Trish's English 5367 Blog

Monday, October 30, 2006

Tell me a Story: Take Two

“Two little wooly lambs looking for their mother. Two little wooly lambs, a sister and a brother.” I can still vividly hear my mother’s voice reading these lines to me twenty plus years later. When I read my mom the first line of this literacy autobiography she began reciting the next story about the baby horse (with mama horse and daddy horse makes three)—I’m sure the book is worn to a thread after reading it to me, then my two sisters, and finally to my brother just ten years ago. It is my mother whom I credit for instilling in me the love of reading. Pinch Penny John, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Princess and the Unicorn, The Tin Soldier: these were among my favorite books as a child. I would ask her to read them to me over and over until I could read them myself and eventually to my sisters (two and four years my junior).

My appetite for words was insatiable (I’ll get more to this in a minute). I would beg Mom and Dad to read my favorite books to me until I was able to have a reading audience of my own. The same books that I adored to be read were the same ones that I would rehearse to anyone who would listen. I would read to my parents, I would read to my grandparents, and finally, I would read to my siblings. My favorite picture of Dad and me is one where we are lying on the floor and I am “reading” my father the comics. The picture aptly captures my love for reading—and sharing that love with others.

Other than my parents, I am the only “big” reader in the family. I’m not sure why some like to read and others don’t, but I loved sitting on the bed with my two little sisters on either side of me and reading to them the fascinating stories that captivated me. Later, when I was much older, I would try to read to my younger brother—15 years my junior—but he wasn’t interested in the books I liked: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan. He likes books like Captain Underpants and RL Stine’s Big Blueberry Barf-off. I’m just glad he’s reading—he’s only in the fifth grade. But this isn’t his autobiography, its mine! I have learned that you can’t force a square into a round hole. Well, duh. What I mean is that in order to install my love of reading in others (is force too strong a word?) I try to find the interests that others have and apply books to those interests. For example, my brother loves to read about barfing and farting—so I buy him books on those subjects. He’s a boy, what can I say? But when I go home, it is always fun to cuddle up on the couch with his books and take turns reading them to each other. When he sees my interest, his interest also increases. My father loves history and things out of the ordinary so we swap history books and Tom Robbins. My sister recently had a kidney transplant, so I loaned her My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult. She called me up a few weeks ago so excited that she had actually finished the book and wants me to recommend another for her. Being able to recommend books to others—to be a type of authority—is empowering, but what I also think it is empowering for others when they realize that books can be so much more than words on a page. A book can be conquered and enjoyed rather than simply endured. For some more than others it is an accomplishment to finish a book, but knowing that the outcome was positive and the person is thirsty for more is a wonderful feeling.

So how did I discover this secret world of books? As my sisters and I grew older, Mom would take us to the library during the summers to listen to the incredible stories that the librarians read. But more importantly, during these trips I was introduced to a wealth of books. I remember looking at the HUGE expanses of the Markham library and thinking about all the books I needed to read—and I couldn’t read them fast enough! I was waaaayyyyy beyond such childish stories at this point. I was ready for the “big kid books” like Roald Dahl and other various chapter books. I loved the places that my books took me. For me, reading was an escape from reality. I still feel this way today.

But, growing older means other responsibilities. Finding time to read “for fun” became more difficult, and as I began to “have to read” for school, my desire waned a little. I would occasionally pick up a book “for fun,” but instead of reading, I found another passion. Writing. This is where my love for words plays into the picture. I couldn’t get enough of the sounds, the meanings, how words could be played with. I began writing poetry. Now, I am not a poet by any means, but writing introduced me to voice. I could write things that others didn’t have to read; I could write things in my own words for myself. I was able to express myself in a way that I never could before. I was always thinking of words. Writing down words. Sometimes words consumed me instead of me consuming them. My very worn out, taped up, highlighted, checked, circled Oxford Dictionary can attest to this.

