Category Archives: Writing

Thinking about the teaching of writing

A while back I posted about comment starters…….

This made me think about…….

I wonder why…….

Your writing made me form an opinion about…….

This post is relevant because…….

Your writing made me think that we should…….

I wish I understood why…….

This is important because…….

Another thing to consider is…….

Then I posted “More Comment Starters.

I can relate to this…….

This makes me think of…….

I discovered…….

I don’t understand…….

I was reminded that…….

I found myself wondering…….

Asking good questions is so important in our classrooms. We use them to guide our discussions and push our students to a higher level of thinking. So the questioning and the discussion part is crucial when blogging. Then, the comment feature on blogs has the potential to really push those learning connections. I discussed these comment starters with my students and encouraged them to use them in the beginning of their comments. It was not required. I just encouraged them to try it out and perhaps add to the list themselves. It seemed to help the students get to deeper type thinking. I think the important thing for us to remember is that we’re fostering cooperative work and guiding the process. We teachers have to be knee-deep in this process. We can≠t just say, “Get in groups and critique each others posts or comments.” We can’t just expect our students to know just what to do. We have to model it, teach it, guide it, discuss it and most of all have fun with it. Show them the joy of language. I often share parts of my blog with my students and walk them through how I have replied to someone. I read a post and then share my thinking as I prepare to respond. I show them great examples from other blogs.

I focus on the need to be sensitive to others’ feelings and the need to place the emphasis on the writing and not each other. I give suggestions on how to word responses. We talk about it. We share good thoughts. We support each other.

I want to come up with a list here. I’m looking for another word other than guidelines because we want it more open-ended. We need give and take. I don’t want rules. Suggestions is too weak. Possiblilities, I overuse. Any thoughts?

I also encourage them to write thought-provoking questions at the end of their posts. Hopefully this will be an enticement for those reading their posts and may spur them on to commenting. Those thought-provoking questions are an art. I work at steering them away from empty phrases like “This is good.”, “I like this.” We work at being specific.

I think I’m a better writing teacher now than when I previously taught it in my classroom. I was bound within 4 walls and had been taught to work at getting a good final product. I was not a writer myself. That’s the most important part I was missing. Blogging myself shows my students that I value writing and I realize the hard work it requires. I also have learned how the larger community can be a powerful motivator. I want my students to know that feeling. The other missing piece in my writing classroom was a truly authentic audience for my students. I have found that blogs help us move away from thinking of writing as a 5 paragraph essay or a set of steps to move students through. Blogs give us an avenue to teach writing (blogging) as a cluster of complex thinking and writing behaviors that provide ownership to the student and the possibility of getting a multitude of responses from others. We have to orchestrate that. Yes, it takes time but we can truly model this process through our own blogs and provide the type of environment to support young writers and give them the challenges necessary to foster writing development. What a joy!

Tell me this is true

Americans Want Writing Taught in All Grades and Subjects…And They Want It Now says a national public opinion survery report. Here’s a link to

the complete 65 page report. This survey, “Learning to Write, Writing

to Learn: Americans’ Views of Writing in Our Schools was conducted by

Belden, Russonello and Stewart for the National Writing Project. This

survey points to three other reports issued by the College Board’s

National Commission on Writing over the past two years:

The Neglected ‘R’

Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out

Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government

There are links to all three full reports here.

Now I want to believe this is a priority but I want

people shouting about it and demanding action. Richard Sterling, the

Executive Director of the National Writing Projects expresses the

delight teachers will feel that the public is serious about the value

of writing and says this demand will reinforce their determination to

place a writing project within the reach of every teacher in America.

Blogs in the hands of teachers committed to the teaching of writing

in whatever content area they are teaching could go a long way to help this process!

