Classroom Websites Can Be Valuable Learning Tools

April 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized)

In Chapter 11 of Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Rachael Klein discusses ways in which teachers can use the internet to support student writing.  Due to the fact that today’s generation is growing up in such a highly technological era, I believe that the Internet is an effective tool that all teachers need to incorporate into daily instruction.  Research on using the Internet in the classroom has shown that it not only supports writing instruction, but it also motivates students to learn.  Furthermore, because this tool is being used daily by a variety of users—average to above average students, at-risk learners, students with learning disabilities, etc.—this learning tool is capable of meeting the needs of all students (pg. 224).

One idea that Klein discusses to help illustrate the idea of using the Internet to develop students’ writing skills is creating a classroom website.  During my undergrad work at Le Moyne, one of my education teachers showed me a classroom website that is truly amazing!  Mr. Coley’s website is an informative and well updated site that has become a valuable tool to his 5th grade students and their parents.  On his website, Mr. Coley posts important classroom announcements, review sessions made into podcasts, and he even has a daily classroom blog.

Mr. Coley’s classroom blog is a great example of how students can use the Internet to enhance their writing skills.  The reason for this is because each day, Mr. Coley assigns a student to write a post for the blog.  The purpose of the post is to inform parents and absent students of what took place in the classroom that day.  Therefore, because students need to consider the main points they need to address in their writing, these posts force students to think more critically when they write.

When I have my own classroom, I want to make a classroom website similar to Mr. Coley’s.  This website will not only provide information such as classroom rules, assignments and student resources, but it will also be a place for my students to publish their work.  I believe that the student-teacher collaboration of Mr. Coley’s website is what makes his website truly unique.  I rarely see students taking control of their classroom websites, but after reading through Mr. Coley’s, you can see that classroom websites are a great place for students to grow and develop as learners.  You can tell that Mr. Coley’s students take pride in their work and like the chapters mentions, this is because the Internet motivates his students to write well (pg. 225).  When Mr. Coley’s students post their writing, they know that viewers will read them due to the fact that they provided valuable information.  Thus, the writing becomes even more meaningful to students and furthermore, influences them to work hard at creating it.


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Visual Representations and Learning

April 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm (Uncategorized)

All students are unique and learn in different ways.  For instance, when it comes to writing, some students prefer paper and pen where others prefer to draw or act it out.  I remember during my early years in elementary school when I used to draw pictures to tell stories.  I had a difficult time expressing my thoughts on paper, so I utilized my creativity to help me get my point across.  However, my teachers did not appreciate the fact that I was replacing pictures with words, and eventually, my way of thinking came to an end.  My teachers explained that I could not write with pictures forever and forced me to start writing with words.  I remember feeling completely devastated and angry at my teachers because drawing had become my way of writing.  When they told me I had to write like my other classmates, I literally felt like my friend was being taken away from me.

After reading the article titled The Role of Visual Representation in the Assessment of Learning by Lynn Bustle, I was happy to find out that three teachers value and incorporate visual meaning-making devices into their curriculum to help students learn.  For example, one teacher named Donna illustrated how finger painting is used in her classroom “to help [students] better understand and represent language” (pg. 417).   She goes on to explain one of her assignments in which students first read a play and then comprise a list of words that describe each character.  The students where then asked to select one character and create a finger painting to represent that character.  Finally, after returning to their lists and selecting words that best supported their painting, the students wrote words on their paintings and composed a short paragraph describing their work (pg. 417).

As a result of my early experience as a writer, I know that visual representations are not just art projects—they are symbols that have meaning.  Because there is always a story behind an illustration, the way pictures are drawn and placed in a piece of art is carefully thought out.  In the article, one of Donna’s students illustrates this idea when she describes her painting.  She says:

“I did my picture about Beatrice, who stands out to me the most in the play.  I found her paranoid and angry with the world.  This is why I did lots of red.  I also did the fire because of this.  The blue dots were sort of a brick wall closing her off from the world, or the light.  I did a white spot in the middle of the fire because it seemed like she was closing off the part of herself that was helpless and afraid.  I did colored lines because she likes to draw attention to herself” (pg. 418).

