The project: We were asked to do some research on a topic that interests us. I chose secondary writing workshops. I’m interested in how to incorporate writing in a high school classroom in a way that offers transferability of skills to students. What follows is a position statement on what I’ve found and an annotated bibliography of what I looked at. There are also a couple of sources I consulted, but did not choose to annotate. If anyone in cyber space has recommendations for texts to look at or wants to share practices with me about secondary writing, I would love to hear. Feel free to disagree with my conclusions too! I want to learn.
Short Research Project: Secondary Writing Workshops
In researching secondary writing workshops and writing classrooms, I realized that I have a long way to go in examining this dynamic. Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle and Donald Graves’ Writing: Teachers and Children at Work are excellent foundational texts for creating a writing workshop setting. Atwell writes from the perspective of a middle school teacher and Graves writes from an elementary perspective, but both texts offer extremely practical approaches to writing that are referenced or alluded to in several of the other things I looked at. The articles from Jennifer Wells and Erica DiMarzio and Ryan Dippre offer some more contemporary classroom studies.
From my research, I have gathered that writing in the secondary classroom requires two things first and foremost: time and attention. It seems to be as simple and as complicated as that. Atwell, Graves, and DiMarzio and Dippre teach English courses, which entail both writing and reading. Wells is the only one who teaches a writing course, but her work is valuable to any writing teacher because she focuses on transfer.
My experiences have led me to believe that as a teacher in a public school setting, you will often be placed in an English classroom. In that classroom, you will be expected to meet literature and composition objectives. In conversations with teachers, you essential pick a camp, writing or literature and do the best you can. My research confirms this and I find this incredibly problematic. Atwell is concerned with reading and writing, but she does work with middle school. I cannot help but wonder how she would approach a classroom where students had to read particular pieces of literature.
Another finding that troubles me is that many of the text I looked at equated writing to creative endeavors. While I have great respect for creative writing, I found it disconcerting that so many texts treated it as ultimate genre. Wells addresses this issue, but she has to do so in an elective course.
To create an effective writing workshop, I think I need a more thorough understanding of the way writers develop, or at least the way state objectives dictate how writers should develop in whatever district I teach in. I do think it is possible to conduct a writing workshop within an English classroom in a way that also allows ample time for the study of literature. First, I think a secondary writing workshop’s success will depend on time commitment. Routines are key and the time for workshop must be kept sacred, as should the time for reading and literature studies. Then, I think a teacher must learn about rhetoric and learn how to help her students create a vocabulary to recognize and discuss strategies and processes. This can begin in high school, but it takes commitment.
Atwell, Nancie. In The Middle. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1998. Print.
The first section is about teaching writing, teaching reading, and teaching adolescences. The first chapter, “Learning How to Teach Writing” chronicles Atwell’s experiences as a beginning teacher with writing. At the beginning of her career, she claims she was a creationist. She created curriculum and sat behind her desk. Her main concern was to foster that curriculum. She continues to give the account of how her ideas about what writing in the classroom should look like changed. She details her transition into what she calls, an evolutionist that works with and for her students to develop their skills individually. She claims that teaching is akin to parenting and then offers some details about writing workshop today (1998).
The next section details Writing and Reading Workshop. In the chapter “Getting Started,” Atwell details what a typical day in her classroom should look like and emphasizes the importance of establishing routines and practices in the first week. On the first or second day, one of the most important tasks the students do is begin their writing notebooks. They start by creating a list of topics they are interested in, genres they write or might like to write in and potential audiences. The list is built on throughout their time in her classroom. She calls these writing territories. They do something similar for reading and she makes sure that students are writing and reading things they enjoy. She emphasizes that she does not have students finish things that do not interest them because she believes it builds a negative stigma around the act of reading or writing itself. On a typical day, her students begin by reading and discussing a poem. Then, there is a writing-reading mini-lesson that can be anywhere from five to twenty minutes. Then, she takes three minutes to ask each student what they are writing about and in what genre they are writing. She takes notes so she can keep up with what they are doing that day. They independently write, and if they choose to go to a conference corner, confer about their writing. A read-aloud from a text of her choice follows and then students have fifteen minutes of independent reading time.
This text was recommended to me as a critical text that influences and shapes a high school writing workshop that is hailed in its community as the best. Atwell discusses pedagogy, but she thoroughly details practices that are successful for her in the classroom. I think its value is in its practicality more than anything. Atwell works primarily with middle school, so she has more freedom to work with than one might have in a high school classroom, but she asks guiding questions and sets out detailed methods for running a workshop in a ninety-minute class. She does emphasize student choice and student authority over their own writing, which I agree with to a certain extent. I find it problematic, however, because it seems to emphasize creative writing. She does mention students who came up with community-related projects for themselves, though. Atwell’s text is a result of reading, researching, and most importantly, being in the classroom.
DiMarzio, Erica & Ryan Dippre. “Creative and Critical Engagement: Constructing a Teen Vision of the World.” The English Journal: National Council of Teachers of English Vol. 101 No. 2 November 2011: 25-29.
