Monday, April 19, 2010

Hidden Gems and the LA Review

 "An inclusive, collaborative approach to developing a planned writing curriculum is of prime importance".  I wholeheartedly agree with this statement from the Engel and Streich article.  I was also impressed that each teacher was involved in creating the curriculum and was therefore in support of the new curriculum (though some were hesitant at first).  I loved the idea that each teacher brought his/her favorite writing activity to the group who then decided which genre it fit best with and then created mini-lessons and found accompanying literature.    

 This article made me think of 2 things: 1) the amount of creativity hidden in our district and 2) the upcoming language arts review.  I sometimes get frustrated that there are so many hidden gems in our district – actually so many hidden in my very school!  One of the fun parts about teaching is the ability to tweak lessons so both my students and I find them interesting and motivating.  I have particular lessons that I have put more energy into crafting.  Can you image how wonderful my 4th grade classroom would be if I not only had my favorite lessons but if I also had those lessons from each 4th grade teacher in the district!?!  
We are also approaching a language arts review.  I hope that our review committee does not turn into a group of “star teachers” (who are excited about making improvements) that makes changes that others have a hard time supporting.  I’m not sure exactly what the plan for this review is but I would love to see a collaborative and inclusive approach.   To help strengthen our writing instruction we ALL need to share our ideas, be flexible but also be held accountable.  I look forward to helping in the LA review!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Not assessment, but a most interesting observation

This morning I was in the 1/2 day Kindergarten for Writer's Workshop. The students had been writing little three page booklets for several weeks (one day a week). The teacher had encouraged their own ideas, invented spelling, and the other supports for initial writers. Today's lesson was on revision.

Revision! for Kindergarteners? The teacher modeled rereading her pieces and choosing one to make better--ready to publish. The topic was going outside to see the class tree in spring, which they had done on Tuesday. The first page example was one where she had omitted a pronoun--I or we in her sentence. The students read the sample on the smartboard and told her what was missing. They also had discussion as to whether it should be I or we; she showed that her picture had several stick figures, so agreed that we was the better choice. They also recognized that the sentence needed a period. The second page was "I saw stuf." What did we see? she asked. The picture showed ground and a bare-limbed tree. The children suggested a flower and leaves on the tree and a bird. She added both the picture and the words. Wow! Was I impressed!

Then I saw the children take out their folders, read through their own pieces, and begin to work. I was working with one of my ELL students trying to get oral language (he doesn't have sound/symbol correspondence yet). I prompted, tell me more, which he did. He doesn't have letter sounds yet, but even he tried to do more and revise.

This lesson gave me a little hope that the writing process is not dead or discarded.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Assigned Topic vs Choice

I have always struggled with whether or not to assign the writing topic to my fourth graders. It seems fairly obvious that to get students motivated you have to let them write about what interests them. Dohrer, in his article “Do teachers’ comments on students’ papers help?”, agrees saying “assigned papers seemed to provide a way for students to demonstrate command of class content rather than to communicate their own ideas”. Dohrer also explains that the motivation to revise a paper is “rooted in the child’s voice, the urge to express”. To have this urge, this motivation students need to care about what they are writing.

This makes sense and is why I have offered students time during “free writing” to write about what they choose. I have however also assigned the writing topic. I have done this so I am able to tailor my mini lessons to be more useful to the entire class. I also create/use mini lessons once I see what the students are writing and where they need help.

My problem is, I find it easier to help more students when they are writing similar genres. When the genres are spread out it seems hard to find common themes for mini lessons and I find myself trying to teach each individual student a different lesson. While this works great with “individualized learning” (which the district urges us to do) it is hard to find the time to teach 26 different writing lessons each week!

I would love to hear how others find common mini lessons while still offering choice to their students.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How many errors are too many?

Ferris’ article “Preparing teachers to respond to student writing” deepened my thinking about commenting on student papers, especially through the lens of second language (L2) learning. In an L2 world, errors in syntax, grammar and spelling are sometimes so numerous that they interfere with the writer’s message. As teachers, we want to “fix” the writing, we want the message to be clear and we struggle with what to comment on, how much to correct, etc. When we “fix” the glaring mistakes of L2 learners, we often fail to see the devastating impact on the writer. This is also true of native English-speaking writers in the pre K-primary grades.

In my writing methods’ course many years ago, we shared the example of a 3 year-old who wrote long stories and letters to her Grandma, which only she could read (and which varied each time she read her text). Her stories were full of details and plot twists. When you looked at her writing, you realized that this little girl knew about lines, reading from left to right and top to bottom, and she even had some consonant sounds. Then she started Kindergarten. And after several weeks of waiting anxiously for a new story, Grandma finally received a story. In perfect handwriting and spelling it simply read “The cat is black.” Another writer smothered.

Ferris talks about the need to convince teachers that their job is NOT to produce the “ideal text.” Rather, our work should focus on “each student’s progress and increasing awareness of and skill in using various strategies to compose, revise, and edit their own work (p. 167).” She goes on to explain that giving “thoughtful feedback tailored to the needs of an individual student and his/her evolving text and writing is a gift, and perhaps the most important thing a writing instructor can do for his/her students (p. 169).” The article features great examples and strategies for commenting on students’ writing, which could be adapted for younger grade level. Throughout the article, Ferris also comments on the opposing forces of content and form but offers a solution in the way of “error conferences.”

This brings me to Kelsey’s post, which triggered so many thoughts that I couldn’t put them all in one comment. Kelsey talked about the dichotomy of expectations between “published" written work—which needs to be completely error free—and writing for the sake of writing—which emphasizes the message and overlooks the errors. This is the dilemma of all second language teachers. I see both sides. In an immersion or second language setting, we want to encourage every baby step students take in writing by emphasizing message over form. We need to reward students’ risk taking, their play with language, their attempt to connect with a reader. Yet at the same time we need to teach and expect students to correct their form and those dreaded fossilized errors. If we don’t hold them to a higher standard of grammatical and spelling accuracy, they could very likely never get there. One look at the writing of many secondary immersion students from any program makes that point all too well.

I haven't read the Bernstein's article that Kelsey referenced but I agree with her point that “programs and teachers need to carefully discuss and agree to common philosophies and expectations for writing assessment and instruction.” If "published" work needs to be free of errors to emphasize correct form, what does "published" work mean? It certainly can't be every final draft. It could mean anything posted publicly on a wall for all to see, as was the case in Kelsey’s example. A compromise could be to leave the work as is and include a disclaimer, in French, that these are exemplars of students’ best writing at this point in the year which show the developmental stages of inventive spelling, etc.

The plot thickens if we consider digital writing. Does every digital piece that sits on the Web have to be held to the perfection standard of so-called “published work?” Or do we hold that standard only for projects that truly reach a very broad audience? For example, if 4th graders create websites about US regions for a worldwide francophone audience, shouldn’t their writing be error free? How do you react when you read a webpage riddled with mistakes? Again a compromise could be to emphasize the use of multimedia storytelling tools that allow students to write digitally without having to correct every little accent mark, verb conjugation, or adjective agreement.