Let’s talk about writing……

Scott Rogers is using a blog, English 3840,  in his “Writing Center Tutor Training” course. On one of his posts he followed up on the class discussion. Many of his students had disagreed with some of Murray’s approach to teaching writing. He asked them to write about how they were taught to write essays in college or high school and then connect it to what they think about Murray’s approach. I really like blogs like this because we can learn so much from them. Hearing what the students had to say about how they were taught is discouraging because their posts mostly centered around the “lack” of writing instruction from their teachers. This student made some good observations:

Writing needs to be guided and nursed by teachers that will ask you questions that will make you think. New writers need questions asked that will help them understand why they are writing and will guide their purpose to have greater clarity for them and others.
Teachers need to be taught to help their students find a purpose in writing not give them hours and hours to find their own. They need guidance not time. They need to feel a teacher‚s excitement for writing instead of a teachers dread at reading their papers.


This is where I think blogs could really shine. It is a way for us to show them the excitement and joy you can feel from writing. It’s a way to give them ownership and a place where others can respond to their writing. But what the student said above needs to be a part of the blogging/writing instruction from the teacher. We need to guide them and make them think, see purposes for writing, and see that they get responses.


Scott Rogers’ most recent post The Question goes like this:


So here’s the question: while considering all this material we’ve read on writing theory, I’d like to see you all talk about how you learned to write at the university. Did you come here knowing how to do it? Did a teacher teach you? Did you learn from a friend?


I can’t wait to read those answers. What good prompts and things to think about are being discussed on this blog for these students who are going to be tutors at a writing center.


I do wish all blogs had a clearly marked ‘About’ section so we could quickly read that. That’s one feature of Manila I really like (when the authors fill it out, that is!) 


Anyway, I’m going to follow this interesting discussion. More and more I think we have much to learn about the teaching of writing and the pressing need in schools to make time for students to write (with guidance from teachers).


A Weblog Writing Revolution!

Michael Arnzen post, Writing Skills Neglected, on Pedablogue points us to The National Commission on Writing’s study of the role of writing skills (and needs) in the American workplace: “Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders”.  The entire PDF file is here. Michael also points us the the National Commission calling for a Writing Revolution.

Let’s get those blogging workshops going and start them off with this from the Executive Summary of the Neglected “R” in the report:

American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom. Writing is how students connect the dots in their knowledge.

Some of the points made on the writing agenda for the nation were:

  • States and the federal government should provide the financial resources necessary for the additional time and personnel required to make writing a centerpiece in the curriculum.

  • The amount of time students spend writing (and the scale of financial resources devoted to writing) should be at least doubled.

  • More out-of-school time should also be used to encourage writing, and parents should review students’ writing with them.

    Enter weblogs – little or no cost!

The report goes on and on. Let’s get our students writing – and what better avenue than weblogs! Let’s hear it for a weblog writing revolution!

Emily’s Editorial Edge

At the end of the past school year, I gave Emily her very own blog. Emily was one of the students who participated in NewsQuest and Thinking & Writing Wrinkles. Her blogs were Emily’s Bookshelf and Emily’s Newspaper.  

I love the name she chose for this summer blog – Emily’s Editorial Edge. I haven’t publicized it because I wanted to give her some space and time to think about whether she wanted to continue to blog on her own. She has not posted that often and at one point I could sense distress on her part with the sad and depressing state of the news today. I told her she could write whatever she wanted, write as little or as much as she wanted, and we’d touch base about it later. I told her that it was OK if she wanted to blog, didn’t want to, or whatever – no pressure, just trying something out. She was interested and flattered. I can’t wait to talk with her, and get her read on this aspect of the blogging process. My hunch is that there are a lot more interesting things to do than blog over the summer for an up and coming middle school student!

I have asked her to be a part of the blogging initiative I’m setting up at J.H. House this year. I think she will be very interested in that. I’m going to get some one-on-one time with her soon.

Anyway, drop by her blog, Emily’s Editorial Edge, and post some comments in response to her writing. It’ll be interesting to see her response. That may just be the missing piece.


Weblog project “think-abouts”

How does writing affect learning? I keep coming back to that question as I am planning for the weblog project this year at J.H. House Elementary. This is the year that we are going to work at putting it in the hands of teachers and students. No small task, I know. I’m trying to think smart to make sure that it is writing focused and will focus on writing-to-learn type activities.

  • Writing that leads to reflection on their learning processes.

  • Writing about current events and having students think about how what is going on in the world connects with what they are learning in their classrooms.