After reading this article and reflecting on my own experience as a writer, I am convinced that visual representation is a wonderful alternative in helping students grow and develop as learners.  I honestly believe that the reason why I was discouraged of using pictures to tell stories was because my teachers did not know how to assess my learning.  Within this article, the three teachers explain that if students are able to make connections between their visual representations and language, and explain why they drew certain things, then visual tools can be of great value.  Thus, because this rationale is similar to our rationale when writing, teachers should not frown upon using visual representations in the classroom.  This teaching strategy is not only a great way to help students think out of the box, but it will also help them think more critically while learning.

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Culturally Responsive Teaching

March 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm (Uncategorized)

Reading Immigrant Students and Literacy: Reading, Writing, and Remembering by Gerald Campano truly moved me as an educator.  Within his book, Campano illustrates the struggles and challenges teachers often face when trying to meet the needs of students in a multiethnic school setting.  By drawing on his experiences as a fifth grade teacher in a school where children spoke over 14 different languages, Campano informs his readers of what they can do to help each and every student become academically successful.  Campano does this by discussing how he tapped into his own students’ personal experiences and discovered how to provide beneficial literacy experiences that respected and encouraged his students’ identification within their ethnic origins.  Throughout this experience, Campano found that by building strong, trustworthy relationships with all students and creating an environment where students can grow as learners, teachers have the potential to generate powerful learning experiences for all.

During my student teaching experience, I taught in a multiethnic school similar to the one Campano describes in his book.  Just like Campano’s students, my students came from immigrant, migrant and refugee families where receiving a good, quality education was not a top priority.  As a result, my students never came to school motivated to learn.  This made it extremely difficult to teach them the necessary skills to become successful.  I remember one particular day when my 6th grade students and I were discussing their future job opportunities and several boys indicated that they wanted to become professional athletes.  Their responses were of no surprise at first, but after questioning them further, I learned that they believed this profession was their only hope.  One boy said, “I know I ain’t makin’ it to college, but playin’ ball will make me somethin’.”

While reading Campano’s chapter titled “Carmen’s Unwritten Story,” I could not help but think of my teaching experience with my 6th grade students.  Just like Carmen, my students were viewed as “reluctant learners” all in continual need of basic instruction (pg. 32).  Test evaluations and programs were constantly being fostered upon them, and because of a continuous cycle of failure, my students did not view education as worthwhile. But after really getting to know my students within the couple of weeks, I quickly realized that my students truly had the knowledge and potential to become successful.  Between class periods, my students would often tell me about the cars they were fixing in their garage or the necklaces they were making and selling to their friends.  I found this very fascinating to hear, because I was not seeing this passion to work and learn in the classroom.

As a result, Campano’s discussion about a “second classroom” within this chapter made me realize that my students were not demonstrating their full knowledge and potential in the classroom because they were not being provided with an environment to do so in.  According to Campano, a “second classroom” is an environment “involving the emotional labor of teachers as they struggle to execute the mandated curriculum while nurturing the individual and cultural integrity of children” (pg. 40).  Campano notes that he believed he “failed” Carmen because he did not provide her with this second type of environment—he did not give her the opportunity to “bring her rich life experiences into the classroom” (pg. 40).  After relating Campano’s experience with Carmen to my own, I am convinced that the lack of a “second classroom” is the reason why my 6th grade students continue to struggle like Carmen once did.  The teachers at my pervious student teaching site do not give students the opportunity to make connections between school and home.  As a result, my students are not given the chance to demonstrate what they can do well.