My love for words continued to grow, and I found myself searching for the beautiful words of others. In a way this brought me back to reading. I read Wuthering Heights for my senior paper in high school, and I couldn’t get enough of Emily Bronte’s words. She was able to create such passion and emotion by just using words. It still amazes me the power of words.
I often credit Emily Bronte for making me an English major (I can see my sisters’ eyes rolling even as I type this as it has become a sort of family joke). If I had read one more book for English in high school that I hated, I probably wouldn’t have discovered the vast world of beautiful words that I did. Don’t get me wrong, I probably would have always been a reader regardless, but without a certain love and passion, words are just words.

I wish I could sprinkle my love of words and reading on everyone, much like Tink’s fairy dust. But, I would be happy just spreading literacy to one person. I will always continue to look for books that my family members, husband (although he’s a tough cookie), friends, and acquaintances will fall in love with. I keep a journal of the books I read and after each one I write who I would recommend the book to. While my appetite is insatiable, I know there is a book out there to satisfy the hunger of everyone. And perhaps that book will be the one that starts a lifelong affair with reading. Am I idealistic? Perhaps, but don’t you dare try and take my words away from me. I’ll bite!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Empowerment

List ways in which you can empower your students in general. List ways in which empowerment can happen in Interactive Composition ONline. These may be similar or different. Can you share an extended example of something you've done to empower your students this semester?

I need someone to empower me. Pretty pretty please??

To be completely frank (you can be shirley), I'm not sure how I empower my students. I've tried to be very careful about the students provide ME with answers instead of me feeding them material. For example, in a few of the exercises that we have done--especially in terms of revising sentences--I waited ever so patiently while the students provided me with the answers. Several students came up with answers for each of the exercises and we discussed how each of the answers is correct, but in different ways. I certainly think this is more empowering than me giving them an answer and them thinking that it is the only way. Knowing that they can each be right--in their own way--can be empowering.

Another way that I've tried to empower my students is by having them teach a portion of the lecture to other students. I've only tried this once, but I've been waiting for a good opportunity to try it again. I've explained this in previous blogs, but I'll briefly go over it again. I'll break the student into groups of 2-3 and have them present to the class on a certain topic. This is empowering to the students because THEY become the authority on what the class learns about the specific chapter. Now, if something is missed that I feel needs to be addressed, then I'll make a side note--but I try to do so in a way that highlights what the students have already said.

In ICON, I'm not sure how I am empowering students. Perhaps by asking open ended questions that the student must then think about in order to come up with his own answer. Like Andrew, though, I'm not sure if this is more putting the responsibility back onto the student or empowering. This is certainly something to think about!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Joanna spoke about Anson's piece this week. We're focusing on the importance of evaluation, in particular, as well as representing ourselves as teachers in different ways. Let's get specific rather than theoretical here in your blog post: what are document instructing/evaluating strategies you've found helpful? You might define helpful for yourself in terms of reliability, validity, efficiency, quality, specificity, etc. Perhaps provide an example of comments you use, here.

Strategies I found helpful
Hmm...helpful to me as an instructor or helpful to the student. I'm guessing what is helpful to the student. When I comment on student drafts, I try to focus on the overall effect of the assignment. This includes not only looking at whether or not the student fulfilled the assignment, but how effectively the student fulfilled the assignment. Because the students have to write a number of various drafts throughout the semester, I try to create comments that the student can apply to his work as a whole. While specific comments on the student's draft can inform him what the student did well or not so well on an assignment can be helpful in understanding the grade (not that I am implying that comments should be used to justify the grade!), I tend to focus more on the quality of writing--things that can be carried on from one draft to another. This may be a complex issue such as thesis and how it will then affect the rest of the essay or something simple such as paragraphing or specificity.

Another strategy that I like to use is the open ended question. Especially with the longer drafts where the student is using more analysis, I feel that open ended questions allow students to think about their work in various ways that will hopefully open other avenues for discussion. I don't feel that simply telling the student what he did wrong and how to fix the error is helpful. Putting the ball back into the student's court forces him to look at his own work analytically. Does this work? I'm not sure. I think this perhaps requires an amount of initiative on the student's part.


