Common Sense

This afternoon I had the pleasure of watching two incredible TED Talks. They were not memorable because of their humor (although I’m fairly certain I earned a few odd looks from laughing out loud while watching in the library), nor for their spot-on deliveries. What made these two TED Talks stand out to me were their profound common sense— something that is increasingly rare in our world today.

The first video, embedded below for convenience, was Sugata Mitra’s “The Child-Driven Education.” In his speech, Mitra described to his audience the ongoing experiment(s) he had been working on for years. His research started with a simple concept: place public computers in third-world countries for children to interact with. The results blew me away. Not only were kids figuring out how to utilize the technology on their own, but they were also working in groups in order to both learn from and teach others. As Mitra explained, “Groups of children can learn to use computers and the internet on their own irrespective of who or where they were.”

How amazing is that? However, before hearing his results I must admit that I had doubts. Occasionally I’ve come across Internet forums that ask the question “What jobs will never be replaced by machines?” Each time I read it I tend to laugh self-satisfactorily to myself and think, “Educators for sure.” In my mind, teachers have always been an invaluable presence. They are the encouragers and facilitators to authentic learning. But is this really the case? Are teachers actually irreplaceable? These are tough questions, and I will pose my answer like this: though teachers can provide a positive presence for students, it makes sense that they do not necessarily need to be present for learning to take place.

After all, learning occurs every second of every day. Did a teacher make me complete a worksheet when I learned how to shoot a basketball or throw a discuss? Did a teacher make me take a quiz when I taught myself how to make eggs benedict? Did a teacher require me to deliver a speech when I visited the memorials in Washington D.C.? No, no, and no.

So the biggest question then is, how will this thinking affect my future classroom? Before I explain, let me first examine the second video: “The Puzzle of Motivation” by Daniel Pink. His video is interesting due to the fact that his intended audience is actually business people but everything he states applies just as well to education. In essence, his argument is that intrinsic motivation is better in a 21st century work environment than extrinsic motivation.

This is not just a personal opinion either— keeping with his law theme, he has plenty of evidence to back it up. However, my favorite supplemental piece of his argument isn’t that which supports it, but rather the proposed solution to it. The new intrinsic approach for motivation that he outlines consists of:

1.) Autonomy— Pink defines this as, “The urge to direct our own lives”

2.) Mastery— Pink defines this as, “The desire to get better and better at something that matters.

3.) Purpose— Pink defines this as, “The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”

It is in these three characteristics of intrinsic motivation that the similarities between these two videos lie. To answer my aforementioned question, what this information means for me and my classroom is that in order for students to be intrinsically motivated they need to be interested in their learning which will be achieved by allowing them to be autonomous. Easy enough, right? Though I have fully understand this general idea, it is more difficult working out the finer details. That being said, I do know two great places to start; in order for students to have control over their learning, and therefore enjoy it, they need to be able to choose both what they read and what they write. If my students do these things, I firmly believe that the rest will fall into place. At the end of the day, it all goes back to common sense.

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Nervous

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Not quite as easy as 1,2,3. Or 100, 97, 93. Picture is my own.

I am just going to come right out and say it— I am very nervous to “grade” as a teacher. I wrote a little bit about my own history with grading in my first blog post of the semester entitled The Battle of Assessment & Why I Will Be Fighting Back, but as I’ve mulled over the concept of feedback this week I’ve come to another realization. In high school I thought I had my English grades all figured out. I would have a long string of 100% papers, maybe a 97% here and there, very rarely a 93%. I would be able to say, “Oh, I had some awkward sentences in this paper” or “The content was amazing in this paper” and I would know that’s why I earned the grade that I did. To my teacher’s credit, along with a number grade she would provide each of us with a paragraph of narrative feedback as well.

However, as I look back from the perspective of a soon-to-be teacher I get extremely overwhelmed. A barrage of questions are firing in my mind, one after the other. What is the difference between a 100% and a 97%? Is a mistake worth 1 point or 5 points or 10 points? If one student maintains their writing but another student largely improves their writing, how can I give one an A and the other a C? How do I measure subjective content? How do I put a number on creativity?  How do I distinguish between a strong voice and a good voice? How do I, how do I, how do I…

Like any education major, I’ve been taught the basics. Make sure you have measurable objectives in your lesson plan, always create a rubric, grade on the curve, etc. The thing is, what if I don’t want to do any of those things? The other thing is, what if I am required to?

