Rationale Paper for Assignment 1:
My first assignment consists of a writing journal that would start with the first grading period and then continue throughout the school year. I designed it to encourage students to write just for the sake of writing. As I began my research for this assignment I found that students tend to do poorly on writing assignments because they just don’t enjoy all the structure of academic writing. I wanted to take this information and create an assignment that could serve as a bridge between writing for the sake of writing and academic writing necessary in an English class. I used the narrative by Linda Broadkey and articles by Yekaterina McKenney and Zachary Wright to formulate my idea for my assignment. In this paper, I will show the reasons students don’t enjoy writing, the need for engaging students in writing that matters and ultimately the change in mindset needed for teachers and students to make writing more successful in the classroom.
As I began reading Broadkey’s narrative I realized that my original focus was no longer what I wanted to concentrate on and I came up with the idea to create a series of writing journals to get my students to write informally on a regular basis. Many students in today’s classroom suffer from the idea that they are poor writers and they will never get better. “Write perfectly spelled and punctuated grammatically correct sentences and you are a writer” (Broadkey, 529). This quote clearly shows how the students have been led to believe that in order to be a writer you must be perfect. Students are taught rules and regulations that go along with writing but after a while they begin to lose sight of the joy involved in the process. Students forget to be creative and actually think outside the box because they are too afraid to take a chance in their writing. Broadkey not only mentions the perils of writing in an English class but she also mentions the importance of using your own bias or even experience to frame your writing. “To write is to find words that explain what can be seen from an angle of vision, the limitations of which determine a wide or narrow bias, but not the lack of one” (Broadkey, 546). We all have a vastly different experience in life and when we choose to capitalize on those experiences in our writing we will achieve a more successful perspective. Students need to have time to think and reflect which is why my assignment has both elements of personal reflection and creative writing. “The problem is not that writing cannot be learned, for many have learned to write, but that writing cannot be taught as a set of rules or conventions that must be acquired prior to and separate from performance” (Broadkey, 547). My assignment is designed to give them time to think and brainstorm over topics of their choice. Essentially, this brainstorming will assist them later on when we begin to tackle more conventional essay assignments. I am hoping this extended brainstorming activity will engage the students in a form of writing that truly matters to them.
By the time I got to McKenney’s article I had a pretty good idea what I was going to do for my assignment. McKenney’s article ended up offering me more justification for my idea. “Reducing writing to formulas may make it easier to teach and assess, but this method invariably leads to stifled communication” (McKenney). This quote struck me because it hits at the heart of what I have been experiencing with my own students. Students need to write freely without fear that their structure or mechanics will be the main focus. I was especially compelled by McKenney’s article because she has taught high school for the last 18 years. I felt like ideas and approaches in her article were definitely worth looking into. She makes a huge effort to help students engage in writing through their topic selection especially in their research projects. This type of project is not what I am currently addressing but I did enjoy reading about her process. I think the most important thing that I took away from the article was that if we want students to be effective writers than they need to write freely. My assignment gives students the choice they need to help them engage in the task and it gives the vehicle to think and write freely. I have witnessed firsthand how stifled student communication has become over the last ten years. Students don’t take risks and they always produce the bare minimum of work. I am not completely sure that my assignment will solve this problem but I am hoping that if I can engage them in more personal writing it will help give them the confidence to take chances. Students and teachers alike need to change their overall attitude about writing because if we only focus on grammar and mechanics we miss out on all the creativity and expression that writing is supposed to be about.
Mindset is such an important aspect of teaching because if we don’t think about our students needs than we will never be able to teach them effectively. “The truth is, although some of our students are undoubtedly gifted with an inherent natural strength for writing, all our students can become good writers” (Wright). This quote should be firmly edged in the minds of all English teachers because I think it is so easy to lose sight of the goal. We don’t set out to rip our students’ hearts out when we cover our students’ papers with a sea of red but that is exactly what we are doing. Wright stresses the need of meeting students where they are and teaching the way they learn. It is easy for a teacher to say that they’ve taught a particular concept at the end of the school year but if they students aren’t learning it, can we really say that we taught it to them? Wright points out this quote from his mother in his article, “If children cannot learn the way we teach, we had better teach the way the children learn” (Wright). As an ESL teacher I have had to stop and regroup so many times to reach my students that it’s not even funny. I went so far as to staple butcher paper to my wall one year because I didn’t have enough white board space. Wright talks a lot about giving students a map to guide them in their writing. I have actually done assignments like this in the past and I will admit that students do tend to be more successful when they have guidelines to follow. My assignment is more simplistic than that because it is only a two-sided document with a chart on one side and a brief checklist rubric on the other. I made the assignment simple so that students would be able to complete the task without a lot of issues. Basically my students will choose a topic from the chart and then they will write the date on the chart and on their entry. Then they just write about the topic for ten uninterrupted minutes. I think the hardest part of the whole assignment will be the ten uninterrupted minutes of writing. It will probably take some of the students awhile to get used to writing for a specified amount of time. The interesting thing about the assignment is that it requires the students and me to actually change our ideas about writing for ten minutes every Friday. My ideas don’t completely align with Wright but I think I am still attempting to change my ideas about writing in order to give my students an opportunity to discover their own voice and creativity in writing.
I have to say that I am extremely passionate and excited about this assignment and I really think it could be engaging and effective for my students. My simplistic design makes it easy to understand and my built in reflection will allow me to continually improve the topics that I give the students to write about. Students’ having a choice always increases engagement which is another reason I built in a way to determine the engagement level of my topics. The final part of the assignment requires the students to revise one entry to share with the class. I know that students will be nervous about thus aspect of the assignment but I also know it will help hold them more accountable for the work I am asking them to do. The inclusion of the class posting also creates a specific audience for their revised piece of writing. I feel strongly that this assignment will be beneficial to my students and their overall writing.
Linda Brodkey, author. “Writing on the Bias.” College English, no. 5, 1994, p. 527. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2307/378605.
McKenney, Yekaterina. “Making Student Writing Matter.” Educational Leadership, ASCD, Apr. 2018, www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr18/vol75/num07/Making-Student-Writing-Matter.aspx.
Wright, Zachary F. “Creating a Mindset for Writing: How Do We Teach Our Least Confident Students to Write? Convince Them That They Can–And Give Them a Map.” Educational Leadership, vol. 75, no. 7, Apr. 2018, p. 74. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.shsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=129418898&site=eds-live&scope=site.