Thus, one thing I will certainly take away from this book is that when teaching in a multicultural environment, teachers really need to tap into their student’s interest and strengths and plan instruction around students’ own experiences and identities.  By doing so, teachers and students will not only build strong, healthy relationships, but they will be more apt to work together and make the curriculum fun and meaningful to everyone involved.

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We Can’t Always Rely on “Spell-Check”

March 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Learning how to spell is an important skill that all students need to know how to do well.  Even though we live in a highly technological world where many word processing programs and spell-check functions provide this assistance for us, there are still many settings in which correct spelling is essential.  For example, in the academic world, adequate spelling is important on state proficiency tests and standardized tests requiring handwritten essays.  In the work force, jotting a note to your boss or recording thoughts from a meeting also require good spelling skills.  Because of the environments in which we learn and work in, spelling continues to play a role in our everyday lives.

Even though I believe that spelling is an essential skill that still needs to be taught it in the classroom, some teachers do not take spelling lists seriously.  All throughout my educational experience, spelling lists had no meaning for me.  I figured they were a bunch of words my teacher put together, and did not understand why certain words made up a list.  Unfortunately, I never remember being taught the pattern that each week’s spelling list possessed, so spelling for me was strict memorization.

In Chapter 9 of Best Practices in Writing Instruction, author Bob Schlagal emphasizes the importance of helping students understand the purpose of a list of spelling words.  Behind every list, there is a pattern.  A list may stress particular patterns or a list may have words that have the same ending.  Whatever the case, students need to grasp the patterns being taught so words are not just memorized, they are actually learned (pg. 182-183).

In order to help students understand the relationships between different words on a spelling list, Schlagal provides several activities for teachers to implement in the classroom.  Some of these activities include conducting word sorts, playing concentration games and performing word hunts (pg. 193).  Schlagal notes that when games like these are implemented in the classroom, spelling instruction becomes more “engaging and powerful” (pg. 192).  I agree 100% with Schlagal because when teaching spelling this way, students not only learn the correct spelling of each word, but they also understanding the pattern being emphasized in that week’s list and the relationship of that pattern between the different words.

Despite the highly technological era today’s students are growing up in, I believe that the spelling system continues to play an important role in the curriculum.  However, teachers need to keep in mind that when teaching spelling, instruction needs to be thorough and specific.  By doing so, students will not only gain meaning from what they are learning right then and there, but they will be more apt to recall appropriate spellings of words later on down the road.

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Revision – A Skill That Needs To Be Taught Effectively

March 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm (Uncategorized)

I believe that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process.  During this stage, writers have the opportunity to think critically about their writing.  They not only make minor changes in their wording and correct errors, but writers also consider the format of their writing and how well their text communicates to their audience.  However, like Charles MacArthur suggests in Chapter 7 of Best Practices in Writing Instruction, not all writers see revision as a vital aspect of the composing process.  I know from experience that students at the elementary and middle school levels do not see revision as an opportunity to grow and develop as writers.  They only view this part of writing as a chance to clean up any grammatical errors and thus, do not fully understand what good revision entails.

Within this chapter, MacArthur provides readers with several methods to teach revision effectively in the classroom.  One approach that I believe goes a long way in helping students engage in more meaningful revision is teaching students how to evaluate their writing using specific criteria.  For example, MacArthur mentions in the chapter that instead of asking students to review the content and organization of their narratives, teachers should be more specific and ask students whether they included all the story elements or whether they vividly described their setting (pg. 145).  By asking students to evaluate their writing based on specific criteria, students will have a better sense of direction as they revise and work towards making particular aspects of their writing better.  Furthermore, students will come to understand that revision is not just about looking at the big picture; revision includes adjusting the small parts as well as the whole.

