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Linking our Learning – Reflections of a Teacher Composer

When first absorbing the blogging assignment where we were to become composers I thought to myself – isn’t that what we are doing all the time – writing? Little did I know that I would be embarking on a journey of humility, exploration, deep reflection and empowerment.

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While tentative at first, our early readings helped me understand the method behind our instructor’s madness. Leigh & Cramer’s (2011) plea to teachers struck me, “Young writers look to us for opportunities to write their way into this world. Write with them,” (p. 88). Around the same time I was reading the opening chapters of Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle (1989) where she also expresses the importance of writing with our students. While I was beginning to understand its value, particularly in transforming our writing instruction, I was still left with a fear of putting myself out on the line as a writer in a public forum for my colleagues. I felt like the teachers in Teresa Grainger’s (2005) study with, “[a] fear of failure and possible exposure” (p.78). Furthermore, I could relate as, “they still found it difficult to share their personal writing,” (p. 78) despite having a collegial and supportive relationship with their peers. I soon realized the irony of my fear. I ask my students to do this daily – to write, to share, to post to a bulletin board. Of course some (or many) of them share the feeling of fear and exposure that I was grappling with. This challenge also made me consider the learning environment of my classroom. While typically positive and supportive, I realized that I needed to put additional thought into structuring lessons, assessment and classroom communication to create an especially safe space to share our writing.

My initial piece of writing was a free verse poem about the best part of me. This was a writing assignment my students were about to begin and I knew it would come with some challenges and vulnerabilities as it isn’t easy for an adolescent to write about their own physical features in a positive light. I took the advice of Atwell, Leigh and Cramer and exposed myself as a writer to my students. From blank paper to finished product they watched as I planned, crafted, revised, made word choices and used resources to create my poem. Not only did I feel vulnerable writing about myself I was quite nervous (although well hidden) to write in front of a crowd. However, when it came time to conference I found, as Atwell did, that my students valued my advice and feedback as they viewed me as a writer and I felt better equipped offering support having been in their shoes. As Atwell states, “I can only become their mentor…because I know writing from the inside, and I’ve shown them I do” (p. 26).

My reliance on the writing process became very apparent to me throughout my blogging experience. Partly due to the public venue, partly due to personal circumstance and partly due to my own writing style I found that time was essential. Thompson(2013) shares that, “the key to progress in writing lies in the importance of conferencing, allowing time to write and the importance of the writer finding a voice” (p.250). For my voice, which was imprinted in my writing,(p. 250) to emerge I need time to ruminate, read, explore, start over or walk away. I found this with most of my entries, but especially with my two voice poem and my letter to my granny. When our students have, “sufficient time to consider and reconsider what they’ve written, they’re more likely to achieve the clarity, logic, voice, conventionality, and grace of good writing” (Atwell, p. 91). Like them, time was very important to me, but I often felt under the gun as we usually are as students with deadlines. At times I felt my writing suffered, and sympathized with my students who feel the pressure to hand in a piece of work before they think it’s finished.

Time played a different role in my digital writing experience however. I appreciated that time allowed for revisiting, revising and reviewing my online compositions. I liked that I could go back to my blog, Learnist board, or Twitter feed and add information, as I did when I finally figured out how to use html text and embed my Learnist board on a blog post. This made me realize the impact of continually being able to construct, re-construct and represent information will have on our students. They will now be able to demonstrate their understanding over a longer period, edit and revise to include or remove ideas and blend new media as they continue to explore. While faced with some similar struggles as the pre-service teachers in Set in Stone or Set in Motion? (Hundley & Holbrook, 2013) such as finding images to convey a message, I generally found creating multimodal blog posts and web tools engaging and fun. As Jason Ohler (2009)shares, “Being literate also means being able to integrate emerging new media forms into a single narrative or ‘media collage’ such as a Web page, blog or digital story” (p. 9). Through my adventures embedding, blogging, tweeting, and online collaborating through social bookmarking I have felt like an active creator of online information and media. This experience has allowed me to develop a “digital insider perspective” (Roach & Beck, 2012 p. 244) which I can bring to my own class to support my students. And, like the teachers in Susi Bostock’s (2012)research, I found that I , “came to appreciate that these digital literacies were, in fact, a new and important language, a language that deserves recognition in the classroom curriculum as a significant form of communication” (p. 229).

Roach & Beck ask, “have we connected our outside school knowledge to our inside school pedagogy?” (p. 244). After this blogging experience I feel comfortable answering yes.

*Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: Reading, writing and learning with adolescents (2nd ed.). Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton Cook Publishers.

Bostock, S. (2012). Thirdspace: A perspective on professional development. Language Arts, 89(4). 222-231.

Grainger, T. (2005). Teachers as writers: Learning together. English in Education 39(1)

*Hundley, M., Holbrook, M. (2013). Set in stone or set in motion? Multimodal and digital writing with preservice English teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(6) 500-509.

*Leigh, R., & Cramer, R. (2011). Two voice poem: A conversation with writers on writing. English Journal,100(5) 82-89.

Ohler, J. (2009). Orchestrating the media collage. Educational Leadership. 66(6) 8-13.

Roach, A. & Beck, J., (2012). Before Coffee, Facebook: New literacy learning for 21st century teachers. Language Arts, 89(4) 244-255.

*Thompson, I. (2013). The mediation of Learning in the zone of proximal development through co-constructed writing activity. Research in the Teaching of English, 47(3) 247 – 276.

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