There isn’t any easy answer about content vs. form in L2 writing. My belief is that the vast majority of the time we need to nourish with kindness the hesitant steps of L2 writers, while holding their work to higher standards of accuracy for some key pieces each year. And perhaps we can keep in mind Ferris’ point that the “long-term goal of moving students toward improved writing and increased autonomy in assessing and revising their own work is more important than the short-term aim of ‘fixing’ the particular paper under construction (p. 170).”

Bits and Pieces

Not written feedback, but oral feedback; this is what I kept thinking about as I went through the articles for this week. As I read through Tess and Elizabeth's posts, I wondered about putting myself in their shoes, green pen in hand and having to go through the process of giving written feedback. I have since realized this is a perk (in my eyes) of teaching first graders. I guess what that perk comes down to is time. TIME! Don't we all need more of that?

In the beginning of the Ferris article she discusses what she tells beginning teachers: "I do try to seer trainees toward a selective, prioritized approach to responding rather than attempting to address every problem they see in every student paper" (170). I was then thinking about the book How's It Going (my book study book) and how Anderson also gives us permission to NOT address every problem you see in a paper. Ferris discusses how to be "selective and prioritizing" (170) when giving feedback. Thinking about a few things rather than fixing the whole paper is something I need to keep in mind when I read my first grader's writing with them. They have tried their best and have many grammatical errors along with structural pieces that are not in place. However I need to be sure to focus on one (maybe 2) things for that piece of writing. I can only imagine how they feel if I begin saying, "Well, this doesn't make sense, and you're making progress with punctuation, but..." I can think back to conferences that have been similar to that, but I continue to try and improve and learn!

I also thought the Adger article was interesting simply because I haven't really thought about writing from that angle before. Isn't is interesting, based on where you teach/have taught, how different experiences can be when looking at written work. I think back to a child I had 2 years ago, and his verbiage within his writing: I tried to change it to be "right." Using my schema and experiences, that's what I had to go from. My experiences with vernacular dialects was and still is limited. I loved reading through Elizabeth's post because it really brings this article to "real meaning." I also recalled our conversation in class about standardized tests and who the tests are really written for in connection to page 123 of the Adger article. Here he states, "There is also some possibility of cultural bias in the topics assigned by the test." This really made a connection to what we've discussed, and continues to remind me to look at things differently, rather than the "normal" way.

Bits and pieces...that's what these articles gave me. Bits and pieces of information about dialect, feedback and approach to conferencing in a written way, but also things I can take with me in an oral way. There are things to try and remember. It means I'm still learning!

Supporting the developement of writng in vernacular-speaking students

I found the article by Adger to be very helpful. I have quite a few ELL students in my class this year. I think the list of things that teachers can do to support the writing of these students on page 118 was very practical advice. I find myself doing some of these things and I could definitely include more in my teaching. Exposing students to different models of writing is something that I could include in an upcoming writing assignment on wolf reintroduction.

Million Dollar Answer

When reading the Hyland article, I found myself taking lots of deep breathes and being grateful that I teach primary grades. Who knew that teacher written feedback on student writing could be taken and analyzed in so many ways??!
It was easy for me to relate to many of the experiences of the ESL teachers because, although my students are much younger than the case studies, they are also struggling to "break the code" of writing in the English language. Like Hyland discussed, I find myself struggling to find the best way to give feedback to my developing writers in a way that encourages their growth, is honest, and praises them for what they are trying to do. With most of my writing instruction rotating around Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, I find that I focus on giving the students positive feedback (more through discussion than writing) and trying to point out what they are doing as writers, while gently giving them ideas on what they can do make it even better. I found it very interesting when Hyland referenced a study that argued "Writing can be stolen from a writer by the teacher's comments. They suggest that if students follow directive feedback too closely, they may develop neither their cognitive skills nor their writing ailities, but merely rewrite texts to reflect their teachers concerns." Too often when I discuss a piece of writing with one of my second graders, their story turns into a copy of our discussion, rather than a reflection of that child's voice, thoughts and experience.
Another area that I connected with was the idea of finding "the balance between being a realist and being positive." When a child comes to me with a story that they have so proudly been working on for the past few days, wanting me to read it aloud to them, and I have no idea what it says, what am I supposed to do in that situation? Sure, I suggest they read it to me...but what do I do when they can't even read it and seem to have no idea what the entire story was about??! There they sit...many words and letters on a page and neither one of us has a clue what it is about. Sometimes, they can give you a main idea...but what is the best kind-of feedback to give there? The akward uncomfortable seconds pass as I try to think of something positive to say that will not turn them off to writing completely.
So now that we have been/are discussing all these different ways of assessing writing, I am anxious to get the million dollar answer...What is the best way to help writers, of all ages, grow in this craft, while fostering their self-esteem, teaching them what to do with criticism, appreciating who they are, and all the while making sure that I am giving them feedback that they can appreciate, understand and grow from?

to praise or not to praise

I read through our assigned articles on feedback and tried really hard to make connections to what I do on a daily basis. It was hard, as I seem to be less and less capable of complex thought as spring break gets nearer and nearer. If I give students written feedback on their writing, it's actually in the context of a conversation. We talk back and forth about the work, and I consider anything I write down as "notes" that we can both return to later as we revise. Note that I say "we" revise. Few, if any, of my students know how to revise, much less revise independently. Really, all aspects of the writing process, from brainstorming to drafting to editing and revising are shared tasks. Of all the stages of writing, I work most on getting students independent at brainstorming and drafting, so revision is nearly always a "we" process.

But as I read Hyland's article on praise I suddenly had a lot more to think about. Praise, verbal or written, is a tricky thing. As teachers we learn the importance of specific praise as an effective feedback tool (instead of the generic "good job"), but then we hear/read about how praise can demotivate kids. Nothing is ever as it seems. Hyland's description of mitigating devices used in written feedback was particularly interesting. Paired acts (criticism + praise), hedges (words that tone down criticism), personal attribution (couching criticism as personal opinion) and questioning all seem like versions of our infamous Minnesota Nice, even though the article focused on teachers and students at a university in New Zealand. It all made me wonder...what is the purpose of giving students feedback on their writing? Do we want them to feel good about themselves as writers? Do we want them to learn more about the craft of writing? Do we want them to be more self-reflective of their skills as writers? I'm sure the answer is yes to all of those things, but we can't do all of those things at one time. And we can't do any of those things by deflecting our criticism by "sugaring the pill." As Hyland explains, the ELL students in the study had difficulty understanding mitigated comments. ELL students aren't the only ones confused by a combination of praise and backpedaling criticism. We don't want students to feel bad, but avoiding clear, constructive criticism leaves students floundering. Being direct in our comments and feedback is a skill that requires practice. Maybe not everyone needs to work at it, but I certainly do.

