The Writing Workshop and the Real World

For this blog post I wanted to take some time to investigate a little bit more about the benefits of utilizing a writing workshop model in the classroom. This is an approach to teaching English that is fairly new to me as I did not participate in any English class that was structured in this way during high school. There was one class which did make use of the writing workshop format on occasion, but it was largely still a more traditional approach to education. This is a model that appeals to me because it shifts the focus of the classroom back onto the students and allows them to learn through practice instead of merely listening to a teacher lecture at the front of the room.

The first article I found touched a bit on the useful nature of the writing workshop setup when dealing with students’ lives in general. The traditional classroom model may work for some, but no one could argue that it prepares students to deal with real-world situations. Many jobs do involve a fair amount of sitting, but rarely does any career require its employees to sit for hours taking in information without contributing anything of their own. By forcing children to adapt to this unnatural environment in their earlier years, we are not positioning them to be as successful in the real world. The design of a writing workshop, however, is one that is much more natural. Students take in information for a short period of time in the form of a mini-lesson. They are then required to spend class time utilizing that information in their own work, and then share it with others. This is a classroom design that will allow students to be successful in other areas than English, as is discussed in the first article I read on this topic, “learners need to be made to come face to face with the fact that in order to achieve in their studies, they must actively read and write in the language classroom” (Regis-Onuoha, Christopher 97). By showing students that what they learn in the English classroom can apply to other classes, the teacher also extends the promise that what they learn in the classroom will apply out in the real world as well. This can go a long way toward helping student motivation.

The second article I read dealt with another element of traditional education that is not useful in the real world: testing. Taking tests has become such an integral part of the modern education system that people rarely think to question their usefulness. Yes, it does provide a straightforward way to measure student progress, but how inclusive is the information provided for these tests? In addition, the ability to test does not carry over into any other life experience once a child completes their education. What we are left with, then, is a heavily-weighted construct that exists solely within the educational world, where the ultimate goal is to prepare students for the real world. This article handled the question of assessment in the writing workshop classroom by suggesting conferencing as a substitute. It involves crafting questions that are designed to measure student learning without the weighty grade or pressure to memorize and forget, “highlighting the practice of conferring with writers as a valuable form of assessment because it allows an instructor to scaffold students in a manner that supports both the fears and cognitive differences students present, as well as the recursive nature of writing” (Marina 451).

Overall, the writing workshop classroom is not only more useful when teaching English but more valuable for preparing students to go out into the real world as well. Students often ask why what they are learning is important, and few accept the poor answer “because I said so”. Students often leave high school lacking the basic skills necessary to survive on their own, and while it may not be the final answer, a writing workshop formatted classroom could be a step toward providing instruction that is practically useful.

 

Works Cited

Using the Writing Workshop to Improve Reading. 2018. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.chadronstatelibrary.com/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.64082853&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Gair, Marina. “Slaying the Writing Monsters: Scaffolding Reluctant Writers through a Writing Workshop Approach.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 27, no. 3, Jan. 2015, pp. 443–456. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.chadronstatelibrary.com/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1093717&site=eds-live&scope=site.

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The Power of the Reading Journal

One of the most interesting teaching tools I have come across during my time in college has been the reading journal. To be clear, this is not an activity in which students are instructed to journal about classroom discussion or experience, but a journal entry completed directly after the assigned reading for class. This is something that I naturally rebel against as I do not like to read with the purpose of gathering raw information, which is the purpose of a reading journal. When I read for pleasure, I do so with the intention of figuring out the overall concept behind what is going on, rather than trying to break larger concepts down into manageable sections. I have found ways to make it work to my advantage, but have wondered what the research says about this practice.

I began with an article titled: “Reflective Reading Journal in Teaching Writing”, by Apsari. This article detailed a study of the usefulness of utilizing a reading journal when teaching writing, and the conclusion Apsari came up with was one I had expected, “The benefits are related to writing skill development such as development of expressing ideas and opinion, improvement of textual cohesion and coherence. This means that reflective reading journal writing develops the students’ writing quality. ” (Apsari 46) This article seemed, on all counts, to be pointing toward the usefulness of utilizing a writing journal in a writing class. The conclusion makes sense from a practical standpoint as well. If a student is assigned to complete a writing journal after every reading, it would stand to reason that they would be engaging in more writing time than if they were just told to write for graded assignments. From the shear volume of writing being completed, it would stand to reason that the students’ abilities would increase when compared to a group not doing the extra writing. Practice makes perfect.

