All posts by Colin Worthley

"The Movement of Air, The Breath of Meaning" by Cynthia L. Selfe and "Made Not Only in Words" by Kathleen Blake Yancey

     I want to apologize upfront if this makes no sense. My daughter's birthday party was today and since I married a Pinterest mom, my nights have been spent drawing, painting, and designing decorations and activities for a bunch of five year olds. But enough rationalizing, we all have lives.

     Selfe points out a few things that I find to be humorous. The first is when she mentions how "metaphors from the screen have become common in our daily conversation." A lot of terms we use today have a basis in the digital world. Students from today would undoubtedly sound like aliens talking to students from even fifty years ago. For instance, swipe right. Thanks to Tinder, we all know this means that we accept something (we all know that right?). Without the digital foundation behind it, that term becomes confusing.

     The kids also know where they have to go to save a document in Word, but they probably have no idea why there is a picture of a floppy disk there. I should show them pictures of the cases of floppy disks, with color coded labels, my wife used to get her through college. I can almost picture the amazement (or the indifference) in the kids' faces when they see what could now easily fit on a tiny thumb drive. The language of Word documents and texting permeates how they speak as well. At least once a year, students will tell me to delete something from the board. Something I've written in dry erase marker.

     This leads to the next point I found interesting. Selfe says that English departments were "preparing professionals whose work... would increasingly rely on writing." This reliance led to innovations in technology and how the written word reaches people. In hearing many students speak, those innovations have made it so that students can't focus on the writing that necessitated those innovations in the first place. The Internet allows us to share ideas with people from around the world and access a vast amount of knowledge previously hidden from us, but most of us use it to watch videos of kittens and "like" photos.

     Yancey discussed Quartet One and how authors like Dickens would serialize novels. This would allow them the ability to change the story based on feedback, all while hooking readers. Imagine the excitement people have for the next episode of The Walking Dead applied to books. The one instance of serialized reading I remember was almost twenty years ago when Stephen King experimented with the format with The Green Mile. I vividly remember my disappointment when I would reach the end of one of the parts and have to wait another month. When I watch a particularly good television show, I find myself glancing at the clock during the last ten minutes, hoping that time would magically slow down so my enjoyment could continue.

     I would like to close by thanking everyone who gave my words and ideas any bit of attention throughout the course. I'm happy to have been part of such a great group of people and I'm grateful for each of you.

"Why the Research Paper is Not Working" by Barbara Fister and "The Popularity of Formulaic Writing" by Mark Wiley

     I was surprised to find that I had strong reactions to the two articles for this week. Fister's article bothered me at first. This is mainly because I still have a bit of the mentality that if I had to do a research paper, so should everyone else. Looking beyond that, students have much to gain from the skills needed to properly cite and synthesize information. I feel that her article glosses over this fact and instead chooses to focus on how earth-shattering teachers find a misused comma to be.

     The argument about teaching format and ensuring it be done correctly seems, to me, to be a waste of time. For the last few years both myself and the media specialist in our school library show the students how to use easybib or even EBSCOhost. They both have functions that give you the citations you need, all you need to do is copy and paste. So the fact that teachers would still teach it the old fashioned way is surprising to me. After all, we don't send out letters via carrier pigeons; we have a better system.

     I always viewed a research paper as following a specific set of rules to complete an assignment. It is a task that needs to be completed, meeting a certain set of criteria. The skills required have not changed drastically over time. What makes it so much more difficult for students today to complete a research paper when previous generations somehow managed to do it? Would changing how we view the research paper lead to a "dumbing down" of the research process?

     One thing that really bothered me was when Fister says she doesn't like when students "have to change their topic because they can’t find sources that say exactly what they plan to say." Yeah, that's what makes it research based on evidence and not a blog post based on your opinion. Many students need to understand that their opinions can't stand on their own in an argument.