Providing Feedback on Student Writing

I read the Ferris article, "Preparing Teachers to Respond to Student Writing," this week and really enjoyed it. It gave me helpful ideas about how to best respond to student work. She writes the article from the perspective of how she helps new teachers learn about and address feedback issues. So it's from a teacher preparation program perspective. It was still very helpful and reading it was timely in that I just finished providing feedback to all of my students personal narratives.

I also really like Ferris's list of guiding principles of written teacher commentary. Here are some principles that Ferris suggests that I didn't do: "refer to previous work and progress that you see", "do not feel that (the teacher) should address every single problem they see on each student paper,"(I did) and "avoid appropriation." On the latter, I find it really difficult, as Ferris says, not to try to make the paper "perfect." And yet instead, I whole-heartedly agree with Ferris, that "the most important end-product, is each student's progress and increasing awareness of and skill in using various strategies to compose, revise, and edit their own work." So, why is it so hard to leave well enough alone?

Some of the things that Ferris suggests in her article that I did/do with my own students writing: make sure "other students comment and provide feedback" (I was not the only one providing any feedback), "provide encouragement and constructive criticism," and "get to know the student through previous work in order to build comments around that."

Later she talks about the kinds of guiding questions that can be used in feedback of student writing. I really enjoy providing feedback to my students. Once they receive the papers back, I conference one on one with them. According to Ferris, this is also a recommended practice. Just like it is better to provide criticism or feedback to someone in person instead of, for example, writing it in an email, I think the same goes for student feedback on writing. Not only should they have it in writing, but also be able to hear if from the teacher. Make it more of a dialogue where the student can clarify, ask questions, and summarize the important points of the feedback.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wanted: Consensus and Shared Purpose

Bernstein writes that "Even teachers who do not believe that writing instruction should have as its primary focus the development of linguistic competence may find it quite difficult to provide written commentary on content and rhetorical concerns in the manner they believe is effective because of pressure to respond to students' grammatical and lexical errors first and foremost" (p. 65). When I read this I was transported back in time about five years ago.

I was teaching in another French immersion school and we, like all of the other elementary schools in the district, were using a Writer's Workshop model to teach writing in our classrooms. It wasn't easy to do in an immersion setting, but we were experimenting with it and I was pretty impressed with the writing that I saw around the school. Then at a staff meeting one morning our principal said that she was approached by the father of a prospective student. He was a native French speaker and was, our principal said, "shocked" by some of the errors in grammar and spelling that he saw in students' writing displayed around the school. Our principal asked us to go around and correct the errors in our students' work. My colleague in kindergarten complied. She had to. It was like a police state over there. She carefully typed up corrected versions of the things that her kindergartners had written in French and posted them underneath all of her students' work.

I sometimes see the same thing happen where I work now. Students will make signs that advertise upcoming events and there are almost always mistakes in French. A few days after the posters go up, someone goes around and corrects the errors with a black marker. Is this good practice? I don't know. I get both sides. I know it's not good to have incorrect French on display for our students. They don't see French that often outside of school so what they do see at school tends to stick with them, for better or for worse. But all of this correcting also rubs me the wrong way as a teacher who believes strongly in a Workshop model and who believes that students should be allowed and, in fact, encouraged to make mistakes when they are learning to write.

I understand the accountability argument. I asked all of my students to make sure their word wall words were spelled correctly in published work when I taught second grade. And, of course, grammar is important. I try my very best to speak French as authentically as I can. But I also know personally (as a non-perfect French speaker) that nothing inhibits my ability to speak more than fear that I will be judged, not taken seriously or belittled if I make mistakes. I can only imagine that students feel the same way. If we focus on grammar at the exclusion of ideas and content, we are essentially telling our students "Don't speak or write until you can do it perfectly." And no one learns to write or talk like that in their native language. Why would we ever say that to children attempting to communicate in a second language?

What to do? Believe me, I don't know. I've been tiptoeing my way around this conflict for over five years. I do believe, as Bernstein argues, that programs and teachers need to carefully discuss and agree to common philosophies and expectations for writing assessment and instruction. Otherwise, teachers will continually butt heads. It's happening in my school right now. And that lack of clarity or consensus about a shared purpose slowly chips away at a program, and I think everyone ends up feeling discouraged.

Thousands of hours with a green felt tip pen. . .

I read the articles for this week, and though I found them all thought-provoking, the culminating effect of the readings was for me a feeling of discouragement. I know that I have spent thousands of hours reading and responding to student writing, and it seems that my efforts have been somewhat futile. (Not that the essays' conclusions were really surprising to me. A lot of students I've known have admitted to me that they don't really read teacher comments; they are mostly interested in the grade.) I don't think that means that I can give up the practice of written feedback, but hopefully I can be more deliberate with my efforts in the future?

I know I am guilty of "sugaring the pill," as the Hylands put it. In an effort to be positive about students' writing -- and thus help motivate them, I have been guilty of "mitigating my feedback," resulting in "confusion and misunderstanding" when my students don't understand exactly how to revise their essays. I wonder what would happen if I took a new approach, writing only the "negative" comments and suggestions on drafts, and writing only the positive comments on final copies? If my students know to expect this, they would view the negative comments as a form of help, and they would look forward to the positive comments on the final.

The Dohrer essay reminded me of something that I knew but don't always practice: "Research indicates that when teachers make remarks on papers and return those papers to students while offering them no opportunity to revise, the remarks have little effect on subsequent papers." I know that the energy and time I expend in giving my students copious amounts of written feedback is best used on drafts of papers rather than final copies.

Yet one challenge I face is that it's so hard to get my 8th grade students to really invest in their drafts -- when they know there is no grade coming. And I don't like spending my time reading and responding to their writing when I know that they haven't really invested much time and thought yet. How do I get students to invest in the drafts -- so that I can give them feedback to help them improve? When there is a grade involved, of course it's a different story for most Edina students!

I don't know of a good solution for this. This March, I surprised students on the day that their Anne Frank essays were due by telling them that I was collecting the essays not as final copies, but as drafts. I told them that I would return the essays with written feedback, and the revised essays would be a week later. Most students were happy with the news, and while reading the drafts, I felt very encouraged by the quality of the writing. I can't speak to the final copies yet, since I'm collecting them tomorrow! Of course I can't regularly surprise/deceive my students like this -- word would spread! But I also can't bear spending hours of precious time on half-hearted attempts.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Written feedback and Error Analysis

Naming written commentary as "a critical instructional opportunity for both teacher and student," Ferris offers convincing yet cautionary advice in her article, "Preparing Teachers to Respond to Student Writing". I intend to apply these three ideas to my teaching practice:

1. Consider how to use a "judicious mixture of teacher feedback (which can be oral, handwritten, or electronic) , peer review, and guided self-evaluation." (p. 167) While I have used all three practices, I'd like to be more intentional and explicit with students about the purposes of each.

