Reflection

(Source: Facebook, mine)

The opening line to my first RR at the beginning of the semester said this:

“I do not consider myself a creative writer. I have the ability to write well when necessary, but I never experience the overwhelming urge to write in length about almost anything.”

Though I still don’t usually write of my own volition, I definitely feel as though I have grown as a writer this semester. In fact, just the other day when we were doing our WN describing what it feels like to wait for a package or letter to come in the mail, I found I had grown. Part of me wanted to ignore the creative idea I had, be lazy, and just describe my basic feelings. Instead, I wrote more than a page. I wanted to share what I wrote here.

It’s 4:13pm and I’m finally home from school. It’s a Tuesday. I pull into the driveway, park the car, and gather my belongings. I know it’s too early for the mail, but I can’t help but check anyway. I lug my backpack down the driveway, balance myself on the curb (careful to avoid stepping both in the street and in the flower bed), and peek inside the mail box. Nothing. I hunch over just to make sure nothing is shoved in the back. I pull out what seems like 18 pounds of political ads, a pack of junk mail, and the garbage bill. It didn’t come today after all. Maybe tomorrow.

It’s 9:28pm. I’m home from another long day at school. It’s Wednesday. I gather up my books and walk back down the driveway to check the mail box. It’s empty. I trudge back up the driveway to the front porch. I struggle to maintain a grip on my armload of school supplies as I wrestle my keys out of my pocket. Just as I stick my key in, the door flies open, and I see my smiling husband welcoming me home. He graciously offers to take my books from me, which, I gratefully accept. I ask him casually if he got the mail today, and he lets me know it’s sitting on the table. And there it is – the perfect Christmas gift for my friend. I rip open the packing and hold the surprisingly small book in my hands: A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids. Yes, my best friend is a mermaid.

I, the “non-writer,” am actually considering continuing on with this piece and finding where I end up with it. That, people, is significant growth.

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CNF Process

I somehow accidentally got off-kilter in my blogging schedule. So I’m posting two this week because I’m not sure which one belongs where.

For how I wrote my CNF paper, I’ll be honest. This is my favorite style of writing. Because it’s happened to me already. I don’t have to make anything up. It’s just real, honest truth about personal experience.

(Source: me. I’m in Hobbiton!!!)

For this piece, I wrote about a trip I took to New Zealand in the summer of 2005 where my life was changed forever. After returning from my trip, I wrote about my experience to share with all those who sponsored me. I took what I had originally written (lowly high school junior me), and completely overhauled it for this assignment. It was amazing to look back and remember all those things that happened to me that summer, now being 6 years later.

The most difficult part of this process what how technical I should be. I mean, I wrote about a whole summer as an experience. It was a mission trip, so there were certain things I felt needed a detailed explanation – the ministry, certain activities (like evangelism, quiet time, etc.) that people may or may not be familiar with – in addition to the actual point of the paper, which was to explain how much I changed. I’m still not sure how important or unimportant the details are, but I’m still new to CNF as an assignment rather than for fun.

Example is the Best Teacher

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My mom always says to me something her mom said to her:

“I hope you pick up only my good traits, and none of the bad.”

I find myself becoming more and more like my mom and dad every single day. I acknowledged the fact that I had become my mother several years ago. Only in the recent past have I come to terms that I have also become my dad as well. I have the same sense of humor (often we say the exact same pun at the exact same time, completely unrehearsed), I say the same catchphrases, I have the same laugh, and I have the same reactions. I picked up all of these traits simply by the example I saw before me every day.

Kids are incredibly perceptive, as Johnston explains in this chapter: “So the question is, what makes it possible for teachers to say the wonderful things they say genuinely, automatically, and consistently?” (77).

I liked what Johnston had to say about choosing how to view your students. By choosing to view them as independent thinkers, the teacher’s whole communication style changes. The students will pick up on that through both verbal and nonverbal language, and will respond accordingly. Johnston sums up the goal of the entire chapter in the words, “If we want to change our words, we need to change our views” (84).

I liked the last section the most, which had a lot of practical advice in it. I’m all for practical advice. What the chapter didn’t seem to touch on, however, is that no matter how much we try to change our views, it will not become second nature unless we make it a habit. Practicing consistency in our language and reactions is the key to making it become believable.

Democratic Learning

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I honestly laughed when I read the epigraphs at the beginning of this chapter. They coincide so beautifully with what’s happening in our country right now – elections. I promise this post will not be completely political. 🙂

The second epigraph is actually what inspired most of this post:

“To overcome our tendency to follow authority blindly, we need to develop confidence in our own ability to interpret and judge what we observe around us in the world” (64).

So many times, I have heard of people voting for a candidate just because of what they’ve heard by word of mouth. Rarely do I hear of people who actually research candidates thoroughly and decide on their own for whom they will vote. I’ll be honest. This is the first year I’ve delved deeper into finding out for myself exactly with whom I agree or disagree. I was all for Ron Paul, but when he got knocked out of the running, I found myself coming up short. I didn’t like any of my options and had just decided to vote Libertarian, simply because I had heard good things about Johnson. However, I was perusing my Google Reader about a week ago and happened upon the site I Side With. It’s a website that allows you to state where you stand on each issue and how important it is to you. After finishing the questionnaire, it produces a page of results that matches you up with candidates based on where you stand. This helps eliminate some preconceived biases and notions about certain candidates. I am so glad I discovered this website because now I know with whom and on what issues I agree. I feel like a more informed voter, and therefore, more confident in my own ability to decide.

The other part of this chapter that stood out to me was the paragraphs about developing children’s social imaginations and their ability to see other perspectives. This is imperative to develop during childhood so that when those students become adults, they will be able to have rational conversations with others even if they disagree.

Just a few hours before reading this chapter, I was in the middle of a casual debate on Facebook with my cousin, who is a senior in high school. She granted me permission to share some of her quotes in this post.

Her status said, “Pro-choice 100% I don’t understand why abortion is even a political issue. Every woman should be in control of their own body.”

I wanted to understand why. Now, I am in favor of pro-life. I have my own opinions on the issue, but I wanted to understand WHY she feels this way. I attempted to draw more out of her by posting a few affects that abortion has on women:

Following abortion, many women experience initial relief. The perceived crisis is over and life returns to normal. For many women, however, the crisis is not over. Months and even years later, significant problems can develop.
Women who have experienced abortion may develop the following symptoms:

  • Guilt
  • Grief
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Thoughts
  • Difficulty Bonding with Partner or Children
  • Eating Disorder***

My cousin’s response was: “If those symptoms occur, that sounds like personal problems, same things could happen