Peer revising is another approach MacArthur discusses as a means to helping students improve their revision skills.  This type of collaboration is a great way for students to not only practice revision skills while serving as an editor, but this experience for the author is a great way to learn from other classmates as well.  However, I agree with MacArthur when he points out that in order for this revision process to be effective, peer revision must be “integrated with instruction” (pg. 146).  In other words, when students revise each other’s work, they should not just look over a paper, make corrections and then hand it back to their partner.  The editor needs to discuss any misinterpretations or vague points with the author and advise them on how they could make their thoughts clearer.  If teachers make this a crucial element in peer revision, students will not only gain meaning from this experience, but they will also learn the importance of communicating effectively through writing.

In order to be a good writer, students need to learn how to properly and successfully revise their work.  Unfortunately, revising is often seen as a hassle to students and because of this poor conception, many students avoid being thorough when revising and do the bare minimum.  By implementing the methods discussed above in the classroom, teachers will not only help students develop good revising skills, but they will also help students learn the true meaning behind this process.

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What a Writer Needs – Book Review

March 10, 2011 at 12:23 am (Uncategorized)

Anyone who has a passion for writing should consider adding What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher to their Kindle, iPad, or bookshelf.  Educators will find Fletcher’s advice and resources extremely helpful when teaching students how to write and help students make their writing more dense and full of life.  Furthermore, because Fletcher believes that “the best writing classes are taught by teachers who work hard at creating an environment where [students] can put themselves on the line when they write” (pg. 26), he also shares with teachers the types of support and guidance needed to help their young writers grow and flourish in the classroom.  On the other hand, students like me who still consider themselves as “writers in progress” can find Fletcher’s book just as useful.  After reading his book from a student’s perspective, Fletcher has helped me tap into my own writing skills and has given me the motivation and support to sharpen them further.  He has inspired me to view my writing differently and has really encouraged me to think more critically when I write.

Book Review Extras:

What a Writer Needs PowerPoint Presentation

What a Writer Needs FlipBook (Powered by aXmag)

What a Writer Needs FlipBook (PDF File)

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Planning: A Central Role in Writing

February 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm (Uncategorized)

I will never forget the time in 11th grade when my English teacher took our class to the computer lab.  It was that time of year when every high school student was scrambling to get their college applications out, and my teacher decided to dedicate class time to this task.  Before coming to class that day, we were asked to bring in our applications so my first instinct was that my teacher was going to help us fill them out.  However, this was not the case.  Once we all had Microsoft Word opened on our desktops, my teacher said something like this, “You are all going to write your personal statement for one of your college applications.  Don’t worry about brainstorming or making an outline.  Just write.  In college, there is not time for planning so you should start getting used to it.”

I think I may have written at most a paragraph during those 40 minutes in the computer lab.  For one, it took me a long time to recover from the shock that my teacher put me in, but I also couldn’t think straight and didn’t know where to begin.  I had no ideas, no plans and I felt like I was trying to whip my college essay out of nowhere.  I soon became stressed and overwhelmed, and writing that essay seemed like the hardest thing on earth.

In chapter 6 of Best Practices in Writing Instruction, authors Steve Graham and Karen Harris stress the importance of planning and its role in skilled writing.  As I mentioned before, I only wrote a small piece of my college essay in the computer lab that day and I recall not being satisfied with what I had already written.  When I write, I like to read my work over to try to generate some ideas about what to write next.  But when I did that with my college essay nothing came to me.  I was stuck because I had no plan of attack.  I felt like I had nowhere else to go.

The lesson I learned that day was that planning plays a central role in writing.   In fact, Graham and Harris argue that “while there are many things the developing writer’s brain needs, knowing how to plan is the most important” (pg. 121).  Therefore, because I believe that organizing one’s thoughts plays a critical role in good writing, students need to know how to plan effectively in order to grow as writers.  In chapter 6, Graham and Harris list many planning strategies teachers can implement in the classroom to help improve the quality of student writing.  Out of all the strategies, I found that “creating an atmosphere that supports students’ planning” (pg. 123) is the first and most important technique in teaching students how to plan.  To become a good planner, students need to work within a writing environment in which planning is valued.  My English teacher did not value planning that day in the computer lab, and for a long time, I did not believe that organizing my thoughts prior to writing was necessary.  However, after a year of literally pulling my hair out to write college essays, I realized that planning really makes a difference.  Knowing where a writing piece is going, makes the writing task more effective and teachers need to help students realize this in the classroom.