After this week, there are a few approaches to grading that I know I will implement in my future classroom. These include providing students with positive statements only, asking lots of questions in regards to their writing, as well as implementing a conferencing system. These concepts can all be applied under any already-established grading system. I also want to implement another grading approach— eradicating number grades altogether.

That is the one that gives me anxiety. I am afraid of the “what-ifs.” What if students take advantage of this no-grading grading? What if parents complain to the school? What if my principal reprimands me? What if I lose my job because my superiors find me lacking accountability? I already know the solution to these scenarios. Do my research. In order to run my classroom in the best way I know how I need to read voraciously, develop professionally, and network unceasingly. It is crucial for me to learn all that I can about the English classroom, and then be ready to present my findings at any given moment.

I’m just going to come right out and say it again— grading still makes me nervous. It is easy to balk at the unknown, but that’s when I need to remind myself to just keep pushing through. I have learned so much both as a student and teacher, and now all I need to do is keep learning. Because as much as I worry about my own future, my biggest concern is that I will fail my students. As funny as it sounds, it is within these fears that deep down I know I shouldn’t be afraid. I worry because I care, and caring is the cornerstone in any profession. At the end of the day as long as I keep seeking information so that I can be the best teacher for my students, I will be accomplishing what matters most. 🙂

Walking Tacos and a Vision

This past weekend I went home to visit my family. On Friday night, I watched my brother play football. Before the game, the Booster Club was putting on a Walking Taco feed. As I sat with my mom in the student center, Doritos bag in hand, I began to talk her ear off. Sometimes when this happens, I think she likes to tune me out (like when I get on my JFK assassination conspiracy theory rants… word to the wise, don’t ask me about JFK’s death unless you have at least an hour to spare) but this time I could tell she was listening intently. Between bites of cheesy, oniony, sour-creamy goodness I sincerely told her, “Mom, it only took three years but guess what? I finally have a vision of what running my classroom will look like day in and day out.”

I described to her how I want to devote one day a week to reading in my classroom, how I can spin required material into interesting mini lessons, and how I can format unit plans in a myriad of different ways. It is truly exciting after the image being blurry for so long to have the puzzle pieces start sliding into place. I have always been passionate about English and education, but having actual stepping stones to follow has reignited my desire to be in the classroom. Knowing that in order to build successful educational plans I will need to think big— year plans, semester plans, quarter plans— before focusing in— unit plans, daily plans— is invaluable. Knowing the different categories of unit plans and unit activities is invigorating. Will I organize my units by genre or theme? At the end of a unit, will my students read examples or craft a project? The possibilities are overwhelming in such a good way. Most importantly, knowing how to structure a class period (mentor texts and workshop time for the win) is practically ineffable. I could probably find some more words that begin with the prefix “in,” but I’ll sum it up like this: for the first time as a college student, I have a slight inkling of what my chosen career will actually entail. And that… that is a wonderful thing.

P.S. While home this weekend, I also went garage saling (my processing software is telling me that “garage saling” is not in fact a recognized phrase, but it totally is as far as I’m concerned). Which means I bought books! Lots of books. Except on this shopping spree, my mind was focused not necessarily on my own reading preferences but rather which books would be good for my future classroom library. That being said, a few that I am looking forward to reading are: Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff, On the Rez by Ian Frazier (this one takes place on the Pine Ridge reservation), A Glory of Unicorns compiled by Bruce Coville, and A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard.

Garage Sale Books

A few of my lovely garage sale finds. Picture is my own.

The Battle of Assessment & Why I Will Be Fighting Back

I can say with utmost honesty and sincerity that I have learned as much (if not more) information that will pertain directly to me and my future classroom during the first fortnight in my language arts special methods course than I have during my first two years of undergraduate study. It is absolutely astounding how much my mind and heart are bursting with new ideas to contemplate for my future classroom. Eeeep, I love it! In order to avoid being too effusive in my praise, I will get straight down to business. Let us (well, me… it just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi) reflect on the abundance of learning from this past week.

To start, I will readily admit that I am extremely glad I am not currently on block like some of my fellow English majors. It seems as though they are fighting battles with educational superiors that I am not quite ready to fight yet. I can say right now that I will be very thankful to have this course under my belt when it is my turn to “push back” against what has become the educational norm. I’ll expound on that— by educational norm, I mean in particular the practice of assessment and it’s connection to both letter and number grading. As my professor put it, “Why are we reducing something infinitely complex to something that can be measured and assessed in a single class period?”

