Final Reflections

Where has the semester gone? I’m not even sure where to start when discussing this class. At the beginning of this semester, I was a little nervous because I am used to a lot of obvious structure in my classes and in my life, and I was a bit intimidated by all of the projects discussed in the syllabus. But because of my experiences in this class, my life as a learner, reader, writer, and teacher have all changed for the better. Over the past sixteen weeks, I have especially loved researching topics that I developed a passion for, learning from fellow students rather than just getting lectured to, and finding an appreciation for unique grading styles, and contemplating my life as a writer.

  1. Research and Personal Growth

One major aspect of this semester was individual research and growth. Out of the three major topics I researched, the one that had the most impact on me was reading and writing. I chose this topic because I have always loved reading, and writing has always been something that has just coincidentally been a part of my favorite subject. It’s been something I’ve just always had to do. In my high school experience, reading and writing have always been separate in the classroom. We read and took quizzes on specifics of what we read, and we perfected five-paragraph essays. I think if we want students to find real meaning in reading or writing, they have to be connected. I know I’ve written or mentioned this topic a lot in my blogs, but it has made a huge impact on my learning and my thinking about my future classroom.

  1. Learning Together

I also loved the process of learning from each other. We weren’t lectured on the contributions of scholars throughout history and then tested on them which may have happened in a “normal” classroom. We each had the chance to dig deeper on a topic we found most interesting and/or were most passionate about and then shared our findings with the rest of the class. I loved getting the chance to pursue what I was most interested in while gaining a broader understanding of other figures and topics. I found this learning so much more meaningful than traditional classrooms settings.

  1. Grading

Something else that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately is this class’s grading format. For another class, I had to read an article on grading, and it just got my brain going on the topic this week. The article focused on the harmful effects of grading, and how students will normally do the least amount of work they can to earn a grade they find acceptable. I’m not going to lie, at the beginning of this class, I was a little confused why we weren’t getting graded on all of our assignments, but it makes complete sense now. Without a grade, we have to put as much effort in to satisfy ourselves, not a grading scale. In this format, we don’t learn for someone or something else; we learn for ourselves.

  1. My Life as a Writer

Preparing to write the blog entitled “My Life as a Writer” may have been the longest I have stared at a computer screen without typing anything. I think this may have been the most important part of this semester. Teaching writing means also having a life as a writer. I would expect someone who teaches piano lessons to also play frequently, so why should it be any different with teachers? This class has taught me that to be a writer teacher, I must be a writer. More importantly, it has taught me that I can be a writer which may have been the hardest, most beneficial lesson I’ve learned.

Advertisements

Rule 24 Outcomes

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t read the Rule 24 Outcomes at the beginning of the semester or any time before this assignment. When some sort of standards is presented at the beginning of a syllabus, I normally just skip over those pages to what actually seems relevant to me as a student. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, reading the Rule 24 Outcomes at the end of the semester was a completely different experience. Now, I can reflect on these desired goals as well as the activities we did in this class and observe how they align.

Out of all of them, I think Standard 7 encompasses the semester of the learning we have had the best. “Candidates are prepared to interact knowledgeably with students, families, and colleagues based on social needs and institutional roles, engage in leadership and/or collaborative roles in English Language Arts professional learning communities, and actively develop as professional educators.” Especially recently, we have focused on how we will relate our plans to the classroom to our students and parents in a way that is accessible as well as exciting and motivating. I think we have also been meeting the second part of that standard throughout the entire semester. We have had certain days to work, but we have also held a lot of constructive discussions throughout the semester. We have talked about roles in the educational field throughout history all the way up to modern practices. We have gotten to choose subjects we are most interested in to learn extensively about while also gaining a general knowledge for other topics through our classmates. Before this semester, I wasn’t too familiar with all of the specific aspects of teaching Language Arts we have explored, but I believe we have all expressed a desire to “actively develop as professional educators,” and I think my experiences from this class are only sparking a lifetime passion that will continue to grow. This class has fostered my passion and excitement for being an educator. Every class I have been in has had some sort of standards to follow, but none of them have followed them in such a meaningful way.

