Revolution Lullabye

January 22, 2015

Reid, Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection

Reid, E. Shelley. “Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection.” College Composition and Communication 61.2 (December 2009): 197-221. Print.

Reid argues that students studying to be writing teachers need to challenged in their pedagogy class with writing assignments that are difficult, that encourage open-ended exploration about questions or inquiries that have no good answers, and that invite students into critical reflection about their writing. Reid’s argument joins a larger conversation about writing teacher pedagogy and the pedagogy course in particular, which she argues has been under-theorized and under-discussed. Her argument uses her own students’ written reflections, collected from her six semesters teaching composition pedagogy at two different institutions.

Reid’s argument for giving students difficult writing assignments and prompts is grounded in her observations that writing teachers are often naturally good writers who don’t practice the same kinds of writing processes they teach their students. By increasing the difficulty of the writing assignments these future writing teachers write in the pedagogy class, they gain empathy and insight into their future students’ struggles with writing. Reid explains difficult writing assignments aren’t just longer. Instead, difficultly can be created schematically (through requirements of certain length or format, or requiring students to adopt a particular stance in an argument); relationally (by requiring a publication or presentation or peer review step); or exploratory (by asking students to connect personal experiences into their arguments, frequent short assignments, or asking them to tackle an unanswered or unanswerable question.)

Notable Notes

Reid makes the argument that the traditional seminar paper often assigned in graduate courses might not be the best format for teaching our students to explore and inquire in their writing. She suggests making the seminar paper a multi-part process that is constantly revised.

importance of learning how to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty in writing (210-211)

Mariolini Rizzi Salvatori’s theories of difficulty (her work is on reading difficulty)

Quotable Quotes

“Encountering difficulties as writers, with opportunities to discuss and respond to those difficulties, prepares pedagogy students to be flexible, engaged classroom teachers who can move between theory and practice, between learning and teaching, as they respond to the needs of their own students.”(205)

“Our goal in designing assignments to favor writing difficulty, of course, is not to make the whole course more difficult, but to privilege the kind of difficulties that increase new teachers’ experience of being writing-learners and thus strengthen their engagement with the teaching of writing” (207).

“We should also preserve space in our pedagogy classes for writing that doesn’t foreground difficulty; for writing that emphasizes play, experimentation, or discovery; and for writing, difficult or not, that is not evaluated. Moreover, while we may not be increasing the number of assignments in a course, we are raising the bar in some of them; difficult writing need not replace other kinds of learning, but we should be aware that we may need to cover less ground with our students in order to fully engage them as writing-learners. Furthermore, we need to design our classes to ensure that writing teachers who are experiencing difficulty in learning to write find support and have the opportunity to experience success. “ (207)

“Students who experience writing as difficult, but who can identify that difficulty as an opportunity for greater learning, and who then can come to see writing-learning as something that may be collaborative, productive, and satisfying, can build those same ideas into their writing class designs. That is, they can identify more strongly as writing teachers and connect more directly to the theories and practices of the field. “ (208)

“If we intend for students to become more astute at noticing how their own writing experiences, and particularly their own encounters with difficult and exploratory writing, help prepare them to be better teachers, we need to directly ask them for such reflection; we may also need to model, discuss, and praise reflective responses that draw the complex connections we hope for. “ (213)

“By highlighting the need for inquiry and flexibility, and positioning everyone as a learner—including ourselves as we remake our own pedagogies—we position everyone as a teacher. “ (218)

“Writing assignments that create difficulty, encourage exploration, and provide opportunity for directed practice in critical reflection thus reinforce one another in preparing teachers to participate fully and flexibly in the discipline of writing education. “ (214)

“Finally, if we are brave enough to argue that there are better and worse ways to teach writing, generally, then we need to be equally courageous in exploring and recommending better pedagogies for educating writing teachers. Composition pedagogy may indeed need to be “remade” for every class, but it should not be remade from scratch, without reference to common goals and practices. Even as I have been creeping along hoping to dodge or hedge this conclusion, I’ve found myself wondering: how can we face our pedagogy students’ ques- tions about what they should all do in their disparate classes, if—despite our necessary reverence for local contexts—we don’t face each other about what we should all do in ours? “ (217)

“Students who become English majors are often “naturally” good writers. The composition pedagogy class may thus be students’ first opportunity to experience writing as a difficult task, and then only if assignments are deliberately designed to challenge them as writers: posing for them serious difficulties, both cognitive and affective, in discovering and then communicating what they mean.”(201).

