Friday, January 21, 2011

Student Connections

Today I met with Tara, a 9th grade student writing a novel about shape-shifting humans, werewolves and vampires. Two days ago, she handed me her notebook for feedback as I looked through 9th grade papers in her classroom. I wasn't prepared for the amount of writing that she had done on her "novel" or for the tiny, single-spaced, light pencil that it was written in. I struggled to read it, but was amazed by the intricate plot structure she had devised and the complicated code that involved what the characters could do and how their names were created and what each name signified. How do you give feedback on such a big piece that is still a rough draft? I wondered where she was going with the piece - which authors she read on a regular basis - and what kind of feedback she wanted from me. I left her a note to come to The Write Place to talk about her piece, and today she showed up.

She was nervous, swinging her foot rapidly as we began to talk. I asked her to tell me about herself as a writer and she apologetically recounted how she started out by "plagiarizing" other authors. That led to a discussion of the difference between plagiarizing and emulating. I told her about using books as mentor texts and inspiration which is very different from stealing an author's plotline. That seemed to calm her down. She told me that when she reads, she gets inspiration for new plots and characters. Once she started talking about her story, she seemed quite at ease.

The feedback that she wanted was an evaluation, really, of whether what she wrote was any good. I gave her lots of praise about the intricasies of her plot and the character relationships. I pulled out Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, Orson Card's Ender's Game and J.K Rowling's Chamber of Secrets and talked about how she might use her own mentor texts to create description and detail that would help the reader follow the story. (Her piece was filled with dialogue.) She said that she adds description when she types up her drafts. I don't know if I gave her enough, but I wanted her to think of this as a positive experience, so I'll just have to wait and see where this goes...

I encouraged her to come back with new sections or any other writing that she wanted to have feedback on - I also encouraged her to send her friends to The Write Place to talk about their writing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's My Focus?

I guess January is made for reflection. The last two weeks I've been thinking about The Write Place and trying to really center my work as well as look ahead to possibilities. I'm in an awkward position since I'm funded by ARRA money and unless I can find a way to fund this Center next year, it will cease to exist in June. This is compounded by the fact that I need to establish the presence of the writing center in order to attract the attention of people who would see this as a viable funding opportunity. I've been in this position before, acting "as if" great things are already happening or building my bridge as I walk across it.

So, I drafted some possible options for 2nd semester and some thoughts about next year...I met with the principal and we narrowed my ideas down to another all-school write; work with the 9th grade teacher on preparing for the state writing test in April; and work with students preparing to enter the History Day competition this year. I also plan on hosting at least a couple of "Writing Excursions" for interested students.

Then, I met with others in a Writing Center Symposium format and started re-thinking my role once again...Is this writing center for the students or for the teachers? I want it to be for the students, but I am unsure how much summative writing is actually assigned, and I wonder if it is being assigned, do teachers understand the process approach to writing and how a writing center could be used by students to develop their final drafts? I'm only thinking this because in the 3 instances in which I have worked with teachers, I have not seen final products. In each case, I was asked to help develop and deliver the assignments but my work with students and their writing was minimal. Should I be visiting Professional Learning Communities here and give them a menu of possible writing topics I could explore with them? Or is that really branching away from my focus?

More later...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Digital Poetry

It seems like awhile since I last posted but only because I haven't had the time...A 10th grade English teacher requested support for a concluding project for a recent poetry unit.  The district curriculum called for a "chap-book" (ex. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse) format for the concluding piece in the unit, but because of a variety of circumstances, students had not written more than one or two poems which were in very rough draft form and this teacher needed to conclude the unit. It seemed to make sense to both of us to have students bring one of their drafts to a polished form and digitizing that piece seemed perfect. Although B. didn't feel he could carry that out on his own, I felt confident (over-confident?) that I could provide what was needed to help his students create some intriguing products.

Needless to say, with technology, it's one step forward, two steps back. While I smoothly went through the process using imovie and a student poem, my version of imovie was not the same as that at the school which created problems for me that I hadn't anticipated. While I had worked with both versions, I was not an expert at either. I was fortunate in having a tech friend support me through all the stages of our process and step in to help students when I was at a loss for what to do.

I will attach my powerpoint and samples but basically, students came to the lab on their first day with  rather hastily created poems. It did concern me that we were creating final projects out of very rough or nonexistent 1st drafts, and I had to remind myself that my role was to help students digitize their writing as a second draft. What surprised me was how much that step contributed to the revision process. It forced students to look at their poetry in a new way - to look for images to fit with their thoughts and in the process, change their words to fit the images. As it turned out, students created many more drafts than they would have in a traditional assignment.

Our final step was supposed to be the addition of voice - students reading their poetry into the computer. Not having done this before, I was sure that the process was easy - I tried it myself, at home. What I didn't count on was the background noise in the lab and the softness of the students' voices. They needed to record with a microphone and in a quiet room. The majority did not want to have their voices attached to their poems. The pictures and words by themselves needed some kind of background sound so we gave students the option of  downloading appropriate music without lyrics. Now the project seemed finished.

Frustrations about final editing were similar to working with traditional writing: spelling - getting students to edit their work; capitalization - following the rules or at least being consistent in not following them. I ended up telling students that if they were consciously breaking conventions that they needed to attach an author's statement explaining why they made the choices they did - otherwise, they would be graded according to traditional grammar and spelling rules. As you will see in the videos attached, it worked to a degree. If the class was my own, I would have required stricter editing. Oh, and I would have censored the "love" theme which comprised 90% of the finished work.

After working intensely with the 3 classes, I was  motivated to experiment and create a family video combining music, words and photos which I gave to my family for Christmas. I am now anxious to go in another direction with digital writing and build on what I've learned.