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John Warner on Twitter: "I see defenses of the five-paragraph essay which describe the template as "training wheels" for developing writers. I unpack this in "Why They Can't Write" arguing that training wheels are not a help in developing essential skills
"I see defenses of the five-paragraph essay which describe the template as "training wheels" for developing writers. I unpack this in "Why They Can't Write" arguing that training wheels are not a help in developing essential skills, but a hack to prevent academic disaster.

This is true of training wheels on bikes. Research has shown that training wheels actually prevent the development of the most important skill for bike riding...balance. The training wheels function as a guard against children cracking their heads when supervision isn't available

Those bike training wheels may be a necessity so children can get around on a bike without being in physical danger, but experts now recommend children learning on "balance bikes" where their feet touch the ground from a young age. When it's time for a pedal bike, they're ready.

I believe one of the reasons we see the 5PE as a useful set of training wheels is because we fear (with justification) what happens if students have to practice the writing equivalent of balance (making choices) from the get go. None of this is the fault of teachers.

When students are being judged against standardized assessments from an early age, and teachers are judged on student performance, turning to the 5PE is a way of preventing potential disaster. It's sensible, rational, but I argue, it's not helping students learn to write.

IMO, writing is thinking, so anything that keeps students from developing their thinking and making choices ultimately delays or prevents their development. The 5PE is part of a system that punishes exploration, choice, freedom, because of an obsession with "assessment."

The 5PE has a long history that's always tied to assessment. It hasn't always been a part of schooling, however. I'm 48 and wasn't introduced to the 5PE until high school when it was introduced as a hack for AP exams. The saving grace is I'd already learned to think like a writer

When teachers say that students "need" the 5PE, I always want to know what they need it for, and it's almost always driven by a particular assessment, an assessment which may not be well-aligned with the experiences which help writers develop. This disconnect is at every level.

For a good chunk of my own teaching career, I enforced the disconnect by giving students more sophisticated versions of the 5PE in order to prevent disaster in "college" writing. Over time, came to believe I my prescriptions were hurting long term development more than helping.

My own big pedagogical shift came when I decided to look at my approach not as helping them do well on the assignment at hand, but looking more longterm, helping students develop their writing "practices" (knowledge, skills, attitudes, habits of mind of writers).

Taking that longer view often resulted in student writing artifacts that were not as accomplished as when I used more prescriptive methods. That was hard to swallow. But...I could see students engaged with a more challenging and ultimately rewarding struggle. That seemed worth it

As I became more familiar with the research on writing for transfer, I saw I'd stumbled on something lots of folks were already studying. Building a writing practice is just one framework for thinking about how experiences in writing transfer from one occasion to another.

Importantly, I had the freedom to make this shift. Even as a contingent college instructor, no one was breathing down my neck and I wasn't beholden to my students' performances on high stakes assessments. K-12 teachers are not allowed this same freedom.

Ultimately, this is why I decided that the front part of Why They Can't Write would have to examine the systemic problems underlying the teaching and learning of writing. Pedagogy is not a fix by itself. It isn't even the most important factor.

As long as we have a system which privileges compliance and conformity and constrains teacher and student freedom and agency, the 5PE will be useful. When it's a route to AP credit or college admission, it could be malpractice not to teach it.

But this is not the same as teaching students to write. It's training them to pass assessments, assessments which may be important, but which hold little meaning, particularly to students, which turns writing into something alienating, rather than liberating, a big problem IMO.

I do not criticize teachers who use the 5PE, but I will always question what's underneath that "need." Usually when we go looking, we see things that are actually not conducive to learning like standardization and surveillance, which inevitably lead to anxiety, or worse.

We must give K-12 teachers the freedom and power to work with the longterm development of their students in mind, rather than being beholden to these assessments which measure little that's meaningful. Without that freedom, we're stuck in this system.

To come full circle back to the training wheels theme, we have to make it so when students are developing their writing practices, they get to "fail" productively, rather than failure being something like flying over the handlebars and cracking a skull.

With writing, "mistakes" and error should always be occasions for learning, not punishment, and definitely not punishment of teachers. I spent years developing Why They Can't Write, and based on early readers, there's already stuff I'd change. That's exciting.

It's exciting because my ideas are being taken seriously by other people with similar concerns. My ideas matter to me, and them, and those ideas can be made better. Why wouldn't I want my students to have the same joy? It can be done, I believe.

Here is where I plug a forthcoming book which is my attempt to create the conditions under which students can experience similar pleasure with writing. Curriculum isn't going to save us by itself, but this is my best (current) attempt at living my values. https://www.amazon.com/Writers-Practice-Building-Confidence-Nonfiction/dp/0143133152/

And a coda. Here's a link to a dissertation by @jtdavisii which includes a deeply researched and fascinating history of the use of the 5PE. That part starts on P. 53 https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1076&context=english_diss "

[See also:

Just got this important book in the mail... only a few pages in and I want every teacher who teaches writing (in other words, all teachers across all content areas) to read it. https://twitter.com/biblioracle/status/1079043288596992001
@biblioracle: I see defenses of the five-paragraph essay which describe the template as "training wheels" for developing writers. I unpack this in "Why They Can't Write" arguing that training wheels are not a help in developing…

@triciaebarvia
Especially consider what @biblioracle says about the faulty 5PE=training wheels analogy. Training wheels don’t teach balance. 5PE doesn’t teach thinking. #DisruptWriting

@triciaebarvia
I’ve also heard Ts say that 5PE is a scaffold. But scaffolds are temporary. A scaffold’s purpose is literally to render itself unnecessary. Yet the 5PE is being perpetrated into the middle and upper grades. #DisruptWriting

@triciaebarvia
Not to mention the fact that the 5PE, as a tool of standardization, is ultimately a tool that oppresses individual human voices—& by not making space for linguistic diversity & freedom, the 5PE is not culturally relevant pedagogy. (Or, I should say, it teaches culture but whose?)

@DulceFlecha
is #disruptwriting gonna be a thing??? online writing groups? sharing favorite mentor texts???

@edifiedlistener
Bring it. I'm ready. Still learning so much about process and potential. I still hold a lot of fear of experimenting which is why fiction writing stays out of bounds for me.

@DulceFlecha
I'm currently reading a book on trauma and memoir writing and its funny how many of these writers started off trying to write fiction instead. it's funny how desperately we cling to genre.

@DulceFlecha
and it's funny how desperately important the culture of a proofreader is. months ago I asked 5 (dope, wonderful) people to read a draft. only one caught the typo I made in the first sentence.

@TheJLV was the only Dominican. I forgot the A in tambora.

@DulceFlecha
it made me wonder how student writing changes when their primary reader-- the reader they give the most weight to-- is probably a white, middle class woman. what slips by? what changes does the teacher recommend that a cultural, racial peer wouldn't?

@DulceFlecha
when we prioritize the teacher as the most important reader-- the teacher grades, praises, deems finished or incomplete-- are we training kids to write for a white audience? and how can we disrupt that?

@triciaebarvia
Yes, yes we are. And I’d argue that most of what we’re doing in schools is teaching not just for a white audience but Whiteness itself. How to disrupt? Culturally relevant, responsive, sustaining pedagogy. I wonder how many Ts see their instruction as grounded in CSP, though...

@DulceFlecha
who gets to judge what is culturally sustaining? might be the next question. educators. families. students. communities. some combination of the four?

@triciaebarvia
Yes, definitely some combination. Too often it’s the culture of the teacher/school (Whiteness) that is perpetuated under guises like “college and career ready.”

@DulceFlecha
my new site yaught me that the only expert on a kid's culture is the kid. which I think I knew personally? my mother and I did not react the same way to the Poet X.

but I didn't know it professionally until immigration shelters.

@DulceFlecha
and now I'm always afraid, because the overwhelming majority of my kids are headed to U.S. schools. and there are so many aspects of culture we don't discuss in context of undocumented immigration."]
fiveparagraphessays  writing  howweteach  teaching  howwewrite  teachingwriting  eucation  johnarner  triciaebarvia  sherrispelic   
december 2018 by robertogreco
cameron tonkinwise on Twitter: "How long is the list of things you have learned from attending a conference (that you could not have learned by reading a blogpost/article [versus: would not have learned because TL;DR/‘pivot to video’]?"
"How long is the list of things you have learned from attending a conference (that you could not have learned by reading a blogpost/article [versus: would not have learned because TL;DR/‘pivot to video’]?

Of those things you did learn, how many did you put into (your) practice [without reading further to get more detail]?"

