Reflection on Write to Learn Demonstration

The Write-to-Learn demonstrations in general for all of us were very good.  It is a good way to learn different strategies and presentation skills.  The variety of strategies and different presentation techniques made the learning very interesting and engaging and will be useful.

I presented on Microthemes.  I used to create a visual and to keep the presentation organized.  In my presentation, I showed the basic strategy in a step by step list form and then had a lesson attached to demonstrate the strategy.  The lesson consisted of introducing a video clip, watching the clip, discussing the information, summarizing the information on a note card, pair/sharing and updating the information, and turning the card in for assessment/feedback.  I had prepared a handout for the group with the step by step process and room for notes.

The presentation was engaging and well-organized; however, the video clip was too long.  Because of this, I had to cut time from the most important part of the demonstration which was the discussion, summarizing, pair/sharing and updating the note-cards.  In essence, I had to cut the actual use of the strategy.  So the rest of the group got good information, but did not get a chance to really use the technique.  The assessment of the information also pointed out that I had failed to provide any model or instruction on writing a good summary.

If I were to do this presentation over, I would keep the presentation format, and the same organization.  However, I would choose a much shorter video clip in order to leave time for the students to discuss, write, share and update.  I would add information on how to write a good summary and provide a model.  I would place this information at the beginning when I present the basic strategy.  The model would be a summary of the basic strategy.  Then I would go over the key elements of writing a good summary during the demo lesson just before giving the students the note cards.

Although there were many things I would do to make this presentation better, I feel it was still a successful demonstration.  It was also one of the more inspired presentations I have done in that I had a very good idea from the start what I wanted to do and how to do it.  Perhaps, this is why I missed some key steps.

I learned from creating and presenting the demonstration and from the assessment of the presentation.  In addition, I learned some very good strategies and ways to use strategies from my classmates.

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Studying Texts the Internal and External Structures–Study Guides and Strategies

            I expect to learn from this chapter about text structure and some strategies for study and study guides. 

            In this chapter we learn that learning from text is something that happens inside a student’s head as they interact with the text.  The text advised that we can learn and teach students to work smart by using the organization of the text to discern the key information. 

            Using the external and internal structures of the text, students can organize the information and discern the major topics from the subtopic, the key points from the details.

            Using various strategies, students can organize, analyze and synthesize the information.  The process of doing this will help students work through the information in the text and get it straight in their minds.  Graphic organizers and various forms of note-taking and summarizing techniques will not only serve as study aids, but will also serve as a means to better understanding.

            Note taking and learning from text have always been a challenge for me.  I have often found that taking notes helps me remember the information I read or hear in lectures; however, my notes are usually horribly unorganized and I have rarely been able to use them effectively for study aids.

             In addition, it has not been a practice of mine to use the notes to help analyze the text.  So, the information in this chapter is new and exciting to me.  From reading the text, I have learned some valuable strategies that will help me in my learning and that I can pass down to my students to help them learn.

            Graphic organizers are something that I have been learning about since starting my teacher training.  The more I learn about them, the more I see the purpose and value of this type of strategy. 

            The information in the text about analyzing the internal structure features really helped me see how by looking at the organization of the information in the text, the reader can discern the best approach to organizing the information.  For example, the Venn diagram works really well in creating a visual representation of compare and contrast type information.  Likewise, flow charts provide an excellent structure to record processes.  Helping students to look at the structure and use it to discern how to record the information really is teaching them to work smart. 

            I liked the idea of teaching signal words to help students to determine the structure being used.  I was recently working with a 1st grade girl on her grammar homework.  She was to mark sentences as present, future or past tense.  Her worksheet provided examples.  As she read the sentences, she was sometimes able to pick up from the context whether it was past, future or present, but when I drew her attention to the examples and told her to look for clues like -s, -ed, or will, the information suddenly clicked.  I can see the same happening for students when they learn to look for signal words in the text. 

            The organizers for problem and solution, cause and effect and series of events in a chain were new to me.  These will be very helpful in the social studies discipline.               The information on writing summaries was also very helpful.  It is a skill that needs to be learned.  I have been learning this mostly through trial and error and repetition.  As I have more subjects I have to study, I want to record less superficial information as I learn.  I laughed a bit when the text described the naïve learner who writes down everything.  I am still on the naïve learner end of the spectrum. 