  • Writing to stimulate thinking for myself, students, teachers, administration and those who participate with us on the weblogs.

  • Using writing to clarify thinking and learning and get help from each other

  • Using this weblog technology to explore ways that writing can be fostered for students and teachers to share thoughts and ideas about learning, technology, writing

  • Being purposeful about developing writing actiities that encourgage ways to make connections and to talk about wise and appropriate use of our voices to make a difference or to provoke meaningful discussions

  • Quick writes that focus on “bumping up their thinking”

I keep seeing writing go by the wayside in schools. It’s certainly not that teachers don’t realize the importance of writing. They sure do, but it seems that “lack of time” gets writing put aside. Let’s try to change that. I’m going to try to get weblogs up and going that focus on purposeful writing.

I’m really pleased with the start with Joyce Hooper, the principal of this wonderful school. Her weblog is going to focus on character education in a unique way that we hope will promote lots of thinking and writing by the students on terms such as tolerance, courage, trustworthiness, citizenship, cooperation, etc. Many times in schools these important traits get kind of a token application in our classrooms – again due to time constraints. We thought we could merge the two into an interactive type weblog between the principal and the students AND promote understanding through writing about authentic examples

Now all this being said, I have got to think of simple yet effective ways to pull writing into the equation to keep the focus on the kind of thinking that gets done. I think even short brief writing activities can boost learning. The comment feature can be tweaked and used to a higher degree. I tried giving them starter comment sentences like

This made me think about….

Your writing made me think that we should….

I want to know more about this because….

Kids don’t normally write this way but the key is to give them ownership on whatever the topic is and care about what they say. Raise the bar and keep pushing the envelope. I also found that if I shared my writings and other weblogger’s writing with my kids, it got them to really change their views on writing. Honoring their voice and pushing them to take a risk works!

Whew! Blogging is hard work! Writing is hard work! I’m putting together a new weblog to run parallel with the school’s weblogs. I plan to make writing THE focus. I thought I’d just start tossing my thoughts out and see what emerges. The goal is to give them lots of practice with writing. I have lots of ideas for this – let’s see if I can go shape it!


“I Cannot Be Charted”

This doesn’t come from a weblog but I hope Traci Carpenter will create one because I like the sound of her voice! The July 12th issue of Newsweek featured an essay, “I Cannot Be Charted” by Carpenter, a senior at Michigan State University. She was the winner of an essay contest for college journalists sponsored by Newsweek and MTVU, MTV’s college channel. She eloquently explains the youth vote.

I talk with a lot of the students on campus here at Georgia State and much of what she says, I’ve heard in one form or another from the students here. I don’t find them to be uninterested or uninformed, but they really do sense a lack of true caring from the politicians of today. Many have become jaded at a very early age.

Listen to some of Traci’s words:

“Everyone has a theory as to why I don’t vote, but no one really asks me.

I am neither lazy nor apathetic. I’m confused and frustrated.

I cannot be accurately represented by percentages and statistics. I cannot be graphed and charted. I am not a Democrat, Republican or other. I’m a mixed bag of experiences and influences, and no one can predict how I will vote when I do vote.

I don’t know the difference between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry because they don’t take time out from kissing babies and the behinds of corporate executives to tell me. Anyway sex scandals, wars based on false pretenses and broken promises have left me cynical about all politicans.”

Then she said this about Howard Dean’s campaign:

“Howard Dean tried to change my mind about the political process. He made me a part of his campaign, rather than a target. He recognized the power I hold, rather than ignoring my potential.”

That made me think back to a major change that I saw in the students’ attitude about the political process when Dean was a part of the equation. Dean really made them feel he cared. He involved them. He listened to them and respected them.  I saw hope and excitement in their eyes. The students were passionate about his campaign. They EVEN contributed! They were invited to comment on the weblogs. Input was sought.

Traci closes with:

“I am not a dark knight. I will not ride in on my horse come November and steal the election for one candidate or another. I don’t know if I will even really vote at  all. But I do know that I am 48 million strong. And if someone would just reach out to me – not during election years, but every day – I would show them overwhelming support at the polls.

I am the youth vote.”