[my response, in a way:
https://twitter.com/rogre/status/1059178110703136768

"@jarrettfuller I fell asleep thinking about this"

@jarrettfuller and I woke up thinking about how your look into video essays http://jarrettfuller.com/projects/roughsketch … +

@jarrettfuller might go very well with the idea of the zero(/low)-carbon conference https://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/t:conferences/t:sustainability … (first three bookmarks) + [no longer the fist three, but more than that]

@jarrettfuller and now I am wondering about what that would mean for teaching writing (video essay producing) and also what this all means now that we have seen the pivot-to-video debacle /fin ]
conferences  events  videoessays  jarrettfuller  sustainability  academia  climatechange  highered  highereducation  globalwarming  emissions  displacements  writing  howwewrite  teaching  teachingwriting  education  learning  howwelearn  camerontonkinwise  #displace18 
november 2018 by robertogreco
lalitha vasudevan on Twitter: "Overhearing tutoring session between adult tutor & suburban hs student. I despair at the extensive focus on relatability (between student & text) as strategy for responding to comprehension questions and essay writing, where
"Overhearing tutoring session between adult tutor & suburban hs student. I despair at the extensive focus on relatability (between student & text) as strategy for responding to comprehension questions and essay writing, wherein to relate to have personally experienced.

1/

Being able to relate, in and of itself, isn't the cause of my despair. It's the over-reliance on experience to the exclusion of other ways of creating conditions for understanding that worries me. This bent away from the traps of "cultural literacy" began w/good intentions;

2/

but this response -- understandably, in resistance to the hyper-testing mania that overtook and still dominates much of the schooling landscape -- may err too far in the direction of allowing some young people to never have to stray too far from their own thoughts.

3/

I want to know what young people think, what they notice and see, how they navigate and experience the world. AND, I want their insights on what others notice, see, conclude, design, and decide; for that, too, concerns young people --

4/

not only in their immediate, local, kinship networks, but about how they perceive others' perceptions of the they things they have noticed, or not. They are civic beings, active in their citizenry, and to deny this and allow otherwise is educational malpractice.

5/

I want young people to be seen and engaged as real interlocutors, not discursive window dressing to be written into curricula and grant proposals as the "participatory" element. I don't just want to hear what they think; I want to think with them, toward new questions.

6/

So, I return to a familiar, frustrating thought: My, how standardization, answer-driven teaching, & the greedy pursuit of efficiency-driven uniformity has royally screwed over kids & schools.
And (some) big data efforts want to help do more of the same.

7/7
#smalldatabigmoments"
lalithavasudevan  education  standardizedtesting  standardization  experience  relatability  teaching  learning  schools  schooliness  kinship  perception  culturalliteracy  howweteach  howwelearn  comprehension  essays  writing  howwewrite  teachingreading  teachingwriting  noticing  civics  citizenship  democracy  democratic  malpractice  participatory  participation  unschooling  deschooling  pedagogy  uniformity  efficiency  bigdata  testing 
august 2018 by robertogreco
You can't teach writing (and why would you want to?) | The Open School
"volunteering as an after-school tutor for 1st through 8th graders. The place was technically a writing center, situated in suburban Seattle, and open, free of charge, to any kid in the city. Its mission was to help kids learn to write, which would presumably improve their school performance and their prospects for life success.

I walked past that writing center today (I’m visiting Seattle this summer), and spent a moment reminiscing fondly. I remembered the always-warm atmosphere and the kind, helpful teachers. I remembered the fun activities and writing prompts.

Then I remembered why I left, and why I can never work or volunteer at such a place ever again. In the final months of my volunteership, my faith in the basic premise of the writing center faded. The founders of that organization, and the dedicated people who staffed it every day, had to believe wholeheartedly in two things. And I no longer believed in either of those things.

Here are the two necessary beliefs:

1. It is possible for a person to make another person better at writing.
2. Writing is inherently and objectively interesting and valuable.

And here is why I don’t believe those things anymore.

Belief #1: It is possible for a person to make another person better at writing
Writing is hard. I suspect that people who seek writing instruction are feeling overwhelmed with the difficulty of the task and are looking for a way to make it easier — maybe some tips or tricks that the pros use which have somehow been kept secret from us plebeians. But there is no shortcut, no quick fix. There is only lots and lots of work.

A belief in the power of teaching shifts the responsibility for growth off of the learner and onto the teacher. This can only result in slacking on the learner’s part, frustration on the teacher’s part, and a bit of magical thinking to maintain the illusion of success in spite of perfect failure.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, offered this piece of advice:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Perhaps On Writing would have been a fine book even if King had left it at that. By reading a lot, you develop a sense for what good writing looks like and what bad writing looks like — just as a child learns her native language by listening to people talk a lot and learns to detect good grammar and bad grammar. She can’t define good grammar, but she knows it when she hears it.

Once you have that sense, you can start producing your own writing. You’re terrible at first, but now you know you’re terrible because you have that sense. Then you try it a different way and maybe it’s a little better, or maybe not. Then you read some more and refine your sense. Then you practice writing some more.

I suppose a writing teacher can provide prompts, but then again, so can a computer.

I’m reminded of this discouraging piece of wisdom from bestselling novelist Haruki Murakami:

“Being a novelist isn’t a job for everyone. Nobody ever recommended or even suggested that I be a novelist—in fact, some tried to stop me. I simply had the idea to be one, and that’s what I did.”

A person who loves and values writing will read a lot and write a lot on their own initiative. You don’t need to tell them to write and you certainly don’t need to make them. A person who doesn’t love or value writing will not write, and that’s that. Which brings us to belief #2…

Belief #2: Writing is inherently and objectively interesting and valuable
I suspect that 9 out of 10 of the kids who attend that writing center do not really care about writing, or only care about writing text messages.

I suspect that their parents want them to care about writing, or want them to get good at writing despite not caring about it.

I know that the staff feel, as I do, that writing is the bomb! We love to write and we love to share our love of writing with kids.

But further, the staff believe, as I no longer believe, that writing is inherently, objectively, and universally interesting and valuable. They believe that if a kid doesn’t like writing, it is our job as teachers to inspire a love of writing within them — to awaken that dormant fire that must exist deep down in every person. This process of inspiration can be arduous and uncomfortable, as depicted in this cartoon (which was shared on Facebook by one of those teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week):

[image]

This cartoon is a feel-good fantasy for teachers. No kid has ever been inspired by being chased down and violated. Some kids discover a passion for writing and some don’t. Teachers like to seek validation by pointing to the kids who ultimately discovered a love of writing and saying, “That was me, I did that.” They rarely draw attention to the vastly more numerous kids who were not inspired.

We all have a tendency to feel as though our personal interests are shared by all of humanity. We want others to get excited about the things we get excited about. It’s a way of connecting with one another. We have to learn, by repeatedly butting up against the stubbornness of other people’s interests and values, that everyone is different.

And it’s good that everyone is different! Maybe I’m good at writing but someone else is good at speaking, and yet another person is good at presenting graphs and charts. There is no end to the variation. We compliment others’ weaknesses with our strengths.

I can never go back to that writing center because the very premise of the writing center is this: kids who don’t want to write should be manipulated into writing anyway. Manipulating people in that way has no appeal to me. I look at the above cartoon and imagine myself chasing down that poor kid and prying off his skull while he’s crying in pain and it makes me sick. I don’t want to have that kind of relationship with children.

It’s okay if a kid doesn’t like to write. And it’s okay if he does like to write. I have a notebook, a pen, and a stack of books that he can use anytime."
writing  openschool  aaronbrowder  teaching  teachingwriting  pedagogy  2018  howwewrite  universality  unschooling  deschooling  education  compulsion  compulsory  interest  interests  schooling  schooliness 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Blog—Jarrett Fuller — The Soul-Crushing Student Essay
"I taught a writing class for the first time this semester and it was easily the hardest course I’ve ever taught. My experience tracks pretty closely to Korb’s story. It was hard to get students to contribute, to discuss readings, to bring their own thoughts into the texts we’d read together. Even though I ranted against the five-paragraph essay on the first class, and presented on why we’d be dismantling that form to use for our own purposes, I referred to it only as a problem of structure, not of content. I hadn’t connected that only does that format inhibit new styles and structures of writing but also how much of yourself is brought into it. I wish I had read this at the beginning of the semester instead of the end. I have all sorts of ideas for the next time."
jarrettfuller  2018  fiveparagraphessays  structure  form  writing  teaching  howweteach  content  style  teachingwriting  education 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ in education: The case of grammar for writing - Wyse - 2017 - British Educational Research Journal - Wiley Online Library
"The place of evidence to inform educational effectiveness has received increasing attention internationally in the last two decades. An important contribution to evidence-informed policy has been greater attention to experimental trials including randomised controlled trials (RCTs). The aim of this paper is to examine the use of evidence, particularly the use of evidence from experimental trials, to inform national curriculum policy. To do this the teaching of grammar to help pupils’ writing was selected as a case. Two well-regarded and influential experimental trials that had a significant effect on policy, and that focused on the effectiveness of grammar teaching to support pupils’ writing, are examined in detail. In addition to the analysis of their methodology, the nature of the two trials is also considered in relation to other key studies in the field of grammar teaching for writing and a recently published robust RCT. The paper shows a significant and persistent mismatch between national curriculum policy in England and the robust evidence that is available with regard to the teaching of writing. It is concluded that there is a need for better evidence-informed decisions by policy makers to ensure a national curriculum specification for writing that is more likely to have positive impact on pupils."