Sample commentary
You have some strong analysis in this essay-good job there. You integrate your quotes wisely and the intext citation looks good. As you revise this essay, think about how the complexities in the play work. What happens when "the complex web...untangles"? You have done a good job of explaining the characters' complexities individually, but how could you link all of these ideas together? In other words, how to the complex relationsips work within the play? What purpose do you think they serve?

Although this is only part of a larger commentary for a draft, I think it really shows the types of questions I like to ask students as they continue to revise their work. Had this been a final draft, my comments would most likely have focused more on overall aspects of the draft that can be carried from one essay to the next. Below is one such comment:

As you revise, think about how you could reshape your paragraphs to present only one main idea. Everytime you bring up a new point or idea, a new paragraph should be formed. This helps you organize your thoughts, but it also helps your reader digest your information. You have some really great ideas, you don't want them to be lost in information overload.

This student will be able to use this information and direction for every essay he/she writes over the course of the semester.


While I realize my comments are not perfect, I do try to spend quality time creating useful feedback for the student. I always welcome suggestions or ways to improve! I don't write the comments for myself but, rather, for the students. If my comments could be more useful or helpful, I feel it is my job to make the adjustment.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How Ironic...

We've had some theoretical and some practical blog post prompts. Practical has been more well-received. Let's get real practical now. (1) What's really working in your teaching? (2) What doesn't seem to be working and what might be another approach to help fix? (3) Other (some other thought about your teaching and learning this semester). For those not in the classroom, you might use this post to talk about the videos you're thinking of producing. What will you emphasize, and why?

Yeah, I can do practical. I've decided my brain isn't very theoretical. First I'd like to apologize for the extreme lateness of this blog posting. This past week I've been thinking about Esther's discussion on how we are managing our time between being a teacher and a student. I have found out this past week that I am not doing that very well. Between teaching, grading, reading, and writing--I'm not sure what my priority is (not to mention where Trish and Scott time falls into the mix). I think after the next two weeks it will be better, but any ideas on how to prioritize? When you have six assignments due in two weeks and roughly 1500 pages to read (no, I'm not joking), how do you manage?? How suitable for last week's posting (this posting)--what works well? (In my life right now, I'm not sure).

What's really working in my teaching
Two weeks ago I began to ponder these two questions: what works and what doesn't. What I think may be working may not be working at all for my students, so I went to the experts. Yes, I asked my students to freewrite about what works and what doesn't. I received some great feedback from most of the students. It seems as though the students really want more grammar. I try to do a little grammar in each lesson (no more than 10 minutes) because I see the same mistakes in the essay I grade and know my students aren't exempt from making mistakes. My students appreciate the powerpoint presentations that I provide. I think that it helps the students to hear and visualize the lesson. Words are so easily lost when heard, but when seen words tend to stick around a little longer. Even better is saying the words. A few weeks ago I took a section of the Harbrace Handbook that had a number of 'mini' sections. I divided the class into groups of three and had them "teach" the sections. They were able to come to the front of the class and present. I'm not sure if they enjoyed it or not, but the exercise gave each student ownership of the work that needed to be presented. I will probably do similar activities as the semester continues.

What isn't working at all--and approaches to fix the problem
I am relieved to say that I haven't had any exercises fall flat on their face yet this semester. Everything that I have done has at least worked through theory--if not in practice. The thing that I am going to try and do less of in class, though, is group work. I think group work worked well when I asked the class to "teach" the material because each student had to contribute or else I would call on him. But it seems that when there isn't any accountability for the work done in the groups, some aren't as productive as I would hope. As Karen Beth always says--ownership is key. I believe this to be true not only for ideas but also for the student's work.

I was having troubles with my second class talking too much. I've tried to turn that around and use it for my benefit to get the class really involved. I've also realized that calling on a student or two will quiet down the rest (at least temporarily). I don't mean calling out a student, but rather calling on someone to answer a question.

