Motivating Reluctant Writers Through Community Building in ...
Motivating Reluctant Writers Through Community Building in the Classroom with an emphasis on using non-traditional prompts -Austin Baker When you hear the term prompt, most teacher think of the dry, often ambiguous prompt often found on the SAT, such as this one from the June 2009 administration of the test: Prompt 1 Think carefully about the issue presented in the following
excerpt and the assignment below. The discovery that someone we admire has done something wrong is always disappointing and disillusioning. Yet even when people we consider heroes have been tarnished by their faults, they are no less valuable than people who appear perfect. When we learn that an admired person, even one who is seemingly perfect, has behaved in less than admirable ways, we discover a complex truth: great ideas and great deeds come from imperfect people like ourselves. Assignment: Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies,
I will refer to prompts/prompting throughout this presentation, but what Im talking about are the more non-traditional prompts, in the spirit of this definition: verb (used with object) 5. to move or induce to action: What prompted you to say that? 6. to occasion or incite; inspire: What prompted his resignation? 7. to assist (a person speaking) by suggesting something to be said.
When I talk about non-traditional prompts, Im talking about using things to inspire students to write, an often arduous task with high school students. But, before we begin talking about building community and motivating students, we have to look at some of the challenges we face in the high school classroom. Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman say in their book A Community of Writers that: The psychosocial issues facing junior-high and high-school students sometimes seem to make writing instruction harder at this age level. Adolescents are often fearful of exposing themselves, sharing their thoughts and their feelings, or making themselves vulnerable to the prying eyes of peers or adults. (Zemelman & Daniels 10) Zemelman and Daniels go to so say: Many of the best ways we know to make writing real, largely by
creating a close-knit community of writers, seem prohibited. In a sense, the kids are right to be skittish; nothing makes us feel quite so vulnerable as when we release a piece of our writing, a frozen chunk of our self, to the world. Ironically, it is much easier for a bunch of six-or seven-yearolds, who have little experience in handling the uncertainties of a broader public audience, to risk this than kids fire or ten years older. The adolescents may feel much more threatened by writing, even though they are actually much shrewder about discourse, more experienced with a wide variety of audiences, and much better
equipped to protect themselves than the younger kids. (10) More factors working against creating community in the high school classroom: Junior-high and high-school subjects are usually departmentalized, which among other things means that teachers see each of their students for forty to sixty minutes per day instead of the five hours that elementary teachers usually enjoy. This makes it much harder for the teacher to know each student well. Each teachers total student load [may rise] to 125-150, instead of the 25 or 30 pupils usually found in a selfcontained elementary classroomAt best, the teacher has to create not one but five or six communities of writers, semester-long course are normal in many high schools, and classes may change as often as every six or eight weeks.
curriculum and standards to be met (e.g. certain subjects/content that must be taught standardized tests (HSAP, SAT, ACT, PLAN, ASSET, etc.) afterschool activities or work family life (or lack their of) More problems with community building in the classroom that we as educators need to keep in mind. writing may reveal your [the students] weaknesses in a way that a spoken answer or a multiple choice test doesnt show. If your essay is read aloud in class and heard by your enemies, you may be in for unmerciful razzing or worse, so it often seems wise to play it safe most older students feel personally vulnerable about their writing and high school students sense deep-seated contradictions in their
expectations surrounding their writing Highly structured formulae for essays and the intensive marking of grammar errors show that he teacher is the one with the most responsibility. These practices implicitly contradict any assertions the teacher might make about students taking more responsibility for their work and imply that students arent really able or allowed to make any of the important decisions. For example, last semester, I had 75 students total in my 3 classes. If I spent 10 minutes per student paper, thats 750 minutes, or 12.5 hours working on students papers. These are just a few obstacles to creating community in the classroom. But, we owe it to our students to
overcome these obstacles. Research shows that language development is a social affair. As Eric Erickson and others have shown, identity formation is the consuming developmental task for adolescents; and writing comes closer to these kids urgent personal concerns than any other school subject. After all, in learning to write, students are invited compelled, really to make sense of the world, to weigh ideas, to explore values, to find their own connections, to invent voices, styles, personae on a pageand then to test everything out by communicating with others, sharing writing and exchanging responses. (3) The fact is that writing has been taught so badly in our schools and
kids have been compelled to waste their writing on so many trivial and demoralizing purposes that their urge to write has often been stunted. (4) Recent research on the ways people learn to read and write has strongly shown that literacy is socially constructed. Both educators and the general public have suffered for too long under the delusion that reading and writing are essentially solitary skills that develop best through isolated, individualist practicethe research has reminded us, among other things, that most linguistic learning is not solitary at all, but profoundly social, arising out of a rich and complex web of immediate, living needs, purposes, meanings, relationships. (47) Almost any piece of real writing originates in some real
