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Transcript of Improving Writing
For: Carol Ricker-Wilson Written and designed by: Melissa Bailey CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON BELOW to advance each frame Nina Simone, an iconic jazz singer, crooned: “birds flying high you know how I feel, sun in the sky you know how I feel, breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel…” She would get no answer from the birds, or sun, or breeze. Ironically, these figurative words, known poetically as apostrophe, describe her feelings to people who are listening and capable of relating and responding. This capability of interaction, the vast territory every writer enters when she shares her writing, can be the world of the writing conference. In the high school arena, this conference may be a simple partnership of student and teacher, or may include a collegial group of other writers. Education experts suggest that conferencing, when used as a tool within the writing portfolio, will benefit a student's writing process and growth. Metacognition I KNOW HOW I FEEL There's no question that: Left Brain Right Brain What educators have recognized is that our schools are training students to apply their left brain processes. Schools fashion competent citizens, capable of attending to a single task, but when thinking is challenged, when creative problem solving is required, these students find themselves unable to perform. They do not know HOW to think because we have been negligent in guiding them toward this skill. Dale Schunk, in the conclusion to an article in The Reading and Writing Quarterly, explains that all educators, "regardless of content area", must work to foster a student's self-efficacy. (Schunk, 2003, p. 15). Self-efficacy is explained in social cognitive theory as an individual's belief in his performance ability to achieve a goal. Where this concept applies to education, is found in the student's ability to learn, persist at that task, and achieve a goal. Let us apply this concept to the Writing Strand of any English program. The Ministry of Education of Ontario curriculum expectations for grade eleven, academic English insists in Strand Four, that a student will reflect on "skills and strategies" which will include "metacognition", "interconnection of skills" and the creation of a "portfolio" (p. 55). So what is metacognition? What are our students doing that will show us that they have met this expectation? Thinking about thinking Thinking about thinking, or metacognition, is also referred to as "self-regulated learning" (Zimmerman, 1990, p. 3). But what does self-regulated learning look like? Zimmerman writes: "They [students] approach educational tasks with confidence, diligence, and resourcefulness. Perhaps most importantly, self-regulated learners are aware when they know a fact or possess a skill and when they do not." (p. 3). Self-efficacy is a quality that a self-regulated learner possesses. As Dr. Schunk notes, self-efficacy is developed when a student is able to compare himself to other models. Most effectively, this model would be a peer with whom the student interacts and gets reinforcement from. "During periods of self-reflection, they [the student]evaluate their progress by comparing their performances to their goals. Self-evaluations of progress enhance efficacy and maintain motivation." (Schunk, 2003, p.5). And what better way could a teacher facilitate an environment for building self-regulated learners, who possess strong self-efficacy, than to establish writing conferences within the English classroom. SHARING HOW I FEEL Writing conferences If learning is to occur within writing conferences, the students must be coached in the proper techniques. It becomes of utmost importance that the teacher establish a safe, nurturing environment free from strict expectations and dogma. Carol Santa, in her article: A Vision for Adolescent Literacy, writes: "In our effort to improve adolescent literacy, we can’t forget that schools and classrooms are communities. If students feel disconnected, they won’t succeed." (p. 2). What she notes is that the first important feature in creating a culture for success, is establishing a positive relationship with our students. "Successful learning in the classroom has far more to do with human relationships and classroom community than with the content of our classes." (Santa, 2006, p. 2) In any content area, and in any classroom, developing positive relationships is not the only factor in creating a culture of success. Santa indicates that the second most important factor includes classroom structure. The teacher is responsible for creating order within the world of adolescent chaos. "Students do better in classrooms where instructional routines are explicit and where expectations and consequences are clear. Consistent classroom procedures and routines add to a sense of order and security." (Santa, 2006, p. 3). She stresses that the classroom must have a delicate balance of structure and freedom. This balance, which should flavour the classroom at all times, is particularly necessary if the writing conference is to be an effective tool for improving writing skills. If you walked into a classroom during writing conferences you might see "paired writing" where peers are working cooperatively with each other, taking turns as The Reader and The Writer. You might also see individuals working with the teacher, who has moved from behind her own desk to sit beside the student at his desk. Better yet, you may see writing circles of four to six students taking turns reading their peers' work and brainstorming about implications and ideas. In a 1987 study, Walker and Elias investigated the qualities of effective and ineffective writing conferences. Their findings indicated that the most satisfying conferences included, "an engaging process of evaluation through explicit comparisons between criteria for success and actual student performance. The conference seems a particularly apt setting for involving students in this process, because it enables them to focus on their own work in a supportive and collaborative