Having satisfied myself that a reading journal is useful in a writing class, I then turned to another question: is it as useful for comprehension of the text being read? For an answer to this question, I turned to Fakhruddin’s article, “Reading Journal as a Way to Improve Students’ Reading Comprehension”. Though a bit wordy, the title conveys exactly what the study was designed to measure. Unlike the previous article, the conclusion of Fakhruddin’s article surprised me quite a bit. Comparing test scores, it turned out that students who used a reading journal did not comprehend that much more than students who did not use one. The article ended with an even more interesting statement, ” Even though the effect of writing a reading journal is not very significant toward the improvement of students’ understanding toward a text, the questionnaire results suggest that most students agree with the usefulness of this activity.” (Fakhruddin 6). The belief in the power of the tool ended up being greater than the tool itself. This belief did not serve to increase anyone’s test scores, but I found the concept fascinating.

These two articles served to both confirm and deny some thoughts I had about reading journals. It makes sense that the actual act of writing in a way that helps to coalesce ideas would serve to positively impact a student in the way of growing as a writer. However, it did surprise me that the reading comprehension side of things was not as positively influenced by reading journals. Though this is something that it is helpful to be aware of, I still think reading journals in any class that involves writing are a good idea.

 

Works Cited

Apsari, Yanuarti. “Reflective Reading Journal in Teaching Writing.” Indonesian EFL Journal, Vol 4, Iss 2, Pp 39-47 (2018), no. 2, 2018, p. 39. EBSCOhost, doi:10.25134/ieflj.v4i2.1374.

Fakhruddin, Afief. “Reading Journal as a Way to Improve Students’ Reading Comprehension.” 2018. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.chadronstatelibrary.com/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.4BFD092E&site=eds-live&scope=site.

 

Greek Rhetoric: A Lost Art

There has been much information in the first few weeks of this class that has had to do with the beginnings of rhetoric, and by extension writing, in the Greek culture. While they might not have been the first to start writing, they certainly pushed it along, and moved it past the recording of lists to what it is today. To truly understand writing in the Greek culture, one must not make the mistake of trying to separate it from the rhetorical tradition in which it is so heavily involved. In fact, for the ancient Greeks, oral rhetoric and writing were two parts of a whole. A person would utilize writing for the purpose of recording a piece of oral rhetoric that would be delivered at a later date, or to record a piece of rhetoric that someone else was delivering. One thing that the book did not spend as much time focusing on, however, was what exactly, in no uncertain terms, rhetoric was. As I read I found myself with a hazy view of it as best. It did not quite seem to be a speech, but it was also not quite spoken entertainment either like the reading of poetry or a play. It was, then, for the purpose of forming a clearer view of rhetoric in ancient Greece that I embarked on this blog assignment.

In his article, “”Declassicizing” Ancient Rhetoric: Toward a Reconstructed Rhetoric of Oral Performance”, Vincent Casaregola gives this definition of rhetoric: “…the art of oral rhapsodic composing that involved a complex set of interrelated mental and linguistic patterns.” (Casaregola 2). In his article, he spends a lot of time focusing on the rhetorical tradition not so much as a tool, but as an art. As I explored this article further, it became clear to me that there is no pure representation in today’s world of ancient Greek rhetoric. Rhetoricians in ancient culture were similar to public speakers in today’s world but held much more respect and sway in the community. They dealt in politics and entertainment, and by speaking participated in a tradition that was an integral part of Greek culture.

Another article I found focused on the use of rhetoric to highlight the power of language, “Rhetoric is, however, about manipulating language, which may manipulate other people…” (Hutto 5). Rhetoricians were, in this respect, also like modern day politicians. The article uses examples of people speaking to put armies into motion or causing a downtrodden people to rebel against an oppressive leader. Rhetoric was used for the purpose of communicating one’s ideas, and sometimes those ideas were enough to inspire others to action.