Other
I don't have any "others." I'm always open to more ideas for activities. Emily seems to use the chalkboard a lot and says her students like using the board. I think in the future I'll try to incorporate this into the activities. Proof has become very stale in my classroom, and I think even just switching gears will help liven things up a little bit. I've learned numerous things this semester as a teacher and wish I could have had more than one semester of experience before graduating. I don't think I have nearly expended all of my resources as a teacher. But, sometimes I wonder if my teaching is benefiting me more than my students. Who is learning more? I guess the best way to learn something is through teaching it.

Should my paragraphs be smaller and better organized? :)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tell me a Story

“Two little wooly lambs looking for their mother. Two little wooly lambs, a sister and a brother.” I heard these lines read to me so many times as a child that I can still vividly hear my mother’s voice reading them to me twenty plus years later. It is my mother whom I credit for instilling in me the love of reading. Pinch Penny John, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Princess and the Unicorn, The Tin Soldier: these were among my favorites. I would ask her to read them to me over and over until I could read them myself.

My appetite for words was insatiable (I’ll get more to this in a minute). I would beg Mom and Dad to read my favorite books to me until I was able to have a reading audience of my own. The same books that I adored to be read were the same ones that I would rehearse to anyone who would listen. I would read to my parents, I would read to my grandparents, and finally, I would read to my siblings. Other than my parents, I am the only “big” reader in the family. I’m not sure why some like to read and others don’t, but I loved sitting with my two little sisters and reading to them the fascinating stories that captivated me. Later, when I was much older, I would try to read to my younger brother—15 years my junior—but he wasn’t interested in the books I liked: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan. He likes books like Captain Underpants and RL Stine’s Big Blueberry Barf-off. I’m just glad he’s reading—he’s only in the fifth grade. But this isn’t his autobiography, its mine!

As my sisters and I grew older, Mom would take us to the library during the summers to listen to the incredible stories that the librarians read. But more importantly, I was introduced to a wealth of books. I remember looking at the HUGE expanses of the Markham library thinking about all the books I needed to read—and I couldn’t read them fast enough! I was waaaayyyyy beyond such childish stories at this point. I was ready for the “big kid books” like Roald Dahl and other various chapter books. I loved the places that my books took me. For me, reading was an escape from reality.

Growing older also meant other responsibilities. Finding time to read “for fun” became more difficult, and as I began to “have to read” for school, my desire waned a little. But instead of reading, I found another passion. Writing. This is where my love for words also plays in. I couldn’t get enough of the sounds, the meanings, how words could be played with. I began writing poetry. Now, I am not a poet by any means, but writing introduced me to voice. I could write things that others didn’t have to read; I could write things in my own words for myself. I was able to express myself in a way that I never could before. I was always thinking of words. Writing down words. Sometimes words consumed me instead of me consuming them.

My love for words continued to grow, and I found myself searching for the beautiful words of others. In a way this brought me back to reading. I read Wuthering Heights for my senior paper in high school, and I couldn’t get enough of Emily Bronte’s words. She was able to create such passion and emotion by just using words. It still amazes me the power of words.
I often credit Emily Bronte for making me an English major (I can see my sisters’ eyes rolling even as I type this). If I had read one more book for English in high school that I hated, I probably wouldn’t have discovered the vast world of words that I did. Don’t get me wrong, I probably would have always been a reader regardless, but without a certain love and passion, words are just words.

I wish I could sprinkle my love of words and reading on everyone, much like Tink’s fairy dust. But, I would be happy just spreading literacy to one person. Am I idealistic? Perhaps, but don’t you dare try and take my words away from me. I’ll bite!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oh the places we'll go!

Last Wednesday we spoke briefly about what types of syllabi can we produce. Please think of the assignment as an opportunity to create your dream class or a class you might teach in the future some day. I mentioned that some programs use comics to teach composition. The University of Florida is big on this. You might see their journal, ImageText: http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext. For your blog post today, which course are you thinking about writing a syllabus for, and what is the unifying theme of the course? You might think about goals and objectives. What are your students to learn? We'll look extensively at syllabi soon.

