Friday, July 31, 2009

Wrapping up the Semester

I can't believe my writing class is finished once I turn my portfolio in on Sunday. The time really went quickly! I also can't believe that I was diligent enough to post to this blog (almost) everyday. YAY me :) I thought it would be appropriate to use my last post for this class with a little summary of the highlights:

-Attending demonstrations at the Lake Michigan Writing Project: I was able to sit in on three different demonstrations that taught me something new about writing. I had never experienced performance poetry or used a hand drawn map to inspire my writing before. I also saw different examples of how multigenre papers can be used in the classroom. I'm desperately hopeful that I can be a full-time member of one of these projects in the future.

-Being exposed to Anne Lamott and Peter Elbow who helped me realize how to find writing inspiration in every day life, and to WRITE about it, even if the first draft is complete crap.

-Learning about how reading and writing workshops can function in a classroom. I've included these in my fake syllabus and hope to incorporate them in a future classroom.

-Creating my own piece of multigenre writing. I am SO proud of that piece! It was so much work but I actually enjoyed it. It was fun to think of interesting and relevant genres and try and see what worked well with the message I wanted to convey. I actually wrote multiple drafts and thought critically about the best way to make the piece come together. Not only was it a fulfillment of a class requirement, it was very cathartic for me to write about the transition in my life.

-Developing a syllabus for a future classroom. WOW I seriously underestimated the work that goes into those few pieces of paper that I usually lose half way through the semester. It was challenging to picture the inner workings of a classroom and try and see what type of structure would be best. I had to pick texts to use and even wrote writing invitations to engage my students in the text. It was a much more difficult task than I expected, but I'm very proud of how it turned out.

After my class is done, I plan on posting daily (or close to it) to this blog. I'm not sure what direction my posts will go, but hopefully they are entertaining for the few followers I have.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Syllabus takes Shape!

I've had all kinds of ideas running through my head about what to include in my syllabus and lesson plans. Today all of the ideas finally came together to form a syllabus! I also created 8 writing invitations that draw inspiration from The Canterbury Tales. It's interesting to me that I chose The Canterbury Tales to go more in depth with because it's not really my favorite piece of literature. I don't necessarily dislike it, rather I feel indifferent towards it. But, as I've learned while writing my invitations, there is a lot of stuff in that book!

I created my syllabus for an AP Lit class, mostly because the texts appropriate for that class are texts that I've recently read in some of my college classes. I really underestimated the amount of effort that goes into a syllabus. Mine isn't even real and I spent hours trying to put it together! Here are a few highlights:

Showcase Days:

Showcase days are designed to be more laid back and fun than regular classroom days. We will start out with a writing invitation designed by a team of two students. Then, the show turns over to you! Everyone will have a chance to share either a piece of polished writing or talk about a piece they have in progress. As a class we will gain an idea of what everyone is working on and help each other work through difficulties.

Reading Groups:

We will be reading some difficult texts throughout the semester but I don’t want you to feel discouraged if you don’t understand what some of the passages mean! In our reading groups we will be discussing important literary elements, deciphering meaning, and speaking about what effect the text has had on us as readers. Groups will change after we’ve read through two texts so you can be exposed to the ideas of all of your classmates throughout the semester.

Writing Groups:

Writing will be an integral part of our classroom as you can see from the daily structure. Writing is an activity that requires feedback, revision, and editing. These elements will all be provided through your writing groups as you each develop your personalized writing process. In our writing groups, we will share writing that is in process along with finished pieces. Group members will ask questions, offer constructive criticism, and make suggestions to help enhance each piece of writing produced.

Day to Day Classroom Schedule:






15 Min.

Writing Invitations!

20 Min.

Teacher Talks

Teacher Talks


Teacher Talks

Teacher Talks

35 Min.

Reading Group

Silent Writing

Reading Group

Silent Writing

20 Min.

Class Discussion

Writing Group

Class Discussion

Writing Group

Edited to add: Ok, I see that my schedule doesn't quite fit onto the webpage. Don't worry, you're not missing too much! Thursday and Friday are designed to be mirror images of Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


As I give more thought to my future classroom and my grading responsibilities, I'm toying with the idea of requiring a portfolio to be graded, instead of grading each piece on its own. I like the idea of a portfolio because it gives each student a chance to choose what they like best. I would require a portfolio that includes a specific number of pieces, drafts of the pieces, and even pieces that they chose not to finish. I also think the most important part of the portfolio is the letter from the student that accompanies the selections. In this letter, the student would be required to reflect on each piece and why they chose it for their collection. I want to see their writing process and see how they've grown as a writer. My hope is that students can see the change in themselves as well, and be able to articulate it into a letter to me. I also want to know why they chose the specific pieces, and why they did not choose other pieces. My hope is that the portfolio becomes a very personal representation of what the student did in my class that semester. I like the idea of requiring a number of pieces of a variety of genres, so I can be sure that the student grasps each concept that was taught.

Another important part of grading will be the journals. I don't want to grade these on specifics, but more on a pass/fail or check/check plus/check minus system. I want to be sure that the students are completing the journals and actually using them as intended, but I don't want to be too harsh with how their judged. I want students to feel comfortable writing in their journals about whatever they feel without the pressure of being graded. But, I also want students to know that the journals are an important part of the classroom... It's kind of a double edged sword.

Putting together a syllabus is tough work! I underestimated the work that goes into the pieces of paper that I usually lose half way through the semester! I definitely have a better appreciation of the syllabus.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Future Classroom

I have about one full year before I'm working in an actual classroom... That's scary to me! Granted, I'll be starting as a teacher assistant, but I'll still be responsible for creating some lessons and instructing students as if I were their teacher. Throughout the last few semesters I've taken classes that have put me into "Teacher Mode." Teaching Reading, Literature for Young Adults, and Teaching Writing have exposed me to resources that I know I'll use in the future. These classes have also made me look at my required readings from a different perspective. Instead of merely reading texts, I've been thinking of how I would incorporate books and methods and processes into my classroom. What problems do I see? How can I modify these ideas and make them my own?

