Friday, June 13, 2008

2008 Fellows...first day reminders

Well, it's time. The race is here. We're hitting the starting blocks on Monday and won't finish until our September Renewal day in the fall. But actually, here's the great part: your engine probably won't stop there. Fortunately, SI renews your energy as you race, and really, the finish line is just the start of a whole new game in your teaching career.

I hope you are just as excited as Keri and I to get on the track, but before we "officially" jump on, here are a few reminders for the first day:

1. Arrive between 8:30-8:45 a.m. We will begin promptly at 9:00 a.m. in Pummill 401.

2. We will eat lunch together at the Union Club on campus. Please bring $5.75 to cover the cost of your lunch.

3. Bring your laptop, your journal, or your favorite pen and paper. We will be writing. :)

4. We will be inviting guests for Guest Day on Thursday, June 26. Please return this e-mail with the name, address and phone number of a colleague, peer or administrator you would like to invite. I will also be collecting names and addresses on Monday and will be sending letters and making phone calls early next week.

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fun Website

A former student sent this link to me today...It's SAT test vocabulary written into rap songs...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Glass half empty?

If you and I had never met but were to spend ten minutes in conversation with one another, it is very likely that you would walk away thinking: "Hmm. Interesting, but I think Josh sees his glass as half empty." Now, if I were catch wind of such a comment, my reply would simply be: "It's a beverage. Why are we talking about beverages?" But the point still stands. I don't usually see the world through rose colored glasses, but through a filmy contact that sticks to your eye because it's too dry. Some may say such a level of pessimism is the product of the generation in which I grew up. I would say I'm a realist. That is to say that I try to see the reality of every situation.

It is through this contact that I have been connecting to The Right to Write. Let us take, for instance, the chapter devoted to the time lie. Like Julia, I do not believe that "All that stands between me and the great American novel is a year off." However, I can't rationalize allowing the responsibilities of having guests coming in from out-of-town, a meal to cook, horses to feed, and dogs to walk to fall to the wayside, albeit momentarily, all for the chance to write a couple of words down on a piece of paper. Don't get me wrong; I understand the point she is making: writing is uber-important. But am I to also believe that Julia would say to her daughter: "Honey, you must first play outside and then you can do your chores"? No, we all have responsibilities and, as Lincoln once said, "We can't evade the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."

To carry my 'glass half full' point one step further, consider the plight of my writing life. I'm a teacher who is incredibly busy nine months out of the year. I am also a husband whose wife has a keen eye for detecting projects throughout those nine months that will keep me busy for the remaining three. I am also a father of a five month old baby girl whose daily schedule is nicely divided into two hour segments of time. When my wife is at work, I am Mr. Mom. That means that in the two hours after I feed her, I am entertaining her like some cheap circus pony with a swayed back and aching hooves, the cause of which is too many fat kids and walking in a circle all day long. Oh, but you could write when she goes down for a nap. True, if not for the 'Honey Do' list of projects three months in length.

I know, I know. I am being a tiny bit facetious, but I think the point to be made is that the time lie is not necessarily a lie. The reality is that there is a veritable time constraint that threads itself through each of our lives. We cannot ignore it and its responsibilities in hopes that it will simply go away. Nor can we delude ourselves into believing that "if only we negotiated our time better" we would have more time to write. No, that would mean writing is only a choice. Writing is not only a choice. Sometimes, at least in my experience, however limited, writing is a sacrificial choice. And, let's face it, sometimes sacrificing writing makes more sense to me than sacrificing time with my daughter, even if that time is spent changing god awful diapers and wiping up sour milk spit up.

The worst of it all is that when I don't write, I do feel "lonely." Each day that I don't write, I feel as though I can "never enjoy" who I actually am. I feel as though one more day in my days that are numbered has been wasted. The Bible speaks to the point that "life is but a vapor." Or, better yet, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." The days in which I don't write, I feel unwise. I feel I've not made the most of every opportunity. And I know that those days have, in some sense, been evil. So, where does that put me, regardless of my optimism or pessimism? Well, again, I'm left with a sacrificial choice. I suppose the real question becomes: what will I leave on the altar?

