Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creating a Space - Moving Forward

Today I brought materials from Office Max to create a writing ambiance in The Write Place - or at least a writing atmosphere. The paper clips, clip boards, note pads and writing utensils that seemed like so much at home look very meager at this point (see photos) - I have a long way to go! I asked for a round table for conferring - and got one, but I forgot to say, "small round table." It's huge! Everyone's been so nice and accommodating that I hate to complain. I've also asked for chairs and computers but so far, no luck in that area. I would like to create a warm, comfortable atmosphere that is inviting to students, yet inspiring to writers, as a place to come and really block out the rest of their day. I think lamps and more comfortable chairs would really help, and I'm not sure where those are coming from - yet. I have room for a few posters...but am not sure where to get them, so could use ideas.

My major task at the moment is to create an all-school writing task for next week. On October 6, I will offer a prompt to staff and students along with colored notecards. My motives for the prompt are to recognize Washington as a writing school and to begin to build a writing community here. I'm  looking for a response in 50 words or less. From the responses, along with the newspaper staff, I will choose 5-10 responses (depending on length) to be in the first edition of the newspaper. I'm also planning to give prizes to the first 20 responses received. I'm not sure what the prizes will be, but I want them to be connected to writing, so I will be revisiting Office Max, I think.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing and Physical Education

The goals of our district this year include "writing to learn" and  infusing nonfiction reading and writing into every classroom. With that in mind, the phys. ed. teachers contacted me to find out how they might include writing in their curriculum.

The request caused me to think back to another school I had worked at where the phys. ed. teacher had his students maintain notebooks/journals on a daily basis. From what I remember, students did goal-setting and record-keeping in addition to reflections in their notebooks. I thought that I would find out what the teachers at this school were already doing and then go from there. What I found out is that they don't have students do any writing at the moment. What they needed from me was how to do it and ideas on the content of the writing. We talked about creating a Phys Ed Journal for:

-       Cornell Notes
-       Self-Reflection on skills/performance
-       Explanations of rules/how to play the game
-       Goal-setting
-       Recording achievements/setbacks in reaching goals; foods eaten; exercise regimen vs. sedentary activity
-       Vocabulary
-    Exit/Entrance Slips

Discussion centered on what was realistic considering the wide range of students in the classes and the resistance that might happen when students are asked to write in their physical education class. I encouraged the teachers to think of authentic uses of the writing as well as practical ways to ensure that notebooks were in class every day.

To begin with, teachers will keep the notebooks in class and use them  for goal-setting and possibly for entrance slips, allowing students to reflect back on the previous day's work. I suggested the possibility of students doing drawings/diagrams in their notebook as well. I'm anxious to hear how this goes.

I think I will contact a few other schools to see if journals are still being used in phys.ed.


Today, I had my first opportunity to meet with students - all from the school newspaper staff. My task was to get them to think around the article they wanted to write.  Two of the three had a rough draft. I met with them individually and asked questions to get them thinking about whether their articles said what they really wanted them to say. I think each one decided to include new ideas or change their article based on thoughts that came up in the process of discussion.
Cha decided that she would talk about  the poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay,"  by Frost in relation to Ponyboy's (The Outsiders) interpretation, then give her own interpretation of the poem relating to innocense and how fleeting it is. We talked a little about the meaning of the poem and then decided that beginnings (dawn, new leaves) are gold and that she could relate that idea to the new site of her school. I'm wondering if I should have suggested dropping the first two interpretations and just had her focus on how the poem relates to the present context new students and a new school? I think I need to see her next draft...

Cody was fun to talk to...His article is based on one of his passions - street art (making it and appreciating it). He starts out with talking about the cost of removing graffiti (which, he emphasizes, is not the same as street art). He is very concerned about cities removing street art and graffitti without distinguishing between the two. He has done some street art of his own and I am encouraging him to add his own story to his article. I was trying to remember a recent movie I had just seen on street artists but couldn' I know it was the film, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," directed by Banksy and about the culture of street artists. Next time.

Emily started out talking about doing an article on the Swine Flu but at the end of our conversation, it was clear that her real interest is home remedies for common ailments so she is going to relate her article to common ailments that fellow students have, like headaches and colds. Her article will give students sensible (possibly archaic) approaches to illness. Seems like students might be interested in reading about this.

Since these were just drafts, we didn't get into editing and I'm thinking the students need to look at effective beginnings and endings for news articles. They have some way to go before they'll have finished drafts.

For myself, I was reminded that while I know a lot about writing, I'm rusty on giving feedback and thinking about next steps...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Room for Improvement

I'm trying to decide what this room should eventually look like...I'm located inside the media center that has several computer labs on its, how many computers do I actually need? How often will individual students come here for support? This year I won't have student tutors before second semester, if at all. I've been told that since the school is so large, it may not be practical for teachers to send students to the writing center during class time - especially 7th and 8th graders. I wonder about that. There are spaces on each floor that would work for conferencing purposes and I or tutors could meet with students right outside classrooms.

So, what should this room look like? I'm also not sure what options I have. After talking with the technology person in charge of the building, I get the distinct impression that this room was not on anyone's, I guess I can come up with a wish list, turn it in to the principal and go from there. I'm basing my ideas on floor plans in The High School Writing Center edited by Pam Farrell (1989). Despite the copyright date, I'm told this is still the best book out on establishing writing centers.

Advertising/Drumming Up Business

No feedback on my introductory letter except from administration. I met with one of the on-site coaches today and she gave me some ideas of teams or individuals who might want ideas on how to use writing more effectively in their content areas. One request is for feedback to a student writing an article for the first edition of the school newspaper based on the Robert Frost poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." I'm told the student intends to talk a little about the poem's use in the novel, The Outsiders, and then relate the poem's message to the move of her school onto the site of another closed school. An interesting idea, and I'm looking forward to meeting with her tomorrow - my first customer! The newspaper's advisor is also willing to run an article on The Write Place in the first edition of the paper

I have a meeting set up for next week with a group of 3 Phys Ed teachers who are looking for ways to infuse writing into their classes. I'm going to have to think about that.

Next steps: Perhaps posting a question for students to write to and drop off in the writing center - I had intended to do this soon but wasn't sure what I'd do with the I'm thinking that maybe some of those replies could be posted in the 1st edition of the newspaper?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where do I begin?

September 20, 2010

The title of this post says it all...where do I begin? My task is to design a writing center for a newly created 7-10 urban school. (The school will expand to 11 and then 12 in the next two years). Although I've been intrigued with the idea of on-site writing centers for the past ten years, I've never had the opportunity to actually be a part of one or be in a school where an active one was in operation. What I know is that students benefit in all area of their literacy lives through the tutoring support that a writing center can supply. And I want to offer the opportunity to this school.

It's now the third week of classes, and I'm just getting a feel for my new space (inside and outside the school). Since this site merges a former middle school with a small portion of a former high school, there have been many logistical pieces that needed to be put in place in order for that to happen. The major upheaval has been moving all teachers, SmartBoards, computers and materials from the middle school site to the high school site. As you can see from the photo of my space today, The Write Place is still the wrong place for students to visit. But, things are looking up...last week, I was told it would be another month before I could use the room and yet, when I arrived today, the large equipment had been moved and even as I worked in a cleared off corner of the room, staff came and retrieved pieces for other programs.

Now my anxiety can switch from acquiring the room to how to accommodate teachers and students!