[via: https://twitter.com/alfiekohn/status/936614840684154883 ]
grammar  education  writing  directinstruction  policy  english  2017  teaching  teachingwriting 
december 2017 by robertogreco
On Sound and Rhythm by Jack Collom | Poetry Foundation
"A way to start teaching poetry to children and young adults."



"The speech of children is songs of innocence and experience. Seven- through eleven-year-old kids (apprentice writers) have already had thousands upon thousands of hours of practice talking (and listening) that would constitute—in terms of pole-vaulting or violin-playing—world-class experience. They are fluent within their own vocabularies. Already, the rhythms of their speech resemble those of rather interesting jazz.

Children’s language seems to have a built-in musicality: listen to their talk; it’s frequently like a mountain freshet bubbling along over rocks, full of silvery arcs. This is the raw material of poetry. By contrast, we adults, though much larger in our references and vocabulary, tend to fall into verbal ruts and toneless abstractions.

And children take a special delight in odd or pretty sounds. Given the chance to write, they are very playful with the sonic side of language. Experts say their learning of new words is a process of wonder, laughter, and punning. What children may lack is a developed sense of artistic judgment, so that their poems often include startling successes in sound right next to bland or awkward passages. They tend to accept whatever comes into their heads.

So they have the potential for art right on the tips of their tongues. It is important that we recognize this “little genius” for poetry that children have—and not try to “muscle” them into adult standards of poetic discourse. Yes, they should develop mature language skills—but gradually, organically, while as much as possible maintaining (and developing and transforming) their own fresh poetic talents."

[See also:
"Jack Collom, Boulder poet and educator, remembered for 'a great run of a life'"
http://www.dailycamera.com/top-stories/ci_31113500/jack-collom-boulder-poet-and-educator-remembered-great ]
poetry  classideas  teaching  jackcollom  via:austinkleon  sound  language  writing  teachingwriting  poems  tone  imitation 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Why I became a philosophy teacher: to get children thinking about the big ideas in life | Teacher Network | The Guardian
"The emphasis on knowledge in schools led Steve Hoggins to take up philosophy teaching and encourage more thinking and questioning in the classroom"



"I failed all my A-levels apart from one E grade in English. I had moved schools for sixth form and my priority was trying to be cool and having loads of friends. I spent more time in pubs underage drinking than doing my home work. I thought my life was over, then Lampeter University threw me a lifeline and said I could do a one-year diploma and then go on to do a degree but, by a strange administrative error, I ended up doing the degree straight away anyway.

My own experience of education means I can really relate to young people at both secondary and primary level who don't want to do something because they are told to do it. I can also understand and admire the brilliance of young minds who find a way to get round rules and still get to do what they want. These kids resonate with me."



"
In my final placement at a school in Bradninch in Devon I worked with a great year 6 teacher who was into doing critical thinking and I started experimenting with Socratic questioning. That same week I read a magazine article about Pete Worley from the Philosophy Foundation describing using philosophy in class. I remember thinking: "That's it! There's a philosophy shaped hole in the curriculum." We focus so much on knowledge, there isn't enough thinking going on.

So after my PGCE I came down to London and did a course with the Philosophy Foundation. I did my teaching practice at Rathfern Primary school in south east London, working at first with a year 6 class. The headteacher watched me delivering the session and encouraged me to apply for a full-time job as a class teacher to complete my NQT year.

So I started teaching a year 4-5 class. It was the worst year of my life. I was living alone without any network of friends or family and I found the work so hard. All the boxes to tick were a huge problem for me. Part of me said I can't do it and another part said the children shouldn't have to do it and I generally just fell to pieces.

I failed some lesson observations and the head was worried I'd fail my NQT year. I thought I should just leave the school but the head suggested I try working in early years and foundation stage (EYFS). I didn't know what else to do, so I took up the head's offer.

Teaching in EYFS was one of the best experiences of my teaching life. When you mark work of older children you do so on levels of certain criteria. So if you have a piece of writing that has terrible spelling, no connectives, no capital letters you have to give it a terrible grade, even though in its concept the piece of writing really made you think and was fascinating. The ideas in it can't be graded. I found that so depressing and frustrating.

But in EYFS you can approach a child anywhere, not just at the table; for example, at the water tray and ask questions and they can explore ideas. It's a lot more fluid, and you can find opportunities to hit the objectives."



"The first lesson I ever did with the year 8 and 9s at Harris Aspire was awful, they ground me to dust. But my work there is going from strength to strength. We've been able to cover really difficult issues in a really intense way, from beating children to whether we should obey laws and rules, so it's in a real-life context. My work in primary schools stays fun and friendly.

The effect on children of doing philosophy sessions is huge. The most obvious change is confidence in speaking out in front of a group. Children aren't expected to know the answer or to correctly guess the teacher's ideas. That's a big change from ordinary lessons. If you know something because the teacher has told you or because you read it in a book you can say it quite confidently. But when children can give a set of reasons for something that they've worked though, discussed and thought for themselves that gives an entirely different level of confidence.

I want to carry on doing this, my dream is for every child to do philosophy. Getting people thinking is a massive thing with life changing and potentially world changing consequences."
sfsh  education  teaching  pedagogy  learning  howwlearn  unschooling  deschooling  philosophy  stevehoggins  2013  classideas  writing  teachingwriting  howweteach  howwelearn 
january 2017 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Writing Junk
"First, we need to understand that the state of writing instruction has never been great.

If you are of a Certain Age (say, mine) you may recall a type of writing instruction that we could call the Lego Building Approach. In this method, students are first taught to construct sentences. Then they are taught how to arrange a certain number of sentences into a paragraph. Finally, they are taught to assemble those paragraphs into full essays.

This is junk. It assumes that the basic building block of a piece of writing is a sentence. No-- the basic building block of a piece of writing is an idea. To try to say something without having any idea what you want to say is a fool's errand.

Not that the Lego Building Approach should feel bad for being junk. The instructional writing landscape is littered with junk, clogged with junk, sometimes obscured by the broad shadow of towering junk. And on almost-weekly basis, folks try to sort out what the junk is and how best to clear it away.

Here's John Warner at Inside Higher Ed trying to answer the question, "Why can't my new employees write?" Warner reports that he hears that question often from employers. With a little probing he determines that what they mean by "can't write," is "They primarily observe a fundamental lack of clarity and perceive a gap between the purpose of the writing and the result of what’s been written, a lack of awareness of audience and occasion."

In other words, they don't seem to get the idea that they are supposed to be communicating real ideas and information in a real way to real people. It's not a question of rigor or expectations, Warner notes. It's that they were trained to do something else entirely.

I believe that in many cases, these young professionals have never encountered a genuine and meaningful rhetorical situation in an academic or professional context. They are highly skilled at a particular kind of academic writing performance that they have been doing from a very early age, but they are largely unpracticed at that what their employers expect them to do, clearly communicate ideas to specific audiences.

My students’ chief struggle tends to be rooted in years of schooling where what they have to say doesn’t really matter, and the primary focus is on “how” you say things.

This is the flip side of our current bad ideas about reading-- the notion that reading is a set of skills that exist independent of any actual content. Current writing standards and therefor instruction assume the same thing-- that a piece of writing involves deploying a set of skills, and the actual content and subject matter are not really important. This is not so much a pedagogical idea as a corporate one, somehow filtered down form the world where it's believed that a great corporate manager will be great whether the company makes lubricating oil, soup, soap, or fluffy children's toys.

Michelle Kenney at Rethinking Schools talks about how this skills-based writing turns to junk in "The Politics of the Paragraph." Innumerable schools have found ways (or borrowed or bought ways) to reduce writing to a simple set of steps, providing a checklist for students to follow when writing (and for teachers to use when scoring). Kenney writes about the inevitable outcome of this approach, even when using a procedure developed in house:

I also noted a decline in the overall quality of thought in these paragraphs. Students had more confidence in their writing, but they were also less invested in their ideas. Writing paragraphs and essays was now a set of hoops to jump through, a dry task only slightly more complex than a worksheet.

Mediocre writing starts with the wrong questions, and a focus on a set, proscribed structure and process encourages students to ask the wrong questions. Hammer them with writing templates, and students start to see an essay as a slightly more involved fill in the blank exercise. "I have to have five paragraphs-- what can I use to fill up the five paragraph-sized blanks?" "I need three sentences to make a paragraph-- what can I use to fill in the the three sentence-shaped empty spaces." This gets you junk.

