TPM 2: Callison & Baker (2014):
Callison & Baker (2014) provide snapshots of past information literacy models to show how the emphasis on inquiry has consistently increased over time. The oldest model focuses mainly on engaging the students, encouraging them to question and explore, and search for patterns. The latest model does the same with the addition of expecting students to do the same with the addition of finding higher-quality evidence as well as honing communication and presentation skills by focusing on the importance of sharing learned information. There is also a greater emphasis on self-assessment as the aspect of inquiry that “drives true reflection and recording reflection establishes the foundation needed to mature as an effective inquirer” (p. 22). Interestingly, Callison & Baker (2014) report that there is yet to be an accurate form of measuring the quality of reflections. However, there is no doubt that it is a crucial part of the learning process when it comes to inquiry-based learning. It is the space in which the students can review their process as well as the content of their inquiry to find information gaps as well as additional questions that allows for even further inquiry.
Callison & Baker (2014) list several positive changes in student academic behavior as a result of inquiry-based learning which include that students were increasingly able to seek information independently, to analyze the credibility of information found, to gain deeper understanding of the subjects of inquiry, and become “more skillful and confident as information seekers” (p.22). Most importantly, in my opinion, is that the students were found to be more engaged and interested in the learning as well as the learning process when it focused on inquiry. As future educators, however, it is vital that the process of inquiry requires the teachers to be just as knowledgeable and prepared to facilitate the process, which include creating a trusting and safe environment for the students to explore.
TPM 3: Lucy Calkin’s Between the Lines chapters 3 & 4:
The apprehension that Calkins mentions that many teachers feel when incorporating a writer’s workshop in the classroom and utilizing it as it was intended is completely understandable because there is no clear structure and time-consuming to implement. My previous practicum teacher (who introduced me to Lucy Calkins) reserved the first 20 minutes of her 3rd, 4th, and 5th classes to writer’s workshop, but the success of it was dependent upon the students’ ability to begin writing immediately as well as independently as she called individual students or groups for individual conferencing or mini-lessons. This is where a teacher’s ability to manage a classroom as well as the students’ ability to abide by the classroom norms is truly put to the test. I saw first-hand the importance of building a trusting relationship and environment with and for one’s students. It allows the teacher to gain a better understanding of where each student stands and truly individualize the writing experience, and it results in quality pieces of writing that students can be proud of producing. While this particular teacher did not have the students keep their notebooks out at all times in case there were moments of inspiration to write in it, I believe that having those 20 minutes every day dedicated to writing in their notebooks and individually conferencing with the teacher to find “seeds” and discuss writing goals was very beneficial in helping them grow as writers.
TPM 4: Writer’s Workshop Chapters 1-4
The first four chapters of Writing Workshop reiterates what we have been reading about what a writing workshop is and what it should look like, but it also goes into more detail and offers practical strategies as to how to correctly implement it into a classroom. I found that the greatest emphasis was on setting the tone of a writer’s workshop, which starts with the teacher’s ability to set things into perspective with the three short-term goals of (1) getting students to love writing, (2) establishing a safe environment so that kids can take risks in their writing, and (3) setting up a workable management system to handle the flow of papers, folders, etc. (p. 22)—building onto the discussion we had in class last week about how vital it was for the teacher to be very organized in the writing workshop process. Establishing a consistent classroom routine is also key (p. 37-40) in getting students into the habit of writing. More structure in this area gives more room and time for creativity.
Some other points that stood out to me that the text made were about creating a space and time for student authors to share their work and give responses—if not only with the teacher then with a partner or the whole group. The most important thing here is for the teacher and peers to keep the tone “positive and celebratory” (p. 41) as well as to guide responses to be specific in order to have the most productive sharing time. In my current practicum class, the kids are very young but have the tendency to generally make very negative comments to each other. I believe that this contributes to students to become defensive in response to critiques or well-intended questions about their academic work. More than ever, I hope to create a classroom environment that is positive and supportive in all situations but especially in moments of collaborative teaching and learning. “Rather than setting up a competitive arena, we need to create an environment where students of varying abilities to coexist side by side and learn from one another” (p. 3). When it comes to establishing a writer’s workshop, it is critical that the teacher buys into the core ideas of the writer’s workshop before he or she is able to sell it to the students because the teacher has the role of being a model and guide for students into the world of writing and storytelling (p. 37; p. 38).