Joshua Rowlett

P. S. My daughter chose to eat only half of her cereal yesterday. Apparently I'm so pessimistic I'm breeding pessimism. Or, maybe it's only that rice cereal actually tastes like the paper mache paste it looks like.

Monday, June 09, 2008

When I get the chance, I love reading books like The Neglected "R" because they affirm old ideas that I had and give me new ones to try in order to spice up the old classroom. I loved Barry Lane's strategies for revision especially since my department used a couple of the ones he has there with success this last year. Now I have new ones to add to our collection of peer editing strategies on index cards. Reading the comments from his previous English teachers was my favorite part because students love that. When I've told my students about my favorite comment on a paper, they look confused and then laugh. (It was one word, subtle, written across the top. As the prof handed it to me, he just snickered.) Richard Kent's article was great too, but how did his students manage to accomplish all they did in only one quarter?! His portfolio ideas helped me improve my own portfolio assessment ideas. Most of all I just love reading about all different aspects of the writing process from a variety of people in the field; they affirm what I am doing and spark new ideas. The article about digital storytelling is still percolating in my head. (My apologies to Joe for the wording here. :-) Thinking of the ideas going through a filter until my brain assimilates it all is the best way to describe it. :-)Hopefully with all of these ideas, the revolution I wanted to start in my school will be a few steps closer to students seeing education as a journey instead of a grade destination.

The Right to Write / Creative Projects: Sound Part II

Creative Projects: Sound Part II

When I was a rough little country girl, one of our family’s main food sources was a fresh garden. Instead of store-bought snacks, my mom would send us racing down the grassy hill from our house to a fresh row of peas, strawberry patch, and rhubarb bundles. One of our regular chores before dinner was to run down to the garden and gather some sweet corn for mom to boil or tomatoes to slice fresh for our plates. We feasted from it, and I have never forgotten its goodness and always desired to grow my own.

For years, I’ve been visiting community growing projects like the herb and flower garden in Ferndale, Washington. Many fragrant herbs and delightfully smelling flowers chase the air with their aromas in this garden. I became familiar with the oily scents of lemon balm, hyssop, Jerusalem sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and many more. Slowly, I began to learn about their natural benefits for our bodies and realized if I were ever to grow my own garden, these wonderful herbs would have to be sown in it.

Another feature I admired about this fragrance garden was its raised brick beds intended to accommodate people with handicaps or visual impairments. The diverse plant varieties were encased in layered brick about four feet high which made it convenient to feel, smell, and care for the plants without bending low to the ground.

Recently, I visited a farm and ranch supply store to investigate their version of a raised garden bed. They had stacked two shades of 8*8*16 cement block, grey and sandstone brown, in a rectangular fashion with the width facing east and west for maximum sun exposure. The growing compound inside the structure consisted of an organic three-part composition: rice hull, peat moss, and cotton compost. This combination tends to produce veggies with a clean, sweet taste, and is missing a well-known garden adversary: weed seedlings.

I’m going to sow my garden using the same sized brick blocks and growing compound. By mixing the compound on a sheet of plastic and pouring it onto a piece of black landscaping tarp, I’ll eliminate most of the unwanted seedlings that might try to creep in. My growing plot is 12 feet wide by 16.5 feet long. It is conveniently located in my back yard. The ground is extremely flat and I’m just about ready to fit brick blocks around the sides.

Youth Writing Camp

Well, our OWP inagural youth writing camp is almost complete! Today's posts from the campers were especially great to read. I also found them to be extremely reflective, especially coming from children who are all right around 10-12 years old (4th - 8th graders). Not all of the campers had finished posting from this morning, but those who had time did a fabulous job, for the most part. Wednesday is our final day together and I will post a camp picture and some final thoughts from the campers. What an exhilarating and exhausting endeavor!