It is a good question, and one that I don’t believe I have an answer to other than a shake of my head. My own history with grades as a student is a long one. In high school, I thrived under both the letter and percentage grading systems. It was always a goal to maintain a 4.0 GPA, a goal to be (co-)Valedictorian, and a goal to earn college scholarships. I accomplished all three, but at a seemingly great cost to my collegiate self. For the last two years I have struggled under the weight of my former hyper-perfectionism. Where once I soared, I now cower. I often find it difficult to complete assignments out of fear that they will not earn a perfect grade and live up to my life’s work until now. This fight against myself is no fun (0/10 would not recommend), and I definitely don’t want to aid my students in accumulating the same pressure.

My current conclusion? It is absolutely essential for me to develop a system of authentic assessment in my classroom that either avoids letter grades and percentages completely, or at the very least leaves them out of day-to-day learning whenever possible. I want my students to be able to focus on being learners who embrace creativity, curiosity, and individual thinking so that they can carry these traits throughout their lives. I need to do more research in order to suss out exactly what new form assessment will take in my future classroom due to these revelations, but I will be careful to make sure that it is something that works for me and my responsibilities, as well as my students. A daunting task, but a necessary one

All in all, what will be done in my classroom boils down to three foundational actions according to my professor:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Speaking

It really is as simple as that. As an over-achiever who tends to convolute nearly everything (“why, oh why must my writing be three times as long as the required word count,” I lament week after week) this is crucial for me to remember. So, I envision a large poster with those three words on it in my classroom’s future. 🙂 Actually, I envision a small army of posters that all contain quotes from this special methods course. Here is to fourteen more weeks of AWESOME teacher preparation!

Fin

My senior year of high school I wrote about a million scholarship essays. In nearly every single one I was asked to describe what I was planning to major in at college and why. Each time I would type out an answer describing how I was planning to major in secondary English education because I wanted to someday be able to instill a love for reading and writing in others like it once instilled in me. Though I still hope to (at least once) be the catalyst that allows a student to go on to have a lifelong love for the world of books and taking pen to paper, this semester has taught me that this won’t always be the case. English class, particularly writing, is going to mean something different for each of my students. It is my duty to respect and support that. This is just one lesson of many, however. As the semester draws to a close, here are three highlights from Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing.

1.) Learning about the (More Complete Version) of the History of Writing

In high school my two favorite subjects (besides weights class, shout out to Mr. K) were English and history, so it was quite enjoyable to blend the two together (as if they weren’t inextricably connected anyway). My area of research was 19th century rhetoric and the teaching of writing (check out A Super Niche Post, Just for You!), and it was fascinating for me to simultaneously see how far we have come in writing education while also realizing how much farther we have to go. In addition, back in January and February it was fun diving into a class where we (the students) were the one’s teaching our findings. Learning about Liberty Rhetoric from Miah, Madeleine de Scudéry from Carlie, literacy among slaves from Regan, and many other topics was a delightful experience. It not only gave each of us in the class a taste of what is to come in the years ahead with our chosen careers, but it also provided each of us an opportunity to read, support, and gain knowledge from the writing of our peers— an opportunity we may not have otherwise had.

2.) Exploring the People and Disciplines That Have Shaped Writing

Had I ever heard about bell hooks before this class? No. Am I glad that I know about her now? Yes. Is it because I will now someday write my own pen name in lowercase letters? …Maybe. Seriously, it was fascinating to learn about some of the most influential people in the realm of the written word. Whether they staunchly believed in conventions (Adams Sherman Hill), fought radically for African American women’s rights (bell hooks), or created incredibly complex theories on power (Michael Foucault) each had an impact on the world of writing in their own way. It was important for me to learn of their contributions because soon when I am making my own contributions in the classroom I can be a well-informed teacher.

3.) Discovering My Own Teaching Writing Pedagogy

This had the most impact on me. Based off of all of the information that was presented to me over the last sixteen weeks, I was able to craft my own beliefs of what the teaching of writing should look like. I know exactly why it was my favorite assignment; it is something tangible that physically shows how close I am to achieving my dream of becoming a high school English teacher. In a few short years, I will take my pedagogy (and my letter, and my principles) and use it as the foundation of my classroom. Thanks to this course right now I know more about writing education than I ever have before, and I am grateful to have gone through the learning process with so many other wonderful future teachers.