I’ve read Traci’s essay several times. What a great lead! What a great closing! I’ve got to hold on to this essay because it is a good model for teaching writing. I love to find good writing pieces and really examine them and discuss them with students. I know my kids would have thought this was a great writing piece.

I’d like to see more good examples like this where students are writing what they are really thinking and giving reasons for their thinking. Actually, that’s where weblogs could really shine. Let’s work hard to get more student voices on the web so their potential will be unleashed.


Writing & Weblogs

Will poses this question on his weblog today:

But I guess to me the question is do Weblogs offer us an opportunity to write in ways that are different from using more traditional technologies? And further, are those differences (if they exist) significant to our teaching, not just of writing but of literacy in a variety of ways?

I say yes, weblogs do offer us an opportunity to write in ways that are different from using more traditional technologies. The give and take, the back and forth, the multiplier effect of all the different voices. I can’t think of another avenue that enables us to do this. We get the perspective of many different voices and those voices are unchecked and not under some institutional umbrella. We get to throw our thoughts out there, get reactions, mull it over, and think new possibilities for our classrooms.

Will continues with

But I’ve never in my life written the way I write in this Weblog. And frankly, I don’t know that I’ve learned as much from any other type of activity as I have from this type. And I learn when I’m doing just what I’m doing now (sweat on brow.) I’m not journaling. I’m not just linking. I’m attempting to synthesize a lot of disparate ideas from a varitey of sources into a few coherent sentences that I can publish for an audience and wait (hope?) for its response to push my thinking further. That’s the essence of blogging to me, and I can’t do it without a Weblog. That’s the distinction. That’s what tells me this is different. And that’s what makes me think so hard about the effects that blogging, not just using a blog, might have in a classroom.

I feel the same. I have tried to figure out what the lure is and why I am in this arena. I usually am the lurker, soaking up all I can but not usually participating, except in small groups or one on one. I think the reason I jumped in was that I saw the learning possibilities, both for myself and students AND I didn’t want to just observe. This was a place that was filled with real people out there talking about issues near and dear to my heart. I have not been disappointed, both for myself and my students.

What we really need now though is more educators giving students ownership. Let them write on weblogs. Give them a voice. We’ll learn even more. If we truly want to know the effects that weblogs can have on students, we have to give them a voice. I just don’t see it being done enough with students. Weblogs also give you the opportunity to be a team. The teacher is writing and modeling and sharing the learning with the students. I can still see my students faces when I share how I am learning on my weblog. I share my writing and the comments I get. They love being included in this process. The multiplier effect is also working for students to see and learn from what their classmates are writing. Again, more voices are being heard. A learning community is being built.

We need to be exploring ways to develop students’ writing on weblogs. We need to have students write to explore their thinking, make connections to what they are learning in the classroom, to think about how they can learn in this arena, to struggle with difficult concepts, to write about issues going on in our world, to reflect on their learning, etc.

I read somewhere recently that American schools are not giving students much time to write. Something like 69% of fourth grade teachers reported spending ninety minutes or less per week on writing activities. The time is even less as you go up in the grades. So maybe that’s reason enough. Let weblogs be the place for students to write on a frequent basis. That way we’ll be making writing a priority instead of just talking about it.

Writing, Writing, Writing!

I like Will’s post on Blog Alliances and all his good thinking and writing. He has had a steady stream of excellent posts. He always does. Plus, he has a way of getting the discussion on the table and lots of minds thinking. I love that! His blog is always one of my first “reads” of the day. Thanks, Will, for charging ahead! We need that. One thing though, that I would differ with Will about is when he says…

And by the way, if you really want to see some GREAT fifth-grade blogging, check out Emily’s site from Anne’s group in Georgia. She was one of the students that my journalists worked with last year in an early blog alliance we set up, and she’s just doing amazing things. It’s really inspiring. Now the big question is, will Emily be blogging in high school???