This obviously made me think about my future classroom as well. I don’t think standards and especially standardized tests are always beneficial in the classroom. Test taking alone causes much anxiety for some students, and I don’t think standardized tests are the best way for any student to show their intelligence. They can make teachers and students alike lazy and hurt their creativity. Teachers only teach what students will get tested on, and students will only learn how to read and write how others want them to. We have discussed how children and people have a desire to learn and to have their voice heard. However, teachers have a tendency to narrow their teaching to only what needs to be taught. Before we took CSAP tests (Colorado’s old standardized tests) when I was in elementary school, my teachers would literally print off practice tests, and that’s what we would do for weeks prior to testing.

Then again, I think clear goals are necessary in the classroom. With or without standards, teachers should effectively express to their students what they will be learning. What makes or breaks a teacher, however, is how they fulfill these goals. Whether or not a student has a meaningful experience in the classroom will determine how far they take the information they have learned. If they “learn” information by worksheets or any other narrow-minded method, they will remember information long enough to take a test. But if students have a meaningful experience in the classroom, they will take what they have learned and utilize it for the rest of their lives. This class has executed that flawlessly. We have learned everything required of us, but we did so in a way that is meaningful to us so that we will take it with us when we are thrown into the “real world” and have students of our own.

Dear Students and Parents…

Dear Students,

I am so excited about the school year we are about to have! My name is Timmi Keisel, and I graduated from Chadron State College with a degree in English Language Arts. I grew up in the very small town of Fleming, Colorado and graduated with only seventeen other people. I was a bookworm in high school, but the hobby especially began taking a toll on my social life in college. I originally chose to pursue English teaching because of my lasting passion for reading. What I didn’t learn until I was well in to college was how awesome writing is!

Writing has different implications for everyone. To some, it is an activity they have to do for class. For others, it can be completely horrifying. When I was in high school, it was something I was told I was good at but didn’t necessarily enjoy. I wrote countless essays without finding enjoyment or purpose. That is not what we will be doing in this class. My goal is not to create master essay-writers but actual writers. In too many classrooms, writing is only presented as necessary skill to be done only for a purpose. Writing shouldn’t be taught as a mathematical equation but as a form of expression.

This will take many forms in the classroom. You will be encouraged to free write every day without many guidelines. You can write about what you are reading, explore your creativity, write about what is going on in your life, etc. I will make sure you have many entries, but I won’t read them if that’s what you prefer. After completing larger writing tasks, you will workshop with each other, thoroughly reading classmates’ writing and sharing ideas and feedback. I will also workshop with you on your writing as well. In doing so, I hope to create an environment where turning in a piece of writing isn’t scary but a learning experience. Rather than marking up papers, I will have discussions with you about your writing.

A key tool to improving your writing is to read… a lot. That being said, you don’t have to read textbooks or essays that actually discuss how to write; you can read just about anything! In doing so, you will learn which genres you like, and you will learn about style. As you read, I don’t want you to observe the story as an outsider but as a participant. While enjoying the story, also think about it in the mindset of a writer (what you like, what you would do differently, etc.). There will be aspects of this class that won’t be as fun but are necessary to follow state standards. While this is unavoidable, I hope we can focus more on the fun aspects of writing!

I hope to transform writing from something some of you may dread into something you will take with you beyond the classroom. My goal is not only to get you from Point A to Point B but to have fun in the middle! Let’s have a great, writing-filled year!

Sincerely,

Ms. Keisel

 

Principles of Teaching and Learning Writing

  1. To be a writer, you must be a reader.
  2. I will always respect you and I expect the same in return.
  3. To be a writer, you must write A LOT.
  4. Everyone’s opinions are important.
  5. Your voices will be heard.
  6. None of you are bad writers!
  7. Having fun helps learning!