     Wiley's article discussed Jane Schaffer's formulaic technique for writing. I can definitely see the benefit of giving students a formula to follow when writing, but I'm among those who see it as too restrictive. Struggling writers might latch on to this formula and use it for all types of writing assignments, event hose it might not be appropriate for. I would assume that any student who is capable of writing well enough on his or her own would be allowed to abandon this formula in favor of his or her own style. I'm not a fan of the lack of an exit strategy when using the formula. As stated in the article, students should have a variety of writing styles, and this may hamper them.

     One thing I do really like is how it gives a universal language that the students and teacher can use when referencing certain parts of the paragraph. "Add a commentary sentence" sounds much better than "Explain this". Obviously a language can be developed for each class, but if the program were adopted school wide, it provides consistency.

Reaction Paper

Colin Worthley
ENG 5020
November 23, 2015
            In “The Concept of Control in Teacher Response”, Richard Straub defines directive and facilitative comments and how they can help shape students’ writing. Directive comments give specific orders to correct local issues, while facilitative comments act as a guide to help the student address global issues that should be addressed. Straub presents comments made on the same piece of writing (some directive, some facilitative) in order to illustrate how effective each type can be.
            Straub is clearly in favor of facilitative comments. He cites Rebecca Rule with the following rationale: “As [a] teacher, I must be careful not to take over- because the minutes I do, the success (if there is one) becomes mine, not his- and the learning is diminished.” This is a very powerful idea that I don’t think many teachers realize. Is the assignment meant to be perfect in the teacher’s eyes, or as perfect a paper as that student is capable of producing?
            Overlooking spelling and grammar mistakes in favor of issues with logic has come to be my approach this year. As a result, I do feel that I can focus more on the content, and then offer more useful feedback to the student. Unfortunately, there are students who feel as though minimal comments on a paper means one of two things: a) I didn’t really his/her paper, or b) the paper must be an A is it doesn’t need many corrections.
            Of all the commentators, I think Gere was the most effective. Her comments were guiding without being authoritarian. As constructive as Elbow’s comments were (who wouldn’t like to receive a novel’s worth of feedback for each essay?), it simply isn’t possible without teacher burnout. I would think the reliability of such comments would begin to suffer after some time. Reliability, and its bedmate validity, was the subject of the next article.
            In Kathleen Blake Yancey’s “Looking Back as We Look Forward” we were given an in depth look at the history of writing assessment. She used the metaphor that each new trend was a wave that fed into the next, without a clearly discernable ending point between. The article follows how schools moved from multiple-choice objective tests, to holistically scored essays, to the more recent portfolio.
            It seemed that the article focused more on the reliability aspect of each “wave”. The first wave measured using objective tests, which had the most favorable conditions for consistency. The second wave measured using a single essay response. Here, the focus was on getting reliability in scoring from different readers and how individual goals affected scoring, resulting in the creation of acceptable norms among scorers. In the third wave, the portfolio became reliable because of the breadth it provided. Patterns of errors and logic become evident and help create a voice or style for the writer. In a stand alone essay things might be confused with poor writing, but in a portfolio they are seen in a different light.
            I would think the portfolio would be the best indicator of growth in a writer. If the instructor is looking to create better writers, there can be no easier way to observe growth than in a timeline of important writings covering a period of time. I’ve always thought that purely objective tests leave too much room for good guessers. While the student would have to be an incredibly good guesser to get a passing grade, the options are still limited; with four choices they still have a 25% chance of getting it correct. It would be impossible to guess and stumble through a portfolio assessment.

Questions
1.     Knowing yourself as a writer, what type of comments do you feel most helpful: directive or facilitative?

2.     Should an instructor’s comments and suggestions be followed blindly? How much control over the finished product should the instructor have?

3.     Is there still a place for objective tests in school?


4.     Are students required to take too many tests? Are their complaints valid or are they unaccustomed to being challenged?

"Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century" by Kathleen Blake Yancey and "Using Rubric to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria" by John Bean

     Outside of one week in an undergraduate course, I never had instruction on how to create a rubric. It is definitely one thing I wish more time had been devoted to since I find the need for rubrics incredibly important.

