Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Miscellany

My friend and former colleague, John Foley, has a humorous post about refereeing celebrities.

While scoring essays at Starbucks this morning, I overheard three 60 something women discuss the merits of various donut types while telling stories of their donut buying adventures. This part of their conversation lasted over thirty minutes.

Also while scoring essays, I finally read a completely readable and articulate piece from one of my seniors. Even though there are five more to read, I had to stop because of the grading high the essay put me on--I didn't want to kill the buzz.

I've been wondering about reality lately. Mainly, I am trying to understand the reality that some teachers live in. One point in particular--writing instruction. Yesterday, a 9th grade student stood in front of me in shock. I had just finished pointing out that in two paragraphs of writing, he had yet to write a complete sentence. He either had a series of run ons or a series of phrases. The shock on his face was not contrived, and I imagine his response to be honest: "But my writing workshop teacher last year always told me how good my pieces were."

Maybe we should stop teaching students to free write in place of correct writing. Certainly writing to process thoughts has value, but too many of my 9th graders are great at writing what they feel, even if it doesn't relate to the topic or make a bit of grammatical sense.


At 4:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a lack of understanding about the differing styles of writing and uses of same. Perhaps styles is not the correct word; purpose may be more exact.

In the attempt to gain length or simply a positive response to the writing assignment, it seems teachers often lose the comparative amount of service each purpose serves in student lives. Diaries/journals and personal email will continue if useful to the student. The weight of effort seems better placed on research papers or response to print (magazine or newspaper articles) and to well known literature. That is perhaps a bias on my part.

The future use of writing appears to be college and job requirements including the ability to produce a cohesive and grammatically correct written piece that speaks for a person when that is the only representation seen by the outside world.

You seem to be on the right track. I am curious how many will follow.

At 9:06 AM , Anonymous joycemocha said...

For me, the place for free writing is to develop writing fluency so that you can work on other things. If the kids don't have the ability to put words on paper, you sure can't do anything further with it.

(sigh. I made my technology kids--mostly general ed--write. My special ed kids in the class, who've had me long enough to know I'll make them write and have gone through some of my writing teaching which includes grammar, actually write better than some of these general ed kids. And some of those general ed kids are allegedly advanced...sigh)

At 6:51 PM , Anonymous Joe Bellacero said...

It would be interesting to know what part of the student's writing the previous teacher believed to be good. It is certainly a good thing that the student has enough confidence in his/her writing to attempt the assignment--we all know students who are so frozen by fear of mistakes that they find any excuse not to write. Helping students see what they do well and where they can improve is the aim. Free write frees students to focus on the topic, revision workshops permit them to sharpen those ideas, polishing exercises help them gain editing skills. All are important. (By the way, I misspelled "attempt" when I first wrote this--mistakes are part of the game--no big deal so long as we teach them to catch 'em).

At 9:20 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Have you tried having the students "score" their own writing? What are you using to evaluate their writing? A rubric? Are you scoring them holistically, or are you grading them on a few specific traits?

At 3:35 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Mr. B-G: I began with holistic scoring because it was their first assignment for me. However, the writing was so atrocious I narrowed our focus to eliminating run-on sentences, fragments, and passive voice. In terms of descriptions, we focused on showing and not telling. Most could relate a story in sequence--though some individuals needed extensive support in eliminating minutia. So, their final grade will focus mostly on those areas.

Joe: I can see that one of my goals this year will be helping my students see writing as a process. But for so long, they have been told their writing is fine, and major errors in organization and sentence structure have been ignored.
This first narrative essay took nearly the entire first quarter. Their first "final" drafts were so poorly written that I returned them with no grade and only comments. We then worked on the essays once a week in class and they each had to meet with me individually.

I collected them today, so we will see what improvements have been made and whether my instruction has been successful.

At 5:07 PM , Blogger rambandgeek said...

Maybe we just need to start focusing on purpose and audience so that students know what is acceptable when.


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