When I started to construct a syllabus for my classroom (a requirement of my writing portfolio that I hope to use in the future) I started by looking up the Content Expectations for Michigan classes. WOW! I've looked at these before, but never with the intent of using them to form a course of study. I was immediately overwhelmed. There are SO many things that I'm required to cover as a teacher! So I decided that I'll just get my ideas down onto paper and then go back and make sure I can incorporate a few Content Expectations into my plans. (I realize that may be a bit backward, but I figure it's a good place to start for my first syllabus).

Here are a few of my ideas so far:
  • Invitations to Writing: The more I read about classroom writing routines the more beneficial I feel the daily writing invitation will be. Today my professor was telling me about ways that the invitations can be used to assess reading comprehension and as a starting point for classroom discussion. As much as I want to create my own routines, I think this is something I'm definitely going to steal for my own class. I think it would be interesting to have a student, or pair of students, create an invitation to writing for the class once a week. It would change the student's perspective and allow them to think about writing from the other side of the table. I would encourage them to create invitations with choices, and to talk about a topic that means a lot to them. I think this would work well with older students. This way, students are able to create a topic for their writing community to respond to. My hope is that it will make the student think hard about how to engage an audience with a writing topic. Also, it will fulfill part of the oral presentation requirement.
  • Workshops: I would like to have a reading workshop and a writing workshop once a week. I realize that writing workshops are most effective when done more than once a week, but until I see how the timing plays out in my classroom, I'm going to shoot for once a week. I really want to create a community in my classroom where students can speak freely about a work of literature that they've read or a piece of writing that they've been working on. I've read so much about how the feeling of community can breed better, more developed writers because they feel comfortable with their peers.
  • Mini-Lessons: I want to feature mini lessons on the revision process in my lesson plans. It's something I was never taught and I want to be sure that my students have an idea of what good writers do when they look over their work.
  • Genre: I want my students to understand the concept of genre. There are so many genres that students come into contact with on a daily basis and I want them to see how genre works with the actual written text to send a message. It's an integral part of reading and writing and it needs to be incorporated into any classroom, regardless of age or ability.
I'm excited to see how my syllabus and lesson plans shape up. This is kind of my first "test" to see how I do as a teacher... eeek!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Revisions, Revisions

I’ve never been the type of writer who does more than one draft. Mostly because any paper that I started was due within the next 24 hours (gotta love procrastination). When I started this class I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to write authentic drafts and actually take the time to revise “correctly.” I was pleasantly surprised with my first batch of polished writing; I produced authentic multiple drafts of my multi genre piece. It also surprised me how much BETTER my final draft was compared to my first attempts.

As I read chapter 10 in Inside Out, I reflected back on my own academic career and I was unable to point to a time when I was taught how to revise. I was definitely taught to proofread, but I don’t recall any class where we were taught how to look at our papers and how to help other writers. We had the obligatory peer evaluation days once or twice throughout the year depending on the complexity of the writing assignment. Unfortunately, most of these days were unproductive and time was used inefficiently. I think it was because we didn’t know how to ask for help. We were never taught how to ask the questions that would result in a better draft. We proofread and clarified awkwardly worded sections, but never got into the core of the writing or the purpose behind the process of revision.

(Ed. Note: As I think about it, I’m growing increasingly annoyed at my former teachers. I was in Honors and AP English for crying out loud! If we, as the “model students” weren’t taught how to revise, who was being taught this process?)

Now that I’m wearing my teacher hat, I’m brainstorming how to teach this process. I know I definitely need to incorporate the 4 steps into my lesson plans, but is it better to teach this all in one day? Or over the course of a week? Maybe trying a variety of methods of revision throughout the year is a good idea to keep the concept new and interesting… but I can also see the merit in sticking with one method (the fish bowl method mentioned on pg. 135). When students become comfortable with the revision process through a specific method, it could make them more efficient and put them in a revising frame of mind quickly. There are a lot of decisions to make and it seems to me, as with most things I’m learning, that it will depend on the atmosphere of my future classroom.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I decided to try writing a "Slice of Life" today instead of sharing something from what I've been reading.

I push my chair in under the high top table at the bar and take one last quick glance toward the flat screen TV on the wall. Tigers are still scoreless in the third. Slinging my purse over my shoulder I file out of the restaurant with my two friends, thanking the hostess who holds the door open for us. As the three of us step outside into the sunshine I immediately regret not bringing my sunglasses. We continue our conversation from inside, making plans for tonight and the upcoming wedding this weekend. Outside of the restaurant we pause, still talking, still laughing, still planning. My mind drifts as I try to think of reasons why I can’t go back to work so I can continue the visit with my rarely seen friends. Although I think of many reasons, to my dismay none are plausible. I take a small step toward my car and begrudgingly admit that I have to get back to work. The three of us slowly walk away from one another, still talking. The distance between us grows larger as the volume of our voices grows louder. I open the sunroof in my stiflingly hot car and wave at the girls. I smile as I head back to my job, relaxed after a refreshing lunch with friends.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The J

I've never kept a journal. Ever. It’s not that I hate writing or anything, I just don’t do it. I was never required to keep a journal in any of my classes but after reading the chapter on journals I’m excited to incorporate them into my future classrooms. One thing I found interesting was that the authors describe 4 types of journals that serve 4 distinct purposes. I like how they keep the different types separate because I think it helps students’ minds as they write. When a student pulls out the class journal, for example, they will be in a different frame of mind than if they were writing in a project journal. After reading this chapter I’ve realized that my reading journal for this class is really a project journal in disguise and my blog entries are similar to what would be in a class journal and/or writer’s notebook (depending on the entry).