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Successful Male Readers = Motivation + Competence

February 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm (Uncategorized)

Feeling competent as a reader greatly impacts one’s attitude towards reading.  When I used to be a struggling reader, I detested reading because I did not think I was good at it.  According to the article, “I Just Like Being Good at It: the importance of competence in the literate lives of young men,” authors Michael Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm argue that one of the reasons why boys continue to demonstrate underachievement in literacy is due to their lack of competence.  Boys, like everybody else in life, engage in activities that promote happiness and success.  Therefore, if boys do not feel competent as readers, then they will not be motivated to read and this greatly impacts their literacy performance.

One interesting point that Smith and Wilhelm noted in their article was that examining boys’ performance only in school really underestimates their capabilities as readers.  When interviewing boys about their reading interests, Smith and Wilhelm found that boys do feel competent about their reading abilities, just not in school.  Several of the boys indicated that they often read freely at home to create school projects involving websites and videos.  They also read on their own to learn about rap, sports, cars and other topics of interest.

Therefore, because boys lack competence in their literate lives in school, but do not seem to reject literate activity itself, teachers need to make reading more appealing for boys in the classroom.  One way teachers can help boys gain a positive attitude and respect for reading in school, is to promote reading that appeals to boys.  It has been known that boys like to read text that revolves around humor, adventure, information, science fiction, horror, sports, history, graphic novels and realistic fiction.  Furthermore, boys are inclined to read things they find interesting in books as well as on the computer, in magazines, and in the newspaper.  Thus, if teachers give boys the choice and control in reading material, than boys will feel more competent and work towards becoming successful readers both inside and outside the classroom.

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Say “Yes!” to Collaborative Writing

February 5, 2011 at 12:40 am (Uncategorized)

When I think about myself as a writer, I picture a girl in a locked room with nothing but her own mind and a computer.  I have a tendency to move far away from any distractions, be it my friends, family or even my dog, so I can get “in the moment” and produce a piece of writing.  However, this belief about accomplishing work on my own can sometimes lead to frustration.  If I get stuck or cannot figure out how to start a writing piece, I easily become overwhelmed and stressed.  When this happens, I have to completely stop writing and find something else to do.  I will either take a walk or socialize with family or friends so I can “regroup” and clear my head.  Depending on my level of frustration, it may take an hour or several days until I am ready to face my writing again.

This relationship I have with my writing began in my early years in elementary school.  I recall that during in-class writing time, my classmates and I would sit at our desks and force ourselves to write a paragraph or two about a topic my teacher had chosen.  Talking with other classmates during writing time was prohibited, so the opportunity to converse with friends about what I was writing was never an option.  If I had a question or needed advice, I went directly to my teacher.  Also, the arrangement of desks as straight rows faced towards the front of the classroom prevented anybody from feeling relaxed and comfortable during writing time.  My classmates and I were expected to working quietly and efficiently, and for a long time, this type of writing environment is what I have come to only know.

Based on my own writing experiences, I have come to believe that writing is a social activity.  I have found that if I reach out to others and ask for advice or feedback on my writing, I accomplish more than I could have alone.  Furthermore, if I am in an environment that makes me content, I am relaxed and my writing comes more easily.  Therefore, since students are highly interested in the social aspects of school, teachers should provide students with the opportunity and environment to collaborate with their classmates when writing.  By doing so, students will not only assist one another with writing in a relaxed and friendly setting, but they will learn from each other and become better writers.  Throughout a majority of my educational experience, writing had always been a hassle.  However, once I began collaborating with others, I not only learned how to think critically about my writing, but I also learned how to become more confident as a writer.

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