            As I continue in my studies, much of my summarizing gets shorter, but still in subjects that are new and difficult for me, I have trouble drawing out the essential information.  That is why I really like the strategies for learning to summarize.  I particularly liked the one where students created an organizer with their first recollections on one side of a paper and then added or corrected information on the other side and wrote their summary from that organizer.  I also like the idea that summaries should go through rough draft, edit and final copy stages.

            The information on creating study guides is also something I will keep for a reference.  I really like the idea of using study guides to help students be accountable for the reading and to draw key points from text.  This part of the chapter gave some really good strategies to make study guides more meaningful.  I think by incorporating the use of graphic organizers and strategies like the cause and effect questions shown in the text into study guides, students can not only learn more from their independent reading, but also see some models and get a little practice with some of the strategies being taught. 

            I am planning to keep this text as a reference to draw on when I begin teaching.  I am hoping to be able to teach students how to use the text and work smart as I teach content.

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Activating Prior Knowledge and Interest

In reading this Chapter I expect to learn how to activate students’ prior knowlege and interest to engage them in reading and to help them feel capable of learning from what they read.

The text stated that learning is rooted in what we already know.  I think this is true.  It is easier to understand something if you have a prior knowlege or background with the subject.

While I was in Hungary, I was learning to speak Hungarian.  I obtained about an intermediate level of proficiency.  This is about what it takes to order a pizza, take a cab home or ask directions.  It was not enough to understand native speakers in the capital city conversing socially.  My boyfriend was Hungarian and sometimes when we went out, he would talk with his friends in Hungarian.  The interesting thing and how this ties into the chapter is that if he was telling them something that he had already told me in English, I could understand the conversation.  If it was something completely new, I could only grasp the topic and not the details.

I imagine that reading difficult texts can be somewhat similiar.  If you know something about the topic, it will be easier to read the text.  If you know nothing about the topic, you may just be able to pick up some main points, but not the details.

I liked what the text said about about activating prior knowlege and interest creating a context in which students will read with purpose and anticipation.  I tried this with a class I was substituting in.  The teacher’s guide had notations for where the answers for questions would be found in the text we were reading.  I broke the reading up into segments and before each segment, I told them what to think about using the questions and then asked them to expound a little after the segment.  I don’t know how well they did answering the questions in their follow up work.  I do know that the class was engaged and well-behaved during the reading which is quite an accomplishment for a sub.

The text indicated how one teacher held a discussion about what it means to read like a historian.  I think this is an important point in whatever discipline a teacher is teaching.  If we can help students understand the purpose and perspective of the discipline and use those as guiding principles, they will be much more able to draw the key points from the text.

I understood what the author was talking about when sharing his experience with his doctoral research class.  Right now, I am struggling with my Principles of Educational Research course.  The reading and writing is more difficult than what I have had to do in any course so far.  I am learning though and keeping up with the other students.  Not only is the text seeming less difficult, but the reading for my other courses is starting to seem easier.  I think a challenge is sometimes good to stretch our abilities.

Alot of the strategies look really effective.  I like the anticipation guides especially when predicting who would be likely or what would be likely or unlikely.  I can see myself as a student making a guess based on some kind of logic and then wanting to find out whether or not I was right.

I would like to try the ReQuest strategy as well.  It would give the students a chance to clarify the meaning of the text and identify the parts they had trouble understanding.  In a group setting it would be good as all the students would see that even the “smart kids” have questions when reading.  They would all learn from the questions.  Once their questions are answered the teacher can ask questions to draw out any key points that weren’t already discussed.  It would take the pressure off of the kids.  They wouldn’t have to answer anything until after they were sure they understood the meaning.  They also would be warmed up to discussion after getting a chance to talk.  I think it would be a more supportive learning environment because the students would know the teacher was there to help them not just drill them for answers and grade them.

The expectation outlines and helping students to think about questions they want answered from the text is good as well.