When I did my tutoring for my English 308 class, I gave my tutee a notebook to carry around with her and jot down ideas. It was empty at the end of our time together. I didn’t require her to write in it, but she had such an active imagination that I thought it would be a good place for her to jot things down. She liked to write stories on her own and had her own journal in the classroom. Maybe the journal I gave her was just one too many? I guess I’ll never know… There’s a quote on page 63 that reminded me of my tutee, “When kids first read their journals they act the way they did the first time they heard their voices on a tape recorder, ‘Is that me? I didn’t know I sounded like that!’” My tutee had a similar reaction the first time we read through a final draft of a story that she worked on during the 5 weeks of our tutoring time. We had been talking about similes and metaphors, concepts that she was also learning in her English class. While revising one of her drafts, she decided she needed to add a sentence that showed the character’s emotion in a conflict-filled part of the story. She added the sentence, “When I heard the glass break, I felt like my world shattered with it.” I was blown away. Until this point her writing had been bland, missing a stylistic quality. After she wrote that sentence she looked up at me and said, “That sounds really good! I didn’t know I could write like that!” That was all it took. From then on, she was trying harder to make her writing more interesting. It was like a lightbulb clicked on and she understood how similes and metaphors worked. This sounds pretty cliché, but it was a very rewarding and encouraging time for me as a tutor as well.

… ok that was quite the digression. But, as I read in Inside Out, digressions in journals aren’t a bad thing so I guess I’ll leave it! As I prepare my lesson plans for submission in my portfolio, I’m going to try and work journal entries in wherever I can.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Put me in, Coach!

One of the notes in the first chapter of Inside Out by Dan Kirby, Dawn Kirby, and Tom Liner says, “My primary role as a teacher of writing is not to make assignments or correct papers but to ‘coach practice.’” My mind immediately flashed back to my high school volleyball practices. How do sweaty hours in a gym compare to the writing process? Actually, the more I think about it, there are a lot of similarities!
  1. During practice, our coach often demonstrated what skill we should be targeting, and then sent us on our way to practice. This is similar to a mini-lesson in a writing workshop. The teacher demonstrates a new style or reviews a previously taught concept, and then students disperse and work on their writing.
  2. We often did drills where one at a time, we would each try a new passing technique or block at the net as the rest of the team watched, just like a student would do when sharing their work with the class or a small group. The nerve wracking experience of having all eyes upon you as the rest of your peers watch you demonstrate your skill is the same in both situations.
  3. As a freshman we often watched the varsity team practice and we were required to watch their games. They served as our mentor texts. Because they were more advanced than we were, we observed what they were doing right (and wrong) and tried to mimic that during our own practices.
  4. Our coach supervised the team in ways that mirror a writing teacher’s role in a writing workshop. We were always given a task, and when that task was finished, there was always another skill to work on. The coach modeled the skills she wanted us to practice and master, and was available to provide constructive feedback as needed. We learned volleyball by practicing and playing, the same way writing skills should be developed. Expecting students to learn to write by only focusing on one type of genre (the expository essay, for example) is the same as expecting to win a volleyball game when the team has only practiced serving. Sure, the serves will be good, but a team can’t win a game without developing a well rounded skill set.

This was an unlikely metaphor to consider, but as I thought about it, the coach vs. teacher comparison is actually a very fitting description in a writing workshop setting.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I’ve been finding it so hard to write everyday. I’m sure a lot of writers go through dry spurts, but I’m finding that it takes more and more to get myself to sit down and write. So, the question that I’m posing (to myself, naturally) is WHY? What is stopping me from writing? Why is it stopping me? How can I remedy this situation? So far, this is what I’ve discovered:

· I don’t make writing a priority, or “keep my appointments” – if I logged onto Blogger or opened up a Word document to write instead of logging into Facebook or Google Reader I probably wouldn’t be writing this post (although sometimes I get good ideas for writing from blogs I read). I think I’m still partially viewing writing as a chore, especially when I don’t have anything interesting to write about.
· Lack of computer/internet access – this one really is a lame excuse, but it’s true. I hate to hand write anything, so I don’t write anything other than post-its if I don’t have my laptop with me. Plus, when I’m at Josh’s (my boyfriend) house, I don’t have Internet access to post anything or get inspired.
· I’m busy – again, another lame excuse, but between the 2 weddings, 2 bachelorette parties, 3 family get-togethers, and 2 birthday parties this month, I’ve only been in my house long enough to sleep and shower. Plus, with the free fair in town, the past 4 nights have been spent visiting with old friends and taking in shows.

So, the important question is how do I remedy these issues? Make writing a priority – I’m pretty sure that this would cure the whole situation, but it’s easier said than done. I’ve developed a pseudo-system for my blog topics. First, I read some pages from my assigned texts, then if nothing strikes me to write about, I try to write something of my own. If nothing comes to me, I head out in search of blogs for inspiration. With the exception of today, I’ve pretty much been successful. To be fair, today I thought it would be helpful to myself if I thought through the reasons that I was having trouble writing. When I make writing a priority, I think the rest will fall into place. Instead of feeling like work, it will be something that naturally happens in my daily routine, similar to brushing my teeth or grabbing my purse before I leave the house. At least I hope that’s what happens. Then, even though I’m busy, my writing will have a little more time carved out of my schedule. Also, I think it would be helpful if I carry a small journal of some sort in my purse (it’s definitely big enough to hold a 5 subject notebook!) and get used to jotting ideas down as they come to me. I need to break my dependency on my laptop and train myself to write the old fashioned way – pen and ink! Maybe if I get more used to that, I won’t limit my brain to think about writing only when I’m in front of my computer…

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 17, 2009

New discovery

Let me preface this little piece of writing by saying that I am a tried and true fairgoer. That being said, I'm very set in my ways when it comes to my fair traditions. I have my list of foods that I HAVE to eat (elephant ears and corndogs don't even make the list...), and each year I set out to daily check one item off the list. Today for lunch, I was visited by my out of town coworkers, and I showed them all of the good spots for some grub. I was feeling pretty proud of myself until we were on our way out. My coworker made a suggestion as we passed a booth normally overlooked by my superior sense of fair delicacies...