Writing Pedagogy

What is the purpose of writing? Stephen King would argue that it is “telepathy” (103). It is simply putting down on paper what is in your mind. For such a simple act, why does it cause so much stress to students? Whether it is writing creatively or a writing research paper, it often causes panic and anxiety in students. When writing, many students stress about what the teacher will think of their writing. I can attest to this because it’s exactly what I did. Unlike other subjects, it is an unwritten belief that writing reflects intelligence. Don’t sweat it if you can’t add, but if you’re a bad writer, you’re a bad student. The real confidence-crusher is that red pen. It doesn’t have to be red, but it is whatever colored pen that teachers use to put more marks on the page than original words. The only message that sends to students is that they are bad writers and therefore bad students. An idea too many teachers stress is that students have to write a certain way to be a “good” writer. No matter what shape they are, they must fit through the square hole. While this method works for a few students, it doesn’t work for most.

What do students need to get from a writing class? Odds are, they won’t grow up to be famous authors. They may need to write essays for college applications or scholarships, and if they go to college, they will probably have to take at least an entry-level writing class. Some of them may not attend college. They may not need to write after my class, so how is writing relevant in their lives? Well, that’s where I come in. Students will get the basic skills (grammar, word choice, etc.) they need, but I hope to give them so much more and do so without going through a red pen each day.

Writing shouldn’t be something you have to do but something you get to do! If we hope to instill this mentality in students, we (English teachers) must grant students some freedom to find their voice: not ours. How will students benefit from only knowing how I want them to write? They may learn, but it won’t be meaningful to them. In my classroom, I won’t micromanage students’ writing but create an environment where students can express their ideas with confidence. Students will be encouraged to write about what they are interested in and passionate about.

In order to grow as writers, students need to write, a lot. They don’t need to be complete a research paper or short story every day, but writing needs to be in their daily routine. I think a great way to foster daily writing is by journaling. In these journals, I will give students the freedom to choose what to write about and how to write it (poem, song, story, etc.). They don’t have to finish something every day, but they must write. This also allows them and me to see growth in their writing throughout the year.

To be writers, students must also be readers, and this idea will be stressed heavily in my classroom. Writing without reading is like driving without ever being in a vehicle before. Sure, you might be able to eventually get where you need to be, but it takes much longer when you don’t know what you’re doing.

You must obviously learn to drive (write) by doing it, but observing others is a great way to start and then improve. If I don’t constrain students’ writing, I can’t do so with their reading either, and students will have the freedom to explore interests in the genres they read. No matter what they choose, students can learn from another’s writing. If they hate it, they learn what not to do. If they love it, they can pick up on styles, vocabulary, etc. that they like. Going along with King’s idea of telepathy, students will be able to understand other points of view through reading. Living in a small town, students may not be surrounded by diversity, but through reading, they can learn about experiences and ideas from all types of people all around the world from countless time periods.

Students will also learn from reading each other’s writing via writing workshops. These workshops will make reading and writing a more interactive experience as well. In my classroom writing workshops, students can share ideas with others and receive feedback on their own writing. In doing so, students will learn how to read critically and how to give and receive constructive feedback.

No matter what students’ future careers are, my goal is to give students necessary writing knowledge but more importantly, a creative outlet. What they learn in my classroom should be just a foundation they can build upon for the rest of their lives. Whether my students grow up to doctors, fry cooks, bankers, or janitors, I hope they will all be writers.

 

 

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print.

Reading & Writing

Today, when people think of core subjects, they probably think of math, science, and language arts. That’s what would come to my mind. In rural areas like where I am from, there are no specific reading or writing teachers. There is only one teacher for language arts, so why are teachers so quick to separate these subjects? In my former classroom experience, reading and writing were as different as night and day. A gigantic barrier has been built in many classrooms between the two subjects, and it must be taken down. Reading and writing should oppose each other but intertwine and grow together.