Though I no longer have the belief that all students will one day love writing like I do, I now have something that senior-year me did not have— an understanding that writing is a unique process. This concept has been demonstrated throughout the history of writing, throughout the people who have shaped writing, and now it will continue to be carried out in my future English classroom. It is safe to say my ideas on writing have been revolutionized. Soon I will take those ideas out into the great beyond, but for now I will apply them to myself in my own education… focusing on changing my own little corner of the world for better.

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That’s all, folks. Photo CC by Sean MacEntee via Flickr.

Rule 24, Now and Before

Rule 24&.jpg

I dare you to say the word “squiggle” three times and not smile. Picture is my own, created through Canva.

I know I’ve said it 852 times, but I cannot sing her praises enough. My high school English teacher was the best teacher I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn under throughout my entire educational career. Since I’ve come to college to pursue my own career path in English, the great professors and classes I’ve experienced have forced me to look back and examine what exactly made her so great. I strongly believe one reason is that though she was delivering instruction within the realm of state standards, we never once felt confined. My favorite semester being her student was the fall of my senior year when she focused both quarters on composition. Sure, she taught us the basics of different genres of writing but she also let our creativity run wild. During those three months I wrote a descriptive essay on Hogwarts, a humorous personal narrative of the hell that was lifeguarding class, a research paper on Christian discipleship, and a short story about a mysterious stalker. Though I enjoyed writing before, she allowed me to fall in love with it all over again, and allowed my classmates who didn’t enjoy writing to explore it in ways that were relevant to them. How awesome is that?

This class (theory and practice of teaching writing) is quite similar, though at the opposite end of the spectrum. In high school, my teacher struck a balance with guiding us through the standards while also letting us roam the concept of writing. In college, my professor struck a balance with letting us self-instruct while still making sure we meet the standards. Like many of my fellow classmates have confessed, I did not acquaint myself with the Rule 24 Outcomes at the beginning of the semester. Each day I may not have been aware of how the work we were was meeting the outcomes, but looking back I can see clearly now (the rain is gone). 🙂

There are two standards that particularly stand out to me in regards to this course, number four and number seven. Let’s start with the former. Number four deals with creating assessments, and while we didn’t do this so much it is the first element beneath this standard that I believe applies well to this class. “Candidates use their knowledge of theory, research, and practice in English Language Arts to plan standards-based, coherent, and relevant composing experiences that utilize individual and collaborative approaches and contemporary technologies and reflect an understanding of writing processes and strategies in different genres for a variety of purposes and audiences” (Miller). Theory, research, and practice. Between learning about 19th century teaching of writing, expanding my knowledge of digital literacy, exploring the idea of writing workshops in a high school setting, and listening to the findings of my peers I feel as though I have gained invaluable knowledge that can now be translated from my mind into application for my future classroom. Even though we didn’t make concrete lesson plans, this class helped us instead to build up the experience that is the foundation of those lesson plans.

Standard number seven reads as follows, “Candidates are prepared to interact knowledgeably with students, families, and colleagues based on social needs and institutional roles, engage in leadership and/or collaborative roles in English Language Arts professional learning communities, and actively develop as professional educators” (Miller). Other classes have told me what it will be like to interact with others as an educator, but this is the first to (holy smokies) actually make it real. The way we completed our assignments, through blogging and the class Weebly site, fit this criteria to a T. This entire time we have been learning how to interact with a world that is bigger than ourselves. Going a step further, beyond simply interacting with others we have been sharing incredibly important information that other educators might be able to then apply to their own classrooms. On a personal level, one blog post in particular— Dear Students, Dear Parents— was my favorite assignment I’ve completed this entire semester because I knew that it was an artifact that I would physically take with me and utilize in the “real world.” Though at times this class made me feel like a blind woman being asked to describe in detail the colors of a painting she had never witnessed, I now feel as though I can go out and paint my own picture.

So, Rule 24 now and before (who doesn’t love a good rhyme, am I right?) My marvelous high school teacher may not have been teaching towards the Rule 24 collegiate standards specifically, but the effect was still there. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of more than one class in my life that gamed the system in such a subtle, lovely way. Not all standards are good, and not all standards are bad. Either way, they often work towards backing people into a corner they don’t belong in. As a teacher, it is important to recognize this and create a force field of creativity, curiosity, and diversity around your classroom… Like senior composition or theory and practice of teaching writing. That’s what teaching writing is all about— making small sacrifices for the future, for the creation of a nation of explorers who take in anything and everything about the world around them, for a generation who use their own thoughts and ideas to leave this world better than they found it.

