come up with their own topics to write about that interested them. Next was organization: explaining to the students there is a structure to writing, my students understood this concept, however did not understand how to get the finished product. Next, is Voice: having the students writing sound like them, I tried to make the students understand they had to have a stance in their writing they had to care about the topic, and once they cared about their writing, their writing improved. Next, word choice: encouraging the use of rich language, my students made a word wall filled with ‘fancy words’ this encouraged the students to not use the same boring adjectives they always used in their writing. Next, Sentence Fluency: making the sentence flow more smoothly. This helped the students listen to their writing and use transitions in their writing that they use in their speaking. Next, Conventions: the rules of writing, this was an idea that the students worked on the entire year to improve their grammar and their sentence structure. Finally, Presentation: how the writing looks on the page, the students were working towards a final product, whether it be a book, or a typed paper they were always working towards a goal. 

One of the main ideas I completely loved about the 6 + 1 writing traits was they were not to be taught one at a time, they were to be taught throughout the year, a teacher could start with conventions and then work on ideas, and come back to conventions, there was not right way to teach the traits to the students. This really intrigued me, I couldn’t believe there was no right way to teach these traits, I could come up with my own way of teaching them. After attending of all of workshops I collected a plethora of helpful lesson plans and books that would aid in my teaching of each of the writing traits. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Entry # 2

As Hicks mentions there are three main elements of the writing framework: your students, the subject of writing, and the spaces in which we write. In my opinion all of these elements play an important role in the framework of writing. Thinking back on my time at Jamison, in Cleveland, Ohio, I remember how I decided to incorporate all of these elements in my classroom. I cannot help but wonder now if things were done differently if they would have ran more smoothly. 

Starting with my students, I had a very unique group of second grade students, some of which were reading at a 2.5 reading level at the beginning of the school year, and others were still unable to write the alphabet down. Trying to teach a group of students with such diverse learning abilities was a huge challenge. I had to begin with finding a starting point for all of my students. I worked with each individually to find out where the students strengths and weaknesses appeared. I found that the students who were reading at a higher level were able to get their thoughts down on paper easier than my students who were still struggling with letter name/sounds. My struggling students were, however, able to use their imagination for writing story a lot better than my students who were trying to be ‘perfect’ in a sense. My stronger students were getting caught up in the spelling of words and the sentence structures, whereas my struggling students were able to dictate to me their ideas they were trying to write down. 

One major struggle I had was finding a topic to have my students write about that would interest all of them. I started the year by having each student write in their journals about simple topics, what did you do this weekend? Write about your family. Write about yourself.... I wanted to first get the students to begin to write. Next I wanted to get the students to think more about writing. I would have the students pretend they were the principal of the school, what are some of the things they would change? This always had the students excited to think about if they were someone else. Eventually I had the students thinking about what if your breakfast could talk, what do you think it would say to you? - This encouraged my students to use their imagination which was an extremely difficult thing for them to do. They had difficulty seeing past the real life writing assignments. By the end of the year, my students were encouraged to write their own stories in which they would work on daily. These story topics were selected by them and approved by me, and gave the students the freedom to explore their imaginations. 

The space in which I had the students write evolved over the school year, I entered a classroom where the students were bounded to their seats. They were to do everything there, This was no way I wanted to run a classroom. However, I could not change this overnight, it was going to be a process for both the students and myself. I started by having the students separate their desks during journal time, so they had their own personal space to work. Overtime I began to assign special writing spots around the classroom (the carpet, the writing table, or the floor), by the end of the year my students had the choice to sit in the rocking chair, choose one of our new writing carpets to sit on or stay in their seats. Giving the students choice, helped them stay in control of their environment. I like a classroom set up that has space for centers, and space for whole group activities. By bringing in new ‘writing carpets’, the students could move everywhere in the room to work on their writing. 

The Digital Writing Workshop is a new idea to me, this is something that I wish I had more of an education on before my experience at Jamison. I feel that it could be very successful at some schools, however with the low amount of funding given to Jamison, it might be hard to incorporate. I would have liked to at least given my students an opportunity to learn about how a digital writing workshop works however with only 3 working computers in my classroom it would have been an opportunity that only happened every once and awhile. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Entry # 1

For me, the question 'what feels comfortable' when it comes to teaching writing is a concept that has grown throughout the year. Entering an inner city 2nd grade classroom in a failing school in Cleveland, Ohio I was forced to reach outside my comfort zone and find new and exciting ways to teach writing to students who were told they were going to fail. This was at first a very uncomfortable setting to be teaching in. Within the first few weeks of teaching, I incorporated journal time each and every morning. At first these entries were to see what foundations the students have and how I was going to successfully push each individual student to succeed. This proved to be a more difficult concept than expected. Some students were able to write in complete sentences whereas others did not know the alphabet. 

I attended a number of 6 + 1 writing trait workshops and learned a number of different traits that I could use in the classroom. By attended these workshops I was forced to think outside of the box and to ultimately find a new way of teaching writing that was unfamiliar to me. I started by incorporating word choice into lessons, and incorporating different types of writing, and introduced writing folders. In these folders the students were responsible to pick three pieces of writing they are proud of. Over the course of the semester, I worked with the students on all of the stages of writing from the pre-read, to editing, to peer editing. These students were working with these pieces of writing for weeks at a time. I wanted to emphasize the importance of writing and how it is a long process. After trying this idea of writing folders with my students, I became more comfortable with teaching writing. I understand it is a process and not all students move at the same speed and that is okay. ... TO BE CONTINUED