The appeal of the template is easy to see-- teaching writing is hard and grading writing is even harder. Every prompt has an infinite number of correct answers instead of just one, and every piece of writing has to be considered on its own terms. The very best writing includes a unique and personal voice, and teaching a students to sound like him- or herself is tricky. Much easier to teach them all to sound like the same person.

The important questions for writing are what do I want to say, who do I want to say it to, and what's the best way I can think of to say it. But the results of those are really hard to scale up, if not impossible. So it comes as no surprise that the Age of Common Core College and Career Ready Standards has provided us just with more junk writing instruction."



"I know there are teachers who think they are swell. I've met some. Here's why some teachers like these writing standards:

1) They are teaching their own set of standards and pretending that their own standards have something to do with the Core standards.

2) They don't like to teach writing, and what they want someone to do is just reduce it to some simple rules so that they can just go through the motions and be able to say they're teaching writing without having to suffer through the hard work.

3) They don't know how to teach writing.

I'm sorry, but if you tell me that you think the standards are great for writing instruction, I will judge you. I'm not proud of it, but there it is (especially in Pennsylvania, where we have found ways to make the writing standards even worse). Will argues that teachers need more support, that there are "veteran teachers who had no practice in teaching the kind of writing, particularly argumentative writing, that the standards call for," and that's probably true, but I'm okay with that, because the standards call for junk. Teachers do need "support" in the teaching of writing (I do love how "needs support" is now our code word for "needs to be whacked upside the head and straightened the hell out"), but the standards are not the place to find it, and they're not the foundation on which to base it. I promise that I'll present my Writing Instruction Professional Development in a Can but this is already a long post, so we'll save that for another day.

But I will give you Step One, because summer is the perfect time to work on it.

Write. Write for a blog. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper. Write long thoughtful letters to friends. You can no more teach writing without actually doing writing than you can teach reading if you've never cracked open a book. So go do that. And don't consult any standards or templates when you do. Just ask yourself-- what do I want to say? That's the only thing you need to get started."
writing  education  teaching  teachingwriting  schools  2016  howweteach  howwewrite  commoncore  templates  fiveparagraphessays  sfsh  pedagogy  curriculum  practice 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Setting the record straight on early literacy instruction - The Washington Post
"By Diane E. Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige

There has been much well-deserved criticism of the increase in direct instruction in reading skills to young children, resulting from the demands of the Common Core State Standards. However, when we and others argue for abandoning the current one-size-fits-all approach to early literacy, we are not proposing “natural learning environments,” where children learn to read on their own with little teacher intervention.

Yet this is the only alternative to direct, skills-based instruction that Peter Gray describes in “The Reading Wars: Why Natural Learning Fails in Classrooms,” a 2013 post at Psychology Today that he recently published on his Facebook page.

In his essay, Gray argues that learning to read in and out of classrooms is different, by its very nature. This is true. But we do not agree with his assumption that the progressive alternative to direct teaching of phonics and reading skills is to set up natural conditions that allow children to learn to read on their own. He is creating a dichotomy that illustrates an enduring misconception of progressive practice.

Decades ago, in the Harvard Education Review, Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist known for his theory of moral development, and Rochelle Mayer, now a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, astutely described a “romantic” view of learning which grows out of psychological theories that promote inner growth and development. They argue that Romantic educators create an environment where children are free to flourish and grow based on their innate and inner needs, through self-discovery.

Kohlberg and Mayer contrast this view with progressive education—the outgrowth of cognitive theory, as seen in the work of Jean Piaget, and the educational philosophy of John Dewey. In the progressive approach, the main focus is not on the skills to be learned or on the individual child, but on the interaction between the two. It’s a dynamic and complex process in which the teacher has a vital role to play.

With respect to reading, the teacher must understand the developmental progression of skills in oral language, reading and writing. The teacher must know the level of each child’s skills, as well as understand his or her unique learning needs and abilities, culture and linguistic background. With this knowledge, the teacher can purposefully build curriculum for every child that is developmentally appropriate, meaningful, and lasting.

In “Lively Minds,” a short paper that Lillian Katz wrote for Defending the Early Years, this beloved professor emerita at the University of Illinois draws a distinction between academic goals and making meaning through learning. Education, she argues, must “provide a wide range of experiences, opportunities, resources, and contexts that will provoke, stimulate, and support children’s innate intellectual dispositions.”

[Report debunks ‘earlier is better’ academic instruction for young children]

Teachers in progressive classrooms are intentional about literacy education and employ many strategies to expose children to rich oral language and print. Among them are telling and enacting stories; reading picture and chapter books; singing, reciting, and reading from posted charts (teachers using pointers to read along and helping children isolate specific letters and sounds); drawing and writing with invented and conventional spellings; taking dictation from children; and helping children write their own stories.

In organic and meaningful ways, teachers use print throughout the day—labeling block structures and interest areas, writing recipes, transcribing children’s stories, making charts for attendance and classroom jobs. Teachers tune these activities to the developmental skill levels of individual children, scaffolding new learning in ways that will build a strong foundation for lifelong success in reading.

In contrasting the whole-language and phonics skills-based approaches, or what he calls “training,” Gray ignores the complex role of the teacher in a progressive classroom. Good literacy programs integrate both phonics and meaning; for effective learning, skill-building must be connected to children’s interests and developmental levels in meaningful ways.

In these times of policy mandates and standardized education for even our youngest children, it is vital that critics be clear about the alternatives. And it’s equally important that critics not misrepresent appropriate practice, or what its proponents are advocating for. We hope that clarifying these issues will help us move forward toward best educational practice for all of our children."
literacy  children  pedagogy  progressive  progressiveeducation  reading  writing  teachingwriting  teaching  petergray  dianelevin  nancycarlsson-paige  howweteach  learning  education  schools  earlyliteracy  commoncore  johndewey 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Writing, Unteachable or Mistaught? | the becoming radical
"This experience has highlighted for me two important points:

1. Most people (students and academics/teachers included) are not writers, but people who occasionally write (and then, that occasion is often under some compelling requirement and not the “choice” of the person writing).
2. Especially people who occasionally write, and then most often under that compelling reason or situation, suffer from an inordinate sense of paralysis (I am going to argue further below) because they have been mistaught how to write (predominantly by template and prompt).

Since most teachers of English/ELA and any discipline in which the teacher must teach writing are themselves not writers, the default approach to writing is at least informed by if not couched in Mike’s view of writing—one that has been fostered by template and prompted writing instruction (the authoritarian nod in Vonnegut invoking God above).

And this is my big picture philosophical and pedagogical problem with depending on the five-paragraph essay as the primary way in which we teach students to write: Visual art classes that aim to teach students to paint do not use paint-by-numbers to prepare novices to be artists, and I would argue, that is because those teachers are themselves artists (not teachers who occasionally paint).

However, most teachers of writing in all disciplines are themselves not writers, but teachers who occasionally (or in the past occasionally) write (wrote).

Why Scripts, Templates, and Prompts Fail Students and Writing

In a graduate summer course for English/ELA teachers, I had the students read a commentary by Mike Royko (syndicated columnist) on flag burning. I asked them to mark the parts of the essay and underline the thesis as they read.

And these students who were also teachers dutifully did so.

Royko’s piece in most ways does not conform to the five-paragraph essay, but the teachers marked and labeled an introduction, body, and conclusion—underlining a sentence as the thesis. They immediately imposed onto the essay the script they taught their students (the script they were taught).

When we shared, they noticed differences in their labeling and marking. Most notable was the thesis: Royko’s piece is a snarky, sarcastic commentary that directly states support for flag burning laws but in fact rejects flag burning laws by sarcastic implication.

As a consequence, no direct thesis exists—although we can fairly paraphrase one.

I continue to use examples such as this with first-year students to investigate and challenge templates for essays they have been taught (for example, essays by Barbara Kingsolver) in order to work toward what Johns calls “genre awareness” instead of “genre acquisition.”

Yes, essays have openings that tend to focus the reader, but most openings are primarily concerned with grabbing and maintaining the reader’s interest. And openings are typically far more than one paragraph (essays have paragraphs of many different lengths as well, some as brief as one word or sentence).

Essays then proceed in many different ways—although guided by concepts such as cohesion and purpose.

And then, essays end some way, a way I would argue that is not “restate your introduction in different words” (the Kingsolver essay linked above frames the essay on attitudes toward children with an opening and then closing personal narrative about Spain).

Ultimately, the five-paragraph essay allows both teachers and students to avoid the messy and complicated business that is writing—many dozens of choices with purpose and intent.

Scripts, templates, and prompts do most of the work for student—leaving them almost no opportunities to experiment with the writer’s craft, whether that be in the service of history, science, or any other discipline. Without purposeful practice in the business of writing (making purposeful decisions while implementing the writer’s genre awareness against the constraints of the writing expectations), students (and even academics) are often left in some degree of paralysis when asked to perform authentically as writers.

