Schuster’s approach to grammar is a very interesting one. I learned grammar the old fashioned way with memorization and worksheets. That was back in seventh grade, and I do not remember any of the technical terms. I have to relearn a lot of that in my linguistics course. If there is a better way to teach grammar to students I would like to learn it. I think it is a great idea to take into account what a student already knows about grammar because it is a natural part of learning to talk. I also like that Schuster believes that “many of the rules aren’t rules in the first place” (xv). Why be nit-picky if you don’t have to be? I like his practice of finding a popular non-fiction author who breaks the rules. I was surprised at the so-called “incorrect” grammar he found in the works of authors such as William Zinsser. And I think this is a good way to justify breaking certain rules.
In the introduction, Schuster wrote about when to correct or grade a student’s grammar. His argument agrees with Kittle because he believes that a first draft should focus on the content of the paper. He wrote, “the best thing we teachers could do to promote growth in student writers was to make positive comments on the content of what the students wrote and one suggestion on how they could improve next time” (xiv). I completely agree with this statement. When I read this in Kittle’s book I thought this was a wonderful way to treat student papers.
I firmly believe that writing can be very discouraging for a lot of students, and when teachers have a ton of red ink correcting every single mistake, students will want to throw the paper away. I love Kittle’s example from her own writing circle where a woman wrote about her paper’s organization and verb choices without ever commenting on how to improve the content of the paper. I think this is a really easy thing to do, and as a teacher I want to make sure that I do not do this to my students. Especially if I expect the student to develop the paper further. I think it is more important to boost a student’s confidence with writing by focusing on the positive than to point out every error on a draft.
I also liked how he wanted student input. At the end of each novel the students were able to vote on whether they liked it or not. Now, it could be argued that students will hate a lot of the classics because they are difficult to read. That is the point of teaching them; they are books students cannot read by themselves. But I think that students should have some say. Schuster also points out that some books go over pretty well with the students, and I think it makes sense to include those ahead of books students hate. I am not sure if this is something I would find helpful when I am teaching, but I think it would be interesting to try it and see what books students like best.
Another point that goes along with this is the story of Amy in Chapter 1. The traditional way of teaching grammar can be very confusing. I felt bad for this poor child who had absolutely no idea what a verb, noun, or adjective is. Public humiliation is never a good way to try and teach children. I think this holds true for middle school and high school students. Schuster points out that Amy’s confusion is natural because many words can fall into more than one category depending on the way in which they are used.
Grammar is extremely technical. Schuster goes into great detail about the origin of grammar books, but the point is that they don’t work. When students learn grammar by correcting the mistakes of others they quickly forget what they were supposed to learn. I am not saying that grammar isn’t important because it is. Poor grammar stands out. Students need to learn how to write effectively, and grammar is a huge part of that. But I think the traditional approach isn’t working. I am interested in reading more on what Schuster has to say.
What strikes me most about what I have read about digital environments is how interactive it is. Generally, when we write we go through a process. Today, March 10th, Jim modeled one way to stop and organize your thoughts before beginning a writing process. This was great for on the spot writing, or even as a starting place for a longer paper, but digital environments do not seem to work this way. By this I mean that digital environments can provide immediate feedback for students.
In Jeffrey Wilhelm’s article he talks about instant messaging and blogging in the classroom. He writes, “schools are going to have to become wireless” and he worries that teachers will not know how to teach students through “electronic technologies” (13-14). Technology by itself is not enough. Teachers need to use the media available to enhance the writing ability of students. He suggests that teachers use “electronic discussion groups” where teachers pose a question that students have to respond to (14). There are rules that go along with this that ensures that students are all participating with each other and thinking critically about the posed question. That is something that can be challenging to students so this might be a good way to involve shy students. Wilhelm also points out that through this method teachers will know what areas students are not understanding and address it before moving on. Plus, this kind of discussion not only develops students’ thinking abilities, but it also reinforces their ability to communicate those ideas through writing.
