Friday, December 21, 2007

Modeling the Writing Process

When I sit down saying, "I'm going to write," whatever ends up on paper, particularly fiction, is very rarely good. But sometimes if I have a concept that hits me in the middle of the day and I write it down, it may be half decent (at least, in my mind).

But we as teachers know that one won't become a good writer unless one practices and, I think, for myself at least, I need to force myself to sit down and write.

Which is why we have our students write in journals or writer's notebooks, maybe everyday or maybe just three times a week, either in class or for homework. Many of them (in my limited experience) look at it as a chore rather than an exercise that may help them improve.

I'm reflecting yet again on writing workshop and its implementation in my classroom when I was a student teacher. I don't think my half page handout gave my students an inkling of an idea what a writer's notebook is. It told them it wasn't a diary. It told them they might expand some of the pieces to be part of their portfolios at the end of the hexter. That was it. A professor I had the semester prior to student teaching gave me her five mini-lesson set on introducing students to writer's notebooks.

I made my own half page handout.

How quickly we can revert to our freshmen ideas of how a teacher is supposed to teach.

My own writer's notebook got off to a slow start in fall 2005 in my teaching writing class with Louann Reid, and I certainly didn't keep up with the three times a week I asked of my students in spring 2006.

But sometimes events in my life provide a catalyst giving me a need to write. That's what happened when I met my future wife in 2003 - I wrote 30 poems in three months. When I was finally able to get back in the classroom after my student teaching in 2007, there was a spike in the number of posts on this blog. Peace Corps has had a similar effect - nine entries in my writer's notebook for December thus far. Hopefully I can keep the streak going by sometimes forcing myself to write.

But students need to know that they won't always have great ideas. They need to be prepared for the very real possibility that not everything will be good.

Thinking back on my own schooling, I don't ever remember being presented a clear, complete, and realistic model of the writing process from drafting to publishing. We wrote stories, did peer reviews, revised, our teacher's edited, and we made our own books at the school printing press. But our stories were what our teachers told us to write - we didn't choose our medium and our topic required approval. There was only one draft - no turning back, no starting over. Having never seen a good peer review as a fly on the wall, we didn't really give completely honest or constructive feedback. We changed a word here or there and added the necessary commas. Our teacher's graded. We took the finished book home and showed our parents, who proudly distributed our publication to Refrigerator Front Bookstore before it was ultimately shelved as a childhood memory.

That's why I started this blog. It's my first step to show my future students more realistic models of the writing process and a more authentic audience. The two haikus posted now are finished pieces from my first two months of using a writer's notebook. I want the blog to model publication as closely as possible. I would appreciate your comments and spreading the work to friends who you think may be interested.

I'm thinking maybe I videotape myself doing a peer review with my wife, or if one can view history on Google Docs, I could peer-review, revise, & edit there. Any other ideas?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Human Brain Cloud

Check out the Human Brain Cloud, introduced to me by this post on Errata, the Wordie blog. Presents some possibilities for vocabulary instruction, I think, which I've posted numerous times about here, and back up with the pedagogical evidence here.

UPDATE: now the links actually work. A little bit of operator error. Sorry.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Spam, Glorious Spam!

Hey everyone. I just now caught the spam from back in October. (No, I'm afraid none of us won the million euro lottery.) I haven't been blogging much here, but not for lack of thought. I just don't like typing on a cell phone (few computers in our African village and only one with an internet connection).

I hope to make a couple posts on Friday. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter.