Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!

Sheri Viota, my colleague at CPN and the Borinquen Writing Project, created this fabulous slideshow in defense of grammar instruction. Sheri’s blog is My Thoughts on The Matter (in the Other BWP Bloggers list). Enjoy!


What have I learned from NaNoWriMo, so far

As a writer in a community of writers
I have learned that I write much more, much better, and in a much more relaxed, enjoyable manner, when I am working within a community of writers, because I feel more connected and it takes me outside myself. When I look around and see other people writing –particularly when I see my students writing and I know I need to model good writing behavior and strategies and habits for them—it makes me less self-conscious and more proactive. I am not stuck inside my own head bemoaning my perfectionism or my lack of talent, but instead am focused more on channeling my thoughts and listening to the voices of my characters. When I am immersed in writing within community, I feel accompanied and supported, even when we are all actually working on our own manuscripts, silently banging on the keyboard. The mere act of listening to the tap, tap, tap is comforting; looking up and seeing all these writers intent on their creations gives me a rush of good feelings, which I think is essential to sustain the writing process.

Now, the question is, how to sustain this feeling beyond NaNoWriMo? That is something I have to ponder.

As a teacher, alone and in a community of teachers.

Last year as the only teacher whose students were wrimoing, it was a little solitary, though I felt sustained by the hope of having my crazy experiment validated by the kids’ success, which, thankfully, it was. That success is why all of us middle and high school English teachers are now doing NaNoWriMo with our kids, and why the fifth grade teacher and her class also joined in.

It is nice to be able to guide the other teachers through the process, to let them know that there will be days in the adventure when enthusiasm will flag and word counts will stall. In fact, that discomfort is one of the most useful things about NaNoWriMo – we have to face obstacles, such as writer’s block, a lack of motivation, a perceived lack of time or excess of responsibilities, and create and implement plans to muscle through to victory. It is a very useful lesson – that on the path to a goal that takes time and effort, you can lose your way, and you can also choose to find your way back.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity

I just saw this wonderful talk that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Pray Eat Love, gave last year for TED.

Gilbert talks about creativity, and proposes that we should all conceptualize the creative spark the way the Greeks and Romans did, as an inscrutable exterior force that bestows genius upon the artist as it may, instead of continuing with the Renaissance idea that the genius is individual and inhabits within. Her point is that the idea of genius as other frees the artist from the tyranny of self-doubt and self-hatred that tortures many artists, and which has led to the stereotype of the tortured artist (and which has contributed to so many artist suicides).

Gilbert argues that as an artist all you should do is show up and do your life’s work, without fixating on how it will be received or whether you have what it takes or can top your own success. Just show up and do your own thing, and attribute everything else to that whimsical, irrepressible, enigmatic sprite –muse, daemon, genius—to take care (or not) of everything else. It is liberating, Gilbert claims.

I have decided to embrace Gilbert’s idea, and have decided to name my own creative daemon Ariel, after the magical androgynous sprite in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. If that Ariel could help Prospero shipwreck enemies, find a mate for his daughter, and reclaim his lost dukedom, I think my Ariel could help me through NaNoWriMo 2010.

(Latest word count: 14,140 words!)

Students on textspeak

Awesome teacher and fellow blogger Sandra Garced sent me the link to this student-produced video on the prevalence of texting among adolescents. It highlights linguist David Crystal’s observation that students perceive textspeak as detrimental to their own and others’ language skills, though research has demonstrated this is NOT true.

SchoolTube – Texting Communication Breakdown!.

NaNoWriMo 2010@CPN – Days 1 and 2

On November 1, 2010, all the students and English teachers from seventh to twelfth grade at Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas (CPN) started writing novels as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

How to use reading to teach editing

My top three strategies

Sustained silent reading/DIVA (Dive Into Vicarious Adventure) time to immerse kids in a self-chosen “word flood.” The point is for students to do what Krashen calls “extensive reading,” in order to develop a sense of how language is used in authentic situations. Extensive reading also helps students to develop a sense about how grammar works and how words are spelled, as Simmons points out.

