I believe I have determined through my research and through my analysis in this blog that using the publishing world in the classroom can be a great motivator for students. The reasons for using such influence continue to mount for me because I have learned so much.

1) Those who have “gone before” in the field of professional writing can give real and interesting advice for students who are just starting to get an idea of what it takes to be a writer (both in school and out).

2) Professional writers can inspire young people to challenge their world through the written word and to express their thoughts and feelings.

3) It is an amazing acheivement to become a published author whether that means simply  having a story bound or having a piece picked up by a magazine, newspaper or other publication. To have a student do so would be SO COOL! Those opportunities should be presented to students on a regular basis because who wouldn’t want the chance to publish their work?!? It’s a great motivator to get students interested in writing.

4) By looking at a wide variety of writers both professional and not, we can see that anyone of any background or culture can be a writer even if it seems boring at first.

I learned a lot from class discussions, the conference, and the information I found to use for this blog. I have to say that I found much of this blog work very time-consuming. It was at times beneficial but it was very difficult to write meaningful information in an entry when all I wanted was to get it done sometimes. I think perhaps the requirements were a bit difficult to accomplish especially when combined with the pedagogy project now at the end of the semester. If it were a few less entries I think it would have been much more do-able. That aside, it has been wonderful to learn to see the world of writing through so many different views over the course of this assignment. The publication aspect will definitely be something I try to implement in my classroom.

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I commented on Nicole’s blog entry titled: Concerns of NCLB…will a nclb report card help? on April 14th, 2007 

I commented on Megan’s Blog Entry titled: ACT Obsession + Standardized Writing and Rubrics on April 14th, 2007

I commented on Marie’s Blog Entry Titled: Writing as a Career= Depression? on April 10th, 2007

I commented on Tami’s Blog entry titled: Just when you think it couldn’t get much worse… on April 10th, 2007

I commented on Trisha’s Blog entry: Super Heroes on February 23, 2007

I commented on Dan’s Blog entry: Critical Pedagogy and Super-Size Me on February 24, 2007

I commented on Cassie’s blog entry titled: First Step: Admitting you have a problem on February 23, 2007

I commented on Hannah’s blog entry titled: Money Makes the World go ‘Round on Feb 1st, 2007

I commented on Chris’s blog entry titled: Tests = Incentive To Teach? on Jan. 31st, 2007

I commented on Candace’s blog entry titled: Freedom of What? on Jan. 24th, 2007

I found out some very useful information at this conference and I was very pleased by the variety of presentations available for those who attended. My first session was, of course, the keynote speaker: Jacqueline Woodson. I may be a little far removed from the world of current childrens’ literature because I had not heard of her before this conference. However, upon hearing her read her work and see her passion for writing and also for children, I can honestly say that she is very talented and an asset for the literary world. In all fairness, she is not a particulary well-spoken public speaker but her hope for humanity and students came across very genuine and I loved hearing her read her work outloud.

With regards to writing, she made some very good points that would be useful in the classroom. She focused on the fact that “Everybody has a story” and the main goal of writing should be to get them over the fear of telling that story. She also made it clear that without the skill of reading (so often underestimated in schools), good writing skills are virtually impossible. How can we expect students to meet high standards in writing when their reading skills lag far behind? She said we should give students the time and opportunity to tell their story. Patience can be such a useful tool in the classroom.

One thing that I will definitely take away from her presentation is the three step editing process she uses for her own writing.

1) She says to those who read it, “Tell me what you like about this book” and then rewrites. This to build confidence for her own writing.

2) She says “Ask me three questions about this book” and then rewrites. This makes sure the book is interesting and grabbing to the reader.

3) She says, “Now, tell me where this needs work”. Once confidence is built it is much easier to do the serious and often more painful editing.

Overall, I learned some very important ideas and tools from Ms. Woodson. Her skill for capturing the reader and listener with her words is incredible. I will definitely consider looking into her books as literature material in my classroom.

After the keynote speaker, I chose to go upstairs to the Lake Erie room for my next two sessions. The first one, titled: “Introducing a 21st century curriculum: incorporating mass communication into the English classroom”. I found the name of the session fairly misleading. It turned out that the leaders of this session were student-teachers from MSU: one was an English major and the other two were journalism majors. The main focus in the session was the use of wiki’s and other mass communication tools in the classroom, but never really touched on the whole idea as a curriculum. Also, one part of the presentation was the use of graphic design in the English classroom, which for me personally, is not something most English teacher are going to be able to do with standards and all the other things (grammar, literature, papers) that secondary English teachers are required to teach. The person teaching it was one of the journalism majors and I could definitely see who graphic design is important for newspaper/magazine publishing. Yet, it didn’t really seem to fit with the wiki discussion or the overall 21st century premise.

