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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Entry #12

Now being able to look back on this semester, I can say I have gained a great deal of new understandings towards digital  reading and writing. Some new understandings I've developed have been ways to communicate with groups of people, conferencing with parents and students, recording and documenting important information, and being able to go back and revise and edit, without losing everything. All of these new understandings have contributed to me becoming a better reader and writer. This was the first experience I had with writing a weekly blog entry, and it helped tremendously to reach the course learning outcomes, through digital writing. The knowledge I have gained through writing a blog and using digital writing, has allowed me to think about how I want to implement digital writing in my classroom some day. I think being exposed to technology, allows students to experience many new forms of writing, and communicating. Literacy is ever changing, as well as technology. If we expose students to new ways of thinking, they can start to develop higher order writing and reading skills, which can strengthen their learning.

Through this course, I was able to learn about the variety of genres there are, and how each one can be taught within the classroom. Just from learning about these genres more in depth, I have understood how they can relate to digital writing, and creative writing. Students are able to post poems, or letters, or descriptive writing pieces onto a blog or website, where their peers can see their masterpiece. I have learned that this is a worthwhile approach to writing. When students are able to view other students' work, they can give constructive criticism, areas of strength, recommendations, and positive feedback. Digital writing has created a community of learners. It allows for communication to go beyond face to face interactions. Even just writing a weekly blog, allows for my classmates and I to communicate without having to meet. We can collaborate on ideas, and reflect on one another's work.

Another important aspect that I have learned throughout this course, is that reading and writing form a very close relationship. Before entering this course, I new reading and writing needed each other to work as one, but I have begun to learn that we can go beyond just regular pen to paper writing, and page reading. Technology has enhanced so many aspects of literacy, and it continues to grow throughout this information age. Students are now developing higher order thinking skills through the use of technology and digital writing. This advancement is only going to increase, and we want to expose our students to this new era of reading and writing.

Overall, I can go away from this course with many new understandings, and concepts. I have learned a great deal through digital reading and writing, and can reflect on how I have grow throughout this process. This reading and writing blog has been most beneficial for asking questions and trying to comprehend what is so important about writing. I have been able to see my progression and also read how others have been working through the writing process. I think students would really benefit from a reading/writing blog, because they can write whatever is on their mind, and can also go back and review what they have written. It is also a great way for teachers to see how students are discovering new ways of writing. I am confident I will continue to use a reading/writing blog, and incorporate it into my teaching.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Entry #11

Exploring new genres can open new doors to the writing process. I have become a better writer and teacher from exposing myself to new ways of understanding genres. Each area of genre brings something unique to writing. I never thought about how the poetry genre relates to all of the other genres, and how some seem so different, yet they are similar. The way the genres were presented also allowed me to experience each genre first hand, and it gave me the opportunity to ask questions if I was confused. Being able to learn a new genre and also apply new understandings to a follow-up activity is extremely beneficial. 

Prior to these genre presentations, I was not confident teaching an expert lesson on a particular genre. I can now say that after presenting the poetry genre, I overcame my hesitation to be open-minded to poetry. Not only did researching poetry allow me to broaden my perspective of different forms of writing, but it gave me the confidence to enjoy writing poems and gave me the opportunity to see some other powerful poetry pieces. Jack Perlutsky is such a great poet because he relates to children, and writes in wacky, fun ways. He really captured my attention, and made me think about how poetry doesn't always have to be boring or hard to comprehend. If we make poetry and other genres enjoyable for children to learn, they will be engaged. 

Before learning more throughout the expert genre presentations, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what the narrative genre was; however I learned so many new aspects of teaching this genre after it was presented. I learned that we should write for a purpose, and make sure we include the 5 elements of the genre. Tompkins discusses that these 5 elements are key to narrative writing. I never broke down each element, but after learning more about them, I can start to think in ways which I can provide guided instruction, throughout the reading and writing process. I have also developed a new understanding to relating genres with one another. Jame, Esther, and Jennie did an amazing job intertwining the narrative genre with the biography genre. They focused on a theme which was relevant and apparent throughout their lesson. I understood that theme is the underlying message that the author is trying to convey. Before deconstructing this genre, I never focused on theme as a crucial component to the narrative genre. I didn't even really know much about the genre as a whole. I think through hands-on explicit learning, students can have a valuable experience with genres, and begin to learn new ways of reading and writing. I am now confident to further my understanding of each genre, and allow myself to become comfortable with teaching them.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Entry #10

