Thursday, September 29, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Puzzling Through

So I have this one student who I've been puzzling over. He's a very kind, thoughtful, bright and articulate young man who has a learning disability. In conversations with him, he's got lots to say, and has a lot of knowledge on various things. But when it comes time for him to write, he struggles so much with literacy, that writing is sheer torture for him. I've been letting him copy sentences from the book he's pretending to read for the past week during writing workshop - something he started doing on his own. I figured it couldn't hurt while I figured out what in God's name I was going to do to help him. It's also allowed him to save face in class, something that is all-important to my sixth graders.

So I'm looking today at speech-to-text software as something we might use for him in writing. That counts as writing, right? I think it would be good for him to be able to verbalize something and then see it in front of him in writing, and I think it would free him from the constraints he puts on himself as far as spelling goes. Thoughts?

Monday, September 19, 2011

One More Thought: Changing The Writing Process

One more thought about that 21st century article. It makes the point that technology changes the writing process. This is striking to me as I'm talking about the writing process this week. I admit I always feel disingenuous talking about this because it's one of those times I'm teaching the kids to do something I don't do.

I very rarely "prewrite." Usually I just start typing.

So I like the idea of looking at blogging as prewriting/publishing. But that sort of crushes our traditional notion of the writing process, doesn't it then.

We're supposed to, when we grade writing and include it in the portfolio, represent "all stages of the writing process," which is supposed to mean prewriting, outlines/graphic organizers, first draft, revised copy, and then final draft. It's a good point to make that if we're doing all our writing online and revising within a Word document, the draft/revising/editing part of the process looks very different and leaves a different artifact trail. Not that I really have to worry about this right now since I do not have enough computers in my room to have every kid working through the writing process on a computer.

That's something to think about.

On a kind of side note, I got this year's class blog up ( - great classroom tool) and running. The kids loved blogging last year and I'm excited to have a whole year to work on it with my kids (as opposed to 3 months last year.)

Unleashing the Power of Writing in the 21st Century

The first thing that Writing in the 21st Century makes me wonder is if we should ban writing so that kids might want to try it as a form of resistance. Kidding. Well, partly. I love the idea of writing as a subversive activity. (Although I can't fully agree with the article's ideas about reading being receptive and controlling while writing is about resistance. Plenty of reading is subversive as well.)

Last year when I told my parents I was teaching writing, they groaned and asked me questions about cursive. The idea of writing in school meant, to them, penmanship. I had to explain that I meant writing-as-in-getting-thoughts-onto-paper. The fact that composition is a "labor" is one that's still relevant today - I have kids in my class for who the physical act of making words on paper is so painful that it completely stunts the flow of ideas. I immediately turn to technology for kids like that. It can be such an unleashing force.

The historical narrative of the teaching of writing is fascinating, its movement through the progressive era into the current theory of process writing and writer's workshop. How unfortunate that standardized testing came along and ruined it just when it was getting good. I wonder sometimes how many potential authors dreams are destroyed by the soul-crushing agony of having to learn the five-paragraph expository essay - and nothing else - for years.

And then computers and the Internet - with all its possibilities for subversion - rises as a platform for writing just as tests are narrowing it in the classroom. I love how the article describes writing as almost its own entity yearning for freedom from boundaries and authority. Outside of schools, outside of tests, outside of five-paragraph essays (can you tell I hate them?) - people are writing. Arising from the need for communication and expression. Less talking, maybe, at Model Railroading clubs or Shriner meetings or all those other social clubs where people used to get together. (And wear weird clothes.) Now, people can group up on the Internet, and writing becomes the primary modality for communicating.

I cannot say enough times how completely awesome the story about the kids who used the Internet as a platform to get 30,000 people to screw around with the AP test is.

And then the million dollar question - how can we channel all this for a purpose more worthy? (Can we?) Students who know how to compose and organize and know how to use the audience provided by the Internet? How can we help them connect those skills toward the big issues, toward making the world a better place?

I don't know the answer to that and it's something I've thought about a lot. I think "The Internet" is still figuring that out, in a way. The election, in 2008 - Obama's campaign brilliantly used technology to connect and move people. But it fizzled out, or at least it seems that way. How to keep people going? Organizing on the internet seems to destroy the hierarchies traditional to most organizations, at least at the grassroots level. Do organizations and issue-based action require a leader?

I think of that group Anonymous, which publicly states that there's not really any hierarchy of leadership, and they manage to organize and take action. They're quite the enigma though, so I'm not quite sure how they work. But they fascinate me.

Really what will probably happen is that the kids will figure out the answers to these questions first.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Signs of Success

My kids are practically fighting over who gets to be in our classroom library. We must be doing something right.