dialogue..." (p. 18). The bottom line is that writing conferences will help improve a student's writing skills when that student's voice is honoured and that student's writing is approached with respect and awe. Writing conferences "can be effective educational interactions that teach students how to reflect critically on their written work and writing processes." (Walker and Elias, 1987, p. 18) and the process approach to writing is a very effective model. what does a good writing conference look like? ...this is taking too long! or, the Mad Hatter's tea-party... English teachers know about "process writing" and the positive effects it has on writing skills. But like the despair Alice feels, while attending that insane tea party, we may be distressed about moving on in the curriculum. We cannot afford to waste time chatting and seeking revelation - there's an exam to write soon, we tell ourselves, and "I don't have enough TIME to mark all these drafts and revisions!" On the other hand, employing strategies and tools such as writing conferences, journals, and portfolios, will allow us to protect the writing process in our classrooms and research supports the value of the writing process. Santa, (2006), Students begin to understand what happens when everyone talks—not just the teacher. Students see why this view of discussion is quite different from situations where the teacher remains the authority figure,...It is their talking, their oral grappling with meaning, that leads to deeper understanding. They do the processing, not the teacher. (p. 8).
Keh, (1990), Overall, students felt peer feedback was valuable in gaining a wider sense of audience. Conferences may be used at the pre-writing stage, in-process stage, evaluation stage, or postproduct stage and were felt by students to have a beneficial effect on both written and oral work. (p. 10). Maltese, (2006), ...students can have great success when they have the opportunity to explore their passions and use them in experimental ways in the classroom and beyond. (p. 10) Liebel, (2005), response...groups work in part because they call on skills that every person already has or can develop, most particularly the ability to articulate as an audience member a reaction to the parts or the entirety of a piece of work. We as teachers give the occasion a dose of our professional knowledge, and a helping hand. Zimmerman, (1990), When students understand that they are creative agents,
responsible for and capable of self-development and self-determination of
their goals, their self as an agent will provide the motivation necessary for
self-regulation. (p. 16). portfolios must be maintained psssst...
P-O-R-T-f-o-l-i-o- In 2007, the Ministry of Education for Ontario revised the curriculum documents for English courses from grades nine to twelve. Of particular interest to this project is the writing strand overall expectations. "By the end of this course, students will:[sic]
1. Developing and Organizing Content: generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;
2. Using Knowledge of Form and Style: draft and revise their writing, using a variety of literary, informational, and graphic forms and stylistic elements appropriate for the purpose and audience;
3. Applying Knowledge of Conventions: use editing, proofreading, and publishing skills and strategies, and knowledge of language conventions, to correct errors, refine expression, and present their work effectively;
4. Reflecting on Skills and Strategies: reflect on and identify their strengths as writers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful at different stages in the writing process." (The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, revised 2007). Undoubtedly, making the writing conference an essential tool to help implement expectations in this strand, will improve a student's proficiency. Perhaps the biggest misconception about the portfolio that we can make, is considering it to be tool for assessment. This fallacy comes with the horrible vision of dragging home wheelbarrows full of papers to evaluate. what does a portfolio look like? In most cases, it will be a folder of a student's writing completed throughout the duration of the course and arranged with draft and published copies in a significant way. Upon course completion, the student crafts a written rationale for the portfolio and it's progress. The key component of this collection is the reflection that the writer makes on the skills and strategies used when creating the writing. The portfolio, in essence, is a transparent document that will highlight the PROCESS or journey of that student's of writing. I KNOW HOW I FEEL THEY KNOW HOW WE FEEL ...or process versus product
Let us imagine that, throughout the course, our students have been given the valuable opportunity to use the writing conference. They have chosen topics that are meaningful to them; practised writing in a variety of forms, and for a variety of audiences; honed their facility with the English language and they now have a generous collection of "crafted" material from which to choose for their final submission. Our students have INVESTED something of themselves in these pieces of writing, yet they recognize that the process leading to the product was just as valuable as the final product. Martha Dudley, in an article in The English Journal, writes about the significance of the portfolio. "[They] provide the opportunity for reflection that might otherwise be missing from my classroom, as we move busily through the hours..., always trying to fit more reading and writing into every class period. The creation of portfolios makes us stop, think, choose, and reflect, activities for which my students and I need to take time." (p. 3). She describes how this tool helps to create connections between the teacher, the writer, the class, the parent, and the community. She emphatically states that: "Portfolios are not about assessment; they're about achievement, reflection, and celebration." (p. 3), and reminds us that there is no need to evaluate this product, for it is a collection that has been "processed" throughout the course.