When I first started this assignment, I expected to find a definition of rhetoric and rhetoricians somewhere that would allow me to place these ideas inside of a box I had already formed. I wanted to come to a realization that a rhetorician was an ancient Greek word for a politician, or a spoken-word poet. This did not happen, and through it I was able to realize that rhetoric in ancient Greece was something that we do not have in today’s world, at least in Western culture. A rhetorician was someone who was charged with the exploration of ideas, and the communication of those ideas to the larger public. They held a great deal of power in the ancient world, and were a building block on which we still find inspiration for communication today.

 

Works Cited

Casaregola, Vincent. “Declassicizing” Ancient Rhetoric: Toward a Reconstructed Rhetoric of Oral Performance. Mar. 1992. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.chadronstatelibrary.com/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED348695&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Hutto, David. “Telling Lies and Inventing Rhetoric In Ancient Greece.” Juniata Voices, vol. 8, Jan. 2008, pp. 5–13. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.chadronstatelibrary.com/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=60272212&site=eds-live&scope=site.

My Life as a Writer

It is really hard to simplify my life as a write and condense it into a blog post, but, oddly enough, it also equally as difficult to really quantify it enough to meet the required length of that same aforementioned blog post.  To expound a little bit upon a possible reason as to why this duality exists, I would have to say that it probably has something to do with how I have been writing for most of my life now but I would not really go so far as to call myself a writer.  This is not to say that I never had aspirations of becoming a writer and sharing my thoughts and ideas with the world, but I grew up in classes with teachers who either implicitly, explicitly, or both insinuated that only a select few individuals could be writers and even fewer could be successful writers.  This had always seemed odd to me because everyone I knew wrote, so why was it that none of them could be writers.  However, I also grew up being told things like, “The teacher is always right,” and, “Do not question authority.”  While I may have found it within me to buck the reins of the all-powerful teacher figure, I still have yet to really find the confidence within myself to stand up and say, “Yes, I am a writer.”

With that being said, I was one of those kids that liked to write about anything and everything that interested me.  I remember one summer I just wanted to copy down entries out of a journal and then the following school year I was obsessed with writing short nonfiction works about different creatures that live in the rainforest.  While I naturally lost interest in the dictionary entries, I have to admit that I was essentially forced to stop writing about the rainforest animals.  If I recall correctly, my teacher came up to me one day after I had finished my most recent nonfiction piece and told me that I had to start writing about other things.  I do not think that she ever really gave me a reason why other than the always implied, “I know what is best for you so just shut up and take my word for it.”  After that, well… I never had the same interest in just writing about what I wanted to write and, ever since then, I have found it difficult to journal or free write or do anything other than just complete writing assignments and hand them in for a grade.

Of course, here in class, as well as in a few other classes at Chadron State College, I have slowly, but surely, started to regain confidence in myself as someone who writes if not necessarily as a “writer”.  I have kind of, sort of, maybe found some semblance of my voice in writing and have been able to tackle topics that interest me and questions that have puzzled me.  I have found that I prefer to write shorter pieces than longer ones and that I prefer writing spoken word poetry or snappy monologues than essays or stories.

With that in mind, I would have to say that, as of this moment, I have not yet begun my life as a write and am, instead, still working through my life as someone who writes.  Hopefully in the very near future I will be able to shrug off those last few mental blocks and really come into my own as a writer, but, for now, I still have quite a few struggles ahead of me.

A Semester of Reading, Thinking, Talking, and Learning

As I have sat in the tiny and, at times, exceedingly stuffy little room located on the third floor of the library, I have to admit that I have had a most incredible and unique experience.  Over the course of the semester I have learned more in this class than I think I have learned in any of the numerous other classes that I have been enrolled in throughout my scholastic career.  That is not to say that the other classes have not been informative or interesting to attend, but rather it is because I had greater opportunity to learn from my fellow students and from myself in this class than in any other I have attended.  The opportunity to direct our own research inquiries and to discuss the findings with our peers has been an amazing experience in what our own work alongside our future teachers will possibly, hopefully, be like.