Works Cited

Miller, Lee. ENG 331.0100 Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing Syllabus. 2017. English Dept., Chadron State College, Chadron, NE. Microsoft Word file.

Dear Students, Dear Parents

Dear Students (and Parents too!),

Hello! 😀 My name is Ms. Jess, and I am going to have the pleasure of teaching English during the upcoming school year. As of last spring, I am the proud holder of a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education along with a coaching endorsement in volleyball, basketball, and track from. Since I was itty bitty I knew that I wanted to be a teacher (my Grandpa was a superintendent, my Grandma was a history teacher, my Dad is a high school principal) and with a longstanding love for reading and writing, it was and is clear to me that English is my passion. I am so excited to embark on this journey with you all.

Right off the bat, there is one thing I want you all to know; this class may be different from other English courses you’ve taken before. I know what you might be thinking… Oh dear, what is this wonky woman up to? What I mean is that I’m not in the business of teaching writing, but rather teaching the writer. I am a firm and fast believer that education is a living, breathing thing because of the people— like you and I— who take part in it. As a result, it is important to me to have you understand that I recognize each and every one of you as the unique, incredible individuals that you are.

Some of you already love English, and some of you love math; some of you would rather play football all day, and some of you could tell me every detail of your favorite show on Netflix; some of you might be true crime buffs like me, and others still might have passions that lie in an obscure field like horology (the art of making clocks). How AMAZING is that? Each of you will have interests that are special to you, and it is my hope to create a class that allows you to mold the English language to suit each of your individual needs.

What I want for each of you is to start on the journey of finding your own writing voice through your own writing process. In order to accomplish this, we are going to be exploring a variety of different types of writing this year. Poems, research papers, short stories, creative non-fiction, personal narratives, descriptive essays, flash fiction, journaling… anything and everything. I’m not asking you to love the assignments, or writing in general, but I will ask for you to engage with the English language. My goal is to equip you with tools that allow you to communicate your passions with the world because it is what is behind the writing that is truly important— your ideas, thoughts, opinions… you!

I will leave you all with a short list that summarizes my theory and principles of teaching writing:

1.) Everyone should have the ability to share their voice with the world through the written word because so many before us have not had that opportunity.

2.) Teaching writing is about nurturing what is already in students, the individuality that makes them human.

3.) It is fine to make mistakes, because what matters are the ideas that inspire students.

4.) Writing is messy, writing is emotional, writing is personal, writing is an art, and writing means something different to each and every person. This is a beautiful thing.

I hope each of you are as excited for English class as much as I am, but if you aren’t, hey, no worries. With the written word, it is to each their own. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any queries, comments, concerns, or short anecdotes. I am here for each of you, and to help each of you succeed in your own way.

Without further ado, here’s to a new adventure!

Stay awesome,

Ms. Jess

“Teach the Writer, Not the Writing”

When I was in the 8th grade I was “dating” a guy (oh, junior high) who came from a strong science and math background. His dad played football for Colorado School of Mines, his mom played basketball for Colorado school of Mines, and it was his dream to earn an engineering degree from Colorado School of Mines as well. I had known since I was little that I wanted to be a teacher, and I remember one conversation where he tried to convince me that I could earn a teaching degree at CSM too (I’ll repeat myself— oh, junior high). After I got off the phone with him, I ventured out into our backyard where my mom was hanging up clothes on the line. She asked me how I was doing, and I told her that I was thinking about maybe becoming a science teacher. My mom was supportive, but even as the words were coming out of my mouth I knew that science wasn’t my passion. In my heart of hearts, reading and writing has always been what I wanted to share with the world.

I’m now nearing the end of my sophomore year of college. More than a half decade later I’m here, pursuing a career in English education. I’m over halfway done with my English classes, and over halfway done with my education classes. Each one has taught me something that has shaped the view of what I want my future classroom to look like. After a semester of studying the history, theories, and practices of writing, the course I am creating this post for has made me ponder my own educational views more than most.

Lucy Calkins

Sunflowers seemed fitting because in a little over three weeks a sunny summer vacation will arrive. Picture is my own, created through Canva.