or use your arrow keys if your internet connection is slow, please wait until the media loads before playing the presentation. Ideas Perhaps for another Inquiriry Project: electronic writing and conferencing. AND I'M FEELIN' GOOD response groups
SUCCESS equals Within each class, the teacher should create time for conferencing. The students should be formed into small groups - no more than six - no less than four - to present their own writing and respond to others' writing. Each presentation and critique should take approximately twenty minutes. These groups should switch around occasionally. What is extremely important is the framework for critiquing. Before beginning any conferences, the teacher must instruct the class on "the rules" for presenting and responding. When it comes time for assessment, the teacher would direct students to their portfolio - keeping in mind that each piece of writing has already been thoroughly evaluated in the conferences. What does require assessment is each student's participation - responding is mandatory. This model of conferencing is based loosely on Peter Elbow's book Writing Without Teachers and has been modified by teacher-researcher, Anne Marie Liebel as described in her article, Elbow Room: Tweaking Response in the Secondary Classroom (2005). TA-DAAA! FINALE The Rules (Liebel, 2006).
"(Sample slides from group training)
Critics: do this!
•Bottom line: let this author know what got through to you!
•Write as the author reads, as you read, and as others respond. Hand these to the author.
•Make sure you've had a good chance to read the writing.
•Give specific reactions to specific parts—passages, lines, phrases, individual words.
•Try to use statements beginning with "I."
What to say: quotes from students
•I got the picture
•this part made me think . . .
•these lines are effective because . . .
•that sentence makes me believe what you're saying
•I saw this . . . I was right there with you
•I think you got the point across that you . . .
•that part was key to showing your effect
•I was confused by . . .
•I'm having trouble with . . .
•it tripped me up a little . . .
•I was lost at . . .
•this broke the flow for me . . .
•I'm still not sure what you're trying to say . . .
•I don't quite understand why . . .
•I think you were stronger in your first paragraph".
In the overview of the MOE's curriculum document for grades 11 and 12, we read a quotation from another literacy document:
"Writing… provides students with powerful opportunities to learn about themselves and
their connections to the world. Through writing, students organize their thoughts, remember important information, solve problems, reflect on a widening range of perspectives, and learn how to communicate effectively for specific purposes and audiences. They find their voice and have opportunities to explore other voices. By putting their thoughts into words and supporting the words with visual images in a range of media, students acquire knowledge and deepen their understanding of the content in all school subjects.." (p. 17). Writing conferences will help students to: discover the power of language
benefit from using the writing process
begin to master proof-reading skills
increase their vocabulary
become confident writers
practice speaking in groups
learn about the "craft" of writing
develop metacognitive thinking skills
make sense of their feelings and ideas
recognize their personal power
Nina Simone, 1991. If literacy is the key to learning, then we cannot afford to overlook the writing conference. It is an extremely valuable tool for engaging a student and, not only improving her writing skills, but benefitting her in all areas of her life. It is essential that we incorporate the writing conference in our English classrooms... and this is how I feel. ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bell, A. (2006, March). Teaching Writing [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved July 20, 2010,
from Nipissing University, Faculty of Education website:
Although it was almost impossible to find any bibliographic information on this
PowerPoint, it was too good to ignore. It appears to take focus from Nancie Atwell’s
theories on teaching writing. Unfortunately, none of the slides have any notes
attached to them. The succinct headings were easy to read and process.
Dudley, M. (2001, July). Speaking My Mind: Portfolio Assessment: When Bad Things
Happen to Good Ideas. The English Journal, 90(6), 19-20. doi:10.2307/822048
This conversational article outlines the inaccuracy and unjustice of viewing the
writing portfolio as performance task, rather than a learning skill. Dudley advocates
that portfolios shall serve only to instruct the student metacognitively.
Keh, C. (1990). Feedback in the writing process: a model and methods for
implementation . ELT Journal, 44(4), 294-304. doi:10.1093/elt/44.4.294
Keh, an ESL educator, explains how the writing conference is an effective tool to help
foreign students improve their writing skills. With many specific examples, there is
still a lot that can be applied to the first language learner.