social purpose and, after being composed, is sent to some audience in the real social world to accomplish its purposeIn other words, the social context is not just the setting for language growth, but its cause and its means. (48) One of the things you have to do to establish community within your class room is lay down a foundation that will help foster community. Much of this falls into the realm of classroom management, but it warrants being covered again, as were looking establishing community from the ground up. One of the things I stress in all my classes is what we are a community, and to have an effective community, there has to be respect for all
members. Heres an abbreviated version of one of the points of my classroom rules. BE RESPECTFUL OF OTHERS AT ALL TIMES. The classroom is a community of learners in which ALL members of the community are equal and worthy participants. Therefore all classroom procedures and activities are to be conducted with full respect for each member of the class. All arguments, grudges, beef, and complaints that It seems simple, but often times we have no idea what students bring to the classroom. We dont know what was said in the hall on the way to class, who cheated on who, who punked out who, etc. On a good day, you
never see any of the beef, and with a decent group of students, even if there is beef, you wont see it. But, in the classroom environment where the teacher is in control, students who wouldnt openly confront another student still might try to get back at them through other, more subtle methods, such as ripping them through a critique. The next thing to keep in mind when building community is that you have to understand and be ready for what Zemelman and Daniels define maintenance as the socioemotional or interpersonal activity that maintains peoples ability to work together. (52) Obviously, some groups can get bogged down or sidetracked in
certain maintenance behavior, like eating or gossiping, to the degree that no task work gets donebut in group dynamics the category of maintenance isnt viewed as something bad, something to beeliminated. (53) On the contrary, maintenance is normal and necessary whenever humans try to work in groupsin classrooms we rarely honor this reality of human lifein fact, we too often try to quash it the special sort of trust necessary for sharing serious writing is developed in important ways through maintenance activity personal talk, laughter, learning about on anothers backgrounds and experiences. (53) You have to set up guidelines; your tolerance for this maintenance is of course a personal preference. I tend to allow a good bit of it, but you have to keep be able to keep it
in bounds, because of course they will run with it. But, they cant be afraid of you and they cant be afraid of each other. They have to feel comfortable, and the strict and rigid classroom of yore is not where this comfort level is found. While students are sharing, however, I am rather firm. No talking is permitted other than the person sharing. When students are giving feedback, they must raise their hand and let me call of them before they can talk. One thing I do is start of the class, and reiterate throughout the class, that to comment on anothers work, you must first find something you like, something that the author has done well. This is something we as teachers and writers do on a mainly subconscious level, e.g. I like how you structured your lines, now if we take a look at your word choice here, I think
you could strengthen We learned a long time ago to temper criticism with praise so that it is typically well received. But students often dont get this, and have to be trained in how to critique. Often theyll start of by saying something like I didnt like this or I think this sucks. You have to address this at the beginning. Something else to keep in mind is a writing group is something that has to be created; its almost never something you will start off with from the beginning. And, while youre doing everything you can to help them become better writers (and readers), you have to keep in mind theyre just kids too. Brand-new groups dont usually get much task work done until they work out interpersonal issues. It will take time for
small groups to reach the stage at which they an help each other effectively revise their writing, so dont expect too much too soon or shuffle groups too often. It will also take time before individual students feel safe enough to share deeply felt, highly personal writing with the whole class in oral reading. (60) Zemelman and Daniels 1) This is where students learn about each other, their describe the life cycle of backgrounds, strengths, a writing community as weakness, quirks, and where having 4 main phases. (60)
the pecking order is established. 1) Psychological membership -High maintenance, low task 2) Establishing shared influence -High maintenance, high task 3) Pursuing goals -Low maintenance, high task 4) Self-renewal -High maintenance, low task 2) Often defined by conflict, this is where students learn how to work with one another
3) The sweet spot, this is where students really put the axe to the grindstone and start growing as writers. They also really get down to helping one another with their writing. 4) The after-school writing club is a good example of this, this is where these students come back together on good terms; The experts on conflict: Good teachers have many other skills and strategies for making conflict the occasion for students growth. They
promote listening skillsthey help students recapitulate discussions and arguments, in order to analyze just what their disagreement is. They hold back from intervening in every conflict and gently urge the small group or individuals to work on a solution or a compromisethey use humornot to dismiss or make fun of a problem, but to see it in a larger perspective (67). Some Basic Guidelines for Building Your Community of Writers 1) Everyone writes. A class that focuses on/promotes writing has to center around writing, and the students need to be writing constantly. This is where the non-traditional prompts I discuss a little later really come into play. Regardless of how