My writing pedagogy can be succinctly described in the quote by Lucy Calkins seen above. It is my firm and fast belief that education is a living, breathing thing. Teachers and students are humans. The very essence of the knowledge that is transferred between these two parties is filled to the brim with a vibrancy that is humanity. Though the standardization movement has attempted to stifle this thriving exchange, it cannot be denied. To have curiosity, to pursue creativity, to have a desire to know more… that is learning.

As a teacher of writing, I want to nurture what is already there in my students— the individuality that makes them human. Writing is the way students can tap into their own unique ideas, thoughts, and opinions. If there is anything I have learned from this course, it is that everyone should have the ability to share their voice with the world through the written word because so many before us have not had that opportunity.

I understand that so far my pedagogy sounds rather abstract, so here is some application to go along with it. Rather than learning being a one-way street, in my classroom I want to equip my students with the ability to figure out their voice for themselves. I will encourage my students to explore all types of writing— poems, research papers, short stories, creative non-fiction, personal narratives, descriptive essays, flash fiction, journaling… anything and everything. I will also encourage my students to utilize the vast technology that is at their disposal, whether that means writing an essay based off of a podcast or using a computer to write emails to their favorite authors. Finally, I will encourage my students to take advantage of the world around them and the mind’s of their peers through writing workshop. I want my assignments to tap my students’ creativity and bring writing to life, showing them that it is so much more than five paragraphs.

Through it all I want to help my students understand that it is fine to make mistakes because what truly matters is that they become inspired by their own ideas. In my classroom, I desire to let students be themselves on paper. If their work doesn’t look like mine or their peers or whoever’s, the first thing I will say is, “That is a-okay.” Writing is messy, writing is emotional, writing is personal, writing is an art, and writing means something different to each and every person. This is what I want my students to take with them.

I don’t know if he is working towards an engineering degree, but I do know that my “boyfriend” of days past is now playing football for a school that, while still in Colorado, is decidedly not the Colorado School of Mines. As aforementioned, I am at a different school majoring in English education. I don’t think either of our future’s turned out to be exactly what we wanted them to be, but we are on the roads we are on for a reason. In fact, our story is a perfect example of what I want writing to be for my future students. Some of them will love science, some of them will love English; some of them will love working on cars, some of them will love painting; some of them will be indifferent, and some of them might claim they only have one true passion in an obscure field such as horology. How neat is that? Each student is their own person, with their own distinctive set of interests. Though it will be challenging, my goal as a teacher is to help each of these students mold writing to suit their own enthusiasm, vigor, and zeal. I will teach the writer, not the writing.

Writing Workshops & Gastrointestinal Bliss

College has been an era of firsts for me. First time failing a quiz, first time creating a budget, first time eating both a Subway sandwich and McDonald’s french fries for the same dinner, and first time being exposed to a writing workshop. Though a part of me might argue that the Subway and McDonald’s experience has been the most enlightening, from my very first time participating in a writing workshop I could tell that it was something important.

It was the fall of my freshman year, and the class was “Introduction to Creative Writing.” We had gone over to a museum, and our assignment was to free write a fictional story based off of an object we encountered in the building. At the time, the museum had a few cardboard displays with pictures of banned books pasted on them (very middle-school-book-review-esque) that drew me in. My eyes happened to light upon one entitled, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. It was a children’s picture book with a front cover that depicted a man with a measuring jar on his head. That was all I needed. I ended up writing a short story about a sleepy guy baking cupcakes in the middle of the night who has everything go wrong that possibly can. The end scene is him in a heap on the ground after slipping in batter, flour is spilled everywhere, cupcakes are burning in the oven, the smoke alarm is going off and in that moment he has a realization— he had forgotten the butter in all of his batches. I loved it, and it was only made better by the feedback I received from my classmates during workshop. I’m currently in the midst of taking my third creative writing course here on campus, and it has been through these classes that the concept of a writing workshop has really solidified for me.

Butter Picture.jpg

Good job, 18-year-old me. Picture is my own. 

My experience with writing workshop goes like this: a student crafts a paper, the paper is handed out to the student’s classmates and teacher a week ahead of their workshop time, the classmates and teacher then write a short letter to the student about the paper (explaining what they believe it is about, what techniques are working, and how it can be improved), the day of the workshop the student reads a portion of their paper aloud, the class then takes turns offering compliments and suggestions in a productive and polite manner, then the student gets to read the letters after class, and the ultimate goal is that the student will use the feedback to revise their piece and turn it in again at a later date, perhaps in a portfolio.