“A crucial step toward understanding one’s writing students— toward being rooted in the field—comes in sharing an equivalent experience of difficulty, rather than only sharing equivalent topics or genres of writing.”(201)

“The pedagogy class provides an important opportunity to be deliberately guided through difficulty in writing by an expert in the field.” (201-202)

“Writers who don’t perceive that they need such help are unlikely to believe that the benefits of the drafting process are worth its messiness and disruption, even if they experiment with it in a class or workshop. Until writers encounter real problems, not just infelicities, they have no true need for either guidance or revision opportunities; they may offer both to their students, but they can maintain their own identity as nonrevisers and thus remain disengaged from what they’re teaching. Moreover, pedagogy students need to be aware of the difficulties they face and the role of guided learning in meeting those challenges in order to fully engage with the field of composition pedagogy and put down roots from which to grow.”(202)

“Experiencing writing difficulty can also give writing teachers opportunities for increased inquiry into the whole concept of how learning and teaching might happen each day in a writing class. That is, as difficulty breaks down the writing process from a “flow” to a series of trials, queries, reader responses, and revisions, participating in the process can prepare students to see teacher intervention as a planned yet flexible set of assistive activities rather than as an intuitive, Hollywood-staged, “O Captain! My Captain!” ethos. “ (203)

October 23, 2014

Morgan and Pytash, Preparing Preservice Teachers to Become Teachers of Writing: A 20-Year Review of the Research Literature

Morgan, Denise N. and Kristine E. Pytash. “Preparing Preservice Teachers to Become Teachers of Writing; A 20-Year Review of the Research Literature.” English Education 47.1 (October 2014): 6-37. Print.

Morgan and Pytash, in their review of the 31 published peer-reviewed research studies focused on preparing preservice teachers (PST) to teach writing, argue for an explicit focus on writing teacher preparation in undergraduate teacher education programs. They reiterate the National Commission on Writing’s recommendation for PSTs to have a writing pedagogy methods course in their undergraduate teacher preparation.

Morgan and Pytash organized the 31 studies they found in four thematic categories: 1. studies that focused on PST’s attitudes and beliefs toward writing; 2. studies that focused on PST’s interactions with student writers and writing; 3. studies that looked at PST’s influential experiences in methods courses that expanded their understanding of how to think and read as a writer; and 4. studies that looked at how PST applied what they had (or had not) learned in their methods courses about the teaching of writing in their student teaching and first few years of teaching.

Morgan and Pytash contend that the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature overshadow the teaching of writing, and they argue that it is time, especially in the advent of the CCSS, to rebalance the focus in teacher preparation coursework and in K-12 language arts classrooms. They also point out that there is a need for further research in how PSTs learn and enact the teaching of writing, pointing out that the literature available on how inservice teachers learn and enact the teaching of writing through venues such as the National Writing Project do not address the same needs and concerns as PSTs and beginning teachers. They call for further, longitudinal, cross-institutional research studies that can explore what kinds of concepts and practices learned in methods coursework helps PSTs negotiate both their past experiences as student writers and their current school contexts as they teach writing to whole classes of students.

Quotable Quotes

Goal of the research review: “To develop a coherent picture of the research concerning PSTs’ preparation to teach writing” (7)

“It is critical that PSTs enter the classroom, whether as student teachers or in their early careers, with strong theoretical and pedagogical knowledge for teaching writing” (7).

“Writing is a complex, nuanced, and layered activity. Teaching writing is even more so as teachers are challenged with making visible the in-the-head processes associated with writing, often to 30 students at a time, each with individual writing processes. To make instructionally sound decisions, teachers need to develop a conceptual framework that will guide their interactions with students. PSTs should be able to look to teacher education for that initial guidance” (33).

“Without writing methods coursework, the topic of writing is ‘sandwiched in’ the semester, with often just a few class periods devoted to teaching writing and the rest devoted to teaching reading. This provides PSTs with, at best, surface understandings of and experiences with teaching writing” (30).

“Now more than ever teacher educators are faced with the critical need to prepare PSTs to become confident and capable teachers of writers. With the current national focus on writing instruction in schools due to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) teachers must be prepared to enter the profession with strong pedagogical knowledge of how to teach writing and with a sense of their own writing self-efficacy. Just as schools at the K-12 level are being required to increase their writing instruction, universities should consider increasing the amount of writing preparation PSTs receive. Reading coursework cannot dominate literacy teacher education preparation” (28).