I guess I am thinking about language learning tonight, but as a foreign language learner and an ESL teacher, I have both taught and learned using similiar techniques.  I know that it is very important when reading text in a foreign language to have an idea what it is about, what the context is, and what information you are looking to learn from the text.

I am seeing that the same things are important in order to make meaning of any new information or subject.

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Writing Across the Curriculum/Planning Instruction for Content Literacy

In these readings I expect to learn some good reasons to include writing in content courses and some good strategies for writing to learn and planning curriculum in a way that includes reading and writing.

It Says……Chapter 9

Writing mirrors thinking.  Writing facilitates learning by helping students to explore,clarify and think deeply abut the ideas and concepts they encounter in reading.  Social writing is not perceived as real writing….academic writing is.  In order to play with abbreviated forms of writing you must have already intuited that there is a standard.  Teens believe that the writing instruction they receive in school could be improved.  Three good reasons to look at role of writing in the classroom.  1) writing improves thinking 2) it facilitates learning 3) writing is closely connected to reading.  Teachers of every discipline share in the responsibility of showing students how to think and write in the context of their subject.  Integrating reading/writing helps students to think about what they will read and to understand what they have read.  Writing can be a motivational tool to get students reading.  Writers…exploration and clarification…making meaning. The more they work with the writing….revise, rethink and clarify what they have say about a subject.  Experience of integrating reading and writing….students are likely to learn more content, understand better, and remember it longer.  Writing promotes thinking.  Writing to Learn and Writing in disciplines:  two major instructional components.  WTL–short and informal, explore ideas, clarify.  Tap into prior knowledge–brainstorming, quick-writing. Microthemes–help summarize and extend their thoughts.  Microthemes:  more isn’t better-mini essays–index card/half paper.  POVGs–interview format, speculation inferential thinking, and elaboration, role-play.  actively contribute their own experence, first-person writing.  Unsent letters:  role-play-interpretive and evaluative thinking.  Biopoems–structured, used to synthesize learning.  Admit Slips and Exit Slips.  Admit beginning for class, react to what they are studying or what’s happening in class.  Exit slips-end of class, summarize, synthesize, evalute, or project.  Academic journals–response, double-entry, and learning logs-about thinking/learning–not grammar/spelling.  Response journals–emotional/imaginative.  Historical character journals–role-play, assume role and view events from perspective of the character.  Sketchbooks in Art.  Math journals. Double Entry journals–two columns, can use many ways.  Learning Logs-students write what they are learning, their questions, and concerns.  Can be shared with teacher.  Writing in Disciplines:  RAFT: role, audience, form and topic.  Teachers create prompts.  Provides context for writing.  Research-based writing.  Teacher helps with questions/problems.  Guiding the writin process.  discovery, drafting and revising.  Discovery/prewriting–ideas, topic, plans, begin.  Drafting–ideas on paper, sticking to the task, developing fluency/coherence.  revising–for meaning, responding to the writing, for clarity, editing/proofing, polishing. 

I Say…..

This is a very thorough chapter on writing in the classroom.  The text gives an excellent overview along with many good strategies and examples.  This will be a good reference as I start lesson planning to include writing to learn and learning to write projects in the classroom.  I am convinced that this is good practice.  The students will get double return on their efforts, in learning to write better and to use writing as a tool while they learn content in way that will be more meaningful and memorable.  I really like some of the write to learn activities.  I had heard of many, but the unsent letters and historic character journals were new to me and I think they would be a lot of fun for students.  I also liked the microthemes, especially when they prompted the students to use their imaginations.  I sure they would remember the information better if they connected it to a fun story.  I hadn’t until now understood RAFT although I had heard of it.  The text explained it in a way that makes perfect sense.  This is a helpful tool in learning to write.  In giving the students the role, audience, form and topic, a teacher can help them get started with writing.  It will also help them learn to think of these points when they are writing to communicate.  They may know their role and their topic, but having used RAFT exercises will help them remember to consider their audience and the form.

And So…..