Reading Like a Writer literature units and discussion. When my students and I discuss literature, we reflect on and analyze the elements of fiction: setting, plot, characters, conflict, theme, point of view, tone, etc. But we also consider why the author might have made the choices she or he made while writing the text, and what different choices we might have made had we been writing the piece ourselves. We apply the insights gained through these discussions during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), when we spend the month of November writing first drafts of original novels.

Read-aloud editing. I also frequently ask students to read their own writing aloud to themselves, in order to use their ear to help their eye. This technique is surprisingly effective in sensitizing student writers to the mistakes in their own writing, as often students tend to speak better than they write (at least grammatically speaking!)

Students, technology, and us

Digital vs. traditional writing

In his dense, jargon-laden article “De lo analógico a lo digital: el futuro de la enseñanza de la composición”, Daniel Cassany discusses the differences between digital and traditional (or analogic) writing. Basically, digital writing is nonlineal, open-access, and user-driven; it places more emphasis than analogic writing on active consumption and forces writers to think/plan differently. Digital writing is also highly collaborative, even when there is no formal teamwork involved, due to its open nature. These characteristics also make digital writing highly dynamic and versatile.

In the digital writing age, writers are expected to provide readers with multiple entry points to information through the use of hypertextuality and intertextuality, but the onus of meaning-making is on the readers themselves, who are supposed to decode these myriad textualities effectively and strategically,

While Cassany’s vision of digital writing is inclusive and celebrates the expanded opportunities for communication that it offers, Mark Prensky’s vision is much more pessimistic. In his 2001 article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” self-titled ‘thought leader’ Prensky presents the rather straightforward –if overly simplistic—argument that today’s students are the product of a fundamental change in our society caused by the advent and spread of computer technologies. Since contemporary students have been born into this new technological era, they are the natives who are totally at home, while the adults who teach them are the hapless immigrants who must either get with the program and master the new technologies or be left behind, a lazy, stupid relic of an earlier age.

Prensky’s native-immigrant metaphor is rather belabored and stereotyped, depending on many generalizations and oversimplifications for its validity. While I agree that teachers should continue to learn and evolve as teachers, I disagree with Prensky’s underlying assumption that so-called “Digital Native methodologies” are the key to engaging students in the classroom; instead, his reliance on gaming technology seems more like mirage than reality, and more panacea than cure. Frankly, I am horrified by Prensky’s rather cavalier examples of his approach in action, particularly the one where he suggests a Digital Native way to teach the Holocaust: “Create a simulation where students role-play the meeting at Wannsee, or one where they can experience the true horror of the camps as opposed to the films like Schindler’s List.” He concludes his jeremiad by adding: “It’s just dumb (and lazy) of educators –not to mention ineffective—to presume that (despite their traditions) the Digital Immigrant way is the only way to teach, and that the Digital Natives’ “language” is not as capable as their own of encompassing any and every idea” (6).  I think it’s equally dumb and lazy to presume the converse.

My own experiences with technology

While I’m not one of Prensky’s Digital Natives, neither am I one of his Immigrants, because I do care about technology, educate myself on its uses, and integrate it as a tool to teach content. I plan activities that include multiple entry points to analysis through diverse, student-chosen tech tools. For example, I ask students to create author timelines with biographical and historical information that the students think is relevant to understanding the author’s work; to fulfill this assignment, they can create paper timelines, use PowerPoint, or use any of the various online programs that are designed for that purpose. They like the freedom to choose their own tools and figure out how to use them to fulfill the objectives of the assignment.

While I dislike Prensky’s smugness, I do take (some of) his message to heart – and I do work hard to learn the latest tools and lingo that my students have so easily mastered. I ask them to teach me, and through that interaction, model for them my own learning process, complete with successes, failures, anxieties, and triumphs.

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