you get your students writing, they need to be writing. Dont let them take a day off. Also, let them see you writing. Writing along with your students and showing them it can be done is one of the best ways to motivate reluctant writers and foster a sense of community (youre a part of it too!). 2) Everyone shares. Once again, dont let them chicken out or take a day off. Start off by sharing what you wrote with them. This tends to break the ice. Ask your students to critique your work; theyll often surprise you with quality advice. Gently but firmly encourage them to share. Once one shares, almost always more will follow. This is the hardest thing to get going, but once you get them doing it, it gets much, much easier as the class
progresses. It doesnt hurt to have a participation grade that deals with this built into your grading scale. 3) Everyone is part of the community. In the beginning, the teacher is most likely the biggest part of the community. That should gradually change as the students become comfortable and grow into a group. Giving students some freedom of choice and getting their input at the beginning of the class, e.g. letting them choice at least some of the course of study, will help build the new community quicker. Allowing students input in the beginning will help to influence how the community turns out in the end. Students that feel they really have a stake in what theyre doing will produce far better results than if they just show up ever day to be led by the nose.
Teachers whotry to dictate all these factors themselves, are squandering the main resource they have in helping adolescents grow: students sense of control, ownership, Some Basic Writing Guidelines 1) Self-sponsored writing. Every secondary English classroom should have regularly scheduled times when students can work on writing projects of their own choicestudents must have predictable, continuous opportunities to develop pieces of writing for which they have selected their own topics, determined their own purposes, chose their own audience, and are working on their own
timetable toward a finished product (71). Some Basic Writing Guidelines 2) Formal Assessments When designed to offer students real choices and true ownership of the work, formal assignments guided by the teacher are another source of growth for young writersteacher-directed assignments can profile the sort of inquiry-based, environmental-mode writing practice that is associated with strong growth in writing performance (71).
Some Basic Writing Guidelines 3) Writing to Learn Students also need frequent opportunities to use writing as a tool of thinking: to use short, spontaneous, unedited, exploratory, personal pieces of writing to help them engage and think about ideas (71). This is where non-traditional prompts really shine. Sample class model 1) Craft lesson 5-10 min. 2) Class address, round table discussion 5-10 min. 3) Writing time 30-40 min 4) Conferences 5-10 min 5) Sharing 10-20 min
6) Lesson 30-40 Adjust according to lesson/content being taught each day. Some examples of various types of prompts I have used in my own classroom. This is just a small sampling. Lyrical Prompts Arcadia Bottoms Up, Socrates Captain America , where are you now? Minutemen, please show me
how To wash this blood from my hands, make it go away The evils of my forefathers pale to those today Hangin on the words of a madman, Islands in the abyss, No use for the poet, when the hopeless seek no bliss. Juggernaut American dream
Turns to dust So give us a god That does not rust From Pitchforks and Lost Needles by Clutch The Soapmakers The Yeti Behind the Cliffside Inn, Across the plain I see a figure,
I heard a fiddle and a mandolin, every instant growing bigger. keeping rhythm on an old washboard Instinct tells me to run away and stomping on the floor. while faith proposes that I wave. Saw people of all sorts dancing 'round in twos and fours, caroling about days of old, and what the future holds. In the middle was a big cauldron that they were stirring, stirring, and there were trees around that they kept burning, burning. I asked a toothless man
who all these people were, and he said, "The soapmakers, and we are working, working." From The Elephant Riders by Clutch The Soapmakers from The Elephant Riders By Clutch Behind the Cliffside Inn, I heard a fiddle and a mandolin, keeping rhythm on an old washboard
Green Buckets and stomping on the floor. Saw people of all sorts Here in my neighborhood there is the strangest thing dancing 'round in twos and fours, green buckets every Friday at every driveway. caroling about days of old, They're filled with glasses, plastics, and and what the future holds. newspapers, too. say they recycle and bring them back to In the middle was a big cauldron They you. that they were stirring, stirring,
and there were trees around I would like to love you, that they kept burning, burning. I sure would treat you right. I asked a toothless man We could take the trash out who all these people were, and every Thursday night. he said, "The soapmakers, We could be a family, and we are working, working." consume many goods. . We could be the pillars
of the neighborhood. I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth Wash of the Chesapeake and Appalachian Blue Range, I have discovered the body of John Wilkes Booth. Yes, it's true, I have Mr. Booth. Everybody got to make a living somehow. Do I hear a million? Basket of Eggs Sure you want go walking, on a night like this? Look there goes another one, I swear
one day they will not miss From Clutch By Clutch Tabloid Tone Prompts Computer Understands Barking Dogs Dozens in Texas Town Report Seeing UFO Ear-Piercing Sirens Used to Drive Teens Away F-16s in Area Where UFO Reported Fish Accused of Sexual Harassment Fluorescent Pig has Glowing Piglets Glow-in-the Dark Cats Created
Implants Create Insect Cyborgs Kinship Detectors Prevent IncestIn Some Cases Lab Sheep are 15% Human Man Catches Shark, Shark Bites Man Massive Self-Destructive Palm Tree Found on Madagascar Mississippi Law Would Ban Severing Obese Diners Mummified Body Found in Phoenix Tub Nurse Steals 244 Body Parts Raining Iguanas in Florida Twins Unwittingly Got Married in Britain Well-fed Crickets Seek Sex Incessantly, Die Young Famous Last Words prompts Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose.