Having learned about writing to learn and learning to write, I am really sold on the idea.  I guess the and so, is that I will use these strategies in my classroom and know that I will be able to explain why it is important if I ever have to defend the practice.  The more I learn about writing to learn/learning to write, the more I am convinced. As I learn more strategies and see more examples of ways to use writing the more excited I am to try them.  I really think this time of learning will engage the students and make class more interesting and fun while helping them learn better.  As a substitute teacher, I have to follow the plans left by the classroom teacher.  But, I do have a little room to experiment.  I had to cover reading in a 6th grade classroom.  They were use to read alouds.  I told them we would do it a different way for the day.  We did a read/write exercise.  I read and they followed along.  I paused every so often and had them write their thoughts at the end of the reading, they shared what they wrote with their classmates.  As a sub, a read aloud can be a class management nightmare.  Changing to a read/write, kept the kids engaged.  I had one or two protesting, but the majority were reading along and writing.  I could tell they really enjoyed sharing at the end. 

Chapter 5  It Says…..

Plans are nothing…planning is everything.  Instructional planning brings students and texts together in way that support content literacy. Explicit Strategy Instruction.  Instructional scaffolding.  Helping learners to do what they cannot do at first.  What to do, why and how and when.  Awareness and explanaton, modeling and demonstration, guided practice, and application.  Students must understand the rules, work on technique, and practice.  Teacher feedback, guide, inspire and share.  Strategy awareness and Explanation.  First, informal assessment–try-out.  Try the strategy, observe students, ask them what they did, was it difficult.  Discuss strategy–why useful, rules, guidelines. Let them practice.  Strategy Demonstration and Modeling.  Review the steps, demonstrate the strategy, think-aloud to model.  Guided Practice.  Short selections, debrief.  Learning-log entries.  Strategy application. Encourage students to use in regular classroom assignmens.  Frame assignments to use the strategies.  Planning Lessons.  Learners respond well to structure.  Lesson Plan Formats.  standards, instructional goals, essential questions, instructional strategies and activities, instructional materials and resources, new literacies, assessment.  B-D-A Instructional framework-before, during, after reading–activities to support students efforts to construct meaning.  Before/prereading phase.  motivating readers, building and activating prior knowledge, introducing key vocabulary and concepts and developing metacognitive awareness of the task demands of the assignment. Vocab:  keywords, heavy concept loads.  During-reading.  admit slips, discussions, buddies.  After-Reading Activities–After-Reading Activities:  extend thinking.  Planning units of study.  Components:  title/theme; major concepts; texts and information sources; unit’s instructional activities; provisions for assessing. Content objectives–Content analysis–What.  Instructional Activities and Text Resources.  Single text–branch out, or multiple text.  An inquiry/research emphasis in Units of Study.  Steps and Stages:  how teachers guide is key!  steps/stages.  Identifying questions as important and finding answers.  compare/contrast and synthesize information; present finding of research in a variety of products and formats, discuss possible sources of information.  Multiple text emphasis in Units of Study.  Use of trade books. 

I Say…..

This topic is a little harder for me to grasp than the write-to-learn.  Probably because I haven’t been exposed to these activities much in my own learning.  I really love the idea of branching out from the texts, with trade books.  I also can see how the B-D-A activities can work, but haven’t experienced them much or seen them used. 

And So….

This is an area that I need to explore a little more. I should watch for examples of my professors using these strategies and for my mentor teachers using them so I can see more how they work.  I know that as a substitute during  social studies lessons, I did some activities that could fall into this type of strategy. So the teachers guide had said to have the students think about sites in their own area before learning about sites in Babylonia.  I did a brainstorm, pair/share activity and then we read the passage on sites in Babylonia and compared/contrasted.  These could be before/after reading activities.  I read the rest of the text to them with the students following along.  The teacher’s guide was marked with questions that corresponded to sections of the text.  Before reading the section, I introduced the question and asked them to think about it as we were reading the text.  Then we discussed the questions at the end of the reading.  Mostly, I did this to keep control of the class because I was a sub, but they actually were pretty engaged and we had good discussions. 




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What are trade books and how to effectively use them in the classroom. Why and how to use write to learn strategies in the content area classroom.

In Chapter 11 of Content Area Reading, I expect to learn what trade books are and how to effectively use them in the classroom.

Trade book is a new term for me.  Apparently trade books are books, fiction and non-fiction of many varied genre that are made for and sold to the general public.  Textbooks, on the otherhand, are those books created for the classroom and distributed through schools.