As Zach Weiner’s comic succinctly illustrates, the five-paragraph template/script and writing prompt serve greater ease in assigning and grading writing (absolving the writing teacher of having expertise and experience as a writer, in fact), but as the student in the comic declares: “Suddenly I hate writing.”

And as Jennifer Gray details:
[M]any of [the students] checked out of the writing process and merely performed for the teacher. Their descriptions about their writing lack enthusiasm and engagement; instead, they reflect obedience and resignation. That is not the kind of writer I want in my classes; I want to see students actively engaged with their work, finding value and importance in the work.



As much as I love Vonnegut, I disagree about writing being unteachable. And his own role as mainly a writer who occasionally taught writing presents another lesson:
Nothing is known about helping real writers to write better. I have discovered almost nothing about it during the past two years. I now make to my successor at Iowa a gift of the one rule that seemed to work for me: Leave real writers alone.

Well, yes, we do know quite a great deal about teaching writing—and we have for many decades. So if “leave them alone” means do not use artificial scripts, I am all in, but certainly developing writers of all ages can be fostered directly by the teacher.

I am left to worry, then, that the main problem we have with teaching writing is that for too long, we have mistaught it as people who occasionally write, and not as writers and as teachers.

This is a herculean ask, of course, that we be writers and teachers.

But for the many who do not now consider themselves writers but must teach writing, it is the opportunity to begin the journey to being a writer with students by committing to genre awareness instead of genre acquisition.

Awareness comes from investigating the form you wish to produce (not imposing a template onto a form or genre). Investigate poetry in order to write poetry; investigate essays in order to write essays.

But set artificial and simplistic templates and scripts aside so that you and your students can see the form you wish to write.

Kingsolver’s warning about child rearing also serves us well as teachers lured by the Siren’s song of the five-paragraph essay: “Be careful what you give children, or don’t, for sooner or later you will always get it back.”"
teaching  writing  teachingwriting  education  2015  plthomas  fiveparagraphessays  vonnegut  jennifergray  zachweiner  mikeroyko  kurtvonnegut  paulthomas 
june 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Writing: Not Unteachable, Often Mistaught
"I am not a five paragraph snob. I have used it my entire career and will continue to do so, primarily because many students come to me as fans of the Uniblob-- a giant mass of verbage and almost-sentences that have fallen out onto the page like toothpaste squeezed out a tube by a spasming fist. If we can get thoughts organized into paragraphs and some sort of simple progression, I absolutely call that a win.

But, as I'm not the first to observe, the FPE can be like training wheels-- useful when you're getting started, but an obstacle once you're really ready to ride.

The FPE ultimately becomes a Fill In The Blank question with five large paragraph-shaped blanks. The FPE encourages students to start by asking the wrong question. They ask "What can I use to fill in each of these blanks" or "What can I write to satisfy the assignment." These questions are most likely to produce inauthentic, lifeless, pointless pieces of writing-- but inauthentic, lifeless, pointless writing that meets the requirements of the teacher's (or standardized test scorer's) checklist.

The correct question to start with is, "What do I think about this?" A good follow-up question is "What's the best way for me to say it?"

The answers to those questions are absolutely personal. In his piece, Thomas compares himself to a colleague-- one puts words down as a first step, and one as a final step. That broad variety is, of course, normal. Some writers must be still to think, and some must be active. Some must be silent and some must be vocal.

There is no One Right Way to write. This is maddening for some teachers and some students. Where the hell is our list of rules? Unfortunately, the real list is short and only sort of helpful:

1) Figure out what you want to say.
2) Figure out a good way to say it.
3) Say it.

Most writing problems are really thinking problems, and the traditional way to solve them is to take thinking out of the equation. This is solving the problem by substituting a different problem. This is having trouble deciding what to order in a restaurant, so you go watch a movie about food instead. Templates and FPE are just a way to say, "Never mind thinking. Just fill in the blanks with what you believe the authorities will find acceptable."

There is nothing less open to standardization than writing, and yet for generations, long before the advent of Truly Terrible Tests, teachers and textbook publishers have tried to make it so. But you cannot standardize, templatize, or rulify writing without turning it into something else entirely.

I kiss my wife because I have a particular feeling, and I follow the impulse born of that feeling at that time. If I kiss my wife because I am concerned about satisfying some Higher Authority's Rules about how I should behave toward my wife, the action I take may bear a superficial resemblance to a kiss, but as I stand there carefully arranging my lips and checking for the approved level of moisture, angle of approach, degree of impact pressure, duration of contact, and any other rules I've been told I must follow for such interactions, the resulting action is something else entirely.

So, can writing be taught at all?

God, I hope so, or I don't know what the hell I've been doing for the past thirty-some years.

Here are some things that I believe work.

Tools. We teach students a variety of tools and techniques. This includes technical tricks like Ways To Make Transitions Happen and analytical tricks like Count All the Forms of Be in Your Paper and See If You Can Make Some Go Away. This also includes sharing and discussing process, so that students can learn a variety of ways that they could, for example, pre-write.

Permission. Particularly if they have wandered down the path of One True Way. I cannot even begin to guess how many students I have dealt with who insist on using approaches to writing that do not work for them at all, simply because they are convinced that's what they are Supposed To Do. Give students permission and encouragement to experiment and wander and try other things.

Write. Write write write write WRITE write write. I am pretty sure that if I simply had students write all the time and I never gave them a lick of feedback, but just kept them writing, they would get better. Feedback, reflection, discussion, sharing and assessment all speed up the process, but the activity central to improving writing is to write. Frequently, regularly, in a variety of modes and purposes, but write.

Individualization. I start with the premise that there are no child prodigy writers, which has to mean that everybody starts in the same place-- Downtown Suckville. Every writer is on a journey from Suckville to Awesome Town, but there is no bus or train that runs there, so every writer has to make the journey in her own way at her own speed. In fact, the trip metaphor only works if we allow for black holes and secret tunnels, because travelers don't even hit checkpoints in the same order. This week Chris may be ready to figure out conclusions but Pat is still wrestling with using less passive voice. Alphonse may be trying to work out writing tools that Fiona doesn't even care about. Every teacher of writing must make her own compromises, because you won't have time to handle the individual nature of learning instruction perfectly. Only you can figure out how you'll deal with that. But there is no tool more important to a writer than individual voice and that is, of course, individual.

So I believe that writing can be taught and fostered and mentored. The tricky part is that there are sooooooo many ways that a teacher can mess things up and get in the way. Templates and the FPE are prime examples of how that can go wrong. Thomas is right; Vonnegut is wrong. Writing is often mistaught, but it is not unteachable."
writing  teaching  education  teachingwriting  howwewrite  fiveparagraphessays  2015  petergreene  thinking 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Fred Moten - A look at Duke's preeminent poet | The Chronicle
"“It’s very difficult when your role models are Shakespeare and Milton,” he said. “Everyone has to come terms at some point with the fact that you’re not going to live up to that—and then you just keep going or you don’t.” What do you think?

He did, and although he may not be Shakespeare, Moten has had his own bit of success in the contemporary poetry world. Last year, the Poetry Society of America chose him as one of 16 poets honored for an outstanding first book of poetry, and published one of his poems, “Rock the Party, Fuck the Smackdown” in the literary journal A Public Space. PSA Programs Director Rob Caspar said Moten caught the group’s eyes—and ears—with poetry that was experimental and “radically lyric.” What do you think?

“There’s song and voice, at the heart of his work,” Caspar said, “but it’s a new and complex song, and a voice that probes and pushes as much as it celebrates.”What do you think?

As for how he thinks of his own writing, Moten explained to the literary journal Callaloo that he doesn’t see poems as neatly wrapped ideas or images. Instead, he believes that “poetry is what happens…on the outskirts of sense.”What do you think?

This unorthodox approach to writing extends beyond Moten’s own projects, spilling over into his teaching philosophy. In a Fred Moten English class, a standard essay on a piece of literature might be replaced by a sound collage or a piece of creative writing reacting to the reading. It’s an attempt, he said, to get his students to write like they actually want to write—not the way they think they need to for a class. What do you think?

“School makes it so that you write to show evidence of having done some work, so that you can be properly evaluated and tracked,” he said. “To me that degrades writing, so I’m trying to figure out how to detach the importance of writing from these structures of evaluation.” What do you think?

Second year English Ph.D student Damien Adia-Marassa said this means that Moten’s classes are never the same. Last Spring, Marassa worked as a “teaching apprentice” in one of Moten’s undergraduate courses, “Experimental Black Poetry,” for which he said there was never a fixed syllabus. What do you think?

“He just told us the texts he wanted to study and invited us all to participate in thinking about how we might study them,” Marassa said. What do you think?

But is Professor Moten ever worried that students will take advantage of his flexibility with structure and content? What do you think?

Actually, he said, he doesn’t care if students take his courses because they think they will be easy. What do you think?

