Reading & Writing

Writing, Reading, Technology & The Humanity of it All

“…in the meantime, we are going to concentrate on writing itself, on how to become a better writer, because, for one thing, becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff.”

                                                                 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird; Some Instructions on Writing and Life

 

Several years ago, while co-teaching a high school humanities class, I was also doing graduate research on the relationship of writing, both formal and informal, and its impact for how a student evolved in his or her ability to read and think critically. It was research I had been interested in since reading William Zinsser’s book, Writing to Learn, and provided a base for my own core teaching and writing beliefs. My thoughts on the teaching of writing continue to evolve given the reading and writing options available today including AI options like ChatGPT, Grammarly, and Rytr; but no matter what new technologies impact the writing landscape, there are two claims on writing that Zinsser made that should always remain at the forefront for the value of writing.

Zinsser’s first claim was “Writing and thinking and learning were(are) the same process.” Relative to this notion, he went on to note “writing across the curriculum isn’t just a method of getting students to write who were afraid of writing. It’s also a method of getting students to learn who are afraid of learning.”  His second claim was, “ Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly…”  So, what about writing in the 21st Century world that offers a range of technology potentially marginalizing or even eliminating paper in many cases?

History Out of Context- That’s You New Mexico, Louisiana & South Dakota

As a method for blending current events, journalism, and poetry, my English classes did poetry in the news a few times a month when I was teaching.  It was a great integration of free verse, word study and and getting students more engaged in community, national and world news.  I no longer teach middle and high school students, but as an educator and lifelong learner I find it useful to continue the practice on my own to convey newsworthy educational issues through poetry…especially during National Poetry Month.  Education Week has been a good source for issues related to school administrators, teachers, students; including a previous post, “Things Educators Carry as Covid Carries On.”   My most recent effort relates to the current political efforts to cover up parts of our history through legislative actions creating policy that marginalizes the need for continued efforts for equity and social justice.

Things Educators Carry As Covid Carries On

One of my favorite activities with students when teaching English/language arts was found poetry. It motivated the full spectrum of students because it had all sorts of word play, and could connect it with all genres of reading. Reluctant readers could be asked to look at a page of text from the literature we were reading and simply list some of the favorite words they found on a page. Motivated readers could do the same and the activity leveled the reading and comprehension playing field as we shared words, strung them together to make meaning. Over the course of a chapter, students could take the words to create a free verse poem to try to capture an element of the story. It was a great entry-point for demystifying poetry, increasing class wide comfort for sharing, and segueing into discussion at large. …

The Fog of Literacy

Thinking About Literacy Part II

 

As the politics of school standardized test results continually ratchet up, the fortune of good leadership described in Thinking about Literacy Part I resonated through the lens of a conference I attended.  The topic was a proposed a switch in our state (NH) to move from one high stakes testing period per year to two, potentially creating a more vicious cycle of accountability and teaching to the test. In my view, increased standardized testing  is counterproductive to motivating reading and writing. Ultimately, the biannual testing became a choice of individual school districts.  Districts choosing to test twice though with one set of tests still had to give the annual state mandated test; meaning students in some districts were tested 3 times a year. …

Has the Word Literacy Become a Cliché in the World of Education?

Thinking About Literacy Part I

 

 

 

We all have memories that become moments integrating into our ongoing stream of consciousness that connect to facets of our daily lives.  A recent moment returned me to 1967 as I drove my parents’ car into the now demolished Dorchester, MA Neponset Drive-In with three  passengers, two of whom were hidden in the trunk. Once we all made it comfortably into the car, we settled in to watch The Graduate, a movie that resonated for four teenage boys because of Mrs. Robinson and the graduate’s (Dustin Hoffman) love interest.  However,  it was one iconic word of advice that brought me back to the present and unfortunately was predictably accurate…”Plastics!” Today, as we address issues of climate change, plastics is one of the key challenges to reducing our carbon footprints. 

As a graduate student, I received a piece of advice that was just as iconic as ‘plastics’; at least for me. Ted Sizer, a founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools(CES) was a guest in my class, Educational Issues & The Politics of Policy. He spoke of the Coalition’s philosophy centered on its 10 Common Principles, one of which was “Less is More.” The reductionist notion wasn’t originally coined by Sizer. Poet, Robert Browning, used the phrase in his 1855 poem, and multiple architects are given credit for coming up with the phrase in connection with a minimalist building designs during the mid twentieth century. For Sizer and the CES, the educational connection to less is more meant “curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.”

Which brings me to an overused word in the educational arena today that might carry the same insidiousness going forward that has evolved with plastics over the last 50+ years…literacy