DiMarzio and Dippre develop an extended unit that “attempts to tie the acts of creation and reception together and allows students to experience writing and literature to work for students’ purposes” (25). They work under the premise that creative writing and textual analysis is a false dichotomy that is perpetuated by the high stakes testing atmosphere present in most public schools. As the students are examining literature, which is in fact creative writing, they felt it was time to bring the two together. They began by looking at the text Inside Out by Dan Kirby and then brought their classes together to write in a collaborative setting. Writing, they claim, is a conversation and is in conversation with various texts. They explained the project, which would culminate in a peer-edited anthology of the work they produce, thoroughly at the onset of the project, which they call “The Mid-Teen Experience.” Students wrote creatively, but they also created an anthology that was organized and included section introductions that explained what worked in the various pieces that make them so powerful. It challenged them to use language skills in analytical and creative ways.
This text is useful for looking at secondary workshops because it challenges teachers, and by extension, students, to consider how intimately related the reader and the writer are. It is interesting because it claims that creative writing is often avoided in secondary classrooms because of high stakes testing and the infamous five paragraph essay. It is slightly problematic, because the authors claim a false dichotomy between creative writing and textual analysis. However, n their project, the two acts are entirely separate. It does also give practical approaches to how writing in a high school classroom could look and has valuable insights about collaboration and the connection between reader and writer.
Graves, Donald. Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. Exeter, New Hampshire: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983. Print.
Graves lays out the purpose in the preface to the text: “it will introduce help in the context of everyday teaching that fosters children’s writing fluency.” The text is designed so that someone wishing to move into direct practice can read it from beginning to end. Someone interested in the theory behind the choices might read the final chapters of the book and then come back to the beginning to read about the practices. Much of the book is based on findings from a study conducted in Atkinson, New Hampshire from 1978-1980 that was funded by the National Institute of Education. It is also based on Graves’s experience as a writing teacher.
Graves begins by claiming that children want to write from the very first day they attend school and we take control away from children and place unnecessary road blocks in the way of their intentions. These road blocks are shortly followed by teachers to making the claim that students do not want to write. Graves spends the first two thirds of the book detailing practices to use in the classroom. He puts a lot of emphasis on making sure teachers do not fall prey to the blank slate mindset. The last bit of the book details the theory that drives the practice. It discusses the writing process on several levels and identifies commonalities, such as composing and revising. The text does deal with elementary level writers and does discuss writing in a way that denotes creative genres.
This is a critical text and author that is cited in several of the works about teaching writing in K-12 settings. I think the text is valuable because it does detail the early writing process and what students are going through in the classroom. The practices are useful as well. There is an entire section dedicated to writing conferences that is very useful in terms of practicality. Graves also shares the theory and by doing so, provides excellent driving questions. It deals with elementary level writers, but some of the practices are definitely transferable. The basic understanding of the way a writer develops is also important to teachers working with students who are constantly developing physically as well as mentally.
Wells, Jennifer. “They Can Get There from Here: Teaching for Transfer through a ‘Writing about Writing’ Course.” The English Journal: National Council of Teachers of English Vol. 101 No. 2 November 2011: 57-63.
To help students transfer literacy-based knowledge from high school to college, a high school teacher asks students to investigate the kinds of writing they will have to do in their future major/field and to begin practicing the specific genres they find. The teacher creates a Writing Studies elective course to accomplish this. The author designs the class with two overarching concepts. First, they learn how to write about writing. Though she does not explicitly state it, the first portion of the class is learning the basic tools of rhetoric. They also work on composition as they learn what rhetoric is and how they see it working in real world texts. Following this, students look into their futures. Students are mostly juniors and seniors and have some idea about what field they think they would like to enter. Projects in this portion of the class are directly tied to genres they may write in the future. The students actively put the tools they learned in the beginning of the class into creating texts for final presentations.
This text is valuable because it is the only one I have encountered that focuses on rhetoric and composition rather than creative writing. The author explicitly states that this course is still very new and enough time has not passed for her to follow up with students who have gone from it into college. The content was writing and while they looked at articles about writing, they also looked at Facebook. They worked on critical thinking skills. Wells has offered something valuable to the field because while her course is an elective, it focuses on writing transfer in a way that many of the other texts I have looked at do not. She claims as teachers, we believe the skills will transfer, but conversations with former students showed her that transfer does not just happen. She is calling out for teachers to be more explicit about processes so that transfer is a possibility.
Hillocks, Jr. George. Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995. Print.
Hillocks argues that reflective practice requires an integration of a variety of theories (process, Vygotskian learning, discourse theory, and a Deweyan constructivist theory of inquiry), a personal practical knowledge of students and teaching practices, and research.*
Kittle, Penny. Write Beside Them: risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 2008. Print.
Kittle presents a flexible framework for instruction, the theory and experience to back it up, and detailed teaching information to help you implement it right away.*
*descriptions from the back of the texts to give an overview of sorts. I read several chapters out of each, but they did not appeal to me as strongly as those annotated above.