Don't you just love it when you experience random perfect timing?? I read "Beyond Rhetoric: A Reflective, Persuasive Final Exam for the Workshop Classroom" by Sarah Lorenz in Breakthroughs during the second week in May while preparing final exams. An important aspect of our English III curriculum, persuasive essay writing culminates in the dreaded MAP in April. During the semester the juniors spent quality time with the writing process to produce mediocre essays. My dilemma - how to make the persuasive essay important to 17 year olds?? When I read the article, I declared, "Eureka!!"
I borrowed the idea of a persuasive essay for the final exam. I asked each student to write a persuasive essay convincing me of the semester grade he/she deserved in English III based on how our units of study either changed thinking, affected daily life, or was important to him/her. I listed our units of study and added an event in class that stood out. I cautioned the students that "sucking up" would get them nowhere!
The students received the take-home final more than a week before the final date. Some of my students began the writing process immediately and refined their essays over the week. Others, of course, waited until the exam period to begin. Regardless, the outcome was amazing. My students wrote the best essays of the year - and we all know that attaining a "PR" (personal record) is a triumph.
It was the highlight of my 20+ years of finals. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the essays. Some made me laugh out loud, some brought tears, and some totally surprised me. A few actually angered me - those written by students who only exhibited their writing ability at the last moment.
I am thankful to Sarah Lorenz for the experience of a final that motivated excellent essays and helped students examine the impact that even English III can have on their lives.

Teaching the Neglected "R"

Teaching the Neglected “R”
“Writers Reading Local Places” Kim Stafford
Possibly the one thing I appreciate the most about this article is it is practical. Stafford does not waste the reader’s time with theory and fluff. He accepts that the reader is seeking methods of engagement that will create environments that are writer friendly for our students, and he presents these methods using doable, real life, scenarios. Next to the article being practical, I appreciate that it is not political. That is to say, Stafford’s methodology allows students the freedom to engage the environment on their own terms without instructor intrusion into how that environment is to be interpreted. The foundation of my philosophy as a writing instructor is that my purpose is to assist students in saying what it is they need to say in a manner appropriate to garner respect from the respective audiences and that my personal beliefs and opinions should not intrude into the students’ work.
While the above is what I appreciated about the article, what makes this essay effective is his modeling the technique as a form of production of the actual work. We gather from the pages not just a listing of technique, or a how to teach it plan, but rather Stafford’s work itself is written from field notes created in a writing marathon thereby bringing us into the field with him. As we follow Stafford through the French Quarter, we are able to visualize our students exploring their world, be it the school campus or private neighborhoods. By Stafford presenting the essay as one created from a field book, we can visualize the form we might expect our students’ essays to take. My experience has been that, for most students, modeling the form we want an essay to take frees them from the concern about if they are doing it right, and grants them the freedom to create texts in their own voices.
Having utilized a form of this writing project in developmental writing classes, I have every intention of incorporating Stafford’s piece into my own pedagogy.


This Writing Life

After reading Joe's post, I feel I need to quickly make a disclaimer. ***I, Kimberly Witt, love my mother and my grandmother. I am in no way looking for pity. I love my life. I am happy. I just felt the need to get some emotions on paper. I have also never read a self-help book. ***

This writing initiation tool asked us to describe a situation in life that we are currently trying to metabolize. I had just returned from a weekend in Kansas City with my mom, my sister, an aunt, and female cousins. After returning home, I really needed to deal with some of the emotions I was feeling about my mom – things I was ready to name for the first time. It was good to put some of these things on paper.


The first thing that came to my mind was this turbulence I’ve felt lately with Mom. I’m still trying to digest everything that happened this weekend. Mom did so many little things that embarrassed me, that made me feel sorry for her. From holding her purse a little too tightly in the city to laughing a little too loudly at Tom’s jokes, she made me uncomfortable. I love her; I do. But I’m constantly wondering if she’s happy. Really she seems to only ACT happy when she’s with Dad. She just seemed like a fish out of water all weekend, like she needed an anchor. It’s so evident that Dad is that anchor; he’s the one who grounds her, gives her stability, makes her act “normal.” Then I think, “Please, God, don’t take Dad first.” And then I’m uncomfortable for even having these thoughts.