The why to use trade books was covered well.  Trade books will complement the content being studied in the textbooks and deepen and enrich the students’ learning. 

I am very excited to learn about all the styles of trade books available and to learn strategies to incorporate trade books into the classroom learning environment. 

Genres, such as, graphic novels are completely new to me.  I am very interested in discovering what is available in this format.  I can see using these as a way to engage students, encourage struggling readers, and entice students into learning more about the content area. 

I did a search on and found that there were many graphic novels available that would complement Social Studies content.  I am planning to look into what is currently available in this form at the Hennepin County library and look them over.  I will do a little field experiment by bringing them to the homework help group where I volunteer and see how they go over with the kids. 

In preparing for the upcoming literature project, I also discovered that many classic texts are now available in young reader’s editions making the text more accessible and shortening the length of time needed to read them.  I would like to use these texts to introduce my Social Studies students to classic literature as we learn about history or geography.  In this way, students can become familiar with classic literature while understanding the time and space it was created in and analyzing the purpose of the literature and it’s impact on readers of the day.

The idea of reading picture books in class also really appeals to me.  I can see this as a good way to start the class, introduce a topic, or extend lessons.  In another class, we learned that picture books are an excellent way to build vocabularly in that they expose students to many new words in a form where it is easy to ascertain the meaning from the context.  I would like to create a collection to have on hand in the classroom.

I have seen some of the strategies described in the text used in my previous courses.  The read aloud is one of them.  Our professor did a short anticipatory and vocabulary activity and then read a portion of text to us, pausing to have us write a brief reflection every so often.  We then discussed what we wrote in pairs or groups.  I loved it!  I hope to incorporate this strategy into my classroom.

Some of the strategies seem a little above me at this time, but I would to develop the skill to successfully conduct activities like idea circles or blogs. 

It is clear that using trade books can engage students and enhance learning and I am glad to add some new strategies to my toolbox in order to successfully be able to incorporate trade books into my classroom.

Content-Area Writing  Chapter 2

In this chapter I expect to learn some good reasons why to use write-to-learn strategies and the classroom and practical ways to do this.

Well, it turns out Chapter 2 focused on the Why and the strategies are forthcoming. 

The authors explain write-to-learn activities and make a good argument for there use.  In a nutshell, students will learn and retain more if they interact with the material.  Writing is an excellent way to interact with material. 

They also explain how short, informal, unedited texts can help students to gather and organize their thoughts. 

In a former course, I studied write-to-learn activities and have been completely convinced that they are effective in engaging students, preparing them for meaningful discussions and formal writing assignments.  I also found that write-to-learn strategies are somewhat intuitive and that many students unconsciously use them already.  The best thing I found out is that they take very little time and the time they do take is more than compensated for in less time lost to classroom management because the students are more engaged, in less wasted time in discussions because the students have already formed ideas and questions and by using write-to-learn strategies in place of boring less effective strategies. 

I am sold on the write-to-learn idea and am looking forward to more ways to use them.

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Learning to Assess both Students and Texts

In this week’s text, I expect to learn about the different types of assessments and strategies for effective assessment of both students and texts.

The text covered standerized and high stakes testing.  Here again, I see a lot of negative opinion and not much in the way of strategies to use these tests as assessment tools or to use preparation for these tests as learning opportunities. 

I would like to see teachers use the standards and testing information to help form their curriculum choices and see where they need to boost student achievement. 

I understand the text’s perspective that the teacher is in the best position to know the students’ current level of understanding and to help them improve from there; however, many children have been left behind in this sense, in that they were allowed to progress slowly behind their peers and told that this was their best and was good enough for them.  The achievement gap that we see between students of color and white students suggests that students of color were disportionately affected by this.  We need to find ways to support all children. 

The use of rubrics, portfolios, student-teacher conferences are all pretty new to me.  As an older student, I did not experience this type of evaluation during my primary school years.  As I learn about using these strategies through teacher training and experience being evaluated in these ways, I am becoming more and more comfortable with the process and can see the value of such assessments. 

