As a member of this Online Book Club, you are expected to post to the book blog at least once per week between now and July 11 -- that's six weeks. You should finish your book before then, and you will meet during the Institute in your groups to extend the discussion and plan how to present the book to the others in the Institute.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Inches and Half Inches (Chapters 1-2)

My students do not write in pages. They write in inches, or half-inches. Sometimes, with great efforts on their parts and mine, they write as much as half a foot. (Jane Juska, 532)
This. So much this.  One of my last papers in college was my 97-page thesis, so when I entered the classroom, I had absolutely no sense of how long "even" a page might be for my students. That wasn't the real problem, though. The problem was more that I was assigning writing rather than teaching it. Naturally, that meant a barrage of questions like "A paragraph is five sentences, right?" and handwriting of ninth graders that suddenly needed two lines. I'm not saying that I have nightmares about this, because I don't. At least, not anymore...
It seems almost indisputable that reading and writing fuel and fortify each other, in part because they depend o the same cognitive processes. (585)
This is one of my biggest frustration points, and it goes hand in hand with the concept of mentor texts. My students, generally speaking, do not read much outside of school, and while the other departments have made strides in incorporating reading into their everyday work,  it's still a struggle. Thus, because we have a block schedule, it's perfectly conceivable that my students may only be reading three times a week, otherwise known as when they have my class.  I don't bring this up to complain. Rather, if anyone has ideas about increasing student reading for fun, I am all eyes.
I had never heard of Barry Lane before reading this book, and so when the authors referenced his YouTube videos (1004),  I knew that I had to look them up immediately. This is what I found. I'm not sure I would show this video to teenagers, but I feel it's an excellent mentor video for trying to teach the same "explode the moment" strategy. I could see this being fun to do as a kind of exercise with gifs or Vines or short pratfall clips, everyone practicing with the same moment.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Differing Perspective

Overall, I seem to be having some trouble with this book. I mean, I understand the format of the book, as well as the value behind the lesson plans the authors describe. I understand the book, but I have trouble relating to it.

I don't teach K-12. I have zero experience with that realm and, quite frankly, feel underqualified discussing approaches to K-12 teaching. I teach college writing, and I am not bound by the same constraints that K-12 teachers face, nor do I see my students on a daily basis for a full academic year.

As such, I've decided to lean heavily on the authors' concepts of adaptability. In Chapter Two, Murphy and Smith suggest we "think of the upcoming lesson as representing one approach to integration. It's an adaptable model" (11). I underlined this sentence and wrote "USE THIS" in the margin next to it. I've been preaching the idea of adaptability for some time now, so that's going to be my approach to this book. Though some of the lesson plans offered seem better suited to teachers who have more face time with their students, I think I can take chunks of the ideas presented and try to incorporate them into my WRTG 120 class in the fall.

My biggest concern with this divide is presenting information to my students and having them respond with disdain. I don't want them to feel I think less of them as students because I'm bringing K-12 material and approaches into a college classroom, regardless of the value those materials may have. Consequently, by adapting the material, such as the narrative writing and peer responses, to suit my class, I may be able to utilize some of the information presented in this book without alienating my students in the process.

Only time will tell...

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Another post about chapter 1

Several pages into the book, I had to stop reading and make a burger. Medium-rare on a homemade ciabatta bun with fresh lettuce and tomato, topped with a fried egg, if you are wondering. 

I wasn't particularly hungry when I sat down. Didn't plan to have a burger for dinner, even. Yet a single word in the text prompted my need for the treat - a name, in fact. 

Maybe you saw it, too. 

In the first section, the authors cite someone by the name of Applebee. The quote regarded the premise of writing's resurgence of importance following an age testing avalanches. I only know that because I read it three times; the first time through, as soon as I hit Applebee, my brain narrowed its focus to a single idea: burger. The two ideas remain inseparable. Thanks, Pavlov. 

Maybe some of you had similar reactions to different elements of the first chapter (or the Forward). NCLB, Common Core, college and career readiness, Kelly Gallagher, narrative writing, etc. There's much conversation to be had here, but as a first year teacher, I lack the background to attach an emotional reaction to the intellectual stimulation. I didn't "care." 

Likewise, students often lack the experience required to acknowledge the importance of writing. Despite our best efforts to help students view themselves as "writers" or appeal to their more rational sides by waxing on about the importance of writing regardless of profession or discipline, few see the practice as more than another task. That was me, certainly.

But once I recognized writing's importance, the skills drilled into me provided a scaffold off which I could shape my own writing habits. This book looks like it will offer some discussion and tools for accomplishing the same feat with my students while, perhaps, helping them to see - through variety - the opportunities writing can offer. "Communication gives purpose to correctness," Carol Jago writes in the Forward, punctuating her point that Writers see the mechanics of writing as a means to an end, no ends in themselves. 