I think the big question should be….. Will Emily be writing in high school? In reference to blogging Emily expresses her feelings on this post, “I feel like I’m on Cloud 9. It feels like I just got elected for the first woman president! It feels like I just gained a million really close friends! “

So, will she still feel the same enthusiasm for writing in high school as she does now writing on a weblog? Will she continue to write and experience the joy? Will she continue to develop her own voice and style in writing? I believe weblogs are a great tool for helping in this process and I do feel that Emily will make her voice heard. I think weblogs have helped her a lot in that area. We need to keep thinking about just what it is in this weblog process that makes it effective. What can we do to keep pushing the envelope on what we can do with weblogs that we have not done before in typical educational scenarios?

I love the learning, the shaping and reshaping of ideas, and the think-rethink process that weblogs encourage. I think that works so well for educators but for our students using weblogs, I think we should focus on the writing. I’ve talked about this before. See here, here, and here.

We are using weblogs but in most cases our students are not blogging, per se. Our current educational system is not ready for that big of a leap, and we have much to teach our students before they can learn how to speak responsibly, yet forcefully. That’s a whole other discussion so back to the writing focus. Weblogs are unique spaces for us to use in education. We can use weblogs with students to make writing THE focus. We can publish quickly. We can set up an audience for them. We can give them ownership and best of all we can give our students a rich and diverse array of writing experiences. It’s a way we can make writing a joy and let our students know that their writing matters. I think weblogs provide this but we have to set the stage and give them lots of practice with the writing, while at the same time encouraging and helping them realize the power of the written word. Our own weblogs show them that we think writing is important.  We can even use the weblogs to recognize students in ways we could not before. The teacher-student discussion is so crucial and again, we can do that in ways we could not before. Weblogs spell possibilities. I want us to continue to explore those possibilities.


Taking comments a step further

A previous post, Making Connections with Comments, was one I came back to today with my Wrinkles group. I think we made a great leap today. I love it when the learning comes alive. These students are indeed taking good thinking a step further. In turn, the process is going to help them become better writers.

Let me explain. Last week we worked on editing. Hard, hard, hard for fifth graders…. They had written stories where they were to use as many idioms as they could. They swapped papers and shared reactions about the papers. Mostly they would say the story was good, they enjoyed it, it was great, etc. Nice comments yes, but helpful for a struggling writer…no.

Today I handed out printed copies of the idiom stories. Each one had one of their peer’s papers. The task was to read it and write out a specific comment that would include a suggestion for the writer that the writer would find helpful. Once they had written out their comments, each one read it out loud and we discussed the comments as a group. Then each students fine-tuned the original response. This is hard but these students tackled the task and worked through it and came up with some good specific comments for their classmates. Then we were off to the lab to work on our weblogs.

Yes, comments can be an avenue where we teachers can take learning a step further. I bet we could think of lots of other ways to use the comment feature to keep on making good connections.

Listen to the students…..

>Amber suggests that Jackie include more details on one part of the story but during her editing process looks up an idiom herself and learns the true meaning….

Jackie, your story was sensational! It flowed right on from the title to the end. I think you could have added a little more detail in the sentence where you said, “every cloud has a silver lining.” I am not sure what you meant by it. I looked it up and I believe it means… there is always something good in a bad situation. Your mom knew it was an accident and gave you a hug to show that she still loves you!

Jerry requests clarification from Derrick…..

Derrick, I think that you have a good story, but in some parts I didn’t understand what you meant like the pat you said that they were washing their hands of something. Could you add to that part to make it more specific? Keep up the good work!

Emily compiles a concise list of suggesions for Jennifer….

I absolutely LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE the story! Everything fits well and the idioms were used in the right way. To make it even better you could……

  1. If the 1st sentence was true, you could put the word literally after haystack.
  2. You could make it longer by summing up the end better.
  3. In the 2nd sentence, what do you mean by it?
  4. If you want to make more sense to the readers, you could change needle in a haystack to something else.

Derrick advises Yoceline about the past tense….

Yoceline, your story was great but I caught that in the first sentance, Call needs to be called because it is past tense. In the 3rd sentence I figured that you could either have a period or make she lower case, but over all it was Great.

As an aside, I love Yoceline’s ending to her story….

“Wrinkles is the best of the four corners of the earth.” I agree! Don’t you think Yoceline hit the nail right on the head?