Said by: Queen Marie Antoinette after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner as she went to the guillotine. I cant sleep Said by: J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis. Said by: Humphrey Bogart I am about to or I am going to die: either expression is correct. Said by: Dominique Bouhours, famous French grammarian I live! Said by: Roman Emperor, as he was being murdered by his own soldiers. I die hard but am not afraid to go. Said by: George Washington, US President, d. December 14, 1799 I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.
Said by: Thomas Hobbes, writer, d. 1679 I feel ill. Call the doctors. Said by: Mao Zedong (Chairman of China) Tomorrow, I shall no longer be here Said by: Nostradamus Put out the bloody cigarette! Said by: Saki, to a fellow officer while in a trench during World War One, for fear the smoke would give away their positions. He was then shot by a German sniper who had heard the remark. Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal? Said by: Louis XIV, King of France, d. 1715 Go on, get out - last words are for fools who haven't said enough.
Said by: Karl Marx, revolutionary, d. 1883 A dying man can do nothing easy. Said by: Benjamin Franklin, statesman, d. April 17, 1790 I have tried so hard to do the right. Said by: Grover Cleveland, US President, d. 1908 Et tu, Brute? Said by: Gaius Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor, d. 44 BC Perspective Try writing from either the perspective of the person taking the picture, or who/what is being photographed. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Creating Your Own Ships Log A ships log records major events that happen on the ship, typically in a day-by-day fashion. Heres an example of a ships log from the TV series Star Trek: Star Date 2364 "Ship's Log, First Officer Riker. Enterprise will be destroyed unless it can be moved out of the path of the star material hurtling towards us. Our only hope is for Lieutenant Commander Data, in the time we have left, to regain his senses and reconnect engine power to the bridge." "Ship's Log, First Officer Riker reporting. We've been informed of the challenge to Lieutenant Yar and are maintaining combat readiness around the clock. We are probing Lutans compound deeply with our sensors now still unnoticed." "Ship's Log, Commander William Riker reporting. Continuing our appraisal of Ligion technology the Captain has made it clear he wants
Lieutenant Yar beamed immediately to safety if her life should become endangered. I fervently hope the rules of that contest make it possible." "Ship's Log, supplemental, this is Lieutenant Commander Data. I have put the ship on automated departure and ordered the complete evacuation of the Enterprise. Everyone remaining is leaving on foot or beaming off." "Ship's Log, supplemental. Lieutenant La Forge in command of the stardrive section. After separation from the saucer, we have returned to Minos to rescue the away team. Unfortunately I've only one option It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. "By thy long grey beard and
glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp'st thou me? "The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide, And I am next of kin; The guests are met, the feast is set: May'st hear the merry din. He holds him with his skinny hand, "There was a ship," quoth he. "Hold off! unhand me, grey-
"God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends, that plague thee thus! -Why look'st thou so?" -- With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross. The sun now rose upon the right: Out of the sea came he, Still hid in mist, and on the left Went down into the sea. And the good south wind still blew behind But no sweet bird did follow, Nor any day for food or play Came to the mariners' hollo!
Resources Daniels, Harvey, and Zemelman, Steven. A Community of Writers. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann, 1988. Clutch. Clutch. Clutch. Pitchforks and Lost Needles. Clutch. The Elephant Riders.
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