2. Read the paper "from start to finish without marking anything." (p. 170) Yes, I may have to sit on my hands.

3. For English Language learners (as well as other struggling writers), identify, number and chart language errors (similar to a miscue analysis in evaluating reading), followed up with "error conferences" . (pp. 177, 191) Recently, I noticed that one of my ELL students omits the letter s from most plurals and verbs. I wonder what I could discover with more systematic analysis of student writing errors. Error analysis is routine in reading assessment. It makes sense to apply this practice to writing as well. I need to assess/diagnose student needs before addressing them.

Truth is within ourselves, it takes no rise
From outward things, whate’er you may believe.
There is an inner centre in us all
Where truth abides in fullness; and around
Wall upon wall the gross flesh hems it in

That perfect, clear perception which is Truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds all and makes all error, but to know
Rather consists in finding out a way
For the imprisoned splendour to escape
Than in achieving entry for a light
Supposed to be without.
-Robert Browning

After reading the Goldstein article this week, which was chock full of decent information and many early-primary parallels, I kept going back to the first full paragraph on page 67. Here, the author discusses the interaction of factors that can inform the reception and perception of commentary and revision. In short, the demands of life prevented the student from making the revisions her teacher thought necessary...aaand, the teacher "believed the student to be lazy". Certainly, these demands can be myriad. Goldstein went on to say that we need to be very conscious of what we do -- and why we do what we do -- when we comment on our students' writing. While "grammatical and lexical expertise" (65) have their necessity and merit, concentrating on their virtue could suffocate the voices of multilingual and non-standard English speakers and writers.

Enter, Elizabeth's blog posting. Hooray!

As teachers of writing, we are afforded opportunities to validate the honest voices of our students. Sometimes, perhaps more frequently as the face of our nation joins the larger "mestizaje", those voices will sound less and less like the Western Canon. We are called to consider the beauty and relevance that lies outside the box. Robert Browning would call that beauty "truth".

The two texts, For Colored Girls and Borderlands -- which I have linked at the top of this posting -- were some of the first personal (writing) affirmations I ever encountered.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Written feedback

In my ESL position, all the feedback I give is formative, since I am not in charge of anyone's grades. As I read and reflected on the articles assigned for this week, I tried to tie them in to what I do and found it difficult to make meaningful connections. But I can write about my own experience as a student and teacher.

I always read my teacher's comments eagerly, hoping for positive feedback. I would be disappointed if the only feedback was a letter grade, but knew that teachers were busy people. I don't remember writing conferences or individual help with drafting. The first time I was caught short by a prof was when I was writing independent paper on historiography in college. I was not using an acceptable style, but I had never been taught what that was! I learned a lot from that experience, though, mostly that I wasn't a know-it-all!

I really began teaching writing when I began teaching fifth grade at Creek Valley twenty years ago. It was in the late 80s and I had just read Donald Graves and Ken Koch, the poet, and was very much under their spell. During the 1990s, Creek Valley was an exemplary 'whole language' school with a strong emphasis on process writing. There was the Creek Valley Viewer, where students would publish their stories and poems once or twice a year. Each grade level had their own writing project from second grade memoirs to fifth grade fiction books. We did do writing conferences, using trained parents as well as teachers to give feedback to students. We helped students articulate the heart of their stories. Oh yes, we still taught five paragraph essays in fifth grade and state reports in fourth, but we also gave the students multiple opportunities to explore language and write on their own. We worked a lot on revision--seeing writing through new or different lenses--and a little on editing, so that the work was comprehensible to the reader. It was, indeed, keeping the audience in mind that encouraged decent spelling and punctuation, etc.

I still wrote comments on final drafts in those days before rubrics came to the fore. I suspect, however, they were more for the parent than for the child. The students had received feedback along the way.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks

In the article, Dialects and Writing, I was reminded of an activity I did last summer while participating in the Summer Institute for the Minnesota Writing Project. The class was asked to do an activity where we wrote letters to two different people on the same topic. One of the letters was to be addressed to a friend, while the other letter was addressed to our school superintendent. After writing, we compared the style of the two letters. Even though the letters were on the same topic, they were very different. The differences between the two included formal writing vs. conversation writing, especially noticing differences in the headings and closures. This activity was relevant because it showed the importance of learning to write in different styles with different voices.

The author of Dialects and Writing discusses the contrast between oral language and written language and the challenges for all writers regardless of their dialect. The importance of developing written language expertise in order to make choices about style at different levels of language is also stressed. "To become successful writers, students must eventually master such contrasts and understand the connotations of alternative way of expressing the same thought." What I appreciated about the article was that students are encouraged to continue using their colloquial, or everyday, language for writing, but yet to learn the appropriate time.

These three guidelines for supporting the development of writing skills in vernacular-speaking students stood out.

  • Regular and substantial practice in writing, aimed at developing fluency.

  • The opportunity to write for real, personally significant purposes.

  • Experience in writing for a wide range of audiences, both inside and outside of school.

To me it is not important to change a student's colloquial language, but that students learn to make choices about their writing style for their intended audience.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Warning: Swear words included

My Foundation students are finishing revisions of creative pieces they will publicly read next week. I encouraged students to write on the topic of their choice and in the form of their choice. Throughout the quarter kids experimented with writing forms and we did spend some time talking about the audience of their pieces.

This week "Tim" turned in a piece that I think is exceptionally sincere and reflective of his voice. Getting Tim to turn anything in is difficult, so I was pleased with his effort and product. When he handed it to me he told me there was "no way on heck I would let him read it to the class." A few years ago I do not think I would have accepted what he wrote as a final piece. There is no way I would have ever considered it a piece he read in public at a school.

He wrote in dialect. He calls it Ebonics. I don't know what it is officially labeled today, but here is an excerpt:

Waltz good Bro,

Dayum shitz been so crazy since u left Bro. People just cant act rite it seem like. I don't think itz outta anger I think itz jus outta confusion ya digg? Dey don't know how to act wit out out u bein here. I mean when u waz here it really waznt no types of drama. U end dat shit quick, Bro. I be tryna do it too but I dont see how u can do all dat. Itz hella drama down here so come on Bro, tell me ur secret...

This is a letter to Walter Dolley, a friend of his and an Edina student who was murdered in January. I was a bit uncomfortable with it, so I had him write a paragraph in standard English explaining it. I told him there would be people in the audience who would not have the situational context to grasp the purpose of the piece. Maybe that should not matter, but some of my students don't need anymore stereotyping. His reflection sounded much different:

Walter was our big brother. He made such an impact in our lives. He had a different relationship with everyone therefore understood us all. He did whatever it took to get his diploma and he wanted us to do the same. It's sad when a mother has to receive her only child's diploma from the principle at her house a week after her son was murdered in his own neighborhood...