“A what??”
“You heard me! A deep fried Oreo.”
“Um.. no thanks. I’ll pass.”
“Oh come on! I can’t eat the whole plate by myself! I’ll get sick…”
“Yeah… that argument isn’t really going to convince me.”
“Please please please!! I’ll buy the whole thing, it’ll be so good!!”
“No! Oreos are fattening enough. Why would I want to eat one that’s been coated with cholesterol and fried in a heart attack?!”
“Whatever… I’m buying some and you’re trying one. No arguing.”
“Ha! That’s what you think!”

Ugh. I broke down. Why do I always do that! I couldn’t let him see that I thought he was right… I can never let him win that battle! One look at those five little dough-balls covered in chocolate syrup was all it took for me to wish I hadn’t doubted him. I caved. I hold one between my thumb and forefinger, surprised at the squishiness. Probably from all the grease… Don’t think about the calories now! Way too late for that! I gingerly bite down into the fried cookie and I’m immediately surprised. WOW! I wipe away a dribble of grease that had escaped from the corner of my mouth. It’s surprisingly chewy, the way a fresh donut would be. Great… let’s add another favorite “Fair Food” to the list!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Today I read about what happens in a literary workshop. I found it interesting because I’ve never participated in anything like this. Blau writes about the workshop as if he were actually talking to participants, which made it easy to visualize what happens. There were so many interesting things that I observed and wondered when I read through the “scene.”

First of all, Blau instructs participants to read, in this case, a poem three times. After each read, he instructs people to rate their understanding of the poem. Then, people are to write questions and notes about what happened over the course of the readings. I found this interesting because I’ve never read a poem, or any story, like this. It made me wonder what I was missing!

Blau also told the participants background information about the author, which raise a lot of questions for me. I wondered if it was common to tell students the background information instead of letting them read it themselves. Later on in the chapter, Blau talks about how background information about the author can actually have a detrimental effect on a reader’s interpretation. I had never thought about it like that. In Eng 308 we were instructed to give the student as much information as possible about the subject. I never thought that this could impact the way the student interprets the poem (or story). I thought background knowledge was helpful? Blau says, "Teachers must depend on their own literary and pedagogical judgment to determine when they are approaching the point where they are being overly directive in providing background information for student readers, and when the absence of certain contextual facts could unfairly handicap student readers.” (pg 43) This must be the most difficult part about teaching literature. How do you walk the line of giving enough, not too much, information? It’s an interesting question that I’m sure most English and writing teachers face on a daily basis…

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Literature Workshop

I'm now reading The Literature Workshop by Sheridan Blau. I went ahead and purchased this from Amazon because I figured, since I'm going to be a high school English teacher, that this book would come in handy. Although, I could say the same about most of the books I've read this semester. I like having my own books because then I can mar up the pages without any residual guilt : )

In the first chapter there are a few pseudo case-studies of actual classrooms. A quote from the second classroom really caught my eye. "The only texts worth reading are texts you don't understand." WOW! That really hit me for some reason. Maybe it's because I have a slacker streak in me that doesn't like when I don't understand something on the first read through. Maybe it's because I feel guilty about my new voracious YA lit appetite (super easy reads that I justify by saying I'm "keeping up on what's new"). Whatever the reason, this quote has made me want to start reading some more challenging texts. Poetry would probably be the best place to start... : )

The third case study has a hypothetical classroom where the professor "teaches" the student by telling them about the text. This seemed fine to me until I read Blau's explanation of why this is not helpful. If a teacher merely teaches the text without showing the student HOW to learn from a text, they are doing the student a disservice. There's a difference between teaching a text and teaching how to read texts that I didn't realize until just now. I agree with Blau when he states that a lot of pre-service teachers feel overwhelmed at the thought of teaching a text that they haven't been taught (kind of a tongue-twister...). But, instead of teaching only the nuances of Faulkner or the differences in Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets, it's more important to teach students HOW to interpret what they read. I think it's going to be a tough job, but I'm hoping that I can figure out how to do it. I'm guessing Blau is going to help me figure it out : )

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Voice Poem

The Ionia Free Fair is coming to town this week, which makes this little blogger one happy camper (literally... my family camps at the fairgrounds). I LOVE the fair, although I'm one of the few in Ionia who do. I thought I'd try my hand at a 2 voice poem to show the difference between a child's view and a parent's view of a day at the fair.

UGH- Keep in mind that Blogger doesn't let me do 2 columns, so read the poem as if the two sections were side by side.

The free fair is in town!
I LOVE it!

ride fair rides,

eat Frazee Fries,

watch tractor pulls,

play carnival games.

Good thing it’s a
Free Fair!

The fair is in town.
Pay twenty dollars for a wristband to
ride fair rides,
pay five dollars to
eat Frazee Fries
Pay thirty dollars to
watch tractor pulls
Pay ten dollars to
play carnival games
I thought this was a

Free Fair…

A few shout-outs

Now that my midterm paper is finished I’ve been trying to decide what to write for my second batch of polished writing in my portfolio. My last “batch” was easy once I figured out what my focus was. Now I’m back at the drawing board. I’ve got a few pieces that I started before I gained momentum on my multi genre paper, but none of them seem to be screaming at me to finish them. So, being the little blogging fool that I am, I turned to some of my fellow bloggers for help. These blogs offer up some fun challenges and thoughts from other writers to help spur some creativity!