TPM 5: “The Common Core: Insights into K-5 standards”
McLaughlin and Overturf (2012) makes some important points about the Common Core including the fact that it gives responsibility back to the states, schools, and the teachers to a certain degree in having control over the curriculum and how the standards will be met, which is both encouraging and frightening at the same time. They encourage teachers to gain an understanding of the standards both vertically across grade levels and horizontally within each grade level to understand what knowledge students should come into the classroom with at the beginning of the year and what they need to know before moving on to the next grade level. The way that the CCSS is structured, its success at each grade level is dependent on building upon previous knowledge from prior years. This would require schools to have a strong safety net in place to catch students who fall behind early on with effective intervention methods. I dare say that this would also call for smaller classroom sizes in order for teachers to give quality differentiated instruction.
The article also encourages teachers to conduct formative assessments on their students throughout the teaching and learning of a standard in order to inform future planning—the key word here being inform. The article suggests that these standards give teachers room to utilize different methods to help students meet the new standards, including room to use information used from formative assessments to meet the needs of the students. This is where the article began to lean towards being overly-idealistic about the realities of implementing a new standard. While CCSS may call for a less punitive system of accountability, I have yet to hear of a major overhaul of evaluation systems between all 40+ states including student test and teacher evaluations. Honestly, all I could think about throughout reading the article are the several types of gaps that exist in relation to the education system. Nevertheless, I still want to say that it is a step in the right direction and a significant improvement of what we had previously with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.
TPM 6: “Using mentor texts to teach writing”
Pytash & Morgan (2014) discuss active noticing as the teacher’s way of assessing quality writing especially in the subjects of social studies and science, and they highly encourage the use of mentor texts as a teaching tool to improve students’ structure and use of words in their writing. I was able to see mentor texts being used in my previous 3-5th grade practicum class’s social studies period, which also happened to begin with a well-run writing workshop. I also saw one mentor text being used with in my 1st grade practicum class. While I want to argue that students in 1st grade may be too young to dissect several mentor texts and be able to apply it to their own writing, I believe that it is more an issue of time or a perceived lack of time. For example, the first graders are currently learning about persuasive writing. The students are expected to have a starting opinion sentence, three reasons with transition words, and a concluding sentence that re-states the opening sentence. As a mentor text, my mentor teacher used the book My Brother Dan’s Delicious by Steve L. Layne. It is a book about a boy who is at home alone and becomes afraid that there might be a monster in his house trying to eat him so he begins to list out loud reasons why the monster should his brother instead. The teacher then continued to write a new story on chart as a class, introducing simple transition words such as “first”, “second”, “third”, and “in conclusion”. Then, the students were sent to their desks to work on their own writing that lists reasons as to who and why the monster should eat. This assignment had a lot of potential, but only a handful of the students were engaged and comprehended what they were doing. I found myself giving instructions repeatedly and pleading with them to use the transition words that were displayed on the board.
In hindsight, dissecting the text of the book and spending more time on transitioning between reasons could have been very helpful. Also, at least one other mentor text to lead into the monster text would have also been helpful. This is probably where the gradual release of responsibility comes into play. Time needs to be spent on the forefront to build a strong foundation and ensure understanding so that students can be set up for success when asked to complete a task on their own. Mentor texts are a great tool teachers to use to teach a concept as well as a tool for students to use as a reference later on.
TPM 7: Frye, Bradbury, and Gross (2016)
It is interesting that this week’s articles are about combining poetic riddles with informational texts to engage students in both writing and learning factual information in the subjects of both science and social studies because I am currently working with my small group in creating animal haikus. What got them most excited about the topic were the animal haiku “riddles” that I presented to them in the beginning of the lesson. As a mentor text, I used If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky that contains haikus about different animals with beautiful illustrations. One of the haikus that I presented to the students were “I am slow I am. Slowest of the slow I am. In my tree I am.” The students were able to use the details in the haiku to determine that it was either a slug or a sloth—sloth being the correct answer. Immediately, the students wanted to write their own riddles, and through the haiku riddles, I was able to lead into the importance of descriptive words when writing a haiku. Hopefully, when it comes time for them to write their own animal haikus, they will be more engaged with the informational texts about the animals that I have obtained for them at the library.