“I think it’s good to find things in your life that are easy for you,” he said. “If someone signs up for my class because they think it will come naturally to them and it won’t be something they have to agonize over, those are all good things in my book.”What do you think?

In the Spring, Moten will switch gears as a professor, teaching his first creative writing course since arriving at Duke—Introduction to Writing Poetry. But whatever the course title may imply, he won’t be trying to teach his students how to write, he said. Instead, he hops they’ll come away from his class better at noticing the world around them. What do you think?

And he hopes to teach them to that, in order to write, you first have to fiercely love to read. That’s a skill he learned a long time ago, out in the flat Nevada desert, when he first picked up a book of poems and started to read, not knowing where it would take him. "
fredmoten  poetry  writing  teaching  howeteach  classideas  creativewriting  2010  noticing  observation  flexibility  teachingwriting  howweteach  school  education  structure  thinking  howwethink  sense  sensemaking  literature  pedagogy  evaluation  tracking 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Assignment: Commentary and Anthology | Snakes and Ladders
"Just in case anyone is interested, here’s a draft of something I’ll be handing out to my students in a couple of weeks.

In most of your courses in the humanities, you’re asked to write papers — probably thesis papers, in which you make an argument that you support with evidence from the text under consideration and from critical or contextual studies. It’s a reasonable task to ask students to perform; Lord knows I have asked it of enough students in my thirty-plus years of teaching. But it’s not the only appropriate assignment, and it has certain shortcomings.

Chief among those, I think, is its tendency to encourage people to get through the task of reading as quickly as possible in order to get on to the really important job of articulating and defending your own position. But reading is a task that deserves more care — especially when the texts involved are challenging, difficult, and major.

In a brilliant and important book, Religious Reading, Paul Griffiths demonstrates that in most of the great religious traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity — there are genres of reading, that is, kinds of texts in which one records one’s reading. The two major genres, according to Griffiths, are commentary and anthology. To people trained in the habits of mind associated with the thesis paper, these genres seem passive and deferential — especially when applied to non-religious texts. But those genres are not passive at all, and insofar as they are deferential that deference may be quite appropriate. After all, many non-religious texts, especially when they arise in cultures distant from us in time or space or both, pose great difficulties for the reader. Allusions will escape us, social and cultural contexts will be unknown to us, subtleties of argument or exposition or characterization or poetic language will leave us scratching our heads. To seek to identify and then resolve those difficulties — these are highly demanding intellectual tasks, and will not allow passivity, though, as they reveal the complexities that animate really significant works, they may promote deference.

In our class, we will be using a wonderful tool called CommentPress to create an online anthology of writings and to comment on those writings. You will not write papers in this class; instead, you will help to create the anthology, and you will comment on texts you bring to our attention and on the texts others bring. By the end of the term, we will have created a body of annotated readings that, taken as a whole, will significantly illuminate our subject.

So each week, you will do each of the following:

• Post one passage from one of our assigned texts (either copying and pasting from an online public-domain text, or typing in a passage from one of your books);
• Make a comment that offers some helpful contextual information about the passage (something about the text’s author, or the historical moment of its composition, or the culture within which it was produced, or a work that it echoes or responds to), preferably with a link to your source;
• Make a longer comment (perhaps 150-250 words or so) that offers an interpretation of a particular passage in the text, probably drawing on existing scholarly work;
• Respond to someone else’s comment by disagreeing with it, amplifying and extending it, or providing further relevant information.

You should be aware right from the beginning that this assignment will require you to form somewhat different work habits than you are used to. Many of you are habituated to an academic model in which you read regularly but write infrequently, and probably in intense bursts of activity. In this class reading and writing will be more closely joined to one another, and you will write almost as regularly as you read, and in smaller chunks than essay assignments normally require.

You will also need to familiarize yourself with the CommentPress software, including the proper ways to format text and insert links. Don’t worry: I’ll show you in class how it’s done, and will be happy to answer questions later.

So this will be different than you’re used to. But different is good. Or at least, it can be!"

[follow-up: http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/more-about-my-new-writing-assignment/ ]

[and another reference to this post: https://twitter.com/ayjay/status/554465423211499521 ]
reading  teaching  writing  assignments  2014  alanjacobs  reflection  howwewrite  teachingwriting  commentpress  commenting  howweread  annotation 
january 2015 by robertogreco
More About My New Writing Assignment | Snakes and Ladders
"When, a few days ago, I posted the details of my radically subversive new writing assignment [http://blog.ayjay.org/uncategorized/assignment-commentary-and-anthology/ ], I got a number of replies from my friends on Twitter. They fell into three categories:

• This sounds great!
• Um … let me know how it goes.
• I’d feel better about something like this if my students were skilled at writing conventional thesis essays.

Here I want to address that third response.

Some of my students are quite skilled at writing “conventional thesis essays” — the kind that have an introductory paragraph announcing the thesis to be supported, followed by evidence for that thesis taken from the primary source under consideration plus relevant secondary sources, and a conclusion that wraps things up nicely. Some of my students are not so skilled at working in that genre. By eschewing it I am definitely passing up the opportunity to give my students detailed instruction in how to write that kind of text.

Which leads me to a series of questions: How much does that matter? How important is it that my students get better at writing thesis essays? After all, the thesis essay is just one of many genres of writing: how did it become so utterly dominant in the academic study of the humanities? Does it deserve such dominance? Presumably we assign thesis essays not because we think that genre uniquely valuable in itself, but because we think it inculcates certain valuable skills (how to research and sift one’s research, how to defend an arguable position, etc.) — but what if those skills can be taught through assigning different kinds of writing? What if there are other equally valuable skills that can’t readily be taught through the assigning of thesis essays?

Yes, students who are going on to graduate school in the humanities will need to become quite skilled at writing thesis essays — but why should we craft our assignments in order to meet the needs of a small percentage of our students? Moreover, especially if those students get practice writing thesis essays in other classes, why shouldn’t I use my class to teach them some skills and intellectual virtues that could later set them apart from peers?

Questions like those.

One of the primary things I’m hoping to achieve through this assignment is to bring reading and writing into closer and more constructively interanimating relation. In the traditional model, students read and discuss a text and then, at some point later in the term, write about it. Reading is generally done on an almost daily basis, while writing (serious, in-depth writing anyway) is done infrequently and in intense bursts of activity, probably over little more than 48 hours.

I want to see what happens if students have to write, and write seriously, in more-or-less the same rhythm as they read: read a section of a text, write about it, read some more, see what others (scholars and classmates) have said about it, revisit your earlier thoughts to extend or correct them, etc. I feel quite confident that this will make students more incisive and reflective readers; what it will do for their writing skills I am not certain. But it’s worth an experiment.

(P.S. The assignment is neither radical nor subversive, but I thought that might be a cool thing to say.)"
writing  teaching  teachingwriting  2015  alanjacobs  howwewrite  essays  thesisessays  reading  howweread  classideas  humanities  reflection  commentpress 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Structure is Not Sacrosanct:  A Pedagogical How-to | Keep Learning
"More and more of the mainstream news conversation about educational technology and online learning drapes the efforts of software developers, politicians and venture capitalists in terms of revolution, calling out a structure they claim has not changed in 200 or even 1000 years. Despite their dissatisfaction with existing learning structure and a groundswell for innovation, the vision of higher education they offer continues to involve designing system software based around the centralization of content and the consolidation of administrative systems. Having content at the forefront of an education system dates back over 2500 years to the schools of ancient Greece. 2500 years ago it made sense to design based around content; information was neither free nor ubiquitous, and the role of a school was in part to share information but also to collect, curate and preserve content and artifacts, elements equal in importance at the time. Today’s schools no longer must serve four objectives, yet the so-called revolutionary online learning design continues to adhere to this arcane structure.

Why is true innovation so hard? There is a lesson to be learned in narrative structure. The authorized method of teaching narrative structure in K-12 education is to employ Freytag’s Pyramid, a narrative example conceptualized by 19th Century German realist poet Gustav Freytag. The structure is simple and has symmetry: stories have a conflict, rising action, a climax, falling action and a resolution. Today we use this structure to teach narrative in elementary schools (often calling it the witch’s hat based on its appearance), help students study for standardized tests, and depend on it as a frame of reference for college admission testing.