For this weeks blog entry I chose to reflect on Jennifer's blog. Entry #9 stood out to me in many ways. Jennie reflects on how she was taught in school, and if she was explicitly taught each genre. I can relate to this topic because just like Jennie, I don't recall ever being explicitly taught each genre one by one, or piece by piece. Even currently working in a classroom,I don't see each genre being explicitly taught and explained to the extent that we have understood the genres. However, I have seen activities related to the descriptive writing genre, poetry genre, persuasive genre, and journal writing genre. I think for many teachers, it is important to explicitly teach each genre, but inter-relate them. Jennie mentions she has observed fiction and non-fiction writing through the poetry genre. I have also seen this in the 1st grade classroom I'm currently with. Students were introduced to a non-fiction book about bats, and were given a structured format to complete a poem. I like that Jennie mentioned, "Many students see poetry to take a very structured form, which is not the case with the genre as a whole. There is room for creativity within poetry as well as any genre". Even though students in my 1st grade class used a structured format, they were able to be creative with their word choice, and draw pictures related to their poems. Poems are very flexible, just as Jennie states, and they can be taught multiple ways.

After presenting on the poetry genre, as well as learning more about other genres, I can see how each one can work together, and relate to one another. I liked that Jennie discusses how each one can mold together, and can be taught as one. I enjoyed learning more about her groups presentation on the Narrative and Biography genres. I never thought of teaching those genres together, nor do I really remember being explicitly taught them. However, both work very well together and can also work well with the other genres. I liked that through the biography genre, we created a poem about someone in history. I had President Obama, and it was interesting to see what our group came up with. We were able to convey and describe who he was and is, in the form of a poem. I will definitely use this technique of cross-genre lessons. I think that if each genre is explicitly taught, it can be brief, but to the point for students to understand. By incorporating more than one genre into a lesson, it can show students how diverse each genre is. 

Jennie mentions that she learned a great deal about her genre presentation project, and liked that they were able to connect the narrative genre to the biography genre. Through finding an initial theme, they were able to develop and underlying focus of their lesson. By finding a common theme, they were able to relate the Narrative genre to the Biography genre. Jennie states, "I want my students to see these overlaps within the genres and not to see them as completely separate. I feel that this will help them to become stronger writers". I couldn't agree more with Jennie. I think that if students are being exposed to not just one genre, but several and at the same time, they will become more aware of using these genres throughout their writing. I have become more aware as a teacher of how to use each genre accordingly, and how to relate each to one another. I learned a great deal about each genre, how they can be used throughout literacy, throughout grade level, and throughout content areas. If students are able to understand how different yet similar genres can be, then there can be many possibilities to writing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Entry #9

Expository Writing:

I really wanted to focus this blog entry on the expository genre because I feel it is very important for students to understand the process of things, as well as understanding present information. Prior to reading about expository writing, I wasn't exactly comfortable with writing an expository piece. It always took me some time to start the piece, and I never had a clear understanding of how my piece was going to flow. I think I was mainly hesitant to think about teaching this genre because I had the assumption that it was going to be difficult for students to understand. If I didn't understand exactly how to teach it, then they would not comprehend it. After the expert genre presentation, I understood that the expository genre is mostly about finding things that are real and current to write about. I thought that this would actually be fun to write and teach. Instead of writing about something factual, I always wanted to write creatively instead of writing about something in history. After reading more in depth about the expository genre in Tompkins (2012), I feel more confident about what the genre is composed of, and how it can be beneficial for students of all ages. I understood expository writing as describing something in history. I didn't realize that this genre isn't just about history, but about other factual events. Not only can you write about factual events, you can make it creative and interesting as well. I could write an expository piece about how you braid hair, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the possibilities are endless. According to Tompkins, "expository writing is factual, its purpose is to convey information about the world. The information might be an explanation of the importance of recycling, the steps of how a bill became a law, a comparison of Islam and Christianity.." (Tompkins, 2012).

Not only have I developed a better understanding of the components of the expository genre, but I have learned different ways to organize my information before writing. I think this was one of the hardest steps for me before creating an expository piece. It becomes so helpful to brainstorm and organize information in a meaningful way, so that when it comes time to draft, the process won't be so overwhelming. Some organizers that can be beneficial are description organizers, sequence organizers, and comparison organizers, cause and effect organizers, and problem and solution organizers. I've used description organizers for many different pieces of writing, and this strategy seems to help me the most. The whole purpose of a description organizer is to describe a topic by listing features, characteristics, and examples of that topic. While doing this activity in class, I chose to make the organizer about bats. I was so surprised to see how much new information I learned, by just breaking down the topic into categories. I can already see this strategy being a huge success in my 3rd grade classroom. Many of the students I'm with need that extra visual to sort their information. This  organizer can be presented as a web, or could look like a tree, or speech bubbles depending on if there is dialogue. I like that this genre gives you several ways of presenting a topic, because students can pick from different organizers, and for those students who struggle, you can find an organizer that will really help them grasp the topic at hand. The expository genre has opened my eyes to many new ways to teaching non-fiction, and that it can be a fun genre to learn and teach!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Entry #8