I haven't decided exactly which route I will take for the syllabus, but I certainly want to focus on literature. I would like to create a course at the sophomore or junior level. I am very interested in American Fiction, especially short stories. I have been thinking about creating a short story course, but I haven't decided how to divide the class into separate units. If I decide to go with the junior route, I really enjoy Pre-WWII fiction of the Twentieth Century. I would include Fitzgerald, Heminway, Faulkner, Woolfe, Wilde, Eliot, and some others. This class would probably be a combination of short stories, poetry, and longer pieces of fiction. Again, no unifying theme yet.

In terms of goals, I think a lot of that depends on the subject matter that I choose. If I go with the short stories, it is important for students to understand how short stories work and some of the elements that each contain. I also like the idea of narration. How does a writer use his narrator to convey the story? Hmmm, maybe that could be my theme. I need to start going over some of my favorite short stories and think about the narrators each uses and how narration works within each. In terms of the Pre-WWII fiction, a lot of history shaped the fiction of that period--as with many other eras. WWI was something that in many ways recreated the world that people knew. And understanding of how history and fiction or literature work together would definitely be a goal.

OR I could do a course completely on Faulkner!! How much fun would that be??

I think my classes are great and everyone would want to sign up for them. :)

Hmm, I'm much less wordy when I'm in a bad mood. Easy reading for all!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Philosophy--Set in Stone or Malleable?

What is a philosophy of composition or a philosophy of teaching? Are there different types of philosophies? What teaching and learning strategies do you think might go into your philosophy?

It's funny--well, not funny ha ha, but still funny. I took a course my very first year as a Master's Candidate at Texas Woman's University entitled Rhetoric and Composition Theory. For my final portfolio I was required to write a Personal Pedagogical Philosophy. I was not very enthused about the course--I was one of the youngest students, one of the only students not teaching, and most of the time I sat in class while others talked about their teaching experiences while I tried to latch on--but without the practice. It was frustrating. How do you create a teaching philosophy when you're not teaching? Sure things look good on paper, but without the actual practice words are just words. Over the past couple of weeks I've gone back to that philosophy I created almost two years ago. Its amazing the difference the practice makes--both in the classroom and as a document instructor. OK, anecdote over.

A teaching philosophy is an account of how one practices teaching and what one believes to be essential in the practice of teaching. Sure, there can be many different philosophies. I think that we will find that many of us have similar goals, but each of us is unique. Just as a writer has his own style, so does a teacher. A composition philosophy moves along the same lines as a teaching philosophy, only it is more specific to the act of writing. What things does a teacher find valuable in the act of teaching composition? Due to the number of theorists (or as the vast number of composition theorists show), multiple composition pedagogies exist. I have found through my own research that I pick and choose different aspects of different pedagogies to build my own philosophy.

What is my teaching philosophy? I'll try to keep this very brief, but if given free reign this posting could end up very very lengthy (must work on conciseness!!). I strive to offer a number of different types of activities in the classroom. Not everyone works at the same level or by the same methods. Offering variety affords diversity which hopefully caters to the diverse learning methods my classes have. In my classes we have a lot of discussion. There are a few students who are rather shy, but for the most part the class is enthusiastic and many voices speak up. Not only does this allow them to see that they too have a voice and their opinion is valid, but it helps students learn to communicate through oral means instead of just written means. As I stated last week, students also need to take responsibility for their own work and learning. Its important for me to give them the tools that they can use, but the rest is up to them. I am a guide and a motivator, but ultimately its the student choice whether he/she wants to learn. Finally, critical thinking skills are imperative for any direction the student will want to take. Through discussion, as well as one on one, I try to help the student think about what they are saying and why they are saying it. What does it all mean? Why Why Why? (I think my students are sick of me saying "why").

I could go on and on--writing as a process, freewriting/journaling, peer collaboration--but I won't. I'm interested in seeing what stances others take.

:) (Whoops, sorry Andrew to be so cliche)