The literature review shows there is “a crucial need for PSTs to experience methods courses that provide explicit, consistent, and thoughtful writing experiences” (28)

Notable Notes

what sorts of preparation do PST get for designing and teaching digital and multimodal writing? (32)

future research project could be analyzing the syllabi of writing methods courses (repeat a similar study done by Smagorinsky and Whiting in 1995)

the methods course for teaching writing must provide PST with a conceptual framework to teach writing and practical strategies to implement in the classroom (29)

there is a divide between what is taught in methods courses at the university and what is implemented in K-12 classrooms – more studies needed about the transition of PSTs to the classroom to see what causes this (29)

studies done with experienced or inservice teachers are helpful, but they do not fully address the particular challenges faced by PST who are teaching writing (30)

without a methods course (or without a strong one), PSTs and beginning teachers revert to teaching as they were taught (27)

good methods courses give PST a reference of both theoretical concepts and hands-on practical strategies (26)

Question about methods courses that are run as modeling/writer workshops: “Is ‘living through’ a writing workshop and all it entails a significant method for learning how to teach writing?” (23) – the difference between being a writer and being a writing teacher (23)

Questions about methods courses that ask students to work one-on-one with student writers: How does working one-on-one with a student writer help a PST learn how to teach writing to a whole class? (19) If the PST only focuses on providing feedback, how do they learn how to create assignments and teach writing before and during the drafting stage? (19)

PSTs who have negative self-images as writers end up not valuing writing in their classroom and/or providing poor writing instruction (14)

Their methods: search databases using key word search terms (“systematic browsing”) and “footnote chasing” (9)

March 6, 2014

Mayher, English Teacher Education as Literacy Teacher Education

Mayher, John S. “English Teacher Education as Literacy Teacher Education.” English Education 44.2 (January 2012): 180-187.

Mayher calls for English education programs to form alliances with colleagues and departments across their campuses in order to restructure English teacher education as literacy teacher education. Mayher argues that integration is necessary and overdue, especially in the context of the Common Core State Standards, which emphasize literacy education across the curriculum. Mayher points out that English education programs that focus primarily on literature are not preparing their students to teach all the students they will encounter in the 21st century American school system. Mayher calls on national organizations like CEE and NCTE to take the lead in conversations about literacy education, and part of taking this lead, he contends, is re-examining the assumptions that form our English teacher education programs.

Notable Notes

Mayher notes that there are at least four discrete teacher education disciplines that prepare students to teach literacy: secondary English education, early childhood/childhood education, TESOL, and special education. Added to that is the emergence of literacy education (K-12) programs (182).

the problem with specialization within national organizations – we’ve become fragmented, have different cultures, but we need to move beyond these cultural boundaries to work together to prepare teachers to meet the challenges of the modern American school system and CCSS. (184)

need to support beginning teachers after they graduate from teacher education programs – they still are not expert teachers and need ongoing mentoring and support. Teacher education programs need to reach out to the schools their students are placed in and give them more hands-on practice in how to teach – focus on “the transition to teaching” (186).

CCSS asks teachers from all subject areas to focus on literacy across the curriculum, something English teacher education programs should prepare their student to work towards in their schools (183).

English teacher education programs need “to be inclusive and therefore more than the traditional literature-centered subject English” (182).

The lit-centered English teacher education curriculum doesn’t prepare teachers to help students who are not proficient in the literacy skills they needed to master in the early grades (183).

Quotable Quotes

“The need for integration stems from the need to better serve the pupils our students will teach and to better prepare our students to do so” (182).

“Whatever one thinks of the ways being attempted to change schools, the fact is that the problems are real and we must play a central role in helping to solve them” (180).

“So if we are serious about building a teacher education culture that is responsive to the complex, interconnected, and integrated demands of K-12 teaching, we have to find ways to open up our curricular boxes and reconceive them across all the sub-specialties that touch on literacy education” (184).

“The common denominator here must be literacy teacher education for K-12 schools” (185).
“The Common Core, the NAEP, NCLB, and the state standards as well all recognize the centrality of literacy to the educational enterprise. What we must do is move into that center and claim the pedagogical high ground. Let’s change our name, our stance, and our capacity to collaborate with those who are also trying to help the children we serve. The time is now” (187).

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