Reflect on another peers blog:

I chose to reflect on Gretchen's Blog Entry #7. What really stood out to me was that she discussed a personal experience of how she was able to differentiate instruction for one of her struggling students in the class. I too have shared many of the same experiences with students in the classroom, and can have difficulty finding the right instruction techniques for that particular child. Differentiation is such a huge part of teaching, that without knowing how to properly assist your students, it will not be beneficial. I think that one of the hardest ways to differentiate during writing is the actual writing process. Its hard to get students motivated to enjoy what they are writing about, and sometimes difficult to differentiate the writing lesson. After analyzing Gretchen's blog, I found some great ways to differentiate during the writing process. I really liked that Gretchen mentioned she wanted one of her students to try to be creative and free write on her own, so she gave her some space. There have been many times that I have also seen students really struggling with writing, but I first want them to see what they can do on their own, and then be there for assistance. When a student is repeatedly unfocused and confused about what direction to take, then it is okay to step in, without rescuing, only scaffolding. Gretchen states, "So today, I decided to let her think for a few moments about what she wanted to write about before I went over to her desk to check in on her. When I went over to her, she explicitly told me that she needed help".  She gave her student time to think, and then intervened when it was necessary. I agree with Gretchen that many students really need that one-to-one assistance, but with 20 or more students in the class, it is unrealistic to give that kind of time to just one student. It's very hard seeing a child frustrated and struggling, but if we give the student beneficial ways to organize and structure their writing they can begin to do it independently. 

How can we as teachers give students that one-to-one instruction without taking away from whole class instruction time? This question is always on my mind when teaching, because it is difficult to find ways to assist students in need, without taking time away from other students as well as whole class instruction or lessons. Gretchen discussed how she established a strategy for the student she was working with. She had the student brainstorm her thoughts on a whiteboard so she could visually see some ideas to write about later. I think this technique is great for students who need a visual and also benefit from organized brainstorming. Gretchen was there to scaffold her student through the pre-writing process, which allowed the student to be able to move forward on her own and begin writing her own piece. Being able to differentiate instruction depending on how a student learns is highly important. Gretchen also mentions that, "This whole situation made me think about differentiation and how important it truly is to differentiate in every aspect of learning if possible". I would agree with Gretchen strongly about differentiation. Differentiation can happen across content areas, and differs from student to student. For many students who have physical disabilities where their motor skills are hindered, and are instructed to have to write a story or write anything for that matter, need another way to doing so than pencil to paper. Assisted  technology such as computers or writing devices are forms of differentiating instruction depending on the student. I had one student during my student teaching placement that was not able to write and needed to use a writing device. He was fully capable of following directions, understanding the content, and completing work, but just did it in a different way. This course as allowed me to think about different ways to differentiate instruction by using technology and other digital forms of writing. Being able to differentiate instruction and give each student the instruction they need makes for great teaching, and beneficial learning. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Entry #7

By using web-based,or electronic portfolios, there are endless possibilities when creating one. Prior to developing my own web-based portfolio in class, I had never been exposed to Google sites, nor have I ever made an electronic portfolio. I really enjoyed this new process of learning to use a web-based program to develop a professional portfolio, which will showcase my work throughout the course. Not only is this program great for graduate level students as well as teachers, but I thought about ways I could use Google sites with the 3rd grade students I'm currently with. I imagined how successful it would be to make a class Google site, which could be accessed by parents or guardians outside of school. If I were to introduce Google sites to the students, I would first make a sample site for them to explore. I would ask students questions like, "What stands out to you? What is your favorite part about the site? Do you find the site helpful?" I first would want to hear students feedback regarding the site, and if it would be beneficial in the long run. Google sites used in the classroom can be great for the following reasons: parents can go onto the site and see what their child missed for that day if they were absent, parents can find links to homework, or valuable resources, teachers can post any up coming information parents should be aware of, and it is an overall great tool for teacher to parent, or teacher to student communication. Not only can the site be used by parents, but students can have access as well. I observed a Google site during my student teaching experience that had things such as teacher to student podcasts, interactive homework assignments online, printouts, and other fun educational games. This teacher did a great job posting a message on her site every week, and made sure that it was beneficial for her students and the parents. I would love to someday be able to utilize this tool to the fullest. I believe that if teachers spend time to develop a well thought out Google site, it can be extremely worthwhile for students and parents.

