Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Blogging: Last on the to-do list

While it's been longer than I anticipated, I'm back to post the next component of my deadline draft. Thanks to my inquiry group, and others who posted on the first section.

Classroom Surveys
I needed to find out where students were with writing groups: definition, experiences, frustrations, expectations. At the time, my initial inquiry focused on how technology changed writing groups. Through the survey, I found that students preferred face-to-face meetings, yet, I still noticed the lame comments students were offering to each other. Having the groups on-line only proved that students still struggled with providing constructive and helpful feedback to their peers -- since their comments were in print.

Initially, I skimmed through the survey and concluded [wrongly] that yes, students did indeed know the difference between revision [the sole purpose in writing groups] and editing [while a component of writing groups, it should never be the focus]. When I went back to the surveys this summer, I looked more closely and discovered that the majority of students felt that writing groups were there to fix grammatical errors. [I need to go through the surveys and find a quote from a student to support this].

I set up Moodle to use as the online forum where students could post their writing and respond to their peers. I found the tool helpful in that I was able to discuss with students appropriate comments as well as standard English expectations. Students initial postings were riddled with texting and IM (is this capitalized?) vocabulary. While this vernacular is accepted on myspace and the like, I needed to discuss with my college bound students, that online forums were extensions of the classroom. Granted, audience and purpose certainly dictate the language used; however, it appeared that students forgot that I, too, was part of their audience.

Compiling Data
After the class survey, I decided I wanted to have a whole class discussion about writing groups. I acquired a blank tape in order to record the conversation. I explained to my students the purpose in having the discussion, and I gave students a preview of the six initial questions I had for them. [Do I need to include these? Also, do I need a copy of my survey?] The discussion went well, and I felt I gained some insight as how students perceive writing groups.
I appreciated their honesty: most admitted they were simply lazy. They were concerned that they couldn't trust their peers to offer comments that would actually help their writing. They only trusted the teacher.

A few days later, I went to review the tape, and discovered that the device I used did not have a microphone. Therefore, I didn't have a copy of the conversation. [This was posted on my blog a while back.] Not to worry. While I didn't have the tape, I knew I wanted to pick one student's brain in particular. [See student interview].

Additionally, I compiled students' comments from their final paper. Nothing spectacular or insightful jumped out at me as I was gathering all the comments. Yet, I still need to triangulate the data.

Student Interview
My favorite and most insightful piece was an interview I completed with a student. A bit of background, I have known this student since he was a sophomore in World Literature. It was my first year at the school. Yes, you guessed it, sophomore, and new teacher tug-of-war. While never disrespectful, we often agreed to disagree.

Now that Brandon was a senior in high school, I was able to see a mature student who was incredibly insightful when offering constructive criticism to his peers. Additionally, I saw someone who was willing to listen to the comments from his peers and weigh each comment with the instruction I was giving -- specific to his writing, the assignment, and the class instruction. [ugh, so not a parallel list!]

I have a partial article written that I'll be bringing to my writing group in hopes of figuring out what I should do with that.

Next week...what I found out... I guess I better figure out the triangulation piece before then!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


It only took me twenty minutes to finish compiling the last of the workshop comments! Yet, it took me two months of procrastination to actually sit down and do it! So silly! But, I'm glad I can now check that off my to-do list. I still need to print the data, and then I think triangulate it? what other data was I going to look at? I think -- surveys, postings on Moodle, and the workshop comments. [must review previous blog posts!] More about that later...

On to the Outline of my Deadline Draft...
Initial Question: How Can I help students provide constructive feedback to their writing group?

How I Became Interested in Writing Groups
I can't remember when writing groups weren't on my radar. Now in my twelfth year of teaching, I have always been fussing, fidgeting, finagling, fighting, focused on writing groups. From middle school to post-secondary, writing groups can provide valuable insights to writers -- readers providing immediate commentary, sharing the written word, multiple perspectives. Yet, they can also be frustrating -- lack of comments, time commitment, groupings, front loading of expectations and purpose.

I'm curious when writing groups first came onto the teaching scene. As I've stated before, it has been a long journey for me to finally find the group of people who are my writing group. In high school and junior high, I never experienced writing groups. Many of my papers have teacher writing on them -- often times these comments are nothing more than editing. Revising meant having my mom look at my papers. I never thought to ask a peer.