When I was reading "Dialects and Writing" by Algers, Tim's piece struck me. Algers states that "Developing written language expertise involves learning to make choices about style at different levels of language, including vocabulary, grammar, and text structure" (113). Tim is not an ESL student, but he has grown up with a dialect that is different than the standard English most of our kids our used to hearing, speaking, and writing. He can write in both, as he demonstrated and as he has shown me all year. The voice, tone, and purpose of the original piece are completely different than those in the reflection. I wonder why, in my earlier years of teaching, I was so quick to dismiss anything written in nonstandard English unacceptable, especially in a creative piece. I also wonder what has changed in me now that I see incredible power in in writing that may not be considered traditional.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Student's Perspective

Thinking back to other discussions we've had this semester, what are we communicating to students when we tell them they have to revise a piece over and over again? A former student told me today how difficult her English class has been this year because she is expected to revise her writing "like 10 times, until it's absolutely perfect." I asked her how this affected her desire to write, and she said it took all the fun right out of it. When I asked her if her teacher gave her feedback (verbally or written) after each one, she said no. The teacher would put exemplars on the screen and then expect them to do this with their own writing until it was perfect. I'm guessing that "perfect" means whatever the teacher thinks is perfect. I see myself assuming this same role as a teacher, and this is why subjectivity is so difficult for me. I am always looking for students to do well, to apply those skills I have taught them. What if this writer has grown and learned things he/she has never applied to writing before? Who am I to say this student didn't grow as a writer, even though it doesn't match the rubric? And what if the writer now uses those skills in other writing pieces? Who is to say when a piece of writing is finished? Students write for the grade and not for the joy of writing. Are we responsible for creating this skewed motivation, or are we victims of our education system, as well?

Effective Teacher Feedback?

After reading our two articles for March 25, I have a lot going through my mind about how we can provide effective feedback to our students. In the past, I would say I indirectly communicated that grammar was the most important piece of the writing process. While I included ideas, organization and other traits on the rubric, Conventions always had the highest number of skills I was looking for. In fact, I'm guessing some stories actually did have 100 surface corrections in black ink. I can only imagine how one of these students must've felt when he/she got a story back and saw surface corrections made all over the place. How is that for conveying the importance of grammar in writing to our students? It certainly wasn't what I intended.

This year I have gone to emphasizing three main convention pieces when I look at writing: proper end marks, proper capitalization and proper spelling. Believe me, it is a huge step for me to take everything else off this plate, because I have always thought I was responsible for fixing everything (complete sentences, commas, apostrophes, correct verb tense, and the list goes on). Even better, I'm not actually making the corrections anymore. Last year in our literacy group, Tess gave me some valuable advice. Don't make the corrections for them. Focus on one or two skills you've been teaching, and then write P (for period) or CL (for capital letter) in the margins when these items are missing. In this way the students take ownership for making their own corrections, yet they have a general idea where the mistakes lie. I also encourage parents not to fix spelling mistakes. Circle them, and the student can use the Franklin Speller (an awesome electronic tool we have in class) to fix the mistakes themselves. Even though I've spent the first paragraph writing about grammar, please understand. I certainly believe that developing ideas is the first step to creating a quality piece of writing. I have discovered that parents also need to be educated about the "importance" of grammar in writing. Usually, parents question me about why we aren't spending the majority of our time working on grammar skills when it comes to writing, and I have to explain why the content and the thinking behind it are the most important.

My main question today is this. How can I give comments that help my students grow as writers along the way and that continue to motivate them to want to write?
In pursuing the answer to this question this morning, I found a great video on Annenberg Media. It is called Providing Feedback on Student Writing. Even though it takes place in a few secondary classrooms, I think there is wonderful insight to be gained for teachers at all levels. In addition to addressing conferencing, peer conferencing, student self-assessment, portfolios, and high stakes testing, it also includes a round table discussion of the teachers who are doing the modeling in the video. They talk about what is difficult for them as teachers of writing and what they still haven't changed but want to. They talk about why it is best practice to model and practice these skills with their students, and they ask one another tough questions. Even though the video is at least an hour long, I learned a lot just by watching the first half hour. I also found another link called Arbiter. On this website, you can read student writing, assess it, and see how your peers assessed this same writing. It also encourages you to reflect on why you assessed the writing in the way you did. What did you pay the most attention to? Grammar? Ideas? Organization? And why did you make this your priority? Just a little food for thought as we continue to think about how we can provide quality feedback to our students...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

So...I Am Late

No excuses...just completely forgot I had to blog until this morning when I talked to Kim and she reminded me. UGH!
After doing all my readings last night I found myself really excited about Carl Anderson's article, Conferences Are Conversations. Partly because I felt like this was the first article that I have really had a strong connection with so far in this class and also because I thought the author was talking directly to me! I own and use all the Lucy Calkins curriculum on a daily basis. I think she is great and has many wonderful struggle has always been with the conferencing portion of her method. It isn't that I don't believe in it, it is more than I was not quite sure exactly how it should go. I read her books a few years ago and needed a refesher. This article provided me with. I often find myself walking around the room, working hard to get to as many kids as I can (refer to my pinball metaphor!) during our writing time. As I think about one little boy in particular, I can see myself looking at his writing and thinking "AH! We have to work on your printing!"
Anderson quotes Lucy Calkins in the book The Art of Teaching Writing, Our decisions must be guided by " what might help this writer "rather than "what might help this writing." I think I should write that down on a post-it and stick it to my notebook where I jot down notes about kids. Most of the time, I completely look past the actual writing content and my time spent confering with him revolves around his letter formations (or lack there of) and spacing. How frustrating that must be to him! Here he is working hard to develop this piece of writing and I am not even looking at that. Anderson's review of what questions a teacher should use to lead a conference help me to understand how to get the students talking about their writing, rather then me talking to them about their writing.
I have never taught my students how to have a writing conference. When I think about any other skill we have learned (independent work time, how to participate in a reading group, how to play a math game, how to be part of our community) it is always a step-by-step process that takes time, practice and modeling. Using Anderson's chart as a large model, I think we should spend a large portion of time, at the beginning of the year when we set-up our writer's workshop, learning how to do that. I need to teach my students the language they need to discuss/share their writing with me rather than assuming they know what I want them to say.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conferencing Complexity

I won’t re-iterate all the wonderful points of the Anderson and Barron articles already mentioned. A new connection I made was between the conferencing conversation and the mentoring conferences I have with teachers. The deep listening that Anderson describes in the first part of a conference is very much what we do as mentor/coaches. You listen intently to the person’s reflection so you can understand their decisions and validate their successes. At the same time, you listen “between the lines” for what s/he needs while trying to quiet down your own questions and thoughts. Listening at that level is hard work. Shutting down your own innate “fix-it” voice is even harder. Yet, you have to be present for that person so you can offer your full support while preparing how you will be gently guiding or teaching in the second part of the conference. For as simple as the structure of the conferencing conversation seems, it is a very complex process.