One way teachers build this barrier is by placing students in opposite positions as the writer they are studying. Reading is portrayed as observing the writing world students aren’t allowed or good enough to be a part of, making reading a more discouraging, less interesting experience. Some students find even understanding a text a difficult task let alone writing their own. Many assume that they can either understand a piece of writing or they can’t, and the same goes with writing. Many students assume writing is a superpower only bestowed on a few lucky people. It is only when they gain confidence that they are able to put themselves in the same position. The first step in breaking the barrier between reading and writing in the classroom is breaking the barrier between the student and the writer. Students assume their role in reading is only passive. They are only supposed to understand the message the author intends them to. Many students don’t enjoy reading and/or writing, and it may be because they don’t feel welcome partaking in it. Teachers have the power to change that. One way to get students more involved in a text is to write about one of its main themes before reading it. In doing so, students are able to draw connections between themselves to the characters in the book and have a more active reading experience (Elbow 361). Even if the story is set in a different time or place, students can read about love, betrayal, etc. and make connections to their own lives. Peter Elbow implemented this into his classroom because he found “students sometimes treat literary texts as ‘objects under glass’…and then you don’t get much from them. I think you get the most out of literary texts when you come to them as fellow writers – when you can turn to Shakespeare’s play and say, ‘Oh, I see you are writing about jealousy. I know something about being jealous – and even writing about being jealous. I may not have experienced it like Othello did or written about it as well as you did, but we are working in the same work here’” (362).

The second step to breaking the barrier is to foster students’ love of writing through reading. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he expressed the two’s necessary connection. He said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things” (145). Adding on to this idea, teachers must give students the freedom to read what they enjoy. No matter what genre or style students like to read, they must have the opportunity to fall in love with reading if we, as teachers, want them to fall in love with writing. We must also teach them that no reading is bad reading. “So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep up in out won work, and to steer clear of them. We also read in order to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done” (King 147). For students to enjoy writing, they must first enjoy reading. At first, students will unavoidably mimic writers they enjoy reading, but it is necessary to give students freedom in their reading and writing for them to eventually find their own voice.

 

References

Elbow, Peter. Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching Writing. New York: Oxford U Press, 2000. Print.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print.

Writing is Hard

My life as a writer… this may be my hardest blog post yet. While other posts may have involved reading a book or doing research, this one is convicting as a future writing teacher. The fact of the matter is my life as writer is pretty pathetic. This isn’t because I don’t like writing, but sometimes I feel like I don’t know how. When I was in middle school, I remember very vividly learning how to write essays in a strict format and then taking essay tests over the books we read. I HATED it. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I decided to teach English. That year, I had a completely new English teacher, one that didn’t test us on details of books or make us write multiple essays within a two-hour block. We read (what I thought were) extremely interesting books, and we had conversations about them. Although this method doesn’t seem too groundbreaking now, at the time it was the most exciting class I had ever taken. Instead of being quizzed on what someone was wearing or what they specifically said, we shared ideas. Still, this class focused on literature. Writing stories was a part of everyday life in elementary, but it was slowly cut out of lessons as I grew older. In high school, we had very few opportunities to write creatively. Every now and then, we were assigned to write a new ending to a book or descriptive essays. Even our extra-credit journals had to follow a specific prompt. Once, my class was assigned to write a short story about time travel, and I remember spending hours freaking out about, writing, and re-writing this short story. Creative writing was/is scary. That pretty much brings me to my current status as a writer.

Today, it seems like I spend my whole life writing, but I don’t have a life as a writer. I’ll break it down for you. Since I’m an English major, just about all of my homework is reading and writing (and I’m sure it’s the same for all of you). My writing has always been functional. I wouldn’t say that it’s good, but it gets the job done. Throughout my schooling, I have written countless papers following countless prompts and have received (mostly) As. But I’m not a writer.