I did learn a few valuable things about wikis that I may like to use in the classroom if I get the chance. For example, I really like the idea of building a wiki about either the history of the community or the school in which the students live and having students be able to research it and contribute. I think a project like that would be beneficial for students, teachers, the school, and the community. It was also mentioned that a wiki could be a place to set up a classroom webpage for students to get assignments from. I also liked that idea, but if it were used for that purpose I would have to restrict the password so that students couldnt get on and post fake annoucements or other such things. Those two ideas I felt were effective ways to bring wikis into schools as they inevitably will be. It also shows students how easy it is to change a wiki and thus why it is not a valid information source.

The last session I chose was for me the most beneficial. It was titled “In the City: Literacy and Learning in an Urban Setting”. I was pumped about this session for a number of reasons. One, I knew one of the speakers (Renee Speed) because I did some volunteering/observing in her classroom at Riverside Middle School in Grand Rapids Public Schools. And, two, I really hope to have the opportunity to teach in an urban school district at some point in my career. Also, this session was taught by Nancy Patterson, a professor at GVSU. My eyes were opened during this outstanding presentation which began with Ms. Speed’s personal story of growing up in GRPS and now teaching at GRPS and the problems she has encountered there over the years. Nancy Patterson presented valid research regarding the deep deficits that urban children are facing including a stigma placed on them by outsiders and even their teachers at times. The fact that urban school teachers are facing the crunch under No Child Left Behind because of low acheivement and the cycle that comes with teaching for the test instead of for the student was laid out very clearly and honestly for us. I still want to teach in GRPS or some other district like it even though the challenges there may seem overwhelming and highly politically charged. I admire Ms. Speed and I would love to do my student teaching with her some day. People like her who have dealt with the negatives the system hands out and turned them into tools to use for others are so important for other students and colleagues. This presentation taught me what to expect in those tense situation where the test deadline is approaching and how to deal with it. I feel more knowledgeable and prepared for what will face me in an urban English classroom. I am so glad a chose this particular session: it made the entire conference worthwhile for me.

Overall, the conference was beneficial for me because it gave me a starting ground for becoming a teacher and also some very important and relevant information and tools for me to use in the classroom.

Now, as we come to end of all the reading and researching, the question is: Does it really help students to allow them, no, encourage them, to write for a larger audience such as the publication world? Obviously, classroom dynamics and other intangibles may make this avenue not a very feasible option for some teachers, but based on what I have found, it seems apparent that the prospect of possibly being published is potentially a great motivator for students.

In Jacksonville, Florida there is a teacher who decided to make publication a facet of a project she did with her students. Suzanne Magish, a middle school reading teacher tells her story in the article, “Writing assignment has binding effect“, published in the Florida Times-Union. Ms. Magish says this about the reasons behind her decision to take student writing to the next level:

“I looked deeply into the eyes of each of my seventh-grade students realizing they were not grasping my lesson on fairy tales. “Alright, kids,” I stated more firmly than I was actually feeling at that moment in time. “We are all going to become bona fide published authors when this fairy tale unit comes to fruition.”

And that is exactly the goal her class pushed for day in and day out. Now, her class didn’t write the fairy tales to become famous or to have some fancy publisher take a look at the stories and call them “pure genious”. She promised her students published copies of their stories: hard-bound books that instantly turned her seventh grade class into real authors.

So, what happened while her students took to writing for this higher goal?

“We became immersed in the project. We talked fairy tales, read fairy tales, brainstormed the elements of fairy tales and reminisced about our own favorite fairy tales from our earliest days. We even watched videos of fairy tales discussing them at length: What made them work and hook audiences into reading or watching them?

I saw understanding and enthusiasm mirrored in the faces of my students. Together, we got excited. Each student wrote and illustrated his or her very own creation.”

Her students took pride in the stories they researched, studied, and wrote. Writing a fairy tale was no longer just another assignment; it was an adventure. Having their stories published was exciting and gave them the motivation to learn the material. And the benefit wasn’t just for the students: the teacher benefitted as well. In the article she describes the day the books came,

“One day the books came, and each of my students had become authors. The looks on their faces were incredible for me to behold.

I was so proud of each and every one of them and, more importantly, they were so proud of themselves”.

So, back to my original question, Does writing for publication really work in a classroom setting? According to Suzanne Magish it does and I tend to agree with her. Besides, just ask those seventh graders who are now published authors, I am sure their faces would tell you everything.