Seeing the initial positive reaction from the students that I received to these poetic riddles in haiku form certainly validates the main points that the authors Frye, Bradbury, and Gross (2016) are trying to get across in that students become much more engaged with a task if they can somehow make a connection to it and that this idea of utilizing poetic riddles can be adapted to younger grades. Riddles speak to their love of games and fun challenges, which is a great way to introduce a concept. Students are also much more likely to complete a task successfully if the teacher sets them up for success through tools such as mentor texts and modeling ways in which to get the most out of informational texts.
TPM 8: “Peer Conferencing with a Purpose”
I enjoyed reading about Oskins’ journey in finding the best way to making writing meaningful for her students—from finding time for one-on-one conferencing, to finding writing mentors, and to having students see each other as mentors in writing. It seems as though the dynamics of this teacher’s classroom certainly shifted, and I think it was quite brave of her to not completely base peer conferences on rubrics and checklists. The more I read about writing workshops and how different teachers implement them in their classrooms, the more I want to teach in the upper elementary grades to put them into practice myself. This of course speaks to my lack of confidence in being able to implement a meaningful writer’s workshop with the lower grade levels. However, my experience thus far in the lower grades thus far has not sold me on the idea of teaching at that level.
This idea of peer conferencing described by Oskins makes me wonder how I would approach having my work reviewed by others today if I was more accustomed to such practices. I grew up writing in my diary, and I became very fond of writing as an activity that I can do in private without worrying about others critiquing my thoughts and my words. I always did well on my writing assignments at school, but being a quiet, introverted child who internalized almost everything, a part of me feels as though an environment that required me to share my work may have given me anxiety. Another part of me, however, also feels like it may have been beneficial to have practice in having “meaningful conversations” with my peers because I do believe that it can increase confidence in students as writers and view errors or deficiencies in a piece as opportunities to improve. To this day, I will edit and re-edit to death a piece of writing as I am writing it, but I always feel a bit of anxiety when I receive feedback and takes quite a bit of mental preparation to re-visit a piece critiqued by an outsider. It is never quite as bad as I initially anticipate it to be (as you can imagine, having to write my master’s paper for my past graduate program was quite a traumatic experience for me that I will never forget), but due to my personal experience with conferencing (or lack thereof), I am a firm believer that students should also gain practice in receiving feedback and ample opportunities to improve in a safe space.
TPM 9: “Brothers and Sisters Learn to Write”
“After all, Rita had developed a permeable curriculum, one in which children were to think, take action, make decisions. If the children were to assume such agency, they would need to rely on the guidance of past experiences and familiar practices and tools, even as they responded to the new, not-yet-familiar ones. Moreover, the children were not just Rita’s students; they were each others’ peers, friends, and fake siblings” (p. 65).
The above is my favorite passage from the article as it describes the expectations that Rita had on her students, which created a community or “family” of learners as well as a safe and trusting environment within the classroom. “In Rita’s classroom, this negotiation involved both the centralizing forces of a classroom’s common cultural ground—its own history of experiences, routines, and established practices—and the decentralizing forces of the children’s common ground within their circles of friends” (p. 71). In such a diverse classroom with children coming in from all parts of the socio-economic status spectrum, there is nothing more valuable than instilling a sense of agency coupled with mutual respect for peers as both learners and resources. To further create this idea of a school “family”, the teacher provided ample opportunities for students to make meaning of content by allowing them to utilize “textual toys” from the media or from other connections they can make from their outside-of-school lives. On page 76, the author states, “Their use of this material, so central to childhood cultures, evidenced discourse flexibility and sociocultural adaptiveness.” On that same note, I also really appreciated that Rita not only created a culturally responsive environment through what children brought to the classroom but also utilized texts that featured diverse cultures.