Two Writing Teachers offers challenges to help inspire people to write. Today is a Memoir Monday, and they also do a daily Slice of Life challenge. You can read here to find out more.

Write Anything has a weekly challenge called Fiction Friday where they give a topic, quote, or character description and all you have to do is use it! Although I’ve haven’t participated (yet), it’s fun to read through some of the entries and see how different they are.

Weekly Geeks has a new topic or theme each week. Although they aren’t always based on writing, the themes they come up with can definitely spark some inspiration!

And, of course, my favorite dose of writing humor, Inkygirl. Adorable little cartoons that will elicit a chuckle out of even the most blocked writer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lightbulb moment...

I was reading through more of The Writing Workshop today and I had an A-Ha Moment. No, it did not include me breaking out into the chorus of Take On Me (bonus points if you have any idea who or what I'm talking about with that corny little pun). I was reading about the first two days of a writing workshop, when something caught my eye, and flicked on my little lightbulb. This sentence: "Find a seat and write with your students." 8 words of brilliance. Jill Warren, one of my favorite professors, often repeated a similar mantra: "If you're not modeling, you're not teaching!!" These two concepts go hand in hand. Modeling what you're trying to teach your students is key for them to understand what you expect. Fletcher and Portalupi say that the powerful image of a grown up writing sets a serious tone. It makes the students understand that you mean business!

I also like the idea of sharing your own writing with your students, especially in the middle of the process. I think it shows students that all writers go through a process from beginning idea to publication. Showing students some of your own personal work will make them feel more comfortable with sharing their own pieces of writing.

I never would have thought that such a simple act could have such an effect on the tone of the workshop, or on the students' work. File this one away in "Use for Future Classrooms!"

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I love a good grammar lesson. Call me crazy, but there's something I like about learning the proper way to write. That being said, I was less than enthusiastic when I started reading Constance Weaver's Teaching Grammar in Context. I think I was expecting something vastly different when I started reading. I was expecting more of a direct approach to telling what methods to use as opposed to a history of grammar and explanations of various studies that have been done. I understand that it's good to form background knowledge of a subject and use empirical data to back up assertions being made, but the first few chapters of this book did not make me want to read the rest. Maybe this is because I already agree with Weaver in that grammar should not be taught in isolation. I didn't need to be convinced. I also felt bogged down with the wordiness and found myself zoning out while reading. I hate when that happens!

I've decided to give Weaver another try. She speaks to minilessons and write alouds, both of which I'm sure I will incorporate into my future classrooms. As I reread, I'm definitely going to try to focus harder!

This cartoon made me laugh out loud. Partially because of the caption, and partially because the kid's name is Norton, which is the nickname of one of my friends. As I pictured him eating his ABC soup it brought a smile to my face. I figured it kinda goes with my grammar topic, so I thought I'd share.

Semicolon Soup

Cartoon courtesy of Inkygirl

Quotable Quote

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought, and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used. **Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is what greeted me as I opened up our bank's intranet this morning. Usually the quotes are corny and overused, but this one struck me a little differently. Maybe it's because I'm starting to see the world through a writer's eye? Who knows. But I think this quote really speaks not only to the power of words, but how that power changes based on timing and context. Holmes gives the feeling that words are organic in nature and can evolve and take on a new identity based on the surroundings in which we, as authors, choose to place them.

Kind of a nice, unexpected start to my day : )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Letter to Me

Here is a draft of what I think will be my final piece in my multi genre paper. It's a letter that I've written to myself at age 18. What I wanted to do in the final piece was give the reader the impression that I made the right decision to become a teacher and I'm happy with what I've done, even though it was quite a gamble. I didn't want to spoon-feed that sentiment to the reader, but I wanted it to be obvious enough that there was a sense of closure. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to write a letter to my younger self. I had to be choosy with the "advice" I dispensed to make sure it stayed on focus with the rest of my multi genre paper. I felt like I could write SO much to tell my younger self what to do. But, as I reflected on the last 6 years of my life, I decided there was a lot that I had to learn on my own, with no help from a future self. I actually think this could be an interesting assignment for a future classroom. Writing a letter to yourself is a very self-reflective exercise and turned out to be very thought-provoking for me.

July 8, 2009
Dear Ashley,

I realize it’s pretty strange to receive a letter from your future self, but don’t freak out. It’s just me… well, it’s you, actually. Right now you’re about to turn 18, head off to Saginaw Valley State University on a full ride scholarship, and start some of the most enjoyable years of your life. I won’t give away too much of what happens, but I will give you some advice. Trust me on this- I know you better than anyone else. Shove your stubborn side away for the next few minutes and just read.