I wanted to teach English because I have had a passion for reading since I learned how to read. While others have this crazy thing called a “life” over the summer, my summer break consists of countless trips to the community library and reading in my favorite recliner. From Stephen King’s On Writing, I learned that reading is crucial to being a good writer (which is encouraging), but it doesn’t substitute the actual act of writing. Writing, like anything else, takes practice and lots of it. Right now, I feel like a benchwarmer in the game of writing. I love watching others play, but I don’t feel good enough to step into the game. As a teacher, I have to prevent this mentality in my students. While it is necessary for them to study and watch the game (read), I hope to give them all the confidence to participate.

Next semester, I am taking my first creative writing course (ever), and I would be lying to say it didn’t scare the living daylights out of me, but I’m also very excited. Currently, my writing is trapped. I rely on structure and strict guideline in all aspects of my life, including my writing, but I hope to learn to progress past the limitations I have set for myself.

On Writing

I have heard that every English major has a popular book or author that they are ashamed to admit they have never read. For example, I remember talking to one classmate that had never read The Scarlet Letter. For me, that author is Stephen King. I have seen some of the movies that have been created from his stories, but I have (shamefully) never read them myself. After finishing On Writing, I’m (metaphorically) kicking myself for never reading any of his novels.

King starts this book with an autobiography explaining how his early-life experiences inspired the writer he is today. He has loved writing from a very young age, and getting in trouble with the school administration for printing The Village Vomit, a “humorous” newspaper he created to make fun of his high school’s faculty, didn’t hinder his passion whatsoever (King 51-53). I especially loved reading about how he got his ideas for novels like Carrie and Misery (King 76, 165). One person consistently mentioned throughout the novel (other than King himself) is Tabitha King. Other than his wife, Tabitha was King’s biggest supporter. She worked tirelessly so he could pursue his dream as a writer. She was the first to give him feedback on his stories and was always honest. Tabitha didn’t shy away from giving both criticism and praise where she saw fit.

The only “weakness” I found about On Writing was his discouraging opinion that not everyone has the potential to write well. King describes a pyramid of writers beginning with a very large group of bad writers at the bottom, competent and then good writers in the middle, and a tiny group of excellent writers like Shakespeare at the top. He adds, “while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one” (King 142). As I first read this opinion, I became disheartened as a future English teacher. I wondered how I’m supposed to teach writing if most writers are trapped to their current writing level. I acknowledge that it is not my job to create a classroom full of potential novelists, but they will not all be good or competent writers. What am I supposed to do with the bad writers?

On the other hand, one of my favorite points that King made was that in order to be a good writer, you must put in substantial time reading. A common practice of schools today is to separate reading and writing into two different subjects. My previous English teachers focused heavily on reading and pushed writing, especially creative writing, to the wayside. After reading On Writing, it seems obvious that the two should be intertwined. King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut” (145). Aspiring writers do not just need to read the “classics” either. Whether a book is terrible, mediocre, or great, a writer can learn from it. Writers will notice what they do not like in bad writing while good writing “teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling” (King 146). This was a very important point made throughout the book as well. Tell the truth. Truth, in this case, doesn’t mean nonfiction. King says that you should write about “anything you damn well want… as long as you tell the truth” (158). By this, he means that writers should write what they know about or are interested in. If they like sports, music, theatre, etc., that’s what they should write about. He also pointed out that it is the easiest to write about the genre writers love to read, again encouraging writers to read as much as possible.

Whether or not I agree that most writers are stuck in their current writing level, I learned many great lessons from Stephen King. There were two aspects that really stuck out to me while reading On Writing: Tabitha and truth-telling. As their teacher, I must play the role of Tabitha (their biggest, most honest supporter) in my students’ writerly ambitions. I also must always encourage my students to write about what they know. This brings me back to the discussion we had in class about whether or not we should give students prompts to write about. It seems that if we give students the freedom to explore their own interests, they will find more truths about writing and about themselves.

 

 

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print.