Friday, May 2, 2014

My One Good Idea This Year

Two important bits of wisdom from my 49 years:
  • Pick up just one good teaching idea per year--just think how much you’ll have improved in 10 years. This is from my mother-in-law. Or as Stephen Covey said, most people over-estimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.
  • Students generally learn what they are taught. This is from hard-won experience. They might not learn what I say in class, or ask them to read, or test them on once. But what I show I value by spending time on, articulating the reasons for, modeling, requiring reflection and transfer--this, they will learn. 
My best idea for this year was having students reflect on their writing process every time they handed in a paper. I started this practice because I realized that students were just doing the assignment I gave them--they couldn’t name the steps of the writing process, couldn’t define prewriting, and couldn’t distinguish between revising and editing. I wanted them to understand, value, and internalize the writing process. (See my Nov. 8 blog "Owning the Process" for the first time I did this.)

As students handed in their final big paper of the year, I asked them to reflect not just on their process for this paper, but on what they’d learned over the course of the year about the writing process. I think most of them learned what I wanted them to. Here’s a sample of what they wrote:

  • It really helps to just organize your thoughts on a sheet of paper.
  • I want to remember the entire idea of organization because especially for this essay I found myself skipping to the writing part without planning, which I ended up going back and starting all over because I was all over the place. I need to make a diagram or some sort of visual to put organization into my mind.
  • Prewriting does not have to be writing about the same topic of the end writing. It could be anything (in moderate connection) that will get your mind running.
  • To make an outline as prewriting is very effective for me. Choosing the quotes that I wanted to focus on was also important for me to have an organized essay.
  • I learned that listening to Beethoven really helps me focus....I also realized I cannot be next to people when I write because I lose concentration.
  • It’s best first to just put down my ideas, and then go back later to think of better ways to phrase things.
  • I learned that this drafting is very important because you have to write everything that you want to say even though it doesn’t make any sense. I will remember to focus on the contents instead of the grammar.
  • When writing a draft, don’t think about writing it perfectly at first. You can still change things.
  • Take time. It’s not about turning it in just to get a participation grade, but it’s rather a chance to make my essay better the more I revise.
  • I just need to sit down and write for all of class and at home and get all my ideas. If I wait for it to come to me it never works.
  • I learned that my first draft does not always have to be perfect. Rather than sitting for 30 minutes to write a sentence, I need to keep writing for efficiency.
  • I learned to ask good questions to the teacher or peers if I’m not sure of something.
  • Have a new set of eyes look at the paper, such as a parent, friend, or teacher.
  • It is important to focus on the idea more than the grammar and word usage.
  • I’ve learned to go beyond what is marked on the paper.
  • It’s okay to rewrite or discard your ideas if they don’t go with what you’re trying to say.
  • I learned to print it out and mark it up. Looking at it with ink and paper helps the most. Also to work 20 minutes on it and then come back the next day with fresh eyes. I need someone else to read it, and I need to read it out loud.
  • The thing that hinders me the most if FaceBook. Next year, I just want to try and not get distracted so easily.
  • Not just correcting the 10 words, but I want to read the paper out loud and look for more mistakes on my own.
  • Teacher or peer input benefits me greatly. I want to remember to ask questions when needed.
  • Read the paper over, and don’t procrastinate!
  • Many of the grammatical errors were already made in previous essays. I want to remember to look over the essay many times, and look at grammatical errors made in the past.
  • I really need to read it aloud to hear how it sounds because sometimes I read over errors because I know how it is supposed to sound.
  • Spellcheck is not reliable enough: use the teacher and friends.
These student reflections I’m going to pass on to the 11th grade teacher, so when students come to their first paper next year, he can pass these reflections back to them, and hopefully the transfer will continue.

One more reflection I asked the students to do was advice to the upcoming 9th graders to prepare them for English 10. Here were a few of their responses:
  • Prewriting is important.
  • Essay is not just pages of paper, they’re essays. It determines your overall grade, of course, but how much time you put in on each essay helps you become a better writer.
  • Make it a choice to make English class fun. It will allow you to be engaged with the class.
  • They will learn a lot about editing/revising.
  • Take note of the corrections that you made on your previous essays because chances are that you will make a similar mistake on your next one.
  • No procrastination. Make outline.
  • Work hard and smart in class and at home.
  • It can be hard and stressful, so ask for help! She’s there to help you, and you won’t regret taking the time she’s willing to give in order for you to succeed.
  • Tell them to write all their ideas first, then go from there.
  • Work hard. Simple as that.
And my favorite:

  • Don’t write for the sake of writing. Write because you want to say something, because there is something burring up in you and you don’t want it to burn out in your mouth. Write because that thing you want to say deserves to remain somewhere forever.

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