  1. You’ll only be a graphic design major for 2 semesters, so just have fun with it. You’ll learn a lot of valuable tools even though you decide not to continue down that path. And when that prof gives you your first C ever, just give him the finger (not literally), smile, and be on your way. Having fun on your projects is WAY more important than getting an A, even if it kills your GPA. And it will.
  2. While we’re on the subject of GPA: Go to class, even if you’d rather go to the mall. Believe me, your life will be less stressful if you just put forth a little bit of effort during your first year of college. It’s ok to skip sometimes, but it’s a hard habit to break.
  3. Save more, spend less. This is the first time you’ll be living within 10 minutes of a mall. Seriously listen: SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!!! Buying something on sale is not saving money. Keep that in mind.
  4. No matter what they say, taking 5 shots of Captain Morgan in an hour is NOT a good idea. Trust me on that one.
  5. Actually… disregard #4. You will never want another drop of Captain Morgan for the rest of your life, which is probably a good thing.
  6. Spoiler Alert: You will change majors from graphic design to finance. In the future you’ll wish you had switched to something else, but you’re going to learn some valuable lessons as you suffer through those miserable marketing and economics classes.
  7. My last bit of advice is going to be vague, but just tuck it away in the back of your mind. After you’ve graduated from college and entered the world of commercial banking, don’t doubt yourself if you feel like you don’t fit in. Trust your instincts because they will help you make the best decision of your life so far. Even though you will be faced with a lot of skepticism and uncertainty, don’t let it discourage you. At times you’re going to feel overwhelmed and want to quit, but stick with it. You are going to be so pleased with the decision you’ve made and the work you’ve done.

That’s all the advice I’m going to give. I could write pages and pages about what you should and shouldn’t do over the next 6 years, but that would rob you of the fun of figuring it out for yourself. Enjoy yourself, take school (a little) seriously, and trust your instincts and you will be successful. You’re going to have a blast!


Writing Workshops

Today I started reading Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide by Ralph Fletcher and JoAn Portalupi. I was excited to start this read because I've never participated in a writer's workshop and frankly, I didn't really know what they are. I'm only about 4 chapters in, and I can already see the benefits! One thing I didn't realize is that in the workshops, students are writing whatever they want with no assignment from the teacher. That surprised me because I can't remember a time when I was in a classroom and had free reign to write whatever I wanted in whatever way I felt. I can see how this method encourages creativity and allows the student to truly own their writing. I think the unfinished writing folder is a great idea! Personally, there are times when I feel like I could write a thousand pieces on countless different topics, and then there are days when I have no idea what to write about. I can see students having the same problem. The four squares where students can write topics down at any time will help them organize their thoughts and provoke ideas for the present and the future.

The one concern I had was that the majority of what I read seemed to come from an elementary school perspective where the teacher has full control of the students for the entire day. I'm curious as to how a writer's workshop translates into a middle and high school setting where students change classes every hour. It seems like it would be almost impossible to devote 3 entire class periods each week to the workshop setting. With all of the standards and objectives that need to be met in the language arts curriculum, how does a high school teacher incorporate an effective writer's workshop without neglecting other areas?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Teaching Grammar...

Ok, ok, I'm sure you're soooo thrilled to hear what I have to say on a topic as interesting as grammar, but just bear with me. I just read an article by Constance Weaver titled "Teaching Grammar in the Context of Writing" and there were a few interesting tidbits I'd like to point out.

Let me take a minute to point out that I was taught grammar in isolation, not in a writing context. I tend to have good instincts when it comes to grammar, but I'm definitely far from pefect (although I'm sure my friends would say that I think I'm pretty close to perfect). I know what sounds and looks correct, and I know basic grammar rules, but I have no idea what a participial phrase is, for example. I used to think that my grammatical (is that the right word?) skill came from the practice I did in elementary school, and from diagraming sentences in high school. Now as I understand the concept of isolation vs. context, I think my instincts come from my voracious reading habit more than they come from endless hours of underlining subjects and verbs in sentences on a worksheet.

Weaver mentions a study of students in fourth through sixth grades. The study found that students used writing mechanics better when they had been taught in the context of their own writing instead of in isolation. This made perfect sense to me, as a person who learns by doing. It was not enough for the students to "do" merely by completing worksheets. They needed to incorporate what they were learning into their own writing for it to make an impression.

Weaver uses real teacher examples in her article. One of these examples is of Sarah, who uses a quote that caught my attention. She says "Disguising my grammar lessons behind the minilesson format in the writer's workshop has prevented me from having to endure a repetion of last year's groans regarding how boring grammar is." I laughed a little when I read that sentence. Why does grammar have such a negative connotation? It's probably the 'scariest' part of English according to most people. I think people hate grammar because of the way it is taught. Most people were probably taught nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs through dittos and workbooks, like I was. However, most people probably aren't freaks like me, a person who doesn't mind the mindless repetition of worksheets. Sarah's clever way of 'disguising' the grammar lessons transformed her student's view of learning grammar, and made it a more enjoyable experience for all parties involved.

I also read an article by Susan Rowe titled "Using Minilessons to Promote Student Revision." Rowe explains how she uses a shared experience of collective revision to enhance her students' understanding of how to be better writers. The class brainstorms better ways to write a sentence that Rowe puts on the board. Together they talk about what they like and don't like about the suggestions. She writes, "But the entire class has been exposed to myriad examples and has discussed the pros and cons of each." I really liked this technique because it is a physical representation of what should be happening in a writer's mind. By going through this process as a class, students are better prepared to critique drafts of their own writing.

That's all I'll share about grammar today! And you thought I was going to drone on and on about comma splices and prepositional phrases....

Monday, July 6, 2009

So true...

I came across this cute little cartoon on Finding Wonderland's blog as I was scrolling through my Google Reader. It made me chuckle to myself as I put myself in that poor girl's place.

I've been revising pieces for my multi genre paper today and, let me tell you, I am ready to yank every perfectly straightened hair from my pounding head! I didn't think it would be too difficult to revise these pieces, but for some reason I'm having trouble. I've got lots of annoying little voices swirling around in my lil head: Do I have enough pieces? Does the order of the pieces make sense? Does it flow well? Are the pieces diverse enough to be interesting, yet not detract from the overall theme? Is the overall theme clear? How should I start and end the paper? Needless to say, all of these voices are making me a TAD bit crazy... I think I'm going to reread some of Bird by Bird where Anne Lamott talks about picking out each voice and dealing with it, one at a time.