     My first experience as a teacher with rubrics came when I had to prepare my juniors for the HSPA. We would use the actual rubric the state scorers would use when grading their tests. Every writing assignment came with a copy of the persuasive rubric and every OEQ came with the reading rubric. We even had large laminated copies on the walls as constant reminders to the students.

     It was an analytic rubric that broke the writing down into categories such as content, structure, mechanics, etc. It's not until now that I realize it was erroneously called a holistic rubric based on how they are defined in Bean's article.

     I always hated using it. One of the reasons was the degree of the descriptors in the categories. Bean points out that these descriptors are open to interpretation, and he's right. Words like most, some, and few are difficult to anchor to a number. And is the criteria the same for each student, or do you have different ideas of what most means depending on the student?

     I appreciate the idea of a "universal reader" grading everything. I never really thought about who was grading my work when I was a student. I definitely didn't think of a person with preferences grading it. I guess I pictured a machine that graded everything without fault; any mistake could not escape it's eye.

     I've witnessed how different disciplines within education could score the same paper in drastically different ways. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how at one workshop, the same essay gained rave reviews by the English teachers, but poor scores from the history teachers. Why? The paper had creative aspects to it that were not valued by one discipline, echoing the results of Diederich.

     A few years back, a fellow senior teacher developed a holistic rubric that we were able to use for every writing assignment that was given. Yancey points out that holistic rubrics met the standard of consistent scoring, something we found to be true, which is why we were able to use it so much.

     Now, every writing assignment is accompanied by the rubric that will be used to score it. The students are required to submit it with the finished product, but they must first grade their own essays as a way of assessing whether they understand how they will be graded. My students have certainly benefited  from my increased knowledge of rubrics.


Vignette Rough Draft

When my sister-in-law Karyn got engaged, her side of the family was pretty disappointed.  The guy that she had been dating was a louse, a clod, and a cretin. He isn’t the kind of person that I would not associate with unless I positively had to. Since he was marrying my wife’s sister, all signs pointed to me being stuck with him for life, or as long as the marriage lasts.

It’s a very selfish way of thinking. After all, Karyn was choosing to become his wife, and no matter how uncomfortable I was with the idea, she would have to live with the decision.

Plus, she obviously loves him. I would often joke around that she was only marrying him to upset the rest of us. That’s an incredibly self-absorbed concept. Would this young woman actually play such a game with her life just to upset me? Why would I assume that she would be so malicious?

It took some time and some introspection to realize that just because I didn’t approve of her choice, that didn’t mean that it wasn’t the right choice for her. I had always celebrated her intelligence. By doubting her relationship, I was suddenly insulting her ability to think rationally.

But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Even up to the day of their wedding, I was holding out hope that she would change her mind.

            My wife was the matron-of-honor and was tasked with delivering a speech at the reception. I volunteered to help her write the speech because I felt that it was my chance to say something, whether it was my voice or not. My wife and I have similar feelings towards Nick, so I had her complete trust. Besides, I’m not brazen enough to cause a scene, or put my wife in a compromising position.

            I wanted to use the opportunity to give constructive advice since they seemed intent on going through with the wedding. Choosing a partner that you plan on sharing your life with is not something that is done lightly. Since I was welcomed into my wife’s family quite easily, I never had to “win” my way in. I struggled with the thought of my in-laws not liking me, but even after walking in Nick’s shoes, I wasn’t cutting him any slack.

            I look at the relationship that my wife and I have, and I want that for Karyn. I didn’t think Nick was capable of living for another person at the time, and part of me still feels that way.  But who wants to be reminded, at their wedding, that loved ones think the marriage is doomed to fail?

            I attempted to give advice that would work for any relationship, but also highlighted the deficiencies I have witnessed in theirs. Below are some key pieces of advice, followed by an explanation of why I felt it necessary.


#1

   In his book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky says, We only accept the love we think we deserve.


A reminder that in your moments of doubt, when you feel as though he’s not giving you the love you deserve, it’s because you accept that from him. Be empowered and demand the love you feel you deserve.