The use of rubrics is valuable in so many ways.  Preparing a rubric helps the teacher to think through the assignment and the learning goals.  Sharing the rubric with students before they do the assignment helps them know what the teacher is asking for and how to do well on the assignment.  After the assignment, a rubric evaluation really helps the student to see where they did well and where they can improve. 

I particulary like rubric for writing assignments. I think they work particularly well with learn to write activities.  If the teacher provides this type of feedback, along with activities to help students improve on the areas being evaluated, the students will learn in a very practical way how to apply strategies and techniques to improve their work and academic outcomes.

I like the use of checklists and student-teacher conferences.  I think this also helps the teacher to clearly communicate her expectations and give students feedback on how they are meeting these expectations.  I can see this working very well as a formative assessment.  I would be careful as a teacher to use this type of evaluation as a tool to encourage communication and improvement.  Such close scrutiny of behaviors can have a negative effect if the student’s feel they are failing or if they don’t know how to meet the teacher’s expectations.

Portfolios are new to me and I have exactly one experience using them as a teacher candidate preparing my portfolio.  I haven’t gotten much from my experience, but I can see how such a tool could be used beneficially.  My own experience creating a portfolio has been stressful and not very productive, but I feel this is because there hasn’t been enough support throughout the process.  In general, we are given direction on what is expected and a date far down the road when we will be evaluated; however, there has been no workshops, or conferences along the way where we can see how we are doing and get some advice.  We are, in general, told to work with one another for this type of support.  However, none of us really know how the finished work will be evaluated and at grad. level, very few of us know each well or see each other often enough to create this type of support group. 

As a teacher, if I were to use portfolios as an assessment tool, I would learn from my experience and make sure I provided students with a lot of time, support and feedback as they created their portfolios. 

I would like to think of a way to use portfolios within Social Studies courses because there are so many aspects to the Social Studies discipline in creating a portfolio, a student could see how these different disciplines link together.  For example, I could see having students choose a location, and collect geographic, demographic and historical information, then follow the local news in that location and write about the current events analyzing the information with what they know from their research.  The artifacts in the portfolio could be maps, charts, essays, summaries, newspaper and magazine articles and even video/audio newclips if they were using an online portfolio application.  The portfolio would show the students’ ability to collect and draw information from all these types of sources and to analyze that information.  The students could share their portfolios as they are working on them and present them when they are done.  The whole class would learn about the places the students researched.   

I found the information on how to evaluate whether a text is the appropriate level for students to be very helpful.  This is the first time I have been given information on how to do this.  It will be very helpful as a teacher to be able to gage the students’ ability to read the text and know what kind of support to give them. 

I liked the example given about the teacher who realized that she needed to give the some students some background information before reading The Kite Runner.  She didn’t just decide that the text was inaccessible to the students, but rather created pre-activities to help make the text accessible.  The students learned all the background information and got more out of the reading the book. 

This is a good example, of cross-curriculum studies with literature and Social Studies.  I imagine this was a Literature teacher that included Social Studies to help the students understand and enjoy the book.  However, a Social Studies teacher could use literature to help students understand and enjoy Social Studies.  As a Social Studies teacher, I would like to include literature in my curriculum.  Whether I am teaching History, Geography, or some other aspect of Social Studies, there are classic pieces of literature that can bring the time, place and import of events alive for students.  Just as Literature students were able to get more out of reading the The Kite Runner by learning about Afghanistan, Social Studies students could get more out of learning about Afghanistan by reading the The Kite Runner. 


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Journal Entry #1

Content AreaReading– Chapter 1

            In my last two semesters, I had a shift in thinking from believing that a content area teacher should focus on teaching the course content and supporting students’ literacy, but not making it a critical component of the course to believing that is content a teacher’s responsibility to teach students the literacy skills needed to learn and communicate in the context of the content area.  My last course provided some strategies for doing this.  I am very interested in learning more in this course. 

            So far, I really like the style of the Content Area Reading text and find it both easy to follow and interesting.  I like the reading examples that have been provided so far in the Jabberwocky, A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling and the Ordeal by Cheque.  These examples really illustrated the points that the text was trying to make about the different skills employed in reading different types of writing and in making sense of what is written. 