This week, I'm reading about grammar... YAY!! I'm such a grammar freak that my friends constantly tell me to "go grade a paper" when I mention an error in their speech or type. (Yeah, I'm sure I'm a real treat to be around. haha : ) ) So, I'm looking forward to ways to teach grammar and incorporate those lessons into writing. I'll also be reading about writing workshops, which is a method I've never had the opportunity to try. My week is already shaping up to be a busy one, but by the end, I'll (hopefully) have a nicely polished multi-genre paper. I'll also have completed all of the mid-term requirements of my writing class. It blows my mind to think that I'm half-way done already!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Matt's POV

The final piece that I worked on today is a look into what I think my friend and coworker Matt must have been thinking the day I came into his office after my performance review.

Oh man, what do I do? I think something’s wrong, but I don’t know. Ashley always comes in and gazes out the window to clear her mind but this is strange. Usually she sits across from me, but now she’s standing up at the window furthest away. She’s not facing me. She’s not even talking to me. Should I say something? What should I say? She’s so sensitive sometimes, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. Oh crap. Did she just wipe a tear from her eye? She just had her review, but why would she be crying? She does fine, I’m sure she’s not underperforming at all. I think she wants me to say something. Shit, the phone’s ringing. Do I answer? Do I try and talk to Ashley? Yup, she’s definitely crying. I better throw the box of Kleenex at her, looks like she needs it. Uh oh. She’s coming over to sit at my desk. I hate seeing people cry. I hate seeing my friends cry. I hate seeing girls cry. This sucks. I wonder what’s wrong? I better ask. WOAH! Did not see that coming. She doesn’t want to work at the bank anymore? I need to pry. She needs to talk. Ok… she’s definitely spilling her guts. Focus, focus. Try to keep up… Adequate review. Doesn’t want to be a lender. Keep listening… Doesn’t know what to do. Going back to school. Going back to school? For what? When? Why? Shit, pay attention Matt, she’s still talking. She looks like she needs a hug. Can I hug her? Is that weird? We’re good friends, but hugging is a different level. Screw it. She needs a hug. I should just tell her it’s gonna be ok. Hopefully it is.

My attempt at poetry

This poem was created to show the results of the performance review I had been waiting for in the piece in my previous post. I don't think it's too bad, but I've already thought of some revisions I want to make. (I'm proud of myself for not editing as I go and instead, making a completely new draft!)

Adequate (draft 1)

3, 3, 3
Im confused. What’s a 3?
Meets expectations
Meets. Meets. Not Exceeds.

3, 3, 3
I’m shocked.
Performance is adequate.
Not extraordinary, not exemplary.

3, 3, 3
I’m searching. Where are the 5s?
Not even a 4
Not the best, not impressive.

3, 3, 3
I’m embarrassed.
I don’t get 3s.
But I do. I get 3s.
A whole parade of them.

I’m now a 3.

Writing fiend!

So I've been working on my multigenre piece, and holy crap, today I've been SO productive! Well... I guess that depends on who you ask. I'm sure my supervisor isn't crazy about me writing all day instead of working. Oh well... : )

I did drafts of 3 new pieces today and posted the first one below. It's a sequence of 2 flashbacks to prior performance reviews as I wait for another review. I was trying to work on dialogue skills as well as set the reader up to see how I had been performing at my past jobs at the bank.

I sit at my computer, trying to find something online to pass the time until I’m called into the conference room for my performance review. My mind wanders as I recline back a little in my office chair.
“Hey, Ash, why don’t we go over your review right now since I’ve got some time,” my supervisor, Patrick, calls from his office around the corner.
“K, I’ll be right there.”
I shuffle some papers around and grab a few forms for him to sign. Getting Patrick alone in his office is a rare occurrence, so I’m determined to make the most of it while I have his full attention. I step into his office and I’m immediately greeted by the leathery smell of his coat that hangs on the other side of the door.
“How’s it goin’ today?”
“Not bad,” I say. “I’m just finishing up on the new brochure for the realtor welcome packets. They should be done by the end of the day.”
“Awesome, ahead of schedule.” His pleasure is evident on his face. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though.” He slides some inner-office envelopes and files off to the side and sits my personnel file between us on his desk. “K, let’s go over this review stuff. I’m sure you already know this, but you’ve been doing a great job. The lenders love you, the realtors are crazy about you, and God knows I’d be lost without you keeping track of all my shit.”
I smile, shifting uncomfortably in my seat, nervously playing with the ring I was given for my 5 years of service at Independent Bank. I like hearing all those things, but man, I just don’t know how to respond. Of course, I’m glad he’s glad, but how do I react without coming across as a self-absorbed, over-confident college student?
“Oh, thanks,” I say quietly. “That’s always nice to hear.”
“Seriously, Ash, you’re doing great. I’m giving you 5 out of 5 on everything. Keep up the good work, kiddo.”
I’m jolted from my mid-morning daydream by Garrett as he comes back from getting his review.
“My turn yet?”
“Nope,” Garrett replies. “Carrie’s gonna go, then it’s your turn.”
“Ok that works. So, how was it? I’m sure the Golden Boy got 5’s across the board, right?”
“Haha yeah right, save it,” he says, flashing a guilty grin my way. “I did fine, no complaints here!”
“Good for you.”