Web-based portfolios, or newsletters can change the way information is presented to students and parents. For the future, I would most definitely want to make a newsletter to submit every other week. I think using a web-based portfolio to publish a newsletter can help the communication between teachers and parents. I have already been able to see some great teacher newsletters. Parents always have questions to ask teachers, and need clarification about certain things, but with a newsletter or web-based portfolio, parents have all of the information they need about curriculum, weekly events, and notifications. The 3rd grade teacher I am currently with has said he loves the newsletter, and parents seem to love it as well. Parents are informed every other week about what their child is doing in class, what is there to come, and some fun things to look forward to. I am eager to start a newsletter during teaching, because I can't wait to have the same results as the current classroom I'm with does. However, there can be some downfalls to using these technology programs. Some students may not have computers at home, or parents may not be able to check online for information. If this is the case, we as teachers can always make the needed accommodations for those types of situations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Entry # 6

6+1 Traits:

Before discussing the concept of 6+1 Traits in class and in Tompkins (2012), I had the opportunity of teaching a writers workshop lesson to the 3rd grade class I'm with, while incorporating the traits. Each trait is important to the writing process, and has different impacts on the writer. The first trait I incorporated was ideas. I shared a story with students about the first time I went Para-sailing in Virginia Beach. I then organized my story so that there was a clear beginning, middle, and end. I wanted to enhance the fear that I was experiencing while Para-sailing  so I used voice inflation. After changing the tone of my voice, I asked reflecting questions like, "Can anyone explain how I may have felt when being lifted into the air off the boat?" Students had some great answers about the emotion I was feeling. Voice inflation is extremely important because the reader becomes engaged. Tompkins (2012) states, "when writers care about their topics, their voices are stronger. That's one reason why it's important for students to have opportunities to choose their own topics and to write about things that are important to them"(62). Writing for passion is strongly emphasized by Tompkins (2012) and is a significant factor when developing a writing piece. I also demonstrated the word choice trait. I asked students for some adjectives to describe the way I was feeling when being lifted 1200 feet into the air. Some students said I may have been, "dizzy, upset, scared, sad, excited, overwhelmed". I was able to paint a visual picture for students to reflect upon, and imagine it within their minds.

The next trait I focused on was sentence fluency. My cooperating teacher has put a lot of importance on the flow of a story. He tells students to stretch their stories by honing in on the flow of language while they are writing. For some students, its been difficult to organize complete sentences, but they have already improved since the first day of school. I made sure when I was telling my story that I used voice inflation and words to demonstrate fluency of my story. Tompkins (2012) suggests using "mentor texts to demonstrate how authors develop sentence fluency" (65). This is a great way for students to visually see an example of an author demonstrating fluency. As part of the 6+1 traits, conventions is also important, but not strongly emphasized right now in my 3rd grade class. There is more focus on the other traits than spelling everything right, and putting in the proper punctuation marks. My cooperating teacher and I have been giving students one teaching point while conferencing, so it doesn't overwhelm the student. I know we touched upon this in our last class session, and discussed that it would be more beneficial to students if we only gave one or two teaching points at a time.

The last component of the 6+1 traits is presentation. I explained to students after I verbally told my story, that the presentation of my written copy needs to convey the same message as my verbal piece. Handwriting is important when focusing on presentation, can makes or breaks a piece. After I was able to really implement these 6+1 traits I answered a lot of my own questions. At first I was unsure if all of the traits could be incorporated into one lesson, or over the course of a week. I was able to do this within one lesson, and also learn that it can be done over the course of a week. Another question I had was, "Can these traits be introduced effectively in a k-2 classroom"? The goal for the 6+1 traits are going to vary between age level, and Tompkins (2012) gives a great overview on page 69 of variation between grade levels. How could we as teachers differentiate the traits for students who are struggling with their grade level goals? For students from K-2nd they are instructed to write in complete sentences, but for many students in 1st grade, that is very difficult. How could sentence fluency be differentiated for students in kindergarten and 1st grade, who can not make a complete sentence? These 6+1 traits are very valuable for all students, and with the appropriate instruction, it can work great! I enjoyed incorporating the 6+1 traits into my own teaching, and look forward to implementing them again in the future.