In my next post, I will concern myself with where she aligns herself with the previous two interviews as well as where she separates herself. Like the other students, she dislikes the way teachers force the writing “process” upon her, but she differs in that she prefers “to do it in [her] head.” Additionally, R has a curious past when it comes to reading and writing, and I think she is an interesting study in perseverance. Finally, I will pay particular attention to her comments about what classes and circumstances help her write, as well as her history with literacy. I will try my best to put the former into conversation with my earlier thoughts about history teachers’ relationship with writing.
As I mentioned earlier, I will be using the resources I have at hand to supplement these posts. Namely, these will consist of graduate students with whom I am acquainted. First among these students is Mr. Sellars, a candidates to receive his Masters in the Art of Teaching High School English this summer. I think he brings a particular perspective on the conversation, as someone who willingly acknowledges his successes and failures as a writer, as well as someone who spends a good deal of time teaching writing habits and skills.
Of particular and immediate value are his comments on the characteristics of good and bad writers whom he has encountered as a teacher, as well as the arc of his history with writing, and its”brother,” reading.
What I value most about his input is the points of symmetry and the points of opposition between some of his positions and some of the positions I have heretofore offered. In my next post I will spend significant time unpacking his thoughts on writing with the intention of allowing them to highlight some of the current debates in literacy theory.
Meet D. He just turned sixteen and is a freshman in one of my English Classes. in many ways, he is a very different studetnt from M, whom you met in my last post. Durham public schools has two main designations for freshman English classes: “Standard” and “Honors”. D is pretty much as “standard” as a Standard student can be. He’s a hard worker in class, with some obvious intelligence, but is a student who does not excel or whose grades do not indicate “mastery” of the subject matter.
I asked D the same questions and his responses can be found here:
(again, if anyone is less interwebz-deficient than me and can tell me how to embed a Youtube video on WordPress, I’d be super grateful, and probably grant you three wishes or something.)
In no particular order, there are a few things that stood out to me in D’s interview (as usual, if you think I’m missing anything advise me about it in the comments):
Pretty early in the interview, I asked D why he thought he struggled at writing; he quickly pointed out his vocabulary, or lack thereof. He said that his dad made him focus on math and science related study when he was younger, and that he therefore didn’t spend that time practicing writing and vocabulary skills. I wonder if he came to that conclusion on his own or if he picked it up from somewhere else. He mentions more than once that if you don’t practice something, you won’t get better at it. Maybe the idea of practicing reading, writing, and literacy to improve them aren’t as abstract or debatable as some people suggest…
Relatedly, I find it interesting that his mom is a writer in the field of education, but he still thinks the majority of his focus was on math/sciences. Maybe that’s what dad does and that’s who D emulates most. Even though I’ve gotten students’ and parents’ permission to ask these kinds of questions, I’m still hesitant to pry too deeply into home life…
D commented that learning Arabic and English simultaneously was an interference for him, that he didn’t learn English well because he was hearing/learning another language at the same time. This comes as contrary to what a lot of educational theorists say now. Many believe that students who are raised in bi- or multilingual households will have better language skills, a belief that has caused primary schools to offer foreign language immersion programs in several languages. This was also a point that I could have explored with M last week; I believe here parents are Portugese, and I wonder if she could shed some light on the question of bilingual households.
D gives 100 percent in class but thinks some of the steps are unecessary, or at least doesnt like them. I can attest to that. He requested a seat near the front of the class, and D takes notes as diligently, and engages in discussion as enthusiastically as any student in the room. despite that, he readily acknowledges that the skills we seek to practice and reinforce in the classroom have made his writing better, but still doesn’t like to do/use them. I’m interested in taking a look back at some of his work to see how he fared on the pre-writing and revision steps that we have undertaken in class. In general, these are the steps that half-way completed if they are completed at all.
D’s preferences outside of school align with his performance inside school. I find it intriguing but not suprising that he likes to read history wikis “all the time”, but doesn’t enjoy fiction. This opposition to “made-up stuff” was evident throughout our last unit on poetry. In addition, it correlates to his favorite writing assignment, in which he was asked to look back on an event in his life, and basically write a history of himself. In addition, he said that he enjoys/prefers oral communication over written communication, which makes sense, considering his admitted love of improv and acting.
I wonder if we spent more time creating curricula that take student interests into account, would we then be able to serve more students. It may be a slippery slope though; I teach 140 students on a given day, how could I presume to to even pique the interests of the majority? Or perhaps more fundamentally challenging, when would I find the time/resources to poll students in a meaningful way, tally results, and manipulate unit and lesson plans for individual class interests? Le sigh.
I’ll be spending the next post more directly comparing the responses of the two students documented so far.
I missed an opportunity to ask about how he uses technology in his writing, which he brought up. I also missed (twice now!) opportunities to push harder into home life of students. Again, if you think of anything I missed, feel free to document my inadequacies in the comments.
She is a freshman at Durham School of the Arts, and one of the more (if not the most) naturally talented writers that I have come across.On the last essay assigned in class, we provided ample opportunities for students to engage in all facets of the writing process in class. On the peer revision day, she sat around, bored. She told me that “nobody in my group can help me.” I merely scoffed, advised her to make sure she was helping THEM at least, and prepared to grade her essay extra-hard. A few days later, when I got to her essay in the grading stack, I flexed my hands switched to a new red pen. What I read had its flaws, but would have been writing that a senior could stand by (and perhaps more tellingly, would have been writing that earned AT LEAST a passing grade in an introductory english/writing course at university. M is fifteen.
I asked her the list of questions we compiled a few weeks ago. You can find her responses here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JuRjdsFGac
(i REALLY want to embed video on wordpress, but it’s fighting me. If anyone can shed light on this, let me know; please and thanks! )
So, what do you think of her? Does she remind you of yourself, or anyone else? Will her predilections to be lazy come back to haunt her, or will her acknowledgement that the writing process can be beneficial stick a little harder and encourage her to actively hone her skills? As important, what questions do you think I forgot to ask her? Please feel free to answer these questions and/or pose any new questions that come to mind in the the Comments.
Tune in next time, Faithful Reader, and I’ll answer some of these questions and more, as well as postulating about what “kinds” of writers I have come across in the past few months as a Teaching Intern.