The NCTE position statement supports this kind of electronic classroom because it will help students become comfortable with the newest technology, build relationships with other students and teachers, and critically analyze various different texts. This covers three of the mission statements listed on their website. The CCCC Position Statement also agrees with this kind of classroom because it will enable students to “apply digital technologies to solve substantial problems common to the academic, professional, civic, and/or personal realm of their lives.” As long as the teacher is actively involved in these discussions the students will benefit.
I had never thought about using digital media in a classroom before. I know that when I was in school Powerpoint was as technical as it ever got. I like the idea of having virtual discussion with students because it develops some really important skills. Plus, technology is not going away. It is becoming a larger part of our lives everyday. I think it would be cool to incorporate that into my teaching. I noticed that the process of writing and thinking was different when I was putting together my Photostory. I wrote my “I believe” statement, but I did not stop there. The digital media made it necessary to visualize my message, which is not something I ordinarily do. When I was planning out the visual aspect of that project I had to go beyond the paper and think of a creative idea. I think it is important for students to experience that. So many professions want creative people so a project like this develops writing skills along with the visually creative part.
To go even broader than that, I have also been thinking about how writing different genres can help students. Many of the articles on writing that we have read, and are currently doing, are new to me. I had never heard of a multigenre project before, and although it has been difficult, I think it would be beneficial to students. I also had not thought much about free-writing, and more importantly free-writing with my students. The only class that I had to free-write in was creative writing that I took for one semester. I am finding that I really like it. I also like the revision strategies Kittle mentioned. I know from my own recent experience that it does more harm than good to rip apart a first draft and focus only on word choice and sentence structure. I like the idea of peer review with a structured sheet students have to fill out. I also like what I have learned about teaching and reading poetry. I feel like I have so many ideas that I want to keep filed away for when I do start teaching, and I am excited to try them. I am paying attention to my own experiences because that is one way to decide what does and does not work. My vision of what is possible to do in a Language Arts classroom has definitely been expanded.
Writing is hard work that involves combining different skills in order to produce something that is clear, focused and interesting. Sometimes it can take many different drafts in order to create this sort of text. It can be very emotionally charged and thought provoking. Feedback and peer review can be an invaluable resource when doing this, as long as the people editing the work are serious in their task. If all that person writes as feedback is sentence and grammar structure then their effort was essentially wasted. Penny Kittle writes that it is “a mistake to litter someone’s writing with error correcting if there is no indication on the piece that the voice of the writer was heard and the message in the writing has been received” (212). She is completely correct.
When writing anything, whether it is creative fiction, a memoir, an analytical piece, a research paper, and the list could go on, the chances that what is very first written will end up as the final draft is pretty slim. There is almost always some revision, unless the author is an absolute genius or kind of lazy. That being the case, it is a waste of time to focus on grammar and sentence structure for review at this stage. Kittle says what any teacher or peer editor should be looking for is the content of the piece and encourage the expansion of that content. Look for the writer’s voice and the clarity of that person’s topic. Given that if the writer needs to expand on ideas or possibly cut out certain parts of the paper, it is a waste of time to correct errors in that section. Why spend a half hour correcting sentence structure and grammar in a section of a paper that ends up being cut out in the end?
Kittle also says that this is incredibly discouraging. She writes about her own personal experience where she receives a peer edited paper and all that person had to write about was her use of adjectives instead of strong verbs. She was angry and hurt, and she completely shut down in relation to that person. That is the way students will feel. I have personally felt that way myself when someone looks at my paper and does not comment on my thesis or idea. I would not want to risk alienating kids by doing that to them. It is natural to feel angry in that situation. When a person works really hard to write something and then feels like they were not understood, it is really tempting to give up. That is not the response that I want to get out of my students.
To avoid this kind of discouragement Kittle looks for the positive in her student’s work. She gave an example of a horribly written first draft where the grammar was almost non-existent, but instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the paper she found the positive. Everybody needs to be encouraged and some teachers do not get that. By pointing out and expanding on the idea, with positive feedback, students will feel encouraged and possibly motivated. I know when I was a student and teachers approached my papers the way Kittle does I got excited to revise my paper and do my very best work.