In college, I had one or two people who read my papers, but again it was never for ideas or content or to truly revise a paper. It was strictly editing. I don't recall visiting the writing lab to get help with my papers, but I did tutor a few students on their writing. Grad school is when I began trusting a few more people to read my writing. Discussing my writing became more comfortable as I began learning more about writing theory. Participating in CSU Writing Project was where I crossed the threshold and decided that I needed and wanted to participate in a functioning writing group with thoughts of publishing on my mind.

Additionally, I focused my research on writing groups when I was in grad school. I conducted mini-lessons on how to set up writing groups with grad students as facilitators. [Honors students proved to be a challenging group when setting up writing groups. Consider their First draft, last draft, mentality. argh! :)]

Up next week...what I did in the classroom surveys, compiling data, moodle, and a student interview.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Blogging….the long lost art of communicating online. If I reach far back into the recesses of my brain, I can faintly remember when I blogged daily. Ahh, yes, the lazy days of summer are now replaced with the insanity of the school year.

I’m not that far off from my timeline. I had wanted to get permission to quote forms to my two sections of creative writing students. That has been done. I have not surveyed students about their writing group experience, but I did ask students approximately ten questions about their thoughts about the class, and I did ask them to comment on their writing group experience. Groups have been finalized and are underway; students will meet for the second time on Monday. Additionally, students have set up norms within their writing groups. I have a signed copy of the groups’ norms as does each member of the writing group.

Resources…Steph just mentioned an article that I’d like to see as well as an activity she did with her students. Other than that, I suppose I need to decide on a functional group to observe and begin taking field notes.

I have yet to create a connection between students’ personal experiences outside the classroom and writing groups. Honestly, I’m not sure how to go about this. Maybe that is the question for my inquiry group. Maybe not...  I also wrote up the interview from the student who helped create my “Aha Moment” of connecting writing groups to personal experiences. However…

I started team teaching two sections of remediation this year. And I LOVE it! While I did create a blog in hopes of posting observations there, my teammate and I have really just been writing in our notebooks. While not blogging, I’m still ecstatic that we’re writing about what we’re doing. I think there is much to say about teaming at the high school level. Amy has her MA in Reading, mine’s in writing. We gathered data to ensure placement of students; we have a baseline for reading scores, and students are just finishing up a writing sample. Also, we’ve created Readers as Leaders – our high school students go to the local elementary once a week to read. It’s been amazing to see high school students exited about reading, to be in a leadership role where they usually struggle.

Sooo….I’m torn. Continue with my writing group stuff or forge into uncharted water with the teaming aspect. During the blissful days this summer I ambitiously thought I could actually keep both projects afloat. My dream bubble has been popped, and I have my feet firmly grounded, and now I’m just not sure which way to start walking.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

To quote Sandra Cisneros...

I'm not dead; I was in New Braunsfels.

Ok, well I wasn't in New Braunsfels -- which think she means New Braunfels which is in Texas, but I'm only guessing. I've really just been absorbed in the day-to-day job we all have and enjoy so much that we become obsessive about getting everything going. While the beginning of the school year is exciting, it also poses some challenges: every class needs everything -- rules, procedures, copies, books. Agh! It can be a bit overwhelming. Such is our job.

However, in my Slackerville state--or daydreaming according to Joyce Carol Oats -- I have not forgotten about my data. Yes, I still need to finish compiling the data from last spring (I only have six more papers to go through. I mean seriously, what am I talking about? An hour tops! I think this goes into the slacker column, but I really do appreciate everyone's support. The next SA [Slackers Anonymous] meeting will meet at my house!)

However, I have two classes of creative writing this semester, and I've done a few things different with my writing groups. First, I sent out permission to quote slips! :) I still had students write about their writing group experience as well as categorize their writing [if your writing were a color, what would it be and why? type of questions], do "speed dating" according to writing characteristics, three sets of possible writing group.

But I think the most powerful thing has been having them define norms for their perfect writing group situation and have them share with potential writing groups. I asked questions such as how will you handle unprepared writers? heavy critical participants? sugary sweet comments with no substance? what about hurt feelings? I’m allowing them to test each other out. Tomorrow I'm telling them their final assignments.

I also discussed with them the scale of writing groups: dysfunction junction, semi-autonomous, and autonomous. Not only did I scare them with big words, :) but I also informed them of the two things already working against them: it's still school, and the mix of students. I'm hoping my conversation will help them take ownership of the group.