In the Barron article one odd point was his suggestion that teachers could let students pick their own writing groups. Not only is someone bound to be left out or to be the last one chosen, but how can we build equity that way? Writing groups offer a unique way for kids to really get to know someone different from themselves or their typical friends. Let’s burst the bubble! Mixing up students in those groups would promote equity through the empathy, rapport and trust that emerge from writing group collaboration. Barron says it himself later: “The diversity of skills available within the group is one of the major assets of peer response (p. 30).” I’d like to challenge him that it’s also diversity of background and culture.

Teaching the writer, not the writing

This is the ultimate goal, right? Right. Am I doing it? No. Would I like to? Yes!! How?
Questions abound after reading this first chapter in the Anderson book. It's the book I chose to do my book study on, specifically for the purpose of it being about conferencing. As I started reading, I thought to myself, "Of course I do conferencing! I meet with about 5 kids each day. However, I know I don't get to every kid each week because I'm always checking in with my lower kids-the ones that can't form a sentence or the kids whose writing you cannot read. I leave the kids that I think "have it" out of the conversation piece because as I read through their writing, the stories seem ok. Well, that has to change!

I agree with Anderson where he says, "I've watched many well-intentioned teachers get sidetracked during conferences and lose sight of why they're conferring" (Anderson, 8). I think that is so true when I think of my first graders. It is a time when I try everything to get them prepared for so much of what will come in second grade and beyond: Can they write a sentence? Check. Can they write a story? Check. Can they add details, edit, etc? Check. Ok! You're ready! I never take the time to make the conversations about them as the writer. It's usually about the product I would like them to have in the end.

I connected with so many things from this chapter, but one thing I think I can do comes from page 9 where he writes about the questions he asks. "What work are you going to do today? or What can I help you with today?" are questions I can ask of my kids as we begin writing time, and then I can change the questions to go with the end of the writing time. What worked best for you today? What can you try differently tomorrow? Those are questions my kids can answer.

I really enjoyed the simplicity of the "conversation" structure, as Elizabeth said. As I think about the structure, it still seems daunting with first graders for the first half of the year. The kids are so simplistic in their stories that it is hard as a teacher not to "fix" their stories to be longer. As Anderson wrote about helping students figure out how to "write narratives (other) than starting when he woke up and ending when he went to bed" (Anderson, 9). As I think about this simplistic form of the conference, hopefully that will help me think about the kids and the writers rather than the writing.


I think I am luckier than most of my fellow cohort members in that I spend lots of time with students in very small groups or one-on-one. When I work with students on writing, we sit right next to each other, side-by-side, and I hope that I am talking with them instead of to them. I liked so much about Carl Anderson's chapter about conversations in writing, and it affirmed a lot of what I think I do. But he re-framed some of my thinking in ways that I hope will make my conversations with student writers more effective, more valuable for my students themselves.

After spending the last many months writing as a grown-up, for my own intents and purposes, I have started talking with my students more "writer to writer" as Anderson suggests. It's a subtle but exciting shift. I refer to them as writers, to myself as a writer, and I'm hoping that label subconsciously embeds itself into how my students think about themselves. This is something I didn't do before. I talked about the writing, about the assignment, but not so much about writers. What writers do.

Anderson quotes Lucy Calkins: "our decisions must be guided by what might help the writer rather than what might help this writing." For too many years it feels like I've been tied to the assignments and the rubrics (darn rubrics!) that my students bring from their classrooms, and we figure out how to make the writing meet classroom expectations. But then there would be another assignment, and another rubric, and it felt like I was spinning my wheels getting kids through assignments but not actually developing their skills as writers. Now that I'm writing more on my own, it's easier for me to think about how to help my students as writers, instead of how to plow through yet another Me Book assignment. My next step is to think a bit more purposefully about those conversations, or as Anderson says "confer with lines of thinking in mind." A little forethought goes a long way.


Michelle, I am so stunned that you were questioned about sharing your life. I know there are certainly limits, but I think that is one of my strengths- letting kids see I am am human and that I have successes as well as things resembling failures. Now, I am not saying a teacher should hare sordid details about her divorce to a class of any grade, but, for example, I am spending our Writing Wednesday time writing about my mom, who has cancer for the fifth time.

This spring my colleague KC West is piloting one of the first hybrid/blended courses at the high school. When Liz Boeser first came to our cohort to speak, I figured I was years away from teaching such a course, but now I am considering diving in next fall! I will return to this at a later time when more is known, but I think the style of such a course lends itself to the opportunity to conference with smaller groups even individual students.

In "Conferences are Conversations" I am struck by the simplicity of a conference structure: converse about the work of the writer and then converse about how the student can improve. At the same time when Anderson sates that it seems like today teachers have so much pressure coming from all directions that "it's all too easy to communicate to them in conferences how much we care about them." He later states that it is also too easy to "only see their work, and not the young writers who are doing the work." I feel this much more in grading academic or analytical essays than I do in "other" writing. In fact, I see some pretty amazing "other" writing come from students whose more formal papers- the ones the Am Lit teachers feel so pressured to have students write- are less than stellar.

In conclusion I end with a personal dilemma. Today I talked with two students about pieces they are writing. I cannot claim these were conferences at all, just brief exchanges. One student wrote a poem that was just too wonderful for words. I felt that I had specific direction to provide about rhythm and word choice. I think it was also easier for me to be a bit more critical and constructive because she could tell that I sincerely liked her piece a lot. The other was a a narrative piece that I was less enthusiastic about because it sounded too much like writing I've received in the past. At first I was at a loss about what to say to this young man who was clearly pleased with piece. I managed to extract some more details, and he returned to work with some new ideas. However, I realized that for both of them I missed what Anderson considers to be essential to conferencing: student input. Both kids asked for my help but I failed to ask for their perspective and their purpose in writing. I think that would have shaped my feedback quite differently, and I plan to connect with both of them again tomorrow.

Modeling, Peer Response and Unforeseen Obstacles

I concur with Maria regarding the importance of modeling. In fact, this semester I have been modeling the writing of the stories I am writing about my dogs and sharing this writing with my students as our read aloud story. In the beginning, I wanted them to simply see that I am a writer, and I am allowing myself to take risks as a writer, just like I ask them to do every day. However, I found that it became so much more. I am able to model everything that a read aloud story promotes: comprehension strategies, vocabulary, fluency and accuracy, and writing skills. But I have also been able to model peer response strategies by having students give me PATS (praise, ask a question, tell something that stuck with you, and a suggestion) after I read each section. Even though we haven’t used this PATS technique in student peer response groups yet, they are getting enough practice doing it with me that they should feel comfortable doing it when they finally give feedback on their classmates’ writing. The one obstacle I did not foresee was parental interference.