            The Jabberwocky reminded me of the exercise we did in class using that poem.  It is interesting to replace the nonsense words because doing that illustrates what sort of meaning a person drew from the known words and an connotation associated with the sounds or images drawn from the nonsense words.  When I first read that poem I just sort of dismissed it as nonsense rhyme, but when I was replacing words I realized that in some way, I had “made sense” of it.  It also shows how students will fill in meaning when there are unknown words in a text, but if too much of the text is unknown their understanding may be far from what is intended.

            The English Spelling text reminded me of little email texts I get sometimes that show how we are able to read by filling in words with missing characters, or backwards, and how sometimes our minds just delete certain words like “of.”  It also reminded me of linguistic studies in how languages actually evolve and change into different dialects or completely different language branches over time.  By having an idea of how languages work and patterns of change, it is sometime possible to decipher texts in completely unknown languages, if you are familiar with a closely related one

            The Ordeal by Cheque was intriguing and showed how pre-activity and introduction to a style of writing can help make sense of it.  I was intrigued enough by the the story to do some internet exploration and found a few sites that listed interpretations of the story.  Many of the sites were posting results of a class project.  It was interesting to see the many different interpretation and also how you can guess a lot about the age, gender, and outlook of the person writing the interpretation by what they wrote.

Content Area Writing Chapter 1

            This book promises to be an interesting read.  So far, I like the interactive, practical and humours style.

            The authors have definitely made their opinion of standardized tests clear.  From what I’ve seen in a lot of classes itseems to be the cool opinion these days to dismiss standarized tests as ineffective, time consuming and burdensome to authentic teaching.  I am not sure that I agree with it though. 

            I live and tutored in English as a Second Language in Budapest, Hungary, for around 7 years.  There exists there a form of standardized testing that is definitely high stakes.  The pressure is immense and both students and teachers systematically and routinely cheat to get high marks on these tests.  The government responds to this by upping the standards rather than cracking down on cheating. 

So why aren’t I against standardized tests?  Well, my ESL students could tell me more about any subject they were studying (keep in mind they were also speaking in a second language) than I had ever learned through High School.  They not only knew times, dates, names and other factoids, but concepts and had critical thinking skills.  They also had time to take after school tutoring in 2nd languages, played sports and video games, etc. 

Did they forget it all upon leaving school?  I don’t think so.  I often hear that we shouldn’t have kids memorize things, or teach lots of facts that they could just look up if they were interested in a subject.  But, I haven’t yet met an American with a Smart phone who could Google fast enough to keep up with a couple Eastern Europeans just talking current events in a coffee shop. 

I actually came resent my education because I spent the same amount of time in school as these students had, yet they came away with so much more and broader knowledge.  When I substitute teach, I see students at all levels learning subjects that were never taught in the schools I attended.  Perhaps, I went to a bad school, but Eden Prairie Schools were being rated highly at the time I was attending, so I don’t think so.  I think the NCLB and standardized tests are forcing schools to teach more meaningful, broader content to all students than they had been in the past.

I also saw while in Hungary, an apt demonstration on how a conspiracy of educators can sabotage the efforts of government mandated educated.  During the communist era in Hungary, students were required to learn the Russian language.  Although, texts were available and time alotted, as a protest against Soviet intrusion into Hungarian education, teachers refused to teach the language and students refused to learn it.  Tests were given and grades were submitted, but few Hungarians of the time have any real grasp of the language.  These same students, however, are avid language learners with many being fluent to 2 or 3 other languages.  It was quite simply part of the culture to reject the Russian language. 

Another thing the text addressed was the concerns about time when thinking about adding writing to your content course.  Last semester, we did a study on Writing Matters, a book about writing to learn and learning to write techniques.  My initial response was that it would take a lot of extra time.  However, when we built a semester and unit plan as an assignment, I deliberately worked in an essay with learning to write activities and write to learn activities in the unit plan.  As the text has suggested, it was manageable because the write to learn activity are in place of other activities.  Write to learn strategies cover and reinforce the content while teaching literacy skills.  Learning to write activities also cover and reinforce content while encouraging students to analyze the information to answer key questions and to communicate their thoughts in an organized way using facts and examples to support their conclusions.

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