In interest of conducting research into the topic, I explored a chapter in Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle and found that there are, in fact, more ways than one to conduct writing workshops. Her style involves four things: writing-reading handbooks, writing-in-process folders, time to write in class, and time to conduct writing conferences in class. As she states, “Your handbook is where you’ll gather ideas for writing, keep track of books you want to read someday, take notes about minilesson information or tape in notes I give you, create a lexicon of literary terms, and. . . respond to prose readings” (Atwell, page 78). I love the concept. Not only does it appeal to my organized heart, but I appreciate how it masterfully straddles the line between freedom and structure. The real magic in Atwell’s writing workshop comes in the other stages, though. Students are given guiding prompts but their writing is ultimately their own. They return to class with pieces they have crafted, and once there the students continue to work and play with their ideas. During quiet— and Atwell means quiet— writing time, she walks the room and pauses at each of her student’s desks. Atwell then asks key questions that help each student further discover their own writing process.

In my future secondary English classroom, I would like to create something of a hybrid between these two techniques. I plan to take all four steps of Atwell’s method, but also throw in the group discussion of pieces from college professor for a little spice. That way, students have the freedom to write creatively but also have the opportunity to receive feedback from their peers and not just me. Of course, I understand that it will be a process. Tweaking will need to be done each year to accommodate both the current class as well as my own observations from the last implementation. No matter what, though, I want to work writing workshops into my classroom with one thing in mind— to help students find their own writing voice, through their own writing process. That way when they are in college and eating both Subway and McDonald’s for dinner the same night… in their gastrointestinal bliss they can write about it. They can write about anything and everything. They can take in the world around them and let their voice fly.

Microsoft Word 2003 & a Ghost Baby

I have always loved to read and write. Last semester I was spending a weekend at my Grandma’s house and she brought up a plastic tub from the basement filled to the brim with my childhood work. Half of it was artwork. I was a particular fan of the “paint” application on Microsoft Word 2003; out of the tub I took with me a pink dinosaur that my Grandma told me I drew with the mouse in 12 seconds flat. The other half were writings, stories and poems of all kinds (and even a script for me as a sports anchor, detailing how far I had thrown the shot put). My favorite piece was a horror story, featuring a ghost baby that appeared in a family’s foyer and they hid behind an umbrella stand. It was complete with illustrations. My point is, I started playing with language when I was young and I never stopped.

Microsoft Paint Dinosaur.jpg

What a cute little creation. I think I’ll name him Noodle. Picture is my own.

Ghost Child

You might have thought I was kidding about the ghost child in the foyer. I was, in fact, not. Picture is my own.

During high school this love of mine further solidified through a wonderful high school teacher. Her influence on me is detailed in this blog post of mine that describes five moments of learning that shaped me into the person I am today. In her class I read and wrote voraciously. Books like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Unwind by Neal Shusterman were taught by her, as were all kinds of papers— research papers, analysis papers, poems, descriptive essays, personal narratives, short stories… the whole gamut. Each assignment was pivotal, in its own way. In addition, each assignment helped me to become the writer I am today.

Cue now to college, where my writing skills have been honed more than I ever thought possible. While I do not necessarily agree with all of the information I have been presented one way or another about the topic of writing, learning more about the craft has helped me realize just how important it is to embrace my role as a modern writer. Though I do have ambitions to publish a short story or two, one of my main roles as a writer is situated in my chosen career path.

As a teacher, I want my students to know that their ideas are truly important. If I don’t fully understand and appreciate the fact that my ideas are important it will be quite difficult for me to be sincere in my efforts to support the kids entrusted to me. In this day and age, the sharing of ideas is a continuous cycle. Technology being at the finger tips of many, with a few taps at a keyboard voilà— the work can be shared for the world (or a handful of lovely readers, such is the way on The Joyous Life of Jess) to see. Myself and my future students will have the same opportunity, to write towards the bigger picture (though, of course, journaling for personal desire has the means to achieve the same end). To me, being a writer means valuing one’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions as well as appreciating the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others.

I wish I could thank little me for having so much fun writing “The Tale of the Little Brown Puppy” and “The Cottonwood Tree Ghost.” I wish I could tell little me how proud I am for creating characters like sisters Josie and Zoey or Clarissa VanCronmp. I wish I could tell little me how wonderful it is that I like to create. The foundation little me laid, and high school me continued to build on, have helped the me I am now to read and write like I do. All starting with Microsoft Word 2003 and a ghost baby. Now I just need to bring my paint skills into the modern age too.