Since students aren't in set groups yet, I'm still mulling over the whole idea of past experiences that the writer brings to the group and how that influences constructive criticism. I'm waiting to see who surfaces as the shining stars of writing groups then I'll dig back in.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

To-Do List Re-Do

Well...I can't quite believe that it's been two weeks since AI. I don't have much to show either. I still need to finish compiling my data. I'm soooooooooo close to being done, but I apparently can't quite bring myself to finish. Maybe I have such attachments to the data that I don't want to be finished with it...not exactly. I just need to sit down for about an hour and finish it. argh!

So to answer where I am now... same place I was two weeks ago. I haven't moved much. :)

Here's what I think now...I'm a slacker who still has a to-do list.

These are the questions I still have...umm...why am I a slacker?

Still To-Do...Again

*go through all of my data --both online and in paper format -- combing for some sort of pattern *define terms [constructive feedback, purpose of writing group

*read the articles I emailed to myself

*outline of a deadline draft

Keep your fingers crossed in hopes that I'll have more to report next week!

Monday, July 2, 2007

To-Do List

One week ago today, I apparently had very lofty ideas! :) Why does everything seem to take longer than you think? Everyone needs more time. Hmm… maybe I’m just hard on myself since I really didn’t get done what I had planned to this weekend. Yet, looking back over my original to-do list, I have completed more than half of it. So, that makes me feel better. Oh, I also need to add a few things that I have completed, but they weren't on the list!

However, I realize that one important piece isn’t done – going through the data. Without that I realize that it will be a bit difficult to actually accomplish the other items done.

I’ll also be adding to my list since today I want to head to the library to find a some more recent articles on writing groups. It shouldn’t be too difficult – just time consuming. Again, the issue of time. Maybe I’m just annoyed since I feel like I lost six hours of time when I couldn’t sleep.

☼revisit my initial research question
☼read what I wrote after the interview
☼added an addendum to the initial interview write up [I wonder how much work this needs?]
☼read Acts of Revision
☼decide what I really want to know [is this ever really decided?]
☼refine RQ: [adding the what happens, how, and what is… from the T-R book]
☼review Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers

Still To-Do
*go through all of my data --both online and in paper format -- combing for some sort of pattern *define terms [constructive feedback, purpose of writing group,
*have a rough article by the end of the institute
[I'm thinking the interview write up might be able to go somewhere?]
*outline for the conference presentation

The Plan
Today – library articles
Tonight – data analysis
Tomorrow –with the help of our open activity outline conference/demo/paper

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Prompt in progress:

Background knowledge
previous exposure
what you bring to the table as a teacher and a researcher
How does your investment in your research question and the students’ background about your topic affect the research?

Interesting prompt this morning, Steph [and Renee!]. Last night I just posted something about how long I’ve been infatuated with writing groups. While not nearly as long as Cindy has worked with book clubs, it seems like I always come back to the complexities of writing groups. I know that I sometimes make assumptions –things that I think I have told students, or assume that other teachers have told them about writing groups. While with behavior issues, I can just tell kids not to be idiots and they get that since I’ve been at the school for awhile. Apparently my reputation precedes me. J Imagine that! But with writing groups, it seems as though I’m always forgetting to tell them something, show them something, remind them of something.

My lack of experience with writing groups as a student certain has influenced my passion? about setting up authentic? autonomous writing group experiences for students. Yet, ironically, I’m not too consumed when a group doesn’t work. Or when one student opts not to participate fully. However, I’m also the teacher who believes that my job is to provide students opportunities to learn. --whether they take that opportunity is completely up to them.

Sometimes I wonder if students think writing groups are stupid or dumb because they really don’t get the purpose? or they have yet to see the benefit of such groups? or they simply see it as a time to be with their friends and it becomes a blow off time. argh! Yet, have seen students –mostly girl groups? or equally mixed groups – have completely autonomous writing group experiences. Interesting that I’ve simply always? understood that all boy groups were going to be my dysfunction junction group. Weird.

I’ve also noticed that I sometimes gloss over the importance or how-to with a group second semester. I think I’ve just gotten lazy in that last two years. My first group of ninth graders at EHS received much writing group instruction. I guess that’s why I’m curious how next year’s group of college research students will handle writing groups. Do I need to start from scratch with explanations, purpose, how-to, do’s and don’ts? I suppose I could survey students each semester to give me an idea of where to start.

A few suggestions include… a new norming…agree to a new set of standards…explain to them the purpose…have them figure out the purpose…

I just noticed how many question marks this post is certainly reflective of my thinking right now.