Link to article

I think often in middle and high school many students avoid all types of poetry like the plague: associating it with Shakespearean sonnets and too much work. I feel this is in part due to the way many schools and English teachers teach poetry to their students. I have enjoyed poetry my entire life, but even I can remember groaning inwardly in class when the teacher told us to “dissect” that particular poem. I know my experience is not uncommon. Poetry can be a difficult thing to teach students especially when the curriculum mandates that students learn about all the poetic elements: rhyme, meter, alliteration, etc. However, there is an article that should open up the eyes of students and teachers alike. In “Poet Follows Her Dream”, an article written by NJ DeVico in the Trenton Times, a woman who grew up with a dislike for poetry actually becomes a published poet.

Janet Wong was an accomplished attorney who decided to make a drastic career change when she left her practice to take up writing, despite not enjoying poetry at any time during her childhood. About her prior experience with poetry she says,

“I hated poetry, starting about fourth grade. “Actually, in fairness to poetry, I didn’t know enough poetry to hate it. I think I hated having to memorize poems. I also hated analyzing them, picking them apart in class.”

Her experiece, like so many of us turned her as far from writing poetry as she could get: the courtroom. Shouldn’t this tell us somethign as prospective teachers? What is wrong with the way poetry is taught these days that students hate it? Poetry is a beautiful art form and it doesn’t take a genious to be a poet. I feel that we should be communicating these sentiments to students as we teach them about the wonders of the poetic world. There is no telling what doors will be opened up if students get over the stigma that poetry has.

Part of opening these doors to poetic writing includes sharing poetry that may differ from the norm of Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, though those are powerful in their own right. Poetry is real, and there are many current poets and authors out there that would provide excellent examples for students to emulate. It was actually one such author who lead to Janet Wong’s inspiration as a poet and turned her life upside down.

“Then she heard children’s poet and anthologist Myra Cohn Living ston speak and read from her book, “There Was a Place.” It changed Wong’s view of poetry. “I knew I could learn a lot from her,” she says. “

Real life poets have so much to teach students today. They are people who have experienced the same events as them and feel challenged by life as they do. The examples they show can be amazing, which is why I chose to share this article about Janet Wong. She is that student who sits in the back row rolling her eyes each time the teacher says “Time for poetry”. She is person we are called to open the doors of the literary world for an I can only wonder might have occured in her life if her English teacher had exposed her to recent published poets. There is no telling what students are capable of accomplishing and this lawyer from New Jersey, even though years removed from the high school realms is a great example: She has published over 15 books for children

In fact, Janet Wong put her own advice into action. She is encouraging students and teachers alike in the Princeton area.

“As part of Princeton Day School’s Imagine the Possibilities program, a weeklong event that be gins today, Wong will conduct poetry-writing workshops, discuss the life of a poet and teach students to write about childhood for children”

Poetry writing is not for those who are blessed with gift, it can be for everyone, as Wong shows us, even for someone who “hates” poetry.

Link to Article

As college students we think we know it all sometimes. I’ll admit it…I know more than my professors and my parents and any other authority figure. Or maybe I would just like to think I do…

The know-it-all situation is fairly common in middle and high schools if my memory serves me correctly. Students may not like what you have to say and odds are there will be times when they definitely don’t want your advice however well-intended it may be. Even though we may not always like to admit it, there are some (ok, many) things we can learn from those who have gone before us. The same goes for students of any age.

That is why I feel it is important to look at writers who have been there and are still there when it comes to both the writing process and writing for publication. These experts know what it’s like to be rejected, turned away, have writer’s block, and think they know better than someone else. It is important for students to have examples to look to when it comes to any kind of writing.

During a book-reading interview with the Deseret Morning News, Pulitzer-prize winning author, Marilynne Robinson, was asked about advice she would give to writing students and writers in general.

“Young writers should seek out their passions and stick to them…It was very exciting to me, writing poetry,” she said. “But I realized at one point that I was bad at it.”

Since finding her niche in novels rather than poetry, Ms. Robinson has published two works: one, her most recent, Gilead and Housekeeping her Pulitzer prize winning book with a 25 year space between the two. In my opinion, Ms. Robinson is a great example to writers who feel that they may never find their most powerful way to write. Good writing doesn’t have to come in mass volumes with multiple genres and styles tapped into. It just comes from inspiration and feeling strongly about what you are writing about. In the article Ms. Robinson “advised aspiring writers to follow their interests and not worry about prizes, or even publication, while writing”. For her the process and the and feeling that came with writing was so much more important than pushing yourself for that elusize prize at the end of the tunnel.  

“”I feel much more as if novels happen to me than a motivation (which) causes me to write them,” she said.

