Lifelong Learners

While student teaching, one of the recurring topics I would discuss with my cooperating teacher was the difference between students with high ability and students with low ability/skills. The spectrum of ability we taught was vast, and it required me to interrogate who I was as a high school student.

Honors Language Arts I. Honors Language Arts II. Honors Language Arts III. Composition and Advanced Literature.

I had to ask myself, how was I supposed to helps students who struggled to write paragraphs when I had never struggled in the same way when it came to writing?

Had I failed before at writing? Did I understand what it was like to struggle with language? I considered myself a learner, but here I was in the role of a teacher.

I came to this conclusion when talking to my CT:

failure
Source.
I wish I’d failed more in high school.

What good was it for me now to have the weight of being high school valedictorian on my back forever? No one cared about that, I didn’t care about it, and all it did was make me feel as if I had to continue on this path of success that I had set for myself before I even got to the heart of my educational career.

This idea of failure is a subconcept that I see as crucial to concept 4 — All Writers Have More to Learn (59). If we only succeed, we’re not learning because we don’t have that struggle to overcome, don’t have strong motivations to grow.

In the FYC composition classroom, this means providing opportunities for failure. In providing opportunities for failure, teachers can also provide opportunities for growth, correction, and assessment of learning.

We have to remember that assessment doesn’t just mean final papers or final exams (another subconcept — assessment is an essential component of learning to write (67)), but also understanding where our students are in the learning process and helping them to understand where they are, as well. Formative vs. summative assessment is especially important to consider as teachers here; we have to make sure that we have some formative assessment along the way and before it’s too late for us and our students to do anything with these assessments.

Some ways we can include formative assessment: have students turn in part of an assignment or have students complete a practice activity. Make it clear that these don’t have to be perfect.

In the FYC composition classroom, it’s also important that we incorporate how to read feedback. We as teachers can model (through demonstration, most likely, although the age of transparencies has shifted into the age of screen casting) how we take feedback and how we incorporate that into future drafts or future projects. We can show our students that we’re learning too.

revision-i-love-it
Source. 
Not only can we show our students this, but we can also teach them to revise. Making revision processes explicit makes revision processes easier and shows students that revision is more than just fixing grammatical errors. Revision is central to developing writing, and students need to understand how to revise (66). 

Essentially, we need to teach our students that they’re learners and show them that we’re learners, too — lifelong learners, at that.

Learning how to write becomes easier when you identify as a learner.

Sources:
Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2015). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.
Advertisements

Writing is More than Class

il_570xn-1191747729_4oo9
Source.

As I prepared to give my final student teaching presentation, my friend — there for moral support — came up to my cooperating teacher’s desk where I stood fixing the dongle, tapped the wooden sign there that said “I’m silently correcting your grammar,” and whispered, “I hate this.”

I gave her a tight smile, muttering back that it was the worst. We had had previous conversations about how grammar instruction and the mythos of standard English oppressed native languages and dialects, and this knick knack suddenly represented all that was wrong with traditional instruction.

First-Year Composition put this idea into concrete terms: native languages and dialects need to be valued and validated in the educational system, and, when they are not, this is a contribution to the promotion of cultural assimilation (xviii) This is especially important in composition classes where the focus is primarily on how we write and use language.

(SAE is a language of privilege, but that’s a conversation for another day. My friend mentioned in the anecdote, Rachel Wright-Márquez, presented at a conference on Navigating Linguistic Hegemony in the Writing Center: The Mythos of Standard American English and its Implications, and her best practices information can be found here.)

As my undergraduate education was in English education, I have the advantage of entering graduate school with methods, content, and pedagogy courses under my belt, as well as practicum experiences and an entire semester spent student teaching high school freshmen. That said, I know that helping high school students understand Romeo and Juliet will be much different than helping college students understand how to write a rhetorical analysis. This previous teaching experience was very traditional in that the curriculum that needed to be followed was primarily crafted in order to prepare students for NWEA testing, even if that meant emphasizing standard American English (SAE, sometimes referred to as Edited American English).

I had my phase, as have most English majors, where I declared myself to be a “grammar Nazi” (and given our current political climate, I hope even more fervently that this phrase has died out), but as I began running a classroom, I realized that a lot of my students didn’t understand the importance of reading and writing skills beyond school’s emphasis of SAE; the importance of NWEA for their high school careers was not something that mattered to them, and quite a few of my students thought “English was dumb.” They didn’t care whether they were engaging with the ideas we were talking about, as “First Time Up” says this is the “help” students need most (and this is probably the help we should provide most frequently in our classes), but instead just cared about doing the bare minimum to get by (16).
db9f629d2bfd03769ae9750f3eceed81
Source: Pinterest (although here is some basic information about the rhetorical triangle)

My experience with rhetoric and composition as fields of study are limited in comparison to what I feel I know about the field of education; I can whip out phrases like “scaffolding,” “ZPD,” and “pseudo-concepts” like they’re no big deal, but my understanding of tools like the rhetorical triangle is shaky at best (and as such, a lot of my primary questions about composition come down to what define it as a discipline).