#2

   You have chosen to accept each other and let one another into aspects of you that no one else will know. Show that you are deserving of each other by being the best for each other.

A second reminder to be deserving of one another. This is preceded by pointing out her responsibility in choosing to marry him, while also pointing out that she sees something in him that the rest of us don’t.

#3

   Your decisions should be made based on what is best for both of you, since now your actions will reflect you as a couple.

Directed towards him as a way of saying “Don’t mess up, you represent her now.” An indirect way of telling him not to be selfish anymore and start living for someone else.

#4

   Remember that when you stop living for your spouse, then you start to fail as a couple.

This is where I see trouble in their relationship, so it was important to emphasize how a marriage is the joining of two.

#5

   Its very easy to get caught up in the romanticism and good vibes that engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and weddings bring. What makes you a couple is what happens when everyone else has gone home and you are left with the one thing no one else has- each other.

This is something that many young couples revel in today. There are now so many different ways of celebrating the couple before the actual wedding. The couple may be shocked when they come home from their honeymoon to find that they are just another couple now. People aren’t clamoring to give them gifts or drop everything to spend time with them.

            The speech was well received, but not by whom it was intended for. Nick was too drunk for the advice to sink in. He was also reveling in the speech the best man had just delivered; a speech that highlighted what a great guy the groom was and how he’s a real “bro”. Not surprisingly, it said nothing about them as a couple and only served to fluff his ego.


Harris & Silva and Matsuda

     As an English teacher in a primarily Hispanic district, I've had many ELL students in my classes over the years. The students in my class have maxed out on their time in the bilingual program, or have opted out because they view the program as an embarrassment.

     Many of my students have been out of the program for years, after they had only been in it for a year or two, and you would never know that English is their second language. Others have been in the system for four to five years and still can not grasp the English language. This could be due to  undiagnosed disabilities (very common in my district), or the fact that the community is set up so that they don't really need to move on from Spanish. Every single function of life can be completed in their native language, so the push to learn English isn't so urgent.

     As someone who only speaks one language, I'm amazed that anyone can organize thoughts and communicate in more than one language. Trying to teach someone who is learning the language is extremely difficult, especially without training. We did have a workshop one time to give us some pointers on how to reach the students. It was an informative way to spend eight hours, but hardly enough.

     One thing that makes it difficult is the stigma attached to being an ELL in this district. The general body refer to these students with the term "bilingual", which carries a derogatory connotation. Never mind that most of these offenders also speak two languages; since they were never in the bilingual program, they are above the ELLs on the totem pole. Matsuda discusses the history of bilingual education by discussing the terms that have been used. ESL, ESOL, and now ELL. The label embarrasses the students in my school and prohibits the majority of them from participating, leading them to fall behind.

     Harris and Silva pointed out the difficulties in tutoring ELL students. What they say is true: most tutors have no idea where to start when viewing an ELL's writing. Their advice to identify what has been done well and focus on one or two things is great. It builds the student's confidence and doesn't burden them with too much to address.

     Another problem that was discussed is how to tell if the student needs help with learning the language, or with the writing process. In most of my cases, it's both. Even students who have grown up in the general program have trouble retaining the basics of writing. Consider that the English they know is drastically different from Standard English, which schools are trying to teach. Going back to a point Martha made a few weeks ago, since they are trying to learn Standard English, should they not be considered English Language Learners as well?

     Obviously that is a drastic stretch, but I think it can be used as parody of the fact that some of the techniques used to help reach ELLs might also be beneficial to general education students as well.

"Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers" by Nancy Sommers and "Teach the Motivating Force of Revision" by Donald Murray

      I picture a bumbling husband trying to pay his wife a compliment but it comes out sounding all wrong. Every attempt he makes to clarify what he meant only makes it worse. Sitcoms have used this for years to get a cheap laugh, and it works because what Sommers says is true- you can't revise speech. All you can do is add to what someone has already heard you say.