I agree with her. When trying to write for a specific audience or simply to win something,  the pressure involved sometimes leaves little room for honest, good writing. A reader can know when an author is just plugging away trying to make it to the end of the book instead of taking time to make the story and characters come alive. Passionate writing is real writing. And that is good advice.
  

Link to article

I want to teach middle school some day. This seems to be a rare approach when it comes to secondary education, but I really feel that middle schoolers have so much to offer and so many possibilities when it comes to life underneath all the bad attitudes and teen angst. On top of that, the digital age is opening up so many new avenues for publication that would otherwise be closed to students such as “This I Believe” and other websites. For this reason I was very excited to see an interesting news article in my Google Reader tonight. The article, in the Rennsselaer Republican Newspaper detailed exciting news for me as a prospective middle school English teacher.

While the article may seem unimportant to some, for me it gave me two new resources when it comes to writing for publication and using that in my classroom: In the article, 3 middle school students were honored by their local newpaper for acheiving publication on the web.

“The publishing process honors teachers and students according to Creative Communications. Thousands of entries are not invited to be published and being chosen makes a strong statement about the school. The publication will also provide a record of what is important to today’s students.”

Two websites are listed in the article as possible choices for students wishing to publish poetic works. One is www.poetry.com and the other is www.poetrypower.com. Both offer contests and publications that reward students for their work with money and scholarship prizes on top of being officially published on the website. As the editor of the website Thomas K. Worthen says,

“Without this publication the entries which reflect the unique insight and perspective of the youth today would be lost forever,”.

This man realizes the depth of thought middle school and high school students are capable of and it is so great to know that students can have resources like this to take their writing to the next level. I sincerely hope to hear more stories like this one in the future, maybe some day one of my own students will be published in print or on the internet. In light of our recent discussions of poetry in class, I think it is important to make it clear to students that to share work and poetry is to share information and knowledge and ultimately learning. The ultimate in sharing is publication and with more and more websites and places accepting poems and stories. Students should know about these avenues and teachers should promote them. That is what I hope to do.

Link to Article

I saw Supersize Me about a year ago for the first time and naturally, I was disgusted by what happed to Morgan Spurlock over the course of his experiment. However, I am still a fast food lover, I admit it. I like to cook at home, but I also enjoy eating out and just as the movie points out, McDonalds is pretty darn convenient.

As a teacher, I do not feel that I would show this movie in my classroom. I do feel that it brings up some interesting facts about America’s obesity problem and the lengths corporations will go to when advertising their product. Yet, in my opinion pointing out flaws in such a large percentage of the population is walking a fine line between critical pedagogy and singling out students. The truth is the truth and America as a nation is obese, but that does not mean that I have to critique that issue in my classroom. I would hate to think that students would use other students as examples or even proof of obesity, but I feel almost sure that it would happen. Secondly, if we want to teach students to look critically at media then they see good examples of thought out research. In no way is Supersize Me conclusive in its research, enlightening though it may be. As McDonald’s director of Worldwide Nutrition, Dr. Cathy Kapica said after seeing the film,

“As a registered nutritionist, I was extremely disappointed when I saw this movie. Here was an opportunity to actually provide insights into a serious problem. In fact, all it turned out to be was an extreme stunt where someone engaged in irresponsible behavior of eating twice as much as they should every day, limiting physical activity. It was a complete disservice to anyone looking for factual information or real solutions.”

So, in this case, if I were to show parts of Supersize Me in my classroom, I would focus on the advertising and targeting of young minds. I would want them to take a close look at what the media is pumping into their heads. I could allow them to analyze the flaws in Supersize Me, but I don’t really feel that critiquing Morgan Spurlock would give my students enlightenment when it comes to looking at life with a critical eye. For instance, many bloggers and writers are comparing Spurlock’s finger pointing at corporate advertising to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, another equally controversial documentary. In a critique of the movie on his blog, Omar Odeh says:

“Aspects of Super Size Me feel derivative, inviting direct comparison to Michael Moore. An animation sequence showing the grotesque history of a Chicken McNugget awkwardly imitates the “History of the United States of America” section in Bowling for Columbine. Spurlock’s performance feels modeled on the genial, occasionally grating mix of good-natured populism, reckless impertinence, and self-congratulation that Moore has perfected”.

Ok, so Spurlock seems like a copy-cat in some places, but that realization does nothing to make me change my viewing habits or eating habits, it only allows me to critique Spurlock more. I want my students to think about what they watch, read, and hear. This movie would be a good assest to doing that if used sparingly in the classroom. Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry in America and it would be far more useful to me to have my students think about something deep: the effects of advertising instead of critiquing their weight, other’s weight, or Spurlock’s inaccuracy in his production.