There are two significant problems with Freytag’s Pyramid, however. First, it does not work at all. Outside of Greek tragedies and neoclassical drama such as Shakespeare, story and narrative does not fit the pyramid; users of the structure are forced to stretch, contort and maul either the pyramid or the story to attempt to find a fit. This is because of the second problem with Freytag’s Pyramid: Freytag himself did not believe it was a universal fit for narrative structure. The pyramid was an effort to connect the German realism movement to classical antiquity, an attempt to distinguish realism from other artistic and cultural movements at the time by attaching it to a well-respected structure. Said Freytag, “That the technique of the drama is nothing absolute and unchangeable scarcely need be stated.” By 1913, his work was seen as waxing nostalgic, an effort to remain relevant despite time having passed him by. A much better example of structure comes from Kurt Vonnegut, who used an axis for time and fortune to plot various story structures, each one able to exist on the simple coordinate plane but unique based on its specific needs. Vonnegut allowed the story to dictate the kind of structure used, but built it in a similar space so there is a point of reference despite difference. This representation of structure sees it as fluid, dynamic and story-driven rather than Freytag’s Pyramid which is rigid, static and structure-driven.

The axis-as-structure motif is a fitting analogy for a student-centered conversation about digital structure. With the Internet as the coordinate plane, imagining the manner in which digital structure can aid student learning becomes an expansive conversation. That breadth can be frightening, and its infinite scope could be the reason many people adhere to singular and static structure. But the openness is necessary, and when seen from a place of opportunity rather than obstacle, it is liberating in terms of knowledge creation, communication and collaboration. Rather than putting a wiki in an LMS and neutering its open purpose with a closed space, students can engage existing wikis or take ownership and utilize Smallest Federated Wiki. Instead of flipping the classroom and sending students home to watch video lectures, teachers can scramble the classroom and have students reuse, remix, revise and redistribute objective-based learning artifacts on the subject at hand. Rather than turning in an assignment to Dropbox or an LMS, students can use a document share service or host them on a personal web space, creating a place of digital ownership and digital identity. The structure can fit the need of the student rather than the student twisting and bending to attempt to match the structure.

Change is difficult to massage in any space, and academia is no exception. Faculty speak of challenges in implementing such initiatives due to resistance from faculty affairs, information technology and the registrar, for starters. These scholastic elements are charged with ensuring rigor, support and accreditation, so their concerns are valid. It is important to remember, however, that our schools are no longer in ancient Greece, and no matter the lenses we use to do our duties, every person’s objective is to assist the learner in their journey to wisdom. The opportunity to speak to these entities about the obstacles in implementing cutting-edge digital pedagogy should be relished, and the perspectives of these departments are an important contribution to furthering our field. Educating a citizenry has a history of over 2500 years, and conversations about teaching and learning have only become popular over the past generation, so let us have all perspectives at the table and be willing to engage in the difficult discussions of scale, access, support and cost, as long as we always keep the student at the forefront. Change happens with action, but it starts with dialogue."
structure  storytelling  writing  narrative  2014  pedagogy  teachingwriting  gustavfreytag  kurtvonnegut  change  technology  lms  systems  vonnegut 
december 2014 by robertogreco
On Not Silencing Students: A Pedagogical How-to | Keep Learning
"Why do students submit writing to their teachers? Many writing-intensive courses at all levels of education center on student-created, teacher-graded writing assignments. Such a system streamlines the production process, letting students know what tools they should use to create and submit their work, and letting them write to a familiar audience. After all, if students write to a teacher every year, they should be good at guessing what teachers expect by the time they get to college. By always writing to a teacher for a grade, students implicitly learn that writing exists for the benefit of that audience, and that readers assess the quality of writing…and do nothing else in response. All their work creating words falls silent after we issue a grade.

Compare that scenario with the small-scale writing goals of students outside the classroom: They send text messages to coordinate activities with friends, craft Facebook updates to garner likes and tweets to garner retweets or followers, or post yaks to get upvotes or attention. When students write content on social platforms, no matter how public their voices become, their writing is purposeful. Outside the classroom, students write to do things. Inside the classroom, students write to get a grade. What I’ll call the “purpose disparity” immediately renders classroom writing less meaningful and less real to our students. To reverse that imbalance, we need to see student writing in a different context.

Student writing should be made public whenever possible. Students should write in real situations, for real audiences, with real intended actions. Real writing situations exist all around us, but we rarely bring them into the fold of our classes. If we want writing to matter, we need to show students the situations in which it actually does — and our desks are not those situations. In a recent post on Keep Learning, Rolin Moe hints at this sort of shift, suggesting that instead of “turning in an assignment to Dropbox or an LMS, students can use a document share service or host them on a personal web space, creating a place of digital ownership and digital identity.” Moe identified several benefits of this approach, mostly from the perspective of student-centered learning: “The structure [of the writing] can fit the need of the student rather than the student twisting and bending to attempt to match the structure.” We can go another step further if we think specifically about composition pedagogy. Student writing should fit the need of the audience, not just the student that Moe is justifiably concerned about.

I challenge writing teachers to examine their assignments. If the assignment ends with “turn in your work”, ask why that’s the ultimate goal. Why are students writing to you? Why are you the final judge of success? More importantly, who else is a more-appropriate audience for the thinking your students are doing? If those questions elicit a dearth of ready answers, this could be an opportunity for some community building. You (or your students) aren’t the only one thinking about the issues inside your classroom. You probably already have a personal learning network (commonly called a PLN — learn more from Alison Seaman and Michelle Kassorla) built around your field or the issue at hand. Employ that community, either as an audience or as a resource. If appropriate, have students engage the community. If not (say, if you have an elementary classroom and a network of R1 researchers), then find out how the work being done with the issue manifests in daily life. Or, if there is no community, make one. I’m not sure how many secondary students would want to discuss the intricacies of King Lear in their free time, but if students at different schools, in different contexts, can access one another’s perspectives on the work, you might find that a complex network — what Henry Jenkins calls a “participatory culture” — can form from the combination of viewpoints. Suddenly, students would write to other students, rather than a teacher. Set some general goals, then set them free.

Bringing together geographically separated students brings to mind the Generative Literature Project currently underway from Hybrid Pedagogy Publishing. With this project, a handful of teachers across the globe have brought their students together to create their own tale of the murder of a fictional school’s president. The nature of the distributed work requires them to keep in mind dual audiences—their collaborators and the eventual readers—and the work students do has value because it connects with, or is used by, the work other students are doing. The Generative Literature Project has been a substantial undertaking, but it works as a broader implementation of a relatively simple principle: Make students’ writing matter.

Assessment, the elephant in this particular room, deserves to be addressed. When students write for someone other than the teacher, they have to be aware of the needs of the audience. They also need to be aware of the stakes involved and potential consequences of their work. Learning to write may be hard work, but learning to write for specific circumstances and to specific ends becomes a more complex and valuable experience. In real-world writing situations, students should be able to see the effect their writing has on people. That effect could be simply to draw attention and get page hits, or it could be to make authorities change positions, address issues, or make statements. Maybe students could convince others to hold a view or take action. In short, students could use our assignments to make changes to the world around them. Their voices would be heard, and their writing would be purposeful."
writing  teaching  howwewrite  purpose  assessment  meaning  2014  chrisfriend  audience  teachingwriting  pedagogy  publishing  lms  identity  communication 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Listen: Young Writer’s Group | KRTS 93.5 FM Marfa Public Radio
"On this episode of Talk at Ten, Tim Johnson of the Marfa Book Company interviews six students from Marfa International School’s Young Writer’s Group about their upcoming poetry and prose reading. The reading will take place on Thursday, May 30, at 6pm at the Marfa Book Company."
writing  teachingwriting  marfa  marfainternationalschool  2013 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Can Writing Be Assessed? A Five-Paragraph Essay
"The New York Times had yet another of its delightful "Room for Debate" sessions, in which various experts throw quick-take opinions on a subject past one another. The subject: Was the College Board right to have decided to make the essay portion of future SAT tests optional? Or, more broadly, "Can Writing Be Assessed?" Although Gawker was not specifically invited to participate, below is our contribution to the conversation."
essays  writing  sat  standardization  standardizedtesting  2014  humor  teachingwriting  assessment 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar - Michelle Navarre Cleary - The Atlantic
"A century of research shows that traditional grammar lessons—those hours spent diagramming sentences and memorizing parts of speech—don’t help and may even hinder students’ efforts to become better writers. Yes, they need to learn grammar, but the old-fashioned way does not work.

This finding—confirmed in 1984, 2007, and 2012 through reviews of over 250 studies—is consistent among students of all ages, from elementary school through college. For example, one well-regarded study followed three groups of students from 9th to 11th grade where one group had traditional rule-bound lessons, a second received an alternative approach to grammar instruction, and a third received no grammar lessons at all, just more literature and creative writing. The result: No significant differences among the three groups—except that both grammar groups emerged with a strong antipathy to English.



Just as we teach children how to ride bikes by putting them on a bicycle, we need to teach students how to write grammatically by letting them write. Once students get ideas they care about onto the page, they are ready for instruction—including grammar instruction—that will help communicate those ideas. We know that grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones. Often, surprisingly little formal grammar instruction is needed. Researcher Marcia Hurlow has shown that many errors “disappear” from student writing when students focus on their ideas and stop “trying to ‘sound correct.’”