“Ashley Lou, come on in!”
I pull a chair up to my branch manager’s desk. The office smells like Clinique Happy mixed with remnants of orange chicken from Mandarin House, today’s take out choice. Kim Foldie, my supervisor and mentor, pulls out my personnel file and smooths her crisp white Banana Republic button front shirt. She flips the file over so I can read what she’s written about me.
“Ashley, you’re doin’ awesome, girl! You know the customers love you,” she says, looking up at me with a huge smile spread across her face. “In face, Mr. Pawlowski was in yesterday when you were at class. He wanted you to help him open a new CD, but we told him you wouldn’t be in. He was bound and determined to wait for you until Carol convinced him that she could do just as good a job as you.” She winked at me.
“Awww that’s so sweet! He’s such a nice man.” I’m beaming. I love my customers and it’s always great to hear that they feel the same way. I look up at Kim and notice a strange look on her face.
“Ashley Lou, I actually wanted to talk to you about something else before we start your review.” She sounds hesitant. “Patrick Rokosz in the mortgage department is looking for a sales assistant. It would be full time, and I think you’re the perfect candidate.”
I know Patrick. He was a loan officer at the branch I worked in previously. He was always on the go, bringing in new customers and setting sales records. No wonder he needed an assistant. A job with him would expose me to so many big wigs in the community and definitely help launch my corporate career.
“Now, don’t take this the wrong way,” Kim explains. “I definitely want you here. I toyed with the idea of even mentioning this position to you because I know you’ll get it if you interview. I absolutely do not want to lose you as part of my staff, but I think this would be a great opportunity for you and your career.”
“Wow…” I say as I try to process this news. Can I take on a full time job and still work full time through my last year of school? Can I handle the job responsibilities? This would mean a huge raise, not to mention a lot of face time with some important people. “Thanks for the info, Kim. I’ll have to think about it but it sounds like it would be an amazing experience for me.”
“Well, I know that you are going to be so successful at whatever you choose. Speaking of which, let’s go over your review. You can see you’ve earned 5’s all the way through! You’re a terrific asset to our branch. We’ll definitely miss you if you choose to work for Patrick. Keep up the good work!”
Carrie walks up and taps me on the shoulder.
“Your turn!”
I roll back from my computer and walk into the conference room, ready to hear how great I’ve been doing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ugh! Excel and Blogger don't mix!

I've been playing around with some of the templates I use on a daily basis for my credit proposals. I want to incorporate these into my multi genre piece so I've been experimenting with the best ways to show my transition from banker to teacher. In a perfect world I'd be able to copy/paste directly from Excel, but of course, it doesn't work! So... I've spent the last 20 minutes trying to figure out a way to show what I've done, and this is the best I've got. Sorry for the crappy quality! I'll post some of the text underneath the image so you can see what it says a little more clearly.

Return on Equity: 100% - Based on the subject's love of English and desire to teach
Return on Assets: 0% - Based on the price, time injected, and opportunity costs of investing savings in other vehicles. The subject could increase her return on assets by continuing on her current course of action, moving up the corporate ladder, and securing a lofty executive position at the bank.

Ms Leak has nothing to pledge for collateral for this request other than a small deposit account that was previously earmarked as savings for a down payment on a house. This entire account will be applied to the cost of attendance, however does not even come close to covering the whole amount necessary.

Note: Due to Ms. Leak's inability to secure this venture with anyting tangible, the loan to value of this request is extrordinarily high. The recommendation is that Ms. Leak stick with what she knows and stay with the bank where her career is stable. Although Ms. Leak states that this new venture will bring her joy, fulfullment, and personal happiness, these intangible ideas will not contribute to future cash flow nor will they increase income to a level higher than what Ms. Leak currently receives.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Here are two drafts of the same concept. I wanted to write from my mom's perspective about what she was thinking the night I told her I was going back to school. The first attempt is a poem that is supposed to be in 3 columns (use your imagination). The second is a before-during-after glimpse of what my mom may have been thinking that night.

I have something important to tell you

I’m going back to college

To be an English teacher

I’m not moving to Troy

I’m not taking the promotion

Oh really? What’s up

Oh you decided to get your MBA?

Well… you love to read!

You’ll be much closer to everyone!

Sounds like you’ve got this all figured out

What Mom is Thinking
Oh God, she better not be pregnant.

I wonder how she’s going to pay for this. I hope she doesn’t expect a lot of help from me, I can’t afford that. I’m already a co-signer on her sister’s loans. She can’t keep her apartment and we don’t have room for her to move back in. What is she going to do?

How long is that going to take? Where did this come from? I thought she loved working at the bank

She’s going to get stuck in Ionia and never have a chance to leave. What about her new job?

I hope she’s got this all figured out.

Ash is coming over tonight to tell me something. She says it’s important and wouldn’t give me any hints, so naturally I’m pretty nervous. I hate the suspense, especially because I’m not convinced this will be good news. She seemed pretty chipper when I talked to her, but she’s good at hiding her real feelings. Hopefully I can read her face better than I can read her voice. Oh, she’s pulling in the driveway right now…

Ash is walking in the door. I can’t read her face yet, but she doesn’t seem especially excited or disappointed. Where did this girl get her composure? Definitely not from me. She’s sitting down on the couch. Should I bring it up? I know that she’s waiting for me to say something first, probably enjoying the suspense building around her grand announcement. I cave. I ask her what her big surprise is and she tells me. Wow! I did not see that coming. I’m in shock…

Ash is pulling out of the driveway. I’m still mulling it over in my head. She’s going back to school? Why? She has a good job and is well on her way to being successful at the bank. She has virtually no student loans and is throwing it all away to go back and be a teacher. A teacher in Michigan. A teacher in a state where there are no teaching jobs. I hope she’s not making a mistake. She’s so confident, though, I can’t help but believe that she will be fine. She always has been fine. Even though she’s always pulled herself through whatever trial she’s faced with, I’m still worried for her. I’m worried about what her boss will say when she tells him she’s not moving to Troy and taking the promotion. I’m worried about where she will live because she can’t afford her apartment anymore if she’s going to pay for half of her classes herself. She’s bound and determined to make this work for her, and knowing Ash, she will. For some reason, I’m still worried.