Link to Article 1

Link to Article 2

I remember the story, Charlotte’s Web, a tale most of us are familiar with, I am sure. It is the story of a pig named Wilbur and the friendships he makes in his barnyard: specifically a smart and sassy spider named Charlotte who creates amazing designs in her web. I also remember the story of the boy who encounters a family of swans living free out in nature. The swans show him a purpose in life as he observes them and learns the Trumpet of the Swans. Oh yes, and who can forget the story of the mouse-boy adopted by a human family: Stuart Little

All of these are great stories, many of them movies now for that matter, and all were written by one man: E.B. White. This man died in 1985 but his stories are still loved by children around the world and especially here in the USA. These stories teach us all a little bit about the simple joys in life:a spiderweb, a swan in flight, a mouse driving a toy car. Ok, so they teach a little bit about imagination too.

This man, was a great writer not because of his stunning personality or specific way of writing prose: he was a great writer becasue that’s what he did: he wrote and he wrote about characters and people that touch our hearts. Now, more than 20 years after his death, another piece of his writing has been published: a piece not known to both teachers and students alike: his letters. Ray Blount took time to review Letters of E.B. White for the New York Times in a piece entitled: “A True Friend and a Good Writer”.  

One of White’s letters included in the book is one sent to his stepson about 2 robins he saved from starvation by feeding them through a straw. About White’s treatment of the birds, Blount writes:

“St. Francis of Assisi, over here. He nurtures robins, and he writes fine affectionate letters to his loved ones, who include many old friends, like the humorist Frank Sullivan: “Thank you, thank you, sweet my Frank, for your lovely letter.” Pretty darn warm and genuine, is how Andy, as White’s friends called him, comes off in these letters. And danged peculiar. “

Maybe White was peculiar. Maybe he was a little strange. Maybe he was an introvert. All of this is inconsequential and Blount agrees with me, because White was a “pretty good” writer, even when he wasn’t trying.

Good writers can do that: they know what they’re saying even if no one else does. White didn’t just write “twee” and “whimsical” letters to his children and friends. He wrote to his biographer about life. The letters in the book show more of White than just his childish side. They also show more of White than the person who rewrote Elements of Style as a writing tool for those interested in taking their writing to the next level. Though I have only read snippets of the letters White penned, I agree with Blount, those letters show more than just a writer: they show a person, a husband, a father, a nature lover, and “A True Friend”.

So all of us prospective writers: take note. Even a letter can be a great piece of writing. Good writers write about what they know. They live their lives and they write and write and write. E.B. White was one of those writers. Just a great example of a man doing what he loved the most. And he was “danged” good at it.

Full Article

Since my blog is looking at the steps it takes to take writing to the uppermost level of publication: I thought a good starting point would be the subject of a recent class discussion: the writing process. We looked at Donald Murray’s take on the writing process and we also dug into our own adaptations of it which helped to bring it life for me. Coincidentally, the blog/ezine I subscribed to through Google, The Writing Journal by Word Craft, posted an article about the writing process just a few days ago. The article, entitled, “Writing Process: One size does not fit all” brought up a very important point regarding the infamous writing process. For a writer to seriously learn, the writing process must become personal and individual through all steps. However, as the article points out, this individualization does not mean that the process become simply free form.

“Each writing process contains these steps: brainstorming, organizing, writing, revising and editing. Some people condense the essentials into only three parts: brainstorming and organization as one, writing, and then revising and editing as the final step.”

Another point that the article points out is that for a writer to do well “you must write-a lot”. I think that a lot of times the writing process as it technically stands tends to bog down writers especially since the final goal of writing is usually the grade. This eliminates a lot of pleasure of writing and also limits the writer to writing for the grade or for the teacher. If we want students to write for themselves and write a lot, we as teachers need to give them opportunities to write for more than just what we formulate out for them.

Why shouldn’t we let students experiment as writers? There is no telling where their minds will take them and what product will come out of their pen or pencil. This experimentation can be part of going through the writing process too. For example, as the article points out, it is ok to break down the steps of the writing process to something you are comfortable with, in this case, the step of brainstorming:

“Experiment with all the variations of brainstorming you hear about from free writing, clustering, questioning, listing and journaling as well as the many other options out there. “

The point is, even though the writing process is something that must be taught and learned, it does not necessarily have to be the same prescribed version over and over again. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be the same for everyone because each person as a writer, has a different perspective. Why shouldn’t we let students plan out their writing as long as it is monitored by the teacher? There is no telling the wealth of ideas and works of art that might come out of reworking the writing process. For me, I look forward to how I can adapt it for my students some day.

Link to article