"Schools that have shifted from traditional “stand-alone” grammar to teaching grammar through writing offer concrete proof that such approaches work. They are moving more students more quickly into college-level courses than previously thought possible. One of these is a program at Arizona State in which students who test below college-level in their writing ability immediately begin writing college essays. More than 88 percent of these students pass freshman English—a pass rate that is higher than that for students who enter the university as college-level writers. At the Community College of Baltimore, a program in which developmental writing students get additional support while taking college-level writing classes has reduced the time these students spend in developmental courses while more than doubling the number who pass freshman composition. More than 60 colleges and universities are now experimenting with programs modeled on this approach.

In 1984, George Hillocks, a renowned professor of English and Education at the University of Chicago, published an analysis of the research on teaching writing. He concluded that, “School boards, administrators, and teachers who impose the systematic study of traditional school grammar on their students over lengthy periods of time in the name of teaching writing do them a gross disservice that should not be tolerated by anyone concerned with the effective teaching of good writing.” If 30 years later, you or your child is still being taught grammar independent of actually writing, it is well past time to demand writing instruction that is grounded in research rather than nostalgia."
grammar  writing  teaching  teachingwriting  2014  education  howwelearn  via:lukeneff  michellenavarrecleary  georgehillocks 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Calliope Initiative
"Calliope Initiative develops Marca, open-source software for writing and composition classes.

Built for writing teachers
Created by writing and composition teachers, Marca’s built from the ground up to support good pedagogy. Marca offers a focused, integrated suite of tools designed specifically for writing and composition classes. Everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Open Source
Marca’s an open-source project, built using open-source tools like Symfony, Bootstrap, and jQuery. Download or contribute to the project at GitHub.

Hosted GoMarca.com
Looking for an easy way to get started with Marca? GoMarca.com offers hosting and support for individuals or institutions who want to use Marca without building their own installation."

[See also: http://www.gomarca.com/ ]

[via Robin Wharton profile here: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/about-us/ ]
writing  teaching  teachingwriting  openspource  software  marca  pedagogy  onlinetoolkit 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Why Are We (Still) Failing Writing Instruction? | the becoming radical
"We have two recent commentaries that detail how schools and teachers fail students in the teaching of writing—one comes from a college student and the other, from a former teacher. While both reach the same conclusion about the teaching of writing, the reasons for those failures are in conflict, suggesting that we must consider whether schools and teachers are fumbling the teaching of writing, and then why.

Posted at Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue, a former Massachusetts student and current college student, Joan Brunetta, confronts the negative consequences of high-stakes accountability driven by standards and testing:
I am currently a student at Williams College, but I grew up in the public school system in Cambridge, MA and was among the first cohort of kids to have every single MCAS test administered, 3rd grade through 10th. Over the course of my years in the Cambridge public school system, I saw the scope of my education narrowed with increased testing, from a curriculum that valued student growth, experiences, and emotions, to one that was often cold and hard and moved on whether or not we were ready.

Brunetta’s experience should not be discounted as anecdotal since an analysis of twenty years of reform in her home state tends to reinforce her claim. As well, her message about how writing instruction distorted by standards and testing failed her is equally compelling:
In the years I attended high school, in which more focus was centered on testing, much more of our learning was directed toward tests. I wrote hardly anything but five-paragraph essays in high school English and history classes before 11th grade….

[upcoming paragraph!!!!!!]
Some students said that they actually remember more of what they learned in elementary school than of the material they had learned just the last semester in high school, because those pieces of history or literature were taught in a context and were talked about, not glossed over and memorized quickly. Others noted that they had actually read and written more in elementary school than high school….
Here’s a rubric that my 7th and 8th grade teachers used for evaluating our essays. This is what real rigor looks like to me. Our papers were looked at as true pieces of writing, with respect to our ideas, our structure, and our use of language. If you compare this to the rubric for an MCAS essay or an AP essay (both of which apparently test for a “higher” level of critical thinking), the juxtaposition is truly laughable. I would particularly like to point out the 7/8th grade criteria for good organization: “The paper has a thoughtful structure that surfaces from the ideas, more than the ideas feeling constrained by the structure. Paragraphs and examples connect with fluid transitions when necessary to make the relationships between ideas clear. The organization is not predictable but artful and interesting in the way it supports the ideas.” (emphasis my own)
To do this in writing is hard. It is a challenge. It is what real writers do when they write engaging essays, books, and articles. In MCAS essays and all the essays we wrote to prepare for MCAS essays, using an unpredictable structure was wrong. To do anything but constrain your ideas by the structure was very wrong. When we learned essay writing in high school, we were often handed a worksheet, already set up in five paragraphs, telling you exactly where to put the thesis, the topic sentences, and the “hook.” In my freshman history class, I was told that each paragraph should have 5-9 sentences, regardless of the ideas presented in the paragraph. The ideas didn’t matter–structure reigned supreme. There is nothing wrong with learning how to write in a structured and clear way–for many students, having certain structures to rely on or start with is very helpful. But when testing was involved, all of our writing was reduced to a single, simple, and restrictive structure–simply because that structure is simpler (and therefore cheaper) to grade. It is important to note here that I have heard multiple college professors specifically tell all their well-trained, test-ready students never to use this structure in their writing.
Furthermore, in elementary school, we were taught to edit our writing (a skill totally missing from any MCAS standards and tests and generally lacking from high school); we wrote at least 2 or 3 drafts each time. At the end of the year, we created a portfolio presentation, which we gave to parents, teachers, and community members about how we had grown over the year, what we still needed to work on, and what our goals were for next year. Almost all of my writing practices and skills that I use each day in college –and even more so, the ability to evaluate my own work and see what I need to do in the next draft or on the next paper–come from my middle school years in a school that was not following the guidelines and was refusing to prep us for tests.

Again, Brunetta’s experience is one student’s story that is typical of how high school instruction in the U.S. has been decimated by accountability, standards, and testing. Applebee and Langer, in fact, have compiled a powerful examination of the exact experiences Brunetta details: Despite teachers being aware of a growing body of research on how best to teach writing (in ways Brunetta experienced in elementary and middle school), there remains a “considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods” (LaBrant, 1947, p. 87), notably in writing instruction in schools today."

[Post goes on. The passages above and the rest of the post are both rich with links to additional references.]
writing  teaching  teachingwriting  learning  education  standardization  howwewrite  schools  policy  paulthomas  2013  howweteach  plthomas  fiveparagraphessays 
february 2014 by robertogreco
Donald Murray (writer) - Wikipedia
"In Crafting a Life, he lists and explains his manifesto: I write to say I am, discover who I am, create your life, understand my life, slay my dragons, exercise my craft, lose myself in my work, for revenge, to share, to testify, to avoid boredom, and to celebrate.[6] Murray compared a writer's voice in language to music and deemed its significance as the key factor in capturing an audience. In addressing the complexities of voice in writing, Murray noted the following elements as important to developing a writer's voice: revealing specifics, the word, the phrase, the beat, and the point of view.[6] He encourages writers to write with their readers as new stories are composed. To demonstrate this, he provides examples of his own writing and along side that, writes what the reader might think or say in response.[6] He then discusses, briefly, researching certain topics to strengthen the ethos of the writer."

[See also: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/3078 ]
reading  pointofview  teachingwriting  teaching  writing  howwewrite  donaldmurray 
july 2012 by robertogreco
SAMPLE REALITY · What’s Wrong With Writing Essays
"The student essay is a twitch in a void. A compressed outpouring of energy (if we’re lucky) that means nothing to no one. My friend and occasional collaborator Randy Bass has said that nowhere but school would we ask somebody to write something that nobody will ever read.

This is the primary reason I’ve integrated more and more public writing into my classes. I strive to instill in my students the sense that what they think and what they say and what they write matters — to me, to them, to their classmates, and through open access blogs and wikis, to the world.

In addition to making student writing public, I’ve also begun taking the words out of writing. Why must writing, especially writing that captures critical thinking, be composed of words? Why not images? Why not sound? Why not objects? The word text, after all, derives from the Latin textus, meaning that which is woven, strands of different material intertwined together. Let the warp be words and the weft be something else entirely.

With this in mind, I am moving away from asking students to write toward asking them to weave. To build, to fabricate, to design. I don’t want my students to become miniature scholars. I want them to be aspiring Rauschenbergs, assembling mixed media combines, all the while through their engagement with seemingly incongruous materials, developing a critical thinking practice about the process and the product."

[via: http://snarkmarket.com/blog/snarkives/books_writing_such/teaching_as_antiteaching_writing_as_antiwriting/ ]
teaching  learning  multimedia  tcsnmy  classideas  expression  criticalthinking  robertrauschenberg  process  mixedmedia  blogs  wikis  publicwriting  writing  education  marksample  2009  workinginpublic  teachingwriting  canon  cv  uncreativewriting 
march 2009 by robertogreco

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