The common ground between my educational background and composition, however, comes down to Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s metaconcept that “Writing Is an Activity and a Subject of Study” (4).
This was something a lot of my freshmen didn’t understand — how was writing important outside of helping them to earn a good grade in English 9? They didn’t want to be English majors or authors, and they didn’t revise, just as Teller argued of his students, although I loathe to say something similar to Teller.

As a had a one-on-one moment with a student, praising him for his use of simile in a paragraph response, he seemed stunned that I was proud of him for that, and I tried to use the opportunity as best I could to emphasize that strong writing like that would get him far in life, as writing is something we’re always doing, even if it’s not scholarly writing.

Of course, writing is hard, and many students will always struggle with it, whether that’s because their brains are better wired for math or because English isn’t their first language and they have to write in English as their teachers don’t speak Bulgarian or Spanish or Pushto (three of the languages some of my freshmen spoke). Writing and communication are important outside of the classroom, though, and it is our duty as teachers to help students strengthen these skills.

What’s important and what will always be a concern to me in both teaching and in composition is that students be able to communicate their ideas in ways that are easily understandable but in ways that respect their identities.

This is what I want for my students, whether they’re studying English as a discipline or whether they want to be construction workers or go into the military or be stay-at-home parents. Composition may have started as remediation, but it can be so much more than that.

Sources:

Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2015). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Coxwell-Teague, D., & Lunsford, R. F. (Eds.). (2014). First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press.

Shadows Are No Longer Enough: Review of SHADOW WEAVER

I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ever since Emmeline was a baby, she has had the ability to control shadows—and ever since Emmeline was a baby, she has had Dar. Dar is her only friend, her shadow, the voice that she speaks to when others, including her own parents, are terrified of her ability to shadow craft. Her parents’ fear of their daughter’s ability lead them to accept an offer from a noble family—to take away Emmeline and cure her of her talent. Dar agrees to help Emmeline keep her talent by changing the noble’s mind about taking her away, if Emmeline will help her turn from lost soul to the human she once was when the blood moon comes in just over a week’s time.

She agrees, but the next morning, the nobleman doesn’t wake up—found in a coma—and Emmeline is to blame, as a witness saw a long shadow near his body. Afraid of the punishment she might receive, as the only one capable of doing such a thing, Emmeline runs away with Dar to help her become human again. As Emmeline explores the world beyond her family’s estate and woods for the first time—and makes her first real friends—she begins to wonder if she can trust Dar. Would Dar lie to her? Emmeline is unsure, but she has to figure that out soon as she works towards helping Dar become human—that’s what friends would do, right? Especially for friends who have always been by your side—literally?

31246863

WOW, OKAY. Time to gush, now that the summary is out of the way.
I was super intrigued by the premise of this book when I saw it on Netgalley. The ability to control shadows gave me a Darkling vibe (from the Grisha Trilogy), and I was fascinated to see how that power would play out in a middle grade fantasy setting instead of a young adult fantasy setting. Needless to say, I was quite pleased. Paired with Dar, Emmeline’s narrative voice is strong, as she talks to her throughout the novel, even though the book’s set up was a bit slow. Once Emmeline and Dar ran away (this happens fairly quickly, too), the book really picked up speed, and the world building was impressive for a middle grade novel in how the book handled other people with talents.

What I didn’t expect from this book was a rich exploration of a toxic friendship, but that was what I got. The toxic friendship in the book is clear from its summary, as Emmeline wonders whether or not she can actually trust Dar, and this snowballs throughout the plot, as Emmeline is able to depend less and less on Dar for friendship. This was the most impressive part of the book for me, especially as we see Emmeline’s friendship with Dar juxtaposed with the kindness she receives from a family she meets on the run from the noble’s soldiers.

The sequel seems like it will hinge on the world building that was crafted here, with the talents that some characters have, but this first novel was really about the relationship between Emmeline and Dar and how that worked in combination with the magical elements of the book.

Overall, this was an impressive start to a middle grade duology, and I’m definitely excited to see how Connolly resolves everything! This is a book I wish I’d had in middle school, if only for the message that sometimes friends might not actually be your friends (but also for the fantasy, because I really did love it and think a middle grade audience would love it as well).

Preorder the book from any of these places before it comes out in January: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound