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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. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Entry #5

Dear Dr. Jones,

It is now well into the 6th week of class, and so far much has been learned and accomplished. I am taking something from every class session, and am able to reflect and generate new ideas of thinking. I love that you have established a comfortable classroom environment, for all of us to learn and grow as future educators. I feel comfortable sharing my ideas, knowing that I will receive constructive criticism from you as well as my classmates.

The connections I have made between reading and writing have allowed me to think more critically about literacy. I have always believed that reading and writing should both work together as one, but after taking this course, I have gained addition knowledge that will continue to help me down the road. We have put much emphasis on digital writing within literacy, and I believe that knowing more about it can allow me to become open with using it in my classroom. So much now is technology based, and from what we discussed in Hicks(2009) chapter three, I was able to see what others had to say about blogs, wikis, and word processor as tools for writing, and how they are beneficial.

I think I have begun to really think critically about my writing thus far. During writing workshop in class, I have been really honing in on the process of writing, and understanding what I am writing, the purpose, and my audience. The first and third grade class I'm with at Victor have been emphasizing discovery, questioning, answering, clarifying, reflecting, and conferencing. I am able to sit and see how students are working through the writing process, and how they are able to tell me their thoughts behind their pieces. This is very important when writing, and reflecting upon writing.

During writing I am always thinking in depth about my topic or idea. I have always loved writing, because I am able to be creative and expressive. Who wouldn't want to think when they are writing about something personal to them? If there was one thing I could change in order for me to fully engage while writing, I would make sure I am revising to the fullest. Sometimes I rush through the revising stage of writing, and it can bite me in the butt if I'm not careful.

After reading the Kucer and Rhodes article and participating in the Card Strategy activity, I would definitely use it in my classroom. I thought this strategy was easy to use, and allowed for some great brainstorming and thinking to occur. I found it much easier to formulate ideas about my genre piece project, and feel that it could have the same results on students.

So far I don't feel that I am struggling by any means in this class. I think I am learning something new every day, and am loving the new strategies and learning activities which I am applying to reading and writing.