There is a time to edit for spelling and grammar. That sort of thing is important in a professional community. I think that the place for that is later in the writing process. When you are teaching kids how to write, start with their idea. Let them know you realize what they are trying to write about and help them write about it. Once the organization and focus of the paper is developed, move onto the next step. Instead of angering and alienating kids, boost their confidence by writing what was good and what needs to be expanded.
Here’s my first professional response. I’m not sure where we’re supposed to post it, so I’m posting it on my page and on Katie’s page, since I’m responding to her. Here goes.
I agree that students need to learn how to write an expository essay, but I think Gretchen Bernabei has a valid point. It is very true that students need to know how to write a clear thesis statement and provide supporting evidence, but I think there is too much emphasis placed on this. What she calls “real world essays” never show up in five-paragraph form, and they rarely have a clearly defined thesis statement at the end of the introductory paragraph. When I was in high school I only learned the five-paragraph essay approach, and when I began writing research papers in college all of my professors (with the exception of English 101) instructed all of us to throw out the five-paragraph format.
Teachers need to go beyond the textbook interpretation of an expository essay. When a student gets to college, at least in my experience, professors do not want to see it. I think the place for the five-paragraph essay is in middle school when students are first learning to write essays. The experience needs to grow after that. Teachers need to expand on the five-paragraph essay and make it longer and geared toward college. This would be helpful in all areas of study because college professors do want students to be able to clearly express ideas and theories.
I believe teachers should not only expand on the traditional five-paragraph essay but also introduce a wide variety of other writing styles and genres. That would be where things like the multigenre project come in to play. Students need a well developed background in writing so that they feel comfortable when completing any writing assignment in college and during their career. In order to develop this background teachers have to take a step away from the five-paragraph essay and focus on helping students explore many different areas of writing.
Tom Romano is a huge fan of the multigenre project. He writes about the creativity it brings out in his students, and it familiarizes students with many different types of writing. Romano writes that one of his biggest concerns is that students today can only write expository pieces. By having students complete the multigenre project they are able to write the expository pieces, but they are also comfortable with so much more. This forces students to try their hand at poetry, fiction, letter writing, and there is even a visual portion of the project. This seems like an incredible idea, but one question keeps coming up. How do you help students pick a topic that will enable them to produce a successful multigenre project? Should you, as the teacher, limit what topics or issues students focus on?
To keep students from panicking at the length and requirements of the project, Romano walks his students through it step by step. He begins with the “Research Design” that he provides a sample of on page 94. From there Romano writes that he has “weekly checkpoints” (95) where students have to hand in a certain part of their project and he provides feedback. This way he makes sure that students are working on the project all semester long instead of waiting for the last minute, and this also makes sure the student has chosen a good topic. By breaking the project into chunks students should not panic at the thought of writing all of these different pieces. This is a great plan for helping students to succeed, and the teacher knows the topic is a good one. What happens though if a student has started with a topic that will not go anywhere? What then?
Romano has years of teaching experience. I believe when he wrote this article he had been teaching for thirty-two years. He has been using the multigenre project long enough to know when a student turns in the first assignment and the topic is not a good one. What did he do in the beginning though? How do you know if a project will work? If it’s a trial and error process, when do you know the topic will not work? It is important to make sure students are not discouraged, but what do you do if a student gets half way through his or her mutligenre project and ends up stuck?
It seems like there needs to be more guidelines for high school students. For an inexperienced teacher who has never done this project with students it might be a good idea to narrow the topics. Romano leaves his topics very broad, except when he is teaching college students and then he has them focus on topics that relate to teaching. Is it better to have a broad or a narrow topic? It would be hard to have a student start over in the middle of a multigenre project because he or she chose a poor topic.
The benefit of assigning topics to students, or limiting what types of issues they can write about, would be that this question would become obsolete. However, that also takes away one of the biggest reasons why Romano and his students love this project. The ability to choose a topic to research makes grading more interesting for teachers and students like the freedom. Students probably would not be as passionate about what they are doing if they did not get to choose the topic themselves. So I’m still left wondering, how does the teacher determine what issues / topics will be good ones?