     The idea of your new statement erasing the old is humorous and used in comedic situations. But it's also used in more serious situations as well. Have you ever heard an attorney make ask a question or make a point when questioning a witness on Law and Order (I know you have, everybody loves that show)? If it's something inappropriate or outside of the rules, the judge will instruct the jury to forget what they just heard. But we, like the offending lawyer, know that this is impossible to do.

     I can really appreciate the fact that the experienced writers have a completely different view of revision than the student writers. The younger group refused to even use the word revision, and it seems like they didn't want to do more than change words instead of ideas that don't work.

     They are extremely comparable to my students who can't believe that what they scribbled down in a few minutes isn't actually that great. The experienced writers knew that sometimes you have to throw things out and start fresh. I especially like the writer who said that he/she never fell in love with something he/she wrote because it cornered him/her.

     I also agree with Murray that the instructor should write along with the students. It's something I try to do whenever possible. I sit at a student desk among them and work. I don't know if I'm concentrating on my work too much, but they seem to be doing just the same. Unless, of course, I'm so engrossed in writing that I don't hear them goofing off. But I have noticed a difference between those times compared to times I don't also write. It's as if it motivates the students. The general is fighting on the front lines.

     I do feel that since starting the program, my instruction of student writing has become much better. I can't say it's received as well as I hope it is, but I know it's being delivered much clearer than in the past.

     For the final project, I'm excited to hear other ideas that people have in regard to the vignettes. This is due mainly to me not having the slightest notion if my idea is any good or not. I sense it will be changing because it's too problematic. I fell in love with something, but it has me cornered. I really like Laura's idea of "Writing Matters". If we each relate our vignette to how writing matters to us, that would fit thematically.

"Writing Comments on Students’ Papers" by John C. Bean

     I wanted to spend some time discussing how the last eight weeks have already made me a better teacher. This isn't meant to be brown-nosing post; just a sincere declaration of the appreciation for the ideas I've been exposed to since the semester started. If I hadn't read the articles for this class, I'd be conducting my classes the same way I always did.

     Each article gives ideas on best practices while highlighting what could be ineffective. As I read through each piece, I see just how much of the ineffective practices were present in my class. The same goes for a lot of my colleagues (I'll refer to us as "we" from now on). We viewed each class as if we were casting pearls before swine; the kids weren't good enough for what we were giving them. It was lost on them because they refused to do the necessary work.

     We approach each paper thinking only of ourselves and the knowledge we bring. We don't consider that a student may legitimately not understand the content, or (God forbid) we didn't cover it thoroughly enough. "Writing Comments on Students' Papers" made me think of how we practice this form of communication.

     What struck me the most is the idea of dehumanizing the writer and insulting his/her dignity. I think back to how teachers talk about students as they grade papers. Personal insults, assumptions that the student wasn't paying attention, and even remarking about the lack of hope for the student's future are common comments that I hear when colleagues grade papers. Notice how I've dropped the use of "we"? I like to think I wouldn't speak about my students this way. I don't now but I can't be certain about ten years ago.

     This year I started writing what Bean refers to as mitigated criticism. While I can't say that I notice an increase in production (these are different kids), I feel better about the way that I'm treating their ideas. My students have never really questioned grades or comments on papers, but the idea of them having thoughts like the students in the Spandel and Stiggins study is upsetting. I think most teachers assume the students look at the comments and shrug it off.

     So I'll finish this part off by saying that of all the articles we've read so far, this is the first one that really made me question my effectiveness up to this point.

     In terms of the tools we can use for the project, I was toying with the idea of choosing a movie clip as my moment of what can be possible when all the elements of a movie come together perfectly. Obviously embedding a video is as simple as clicking the mouse, so I was thinking of annotating the video. Thinglink looks interesting in that regard.

"Voice in Writing Again" by Peter Elbow

     I never really thought about the use of voice in writing until reading Peter Elbow's "Voice in Writing Again". I don't know if I was explicitly taught this or if it is subconsciously done, but I always assumed that if I was writing an academic paper then my voice would have to be as dry and boring as all the rest. The only time I could inject my personality into the writing was when it was a creative piece. To be completely honest, I still feel weird that my blog posts aren't very formal and proper.