Liebel, A. M. (2005). Elbow Room: Tweaking Response in the Secondary Classroom
[Special section]. The Quarterly Archives, 27(1). Retrieved
I am unable to find a DOI for this article. It is published by the National Writing Project in
The Quarterly. However, the website indicates it is a professional site:
"Immerse yourself in articles from our professional journal, which for 27 years
provided thought-provoking and inspiring pieces on exemplary teaching practices and
cutting-edge issues from some of the nation's most talented, skilled, and
accomplished teachers of writing." The author who claims to have formed her
strategies for teaching writing after reading Writing Without Teachers, by Peter
Elbow. There are many concrete suggestions and practices to inform teachers
preparing to launch a writing conference component of their course.
Maltese, D. (2006, December). Out of the Narrow Tunnel and into the Universe of
Discourse. Voices from the Middle, 14(2), 47-56. Retrieved from
This was another difficult source to cite, as it had no DOI. An extremely useful
article with clear, succinct language and several graphics to aid comprehension. The
focus that 'experimental' or 'experiential' learning is not easily assessed on a
standardized test, affirms my belief that concepts such as the OSSLT do NOT provide
an accurate and fair assessment of our learners in this province.
Ministry of Education of Ontario. (2007). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12.
Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/english.html
Santa, C. M. (2006, March). A vision for adolescent literacy: Ours or theirs? Journal of
Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(6), 466-476. doi:10.1598/JAAL.49.6.2
Although this article reads somewhat like an advertisement or recruitment brochure
for the author's school, Montana Academy, it is still a valuable document to support
collaborative learning. However, this article is not specific to writing and conferences
but addresses the importance of metacognition with a small section devoted to the
writing process. This article supports the idea that collaborative learning, which is
demonstrated in writing conferences, is a valuable strategy in the classroom.
Schunk, D. H. (2003). SELF-EFFICACY FOR READING AND WRITING:
INFLUENCE OF MODELING, GOAL SETTING, AND SELF-EVALUATION.
Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19(2), 159-172. doi:10.1080/10573560308219
This journal is described as informing about regular and struggling learners,
specifically those learners who are identified as LD. Even though this article, at its
culmination, makes reference to the special needs learner, there are still many facts
that can be applied to the average English classroom
Walker, C. P., & Elias, D. (1987, October). Writing Conference Talk: Factors Associated
with High- and Low-Rated Writing Conferences. Research in the teaching of English,
21(3), 266-285. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40171115
This older research, although done at the university level, still has basic theories
about effective and ineffective student/tutor conferencing.
Yarrow, F., & Topping, K. J. (2001). Collaborative writing: The effects of metacognitive
prompting and structured peer interaction. British Journal of Educational Psychology,
71, 261-282. doi:10.1348/000709901158514
This article has references to a wide range of studies done by experts on
collaborative learning. It is dense for the purposes of my TI (and the time frame that I
am working in .) There is a solid foundation to support the statement that
writing conferences will improve writing and metacognitive learning. The
investigative study related in this article is exactly what my TIP is about – yeah!
Zimmerman, B. J. (1990). Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An
Overview. Educational Psychologist, 25(1), 3-17. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep2501_2
This VERY academic article (which made my eyes bleed) provided a huge list
of references, which I used to broaden my research. The author, although writing 20
years ago, has insights on the new theories of metacognition and education. His
facts support my assertion that writing conferences, in the form of self-regulated
learning, will improve student success.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY and Media Credits Newley, A., Feelin' Good [Recorded by N. Simone]. On I put a spell on you. New York: Philips Records. (1965)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tza/3214197147/ (right brain left brain)
http://www.envirowarrior.com/pharox-light-bulb/ (bt. idea)
http://www.planetsark.com/SHARE/JuicyJournaling-600x261.jpg (SARK cover)
http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/a4b74c84f1eac57cbb8400ab919b1590?s=128&d=identicon&r=G (peace balloon)
http://www2.cortland.edu/departments/english/wrc/students/contest.dot (writing collage)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/w00kie/7234920/ (trans. screen)
http://science.howstuffworks.com/thinking-cap.htm/printable (thinking sparkly)
http://www.thequeenofsales.com/pursue-your-passion-by-kirk-nugent/ (magic wand)
http://www.usatoday.com/life/2003-04-21-simone-obit-usat_x.htm (pic of N. Simone)
birds B b birds flying high,
you know how I feel