With that being said, I think it would be rather prudent to discuss with more specificity the exact experiences that I personally found to be the most beneficial throughout the class.  The first thing that I found to be the most beneficial was the way that Dr. Miller set up each class session.  He would give us a topic, a point of origin if you will, and would then let us use that topic as a jumping off point for our own research, our own contemplations, and our own conclusions.  We would then forge our own paths and find our own destinations.  It was incredible to see how the same starting point led to so many different endings.  For instance, when Dr. Miller told us to look into the history of writing some of us decided to turn to innovators in the field of writing, others turned to inventions that changed the way in which we write, and some even looked into specific moments that altered the course of writing as we know it.  Another thing that I greatly enjoyed during this class was how we were able to form little study groups that allowed us to conduct our research alongside each other, or even together, and get immediate feedback from our peers as well as just bond as individuals sharing this learning experience.  While most of my primary typing of my blog posts and website contributions was done, admittedly, in the quiet of my apartment, I benefitted greatly from being able to use my classmates as sounding boards from which to hone my thought processes and really dig down to the core of what I was trying to share with everyone.

Turning to the discussions we had in class, I enjoyed learning from everyone as they shared their thoughts and opinions and we all helped to build upon each other’s understanding of a given topic or point of interest.  Even though it was a morning class and, I will admit, I have never been a morning person, I found myself making an extra effort to be awake and attentive as each person shared their blog post and contributed to the class conversation.

As such, I would definitely like to take this a brief moment to just thank everyone in the class for being so supportive of each other and each other’s learning journeys.  I know that many of us will make promises to stay in touch, but very few of us will actually manage to do so.  We may remember to send each other the occasional birthday wish through Facebook, but, regardless, I just want everyone to know that I deeply appreciate all of the care and cooperation and just positive energy that was brought to this class and that culminated in a very positive learning experience for myself.

Reflections on Writing in Today’s World

It is exceedingly difficult for me to really decide upon a method of how to approach this topic and in which direction I want to take it, so I guess we can just dive in to this blog post and hope for some semblance of coherence to arise from this tangled mess of late-night rambling.  To begin, writing in today’s world, as an act in and of itself, has become much more flexible in terms of who is allowed to write and what they are allowed to write about.

Historically speaking, many groups have tried to prevent many other groups from writing.  This probably has much to do with how writing, as I see and understand it, is a vehicle for transmitting thoughts and ideas in a way that gives those aforementioned thoughts and ideas a physical form.  This can be potentially threatening to the former (oppressor) group as it gives the latter (oppressed) group/s a weapon, both literally and metaphorically, with which to rise up and take control of their destinies.  Specific examples of this are when women were forced to write under pseudonyms as they would have been ostracized and possibly been victims of violence for writing and when black men and women had to learn to write in secret as they would have been executed if anyone had found out.  However, these groups, and many other groups, fought for and won the right to write and publish, but even today we still see oppressive practices pigeonholing or blacklisting the books, poems, screenplays, etc. that these authors create and disseminate.

Segueing from there, I feel that it is important to discuss some of the ways in which those modern writers face pigeonholing and blacklisting.  One specific method is when editors and publishing houses tell women writers, black writers, LGBT+ writers, and so on that they are, essentially, not allowed to write about anything other than what non-women, non-black, non-LGBT+ people think are “appropriate” topics for these people (i.e. romance novels for women, stories about gang violence for black authors, or coming-out stories for LGBT+ authors).  If they do not write these stories, those editors and publishing houses will often refuse to work with the authors and will even go so far as to tell others not to work with them.  However, the writers have, yet again, risen above this adversity with the advent of self-publishing and independent publishing companies.  This has allowed them to write what they want and in the method of their choosing, and even though the public interest starts small it often grows rather large and fairly quickly.

Additionally, while I am not saying that women do not write romance novels or that LGBT+ authors want to stop talking about the trials and tribulations of discovering their identities, I am saying that they also want to write about other things like the negative effects of gentrification on the preservation of historical buildings or the social behaviors of the walrus.  As such, the aforementioned groups are not being totally silenced anymore, they are still experiencing oppression through stereotyping and one-size-fits-all mentalities.

Anyway, the point that I am trying to make, and that I am almost fairly sure that I might have made but who knows at this point, is this: modern society has opened new doors for thoughts and ideas that we would have been denied if people had not fought to express them.  Of course, that is not to say that we do not still need to continue bettering ourselves as a nation and a world of writers and readers, but it would be unjust to say that progress has not been made.  We must continue working to uplift the voices of silenced demographics and keep making efforts to leave the world in a better condition than when we entered it.