Last week I received an e-mail questioning my sharing of my stories with the class. She mistakenly inferred that it had nothing to do with the language arts curriculum so I shouldn’t be wasting class time on something that didn’t matter. I was confused because no one had ever questioned whether or not I should have shared reading experiences via read aloud stories in my classroom. Wasn’t my own life story a read aloud? It was a story that included exploding moments, descriptive settings, colorful characters, showing (not telling), problems and solutions…all the skills we have been working on adding to our writing in class. And couldn’t she assume that a teacher who is also a writer can help motivate students with their writing?

When I ask the students about why it is important that I share my writing with them, they get it. They see that I am engaged in doing tasks that I ask them to do every day (which is something they said most of their teachers don’t do). They know that it's important for me to get their feedback so that I can make my writing better. They understand that 5th graders are my target audience so it's essential that I get this feedback from them. They know I want them to get to know me better as a person so we can connect on a different level. And they understand that it’s a risk to share topics that are important to you and that I’m putting myself in the same shoes they wear when they expose a piece of themselves to their audiences.

If my students understand this, why can't the parents? I have to admit that this parent made me feel reluctant to share my stories with my students this week. Writing involves so many risks, and I certainly don't want to reveal this part of my self if it is criticized by parents. Parents need to be educated about the importance of adults modeling the acts of writing for our children. They too can have a huge impact on how their child progresses with writing just by being writers themselves. If we expect adults to be readers around students, we should assume the same advantages exist for having adults be writers, as well. This continues to be a struggle for me because parents often respond that they don't have time to write with their children when given suggestions of how they can interact with their 5th graders in this way. Sharing stories is such a wonderful way to get to know people, and I want to figure out how to educate parents so they support us and help their children become lifelong writers. Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Okay. Good. Now, look over your shoulder like you have a secret...

Unlike Zoolander, my fascination with modeling started with Donald Graves, was fomented last June by Velvet, and has most recently been reinforced by Carl Anderson and Ronald Barron.

Modeling. Modeling. Modeling.

As writing teachers (and teacher writers), it seems that this is the most important thing that we can do.
We must model the act of writing (Graves and Barron), and model reviewing one another's writing (Graves, Barron, and Anderson), and model a writer's response to these reviews (Graves, Barron, and Anderson). As Barron puts it, "Modeling of the process is essential."

Rather than revising our own work prior to sharing it, we should let students see our down-drafts. We should let them know that even grown ups -- and teachers at that! -- might have to start in the muck. In this way, we can "show" techniques as opposed to just "telling". These are all things that I know.

Furthermore, I know that I know them...which is why the next bit is frustrating for me to admit.

I do and share my own writing with students. I try to model fair and effective peer conferencing. Sometimes, on odd Friday nights, I sit down with my DVD of Donald Graves modeling the modeling process.

Yet, somehow, I'm still not convinced that my students are getting all that they can from their peer conferences. Granted, they are young (2nd grade), and the groups are not optimum size (two instead of the four suggested by Barron)

As many poses as I strike, my students still struggle with the peer conferencing piece. Fellow early primary teachers: Am I asking too much? Are you all having peer conference success? Can you be my models?

Effective Peer Resposnse Groups

I think the Barron article did a very good job of explaining how to set up and maintain effective peer response groups. This is something that I have never set up. I set up lab groups and expect students to work collaboratively on their experiments. I do think I could include some of these ideas about peer response groups to help improve student writing of lab notebooks. I would particularly like to focus on improving the writing of conclusions. I think following the format of McQuade and Sommers and using the three steps: observations, evaluations and end comments would be a good start to teach students how to evaluate each others work. Peer review is a very important process in the publication of scientific papers. It would be good to get students used to receiving and giving peer reviews. Here is a humorous youtube video about scientific peer review. It also an example of digital remixing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

how's it going?

how's it going 
"It should be noted that this phrase is not only used in by english speakers of all nationalities and dialects but by speakers of many different languages across the globe
2) A question used to inquire about the status of an on-going process or event. In this interrogative state the sentence carries a question mark. "

"How's it going?" is the phrase we ask ourselves over and over as we write, and if we are lucky enough to be in a writer's group, it's the phrase we ask each other when we gather.
"The act of writing we have in common with our students puts us on the level of them and them on a level with us.... because each writer, no matter how experienced, begins again with each draft."  (First half a paraphrase of Don Murray(1985) by Carl Anderson and the last a direct Murray quote from Anderson's Chapter 1, "Conferences are Conversations" in How's It Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers. 

"... allowing students to respond to an early teacher-written draft does pay dividends for students and teachers.  ...students see that even experienced writers need to revise their papers, sometimes extensively, to clarify their writing and to achieve quality final copies." is one of the foundations Ronald Barron shares in writing about his use of Peer-Response Groups.  He shares additional benefits including better writing, self confidence on the part of students that they can support other writers, reducing initial judgment, and producing more interesting writing.

Barron and Anderson challenge us to be vulnerable with our students by authentically sharing our work. The importance of interacting with other as we write through peer reviews, teacher-student writing conferences or in peer cooperative groups as shared by Zimmer is the source of creating writers and deeper learning and thinking.  Created simultaneously in conversation based conferences are connections that build relationships.  That getting to know our students and they us, that allows for motivation and growth based on authentic communication, commitment and the shared goal of better writing.

Anderson insightfully writes. " Writing, after all, is an individual act that occurs in a social context." "It's the members of that circle (of mentors and friends) after all who listen to us while we are in the process of writing, not our future audience."  Peer conferences, writing in cooperative groups and conversations in writing conferences provide that listening and reflection that supports us as writers, together.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Writers Grow Like Oak Trees

“Writers grow like oak trees-slowly over a period of time. You cannot cram over night to be a writer.” Lucy Calkins

I enjoyed reading the article called “Conferences Are Conversations” by Carl Anderson. In particular, I appreciated the references he made to Lucy Calkins and her book, “The Art of Teaching Writing.” It reminded me of working on my capstone for my master’s degree. After reading the article, I went and found my book and dusted it off. Colored strips of paper, used as bookmarks, were still in it marking my favorite pages.

Calkins has three components for effective conferences: Research, Decide, and Teach

Research: This is the time to listen to everything we see, know, and hear about a child in order to get to understand the student as a writer. Be fully present as a listener when reading a draft or talking to a writer.

Decide: Decide what the writer needs that will help not only today, with this piece of writing, but also tomorrow, with other pieces of writing. Think in terms of “what might help this writer” rather than “what might help this writing.”

Teach: Teach the student what they need to know to move them along on their journey as a writer.

Several years ago I compiled a few quotes by Lucy Calkins. I have added them here.