It is encouraging that the setting for this article is in a first grade classroom because there is always the question of how meaningful a writing workshop would be for the younger students. Having worked with first graders this semester, I have had a difficult time having students verbalize answers to more “serious” questions. I am convinced that creating meaningful experiences and having students produce meaning responses is an art that requires much patience, consistency, and practice.
TPM 10: “When Children Write: Chapter 6: Teacher Response to Children’s Text”
This article honed in on a lot of concerns that I personally have about allowing so much freedom for students when it comes to writing workshop. Actually, this is probably an issue within any democratic community. I did appreciate how careful the teacher was in addressing the issue instead of immediately nipping the story in the bud without further inquiry about the situation. The last article from “The Brothers and Sisters Learn to Write” discusses the importance of allowing students to bring in connections from their “unofficial” world and connect it to their learning in order for the students to take ownership. Lensmire also emphasizes the importance of students taking ownership of their writing, but I found this concept contradictory to his emphasis on Maya relinquishing responsibility towards hurting others’ feelings in her non-fiction world as a result of her fictional story. I believe an approach that could have been taken with the whole class was to discuss the potential power of the written word on those that read it, especially if it can be connected to another living being within a particular community. This is not to say that the teacher did not handle the situation well, because I do believe that he did a wonderful job of protecting everyone involved. I also agree with the teacher in not allowing the student’s story to go public. Perhaps a new rule of thumb to keep in a classroom that has a tendency to write hurtful things about each other during writing workshop is that one’s freedom of speech is only limited if it imposes upon the freedom and the well-being of others, which makes for a great teachable moment.
In order to be proactive about situations like these, I think I will probably start the year of writing workshop with a discussion with the students about what the teacher should have ‘veto power’ over when it comes to shared writing. The only repercussion of this would be that the teacher would have to review and approve all of the pieces of writing before it is shared. So maybe have the students consult with me if they think it might be a story I will “veto” for sharing. This is obviously a thought-process in progress and something that I would like input on from my peers in class.
TPM 12 – Talking, Drawing, Writing…Chapter 5
This chapter contained a lot of valuable and practical methods when conducting a writer’s workshop with beginning writers in terms of scaffolding, conferencing, and the modeling. I have yet to work with students who are in such early stages of writing except in the moments that I work with my kindergarten aftercare students or substitute in a pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classroom. Especially as a substitute, I found myself floundering a bit when it came to students constantly asking me how to spell words and whether or not their words were spelled correctly. My automatic response is to say, “Just try your best to sound it out on your own,” but there are often times when this response is no longer satisfactory to them and they attempt to spell it out on their own with a look of distress on their faces. I know that in this school’s writing workshop, the teachers review the students’ writing pieces and add in “teacher writing” underneath words to help clarify what the students wrote. The teachers don’t correct all the words, just the ones that are indecipherable. As I contrast this school’s approach to writing workshop in kindergarten to what this chapter describes, I feel as though the methods used in the Drawing and Writing Books nurtures a greater sense of independence and confidence. The scaffolding at first seemed so painfully slow to me, but after reading the whole chapter, I can see the true value in it. It not only scaffolds how students transition from writing a series of letters to a series of words but also the expectations that students meet. Intentionally scaffolding these expectations builds confidence in the children’s ability to write from both the perspective of the teachers and the students.
I also really enjoyed reading the teacher’s conversations with the students in conferencing because it emphasized the importance of taking the time to individually assess where students are in their writing and have a conversation with them as developing writers. For example, the teacher conferences with her student Janaya and says, “Janaya, when people look at this picture, how will they know this is you and this is your dad?” (p. 106). This helps the students understand the importance of keeping in mind the audience that will read his or her drawing or writing. I also loved how she eases Janaya into thinking about the possibility of having words on the paper to tell the story and what that would look or sound like.
This reading gave me a lot to consider when it comes to seeing myself as a teacher of students who are developing as writers, and I am certainly beginning to buy into this idea of incorporating drawing into writer’s workshop in all elementary grade levels. This relates to utilizing picture books or different images as mentor texts except that students would be using their own drawings as mentor texts, which sounds quite powerful to me.