This attitude change is what I hope to learn about in this book. My hope is to engage instructional practices that help students see opportunity in writing, especially when - upon reflection - I realize that the "how" far outweighs the "why" in my writing instruction. The broad setup of chapter 2 as a lesson in writing about food indicates that the authors give weight to student inquiry and interest, suggesting an attitude focus. The orientation around speaking and collaboration give body to the idea of writing as communication, too. 

All in all, the forward and first chapter have me excited to read more. The practices, hopefully, will help me instruct my students about writing in a way that doesn't leave them thinking exclusively about burgers.

Friday, June 24, 2016

First Chapter

Hello all!

I am so sorry for not posting sooner, but thank you for letting me join the conversation! I am reading on a Kindle, so my citations are referring to locations (loc).

The first chapter already has me a bit apprehensive since I am not the biggest fan of CCSS, but I am listening. It sounds like we are going to look at compromising and also how the standards do give us (teachers) something more to work with rather than within.

"They [CCSS] are relevant and useful in helping students become 'college ready.'" (loc 502)
For me, this is one of the biggest things that disgruntles me about the standards, that they are always looking towards college readiness. Realistically, not all of my students--if half of them--are going to be going to college. I am concerned that we are missing our students who will be going to trade schools, military, or straight into the work force. I am hoping that the next chapter with the walk-through lesson or in Chapter 3 ("Extending the Range of Writing") will provide some insight. I understand that the standards are looking at some skills, such as collaboration, that are of course meant for every one. I guess I am just miffed that we keep saying "college readiness" in schools and that is making some students feel left out of the conversation of their education.

On a different note, I can already see how the book is going to be modeling some of the strategies that it has mentioned, specifically scaffolding. For example, it talks about how Chapters 2 and 3 will be talking about food because of its universality, and then it will allow Chapters 4 and 5 to take on topics of their own. I think this is a safe way for the reader to get acquainted with these ideas before going into a more high risk area of challenging our teaching.

I saw that "spiraling" is listed as one of the approaches to writing (loc 431), but I have never heard of it before. I am looking forward to learning about that one since it is next to scaffolding. It'll be interesting to see how they are related to each other.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Chapter Two- I Need a Mentor!

The framework of the activities in this chapter centers around "mentor texts."  My entry for this chapter will be simple and sweet:  How does one find/use mentor texts?

I know that this is a common practice for my colleagues in this class, but I have had a hard time starting the practice.  I have a few questions:
1. How do you find the time to find mentor texts?  It seems like it would be a very time consuming practice, there are so many options!
2. How do you qualify a mentor text?  What makes a "good" mentor text?
3. How often do you use mentor  texts when teaching writing?

I would love answers to any or all of those questions.  Help a sister out!


Monday, June 6, 2016

The First Chapter

This is my first reading in my first grad school class!

Here are a few points that I constructed from the first chapter:

1. I loved the guidebook analogy.  This is how I have felt being a new-ish teacher, having faced two sets of curriculum at two very different schools: urban Detroit and suburban Canton.  How does one cram everything into the year, and have those units be memorable?  The quote from Gallager on page three reinforces this sentiment- that we have put an "unrealistic amount of material" into our lessons for the sake of "the test."  I am very interested in implementing more focused writing instruction into my literature classes.

2. I appreciated the quote from Applebee on page two, that included that students should be able to lead a "literate life," and that we must be able to equip our students for a range of writing demands.

3. I was interested in the "rituals" of the authors on page five.  I think this could be a very helpful and inspiring lessons for students in the beginning of the year.  What kinds of routines do they have when they write, or what kinds could they possibly develop.  This could be followed up at the end of the year.

4.  "Students cannot be standardized and turned our for distribution like cans of tomatoes" (8).  I think that this connects back to the "literature life" quote that I commented on in my second point.  If we think of our students' post-secondary life as the dish being prepared, we have so many different lives that will take so many different ingredients.If we do not expose students to the numerous, flavorful ingredients of writing, if we do not prepare their palates for the unexpected, how can a students know what they like?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

First! (Do people still do that in comment sections anymore?)

I've already started reading the book, but in the interest of not posting spoilers, I thought I'd muse a little bit about why I chose this book.

I was drawn to Uncommonly Good Ideas for basically the same reasons that I was drawn to the class. I feel like I am entering the second phase of my career. The first two years have been very sink or swim, but now I feel like I have finally learned to tread. In these two years, I've learned a lot about reading and teaching reading, but any honest appraisal of my writing instruction would come up short. It's a little embarrassing, honestly. I feel like I plan the assignments but somewhere between my brain and my students' pens or keyboards, everything falls apart. This frustrates me to no end because I love writing, and I want my kids to love writing. So I'm here, and I'm reading this book looking for better ideas than the ones I currently have.

So what about everyone else? Why did y'all pick Uncommonly Good Ideas?