"Let’s not ever fool ourselves into thinking that our time with students does not matter that much. Our teaching can change what kids pack in their suitcases; it can help them cherish the intersection of a gravel driveway and a paved road; it can invite them to do wheelies as writers, readers, and learners. Our teaching matters more than we ever dreamed possible. …Thinking about the power of good teachers, I have goose bumps. What power and what responsibility! Sometimes, I see teachers and I want to say, “How do you live, knowing you matter so much?" By Dr. Lucy Calkins
From: The Art of Teaching Reading
The Art of Teaching Writing

Adapted by Debra Stortz, Edina

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Habits of Highly Effective Writing Conferences

"Conferences Are Conversation" applies many of Stephen Covey's popular "Habits of Mind".

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood": Involve students in conversation about their writing process before providing guidance.

"Sharpen the Saw": Anderson's conference script opened my eyes to how conversation about writing can help students improve as writers. In his brief writing conference, Anderson helps his student clarify his process, purpose, audience, plan next steps, affirm the student, and provide focused instruction on analyzing a mentor text.

"Begin with the end in Mind": Based on conversation with the writer, Anderson focuses on one line of thinking: writing an effective lead. "When we finish a conference, we should be able to name what it is we did to help that student become a better writer." (Anderson, p. 9)

"Win/Win": Effective writing conferences are mutually beneficial: Writing teachers celebrate as their students become better writers.

"Synergize" "Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems."

"Conferences Are Conversations" is both instructional and motivational. Equipped with fresh insight on writing conferences, I am energized to make time for this important practice next week.

"Conferences Are Conversation" is from Carl Anderson (2000). How's it Going?

Friday, March 5, 2010

10 or 20 Years Ago

Upon seeing the 1991 publication date on the Barron article, one of my first questions was, Is he still doing Peer-Response Groups? The article, like the Zimmet and Anderson pieces, date from at least 10 years ago, before NCLB, before the dominant mantra of data-driven instruction meant constant standardized testing. I certainly hope Mr. Barron is still teaching with his purposeful and level-headed attitude.

Barron channels Donald Murray when he says, "For the modeling to be effective, teachers must be willing to let students respond to early drafts of their own writing" (emphasis added). We as teachers must share our own work as well as student samples. Doing so encourages risk-taking and builds trust. Barron also suggests using high-quality student work as samples--the '4's we talked about last week. The assumption is the students will be working with drafts that can grow into 3's and 4's, A's or Excellents.

One of the practical suggestions which Barron makes is how to set up groups, with the acknowledgement that they might not always work. It sounds like he has worked in the real world, which gives his approach credibility.

But mostly, I liked his focus on teaching the writer, not grading the writing. As he writes on page 34, "One of the purposes of a composition course should be to make students more confident and more independent writers." Anderson (p. 18) asks, "What can I teach students about the writing work they are doing that will help them become better writers?" Whereas Anderson focuses on teacher-student conversations, Barron uses the resources of the student's peers as well to answer these important questions.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I thought the articles were quite accessible to read and did a good job of distinguishing the different types of portfolios.I particularily liked the Wolf and Siu-Runyan article. Since I do not do portfolios in my class I have never spent much time thinking about them. I thought the authors did a great job of distinguishing between the three models: ownership, feedback and accountability. I think that they did a good job of discussing the strengths and limitations of the three types. The Mondock article job did a good job of discussing the product vs. process models of portfolios. The reflection questions for the process portfolios were worth keeping and using with students.
I think that portfolios make a lot of sense and should be started in kindergarden and kept in an electronic file until a student leaves or graduates. It is a great personal record of a students growth. I don't know if this type of portfolio is being done in Edina or being considered. If it is not being done at school then I think parents and students should start one at home. I have kept some of my children's writing and I do like to go back and read it.

Portfolios in the Web 2.0 Reality

The three types of portfolios described by Wolf & Siu-Runyan in “Portfolio Purposes and Possibilities” reminded me of what I have experienced and seen as a teacher in the last decades. Event though this article is 14 years old, the premise still holds true. However, the electronic means we now have at our fingertips make the management and maintenance of portfolios much easier.

In the “old days” (i.e. when this article was first published), the portfolios I struggled to maintain as a teacher were mostly ownership portfolios, where “students collect a variety of information that illustrates their progress in reading and writing, they reflect on the development of their work and their learning, and they set goals for themselves as learners (p.33).” I did struggle to organize and maintain these portfolios as my second graders would throw in their pizza box portfolios anything with neat penmanship, beautiful drawings, and any work they had easily completed. Back then, I didn’t know how to teach them to be self-reflective beyond a smiley face self-evaluation. And that’s IF I remembered to have them evaluate their pieces at all. Most often, everything ended up in the pizza boxes until they overflowed, which meant the next day would be Select-your-best-work-and-take-the-rest-home Day. The writing pieces I pushed through the full writing process were usually collaborative pieces such as class books or group projects like Pourquoi Tales. Anyone who has ever taught non-native speakers knows how laborious the revising and editing process can be: you carefully pick your battles.

Luckily, we’ve come a long way! We know so much more about teaching writing. Moreover, electronic resources have changed the way teachers and students write, and they provide an easy way to organize portfolios. Even without a student Blackboard environment, we can use wikis to organize portfolios. We are no longer limited to paper or pictures in these collections of student work. Kids, even non-native speakers, can show their learning through Voicethread and Photostory—no more arduous editing for accent marks and missing silent letters before publishing! The students can do their self-assessment reflection as comments on Voicethread or even on their wiki. In a digital portfolio, students can include pictures of their page contributions to class books. Students can use Google Docs to show their growth and writing process by typing the various drafts of projects, which may include feedback from peers and teachers. They would also use Google Docs to collaborate on research projects, build websites, etc. which could easily be shared or linked to their individual digital portfolios. What a great way to show the evolution of students’ learning, their strengths and growth!

Digital ownership portfolios could easily become feedback portfolios, “comprehensive collections of student work and teacher records, co-constructed by student and teacher, that provide ongoing documentation of student learning (p.33).” Teachers, peers and parents could provide feedback by commenting on a student’s Voicethread, Google doc, or wiki. Teachers could also add classroom assessment data to showcase both the strengths and needs of the student. And by keeping digital portfolios online, parents would have access to this information and the multi-faceted exemplars of their child as a learner.

We already have a form of accountability portfolios, “selective collections of student work, teacher records, and standardized assessments … to evaluate student achievement for accountability and program evaluation (p.33),” although most teachers would not describe them as portfolios. Yet, when teachers problem-solve issues about a student as part of the Response to Intervention (RTI) process, they present to their team a wealth of data about that child. It includes relevant standardized test data hosted online through ICue (our repository of district and state data) but also their own classroom data, which includes classroom assessments, observations, samples of work, and information about the student’s interests and home as relevant to the issue at hand. When teachers engage in that problem-solving protocol, the data they present to their team becomes an accountability portfolio that guides teaching and learning.

So we’ve come a long way indeed. In what ways have you used portfolios? How do you envision digital portfolios?