     There are people in this world who could read an anonymous piece of writing and then pinpoint the author. I am not one of those people. Whether this is mainly due to voice or unique style, I don't know; but I can't do it. I know the quality of writing some of my students are capable of, but I couldn't tell you who wrote what.

     This year, like most, I notice a change in quality when we move from the creative writing portion of the class to the persuasive. Consider the following beginning to a student's narrative:

          "Buzzbuzzbuzz. Eve was startled by the incessant vibrations of the phone beside her ear.  
She whined before grabbing her phone and unlocking it furiously. Her best friend, Karina, was 
spamming Eve with multiple texts."

I love the language and personality this student incorporates into the story. Unfortunately, this same student, when given a persuasive task this past week, left the class without writing anything down. It wasn't for lack of trying, she just couldn't find the right way to begin. She couldn't find a way to include her voice in what she thought was supposed to be a dry paper.

  I frequent Reddit, a community site on which the users submit content of all varieties. I particularly enjoy reading the comments on most posts, mainly because they are all so comical. By now, I've read comments from thousands of different users, but they all read as though they came from the same mind. It seems to me that the Internet has established its own collective voice, with thousands, perhaps millions, of unique contributors falling in with one another.

I am excited by the new idea for the group project, mainly because it gives more freedom to everyone to be themselves. each piece would be extremely personal, featuring everyone's own voice. In terms of the Digital Writing Month, I'm also excited by the possibilities this might present. I've never really created anything outside of normal assignments. This blog is the most advanced thing I've even attempted.

"Ranking, Evaluating, & Liking" by Elbow and "Grammar, Grammars, and Teaching Grammar" by Hartwell


     I'm sure most people involved in education have seen this cartoon by now. I view this as a fair representation of the standardized test; some students are better equipped to climb the tree (or pass the test). It was one of the first things to come to mind as I read "Ranking, Evaluating, & Liking" by Elbow. As long as the end result is all that matters, students who may have different abilities will suffer.

     Elbow's section entitled "The Benefits and Feasibility of Liking" hits on something I learned a couple of years ago- I can offer much better feedback (which will lead to improvements in the writing) if I embrace each writer for who he or she is. Expecting each student to write like Hemingway, or trying to steer him or her in that direction, is counter-intuitive to helping that student discover who he or she is as a writer.

     It has been so much easier to accept the abilities of each individual and encourage personal strengths. As Elbow says, "liking leads to improvements." As long as the students don't feel that their hard work is going to be trashed, their will continue to work and may work harder the next time. In districts such as mine, where the average writer is struggling, this can mean all the difference.


     In "Grammar, Grammars, and Teaching Grammar", Hartwell addresses whether or not teaching grammar has an impact on students. My experience has shown that very few students put the rules they learn about grammar in their arsenal when it assignment time comes. When it is taught at the high school level, students will memorize it long enough to take the assessment, then forget all about it.

     My most recent bit of evidence for this came just this past week. The week before was spent identifying pronouns and antecedents. I was amazed at how involved the students were with the topic, mainly because I assumed freshmen in high school would have this under their belts already. My classes worked really hard all week, encouraging one another to the point that the class averages on the practices and the eventual quiz were in the upper 80's. I thought to myself, "Good. They learned that skill." How naive I was. 

     This past Tuesday, not a week later, I revisited the concept and asked the students to identify the pronouns in some sentences. These very same students were identifying verbs, adjectives, and adverbs; anything but what they had just showed me they "learned". The point of this long, heart-breaking tale? The students can still write using pronouns effectively, they just can't label them as such. Teaching the students proper grammar will not have as much an impact as teaching them how to articulate a thought and develop an idea.

     As far as the final project goes, I am good with the ideas discussed in class so far. I'm really excited for possibly bringing in some form of pop culture to cement a concept. It's something I do for my students a lot. We'll have to see what kind of ideas germinated over the past week.

I didn't want Calvin to feel left out