Really, who am I to judge if she’s happy? I guess my idea of happiness (joy?) might be different from my mom’s. She’s happy with Dad, gardening, camping, biking, quilting. But then why is she always complaining and nagging about her job, about grandma, about her siblings, about problems at church? At the root of all of these questions is the deep, dark, unspeakable fear that I will be like her. There, I’ve said it. That I will be so dependent on my husband, so unhappy at my job, that I will constantly be negative, biting. That I will embarrass my children by making critical comments in front of everyone and then trying too hard to fit in.

I guess I never realized until this weekend just how complicated, tentative, delicate this mother/daughter relationship is. This is the first time I’ve had to deal with tangible feelings of pity and embarrassment, annoyance and sorrow. We have a family cycle of depression, a family legacy from Grandma Bernie. (She also left us big thighs and hips. Thanks, Grandma.) I’m seeing some of these traits manifest themselves in Mom lately, and to be completely honest, it scares me to death. How can I break the cycle for myself, for my potential future daughters? I’m sure it will require lots of prayer and patience.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cameron Response

Cameron's writing, her voice, her terminology brings to mind certain individuals that I do not wish any ill will towards. In fact I hope they find the happiness and contenment they have been faking for years now; however, if I never see these people again, I will have no regrets or feelings of loss. Since, when I read her words, I hear these people reading them, my writings have all been colored by my relationships with these individuals.

Right to Write / The Writing Life
So I thought she was using the word metabolize improperly so I looked it up in the dictionary and found that it refers to protoplasmic change in cells and refers to changes in physical life forms-so I am 55- overweight- balding- tired- own too much stuff- need to clean my house- weed the yard- ride my bike- edit Don and Sondra’s book- write a letter- prepare lesson plans- take a photograph- tone hundreds of photographs- organze them- organize my life- and she wants me write about protoplasmic changes in my cells. Why? She didn’t write about those things. Her prompts have nothing to do with those things. So why is it that I am supposed to write about those things? Actually what she wants- what it seems so many people want this day and time is for all of us to get in touch with ourselves. Excuse me! I live with myself 24/7. I am tired of self-help bull. It is time to quit self-helping and get on with living. That is why I dropped the weekly book study- it went from novels and biographies to self help- and all this stuff these books want me to get in touch with usually just rips open old wounds that are healing nicely- so no thank you Ms. Cameron- I don’t need a biology course, and I don’t need any more spiritual healing. I need to do something constructive instead of analyzing everything to death- sorry but today I don’t have a burning need to write. I have a burning need to live.


Breakthroughs Response: "Skeletons Out of the Closet"

Most of my Right to Write writing is too long (and I too lazy) to transfer from my notebook to a post, so I thought I would reflect on one of the Breakthroughs articles. I've perused several and in general I have been struck by many reminders of myself in the "I noticed that what I was doing wasn't working" sections of the articles. It brought even more clearly to my attention that, in spite of the good things going on in Room 203, there are many activities we do that aren't quite meeting any sort of standards of excellence.

Thus far, I have particularly enjoyed Bob Pressnall's "Skeletons Out of the Closet: The Case of the Missing 162 Percent" in which the author addresses the problem students' revisions that usually don't really change anything significant about their writing. This has been a frustrating aspect of trying to follow a writing process with teenagers. You get them to the point of having something on paper, but they are either unwilling or unable to make it into something better. How many times in the past few years have I found myself with such students? It is easy to put the blame on the kids (and in some cases it is entirely on them), but how well do we really teach students how to revise? It's another one of those things that we often take for granted that students will know how to do. Pressnall presents a case for teaching students a method of revision that encourages them to take a skeleton (a few sentences) and add to it all the things you would need to have a complete beast (description, dialogue, etc.). After reading through his experiments with this method I am definitely interested in giving it a try next fall. But the key, as Pressnall discovered, is not giving them too much of a good thing. Luckily it looks like there are plenty of other good ideas in this volume and I bet I'll run into even more during my time with all of you.