Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Personal Writing Memoir - Second Draft

I remember staring at Mrs. Peters homely black shoes. I must have spent a good deal of time wondering why whe wore such old fashioned shoes and how she formed her curseive letters so perfectly. Mrs. P. spent all day firmly planted in her desk at the front of the room; however, at night, she must have spent hours filling the chalkboard with nealy written questions for us to answer. Our job was to turned in neatly handwritten pages to the bin on the corner of her desk. Neatly formed cursive letters were the goal and to be quite honest, I do not think she really read what we wrote!
I am sure I must have written a few things in middle and high school; however, I really do not remember anything of substance. I’d like to think my school experience was the result of a long focus on science and math fueled by then President Kennedy after the launching of Sputnick or perhaps it was the large classes fueled by the “baby boom!” However, based on my undergraduate preparation and early teaching experiences I believe my teachers – even in high school – did not have a clue about how to teach writing. They believed that IF you read enough AND if you were “born” to be a writer – it would just happen to you!
Thus, I really did not do TOO much writing until I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University where they ASSUMED that IF I had qualified for advanced placement English, then SOMEHOW I had learned to be a writer! I am POSITIVE that I did not take ANY writing test before coming to college or qualifying for Brittish Literature; however, in the fall of my freshman year, it was learn to write or return home a failure – so you know what I did!
I carefully drafted on legal pads writing and revising and rewriting. I went in for extra help with teaching assistants who offered me the greatest of teaching gifts: models of what was expected. They did not want neat handwriting or neatly typed papers. They did not want me to write a specific number or words or a specific response to a question. They wanted me to express my ideas in writing using details from the text to explain my point. Sounds simple when you state it like that! NO matter what the task, students need models and scaffolds in order to progress within their zone of proximal development.
I’m not very proud of those early years of my own teaching of writing. Like MY teachers, I focused on copying rather than content. I focused on learning to read and then learning to write. Yet, I knew in my heart that there needed to be more and thus I read and studied the works of early writing researchers such as Donald Graves and their ideas morphed my thinking and teaching. I dove deeply into the teaching of writing as I researched and wrote my own dissertation. My mornings and evenings are now always spent in front of a computer. I write now because I can and because it is how I clarify and share my ideas and knowledge.
However, I’m not sure that I would consider myself a confident writer even now. I do have a few published pieces; however, my dream of publishing my collection of easy readers for beginning readers is still a shapeless vision. I do, however, know what I need to make that writing dream a reality: someone to guide me to if not through the maze of publishing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Personal Writing Memoir - First Draft

As I have mentioned already, most of the writing I did in school was either copying or responding to questions with evidence of my reading and or memory for details to support ideas. While I remember being told (or at least assuming) that I was a good reader, I don't really remember teachers or my parents praising me for my writing. Perhaps it was the effect of large classes with my fellow baby boomers. We were indeed a huge group who arrived at grade school around the time when the cold war was heating up and energies were shifting towards improving performance in math and science. Sadly,my memories of school and writing probably differed little from the memories of my parents and even my grandparents.
I really did not focus too my on my writing until early in my college career (late September I suspect) when a horrible grade on my first paper for my English literature class at Syracuse caused me to rethink my entire future. I wondered IF I was cut out for college? I did not know where to turn or what to do and I still remember vividly crying desperately in the shower as I rethought my future!
FORTUNATELY, there were people (grad students in fact) who guided and scaffolded my writing that semester. They certainly never wrote anything for me; however, they suggested strategies for planning, organizing and producing my papers that allowed me to not only complete that course, but to also complete many, many more courses.
I guess I was very lucky to have landed in the right place at the right time with the right teachers. I suspect the experience has impacted my teaching and contributed to my sensitivity to students who find writing challenging. Teachers really DO make a difference - especially teachers or writing!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A snowy week

In the week since I last "blogged" and tried again to share my thoughts publicly through this "blog," there has been a LOT of snow and ice! We've had another snow day and a delay (in my district) resulting in the need to rethink our plans and find innovative ways to assure educational continuity for our students. Interestingly, the kids were actually excited to be "back" in school yesterday after the 2 hour delay. A couple of students hugged me as they came in as if they were returning from a long vacation. Perhaps it was as if they were hoping we would be back into our "school routines" from this point forward.....
YET, in my own reflection about this cold and snowy winter, I am actually wondering if the "breaks" in our schooling allow students to recharge and energize? Yesterday, in our shortened day, my sometimes reluctant learners worked harder with less "prodding" than they typically do on any day of the week! In talking to my colleagues, my experiences were not atypical! Perhaps there are messages in all this weather induced disruption to our "normal" schedules? Perhaps we need to give students more "short" breaks even within the school day in order to enhance learning? Or perhaps the need is just for a little "downtime" in all of our busy lives?
For me...snow and ice means time to think and read even if I am up early determining the viability of my hour long commute. For our students...snow and ice may just mean a chance to spend a few hours without "plans, places to be, and persons to see." Perhaps...
As Theodore Geisel might have deduced,
Whatever the reason
The "weather" induced delay
Gave stress to commuters
And gave students time to play!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I really DO see the promise of spring and new beginnings for us all in the "spring" semester! See you soon!

Writing Regularly

It's just days before the start of a new semester full of new (and returning) grad students and I do feel the familiar excitement and promise that ALL new beginnings offer. As teachers, we have the "gift" of allowing ourselves a "fresh start" every time we begin a "new" school year. So with this new semester, I will once again try to live "publicly" the reading and writing life of a teacher. This morning, I WANT to write and feel the need to share (with anybody) the excitement / energy? / the feelings that come with finishing a good read. And as I reflected on my "public" writing through this blog over the past year, I realized that when I chose to write, I usually had just finished reading a great book and wanted to share. So my timing is perfect!
Early this morning, I finished reading Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay), a book I picked up on the Costco best read table and passed to my daughter to read. Yet, I felt like I had read the book when she gave it back to me to read? Perhaps it was a conversation that I had about the book with a partner at work? Or perhaps it was my thinking that she was talking about Sofie's Choice (Styron)? As I cleaned off the bookselves (nesting in preparation for a new semester) I skimmed the book and became engaged with the main character whose life seemed to be falling apart around her.
Perhaps I connected because indeed my own seemingly picture perfect life has been far less than picture perfect in the past couple of years. Like the characters in the story, I too had hidden (pushed back) the sadness of my life as I have moved forward through illness and sadness and death. Yet, unlike the characters in this moving story, my life has for the most part been pretty picture perfect (good job, healthy family, nice home). Sarah's Key describes unimaginable pain and suffering that could not be buried or escaped - until the heirs of the pain talked about the issues.
As I finished the story this morning, I at first thought I was indeed "connecting" with the story - a simple text to self connection as teachers would say. However, after some tea and reflection AND a chance to share (through MY blog), I realize that more likely it is the message woven into this story that I connect to and will take with me. Perhaps, deRosnay used the horrific setting of the Holocaust to get our attention and to do what writers do: share her messages. I will (as the week unfolds) likely refer to Sarah's Key in my teaching and in my conversations with my reading buddies. However, the message I will carry will be the need to talk about and the human need to do something about the hurt and suffering that is part of all life. Like the Dufares in the story depict, sadness buried in our souls will eat slowly away at us all the days of our lives. We can, however, always restart ourselves. The promise of a new day (and a new semester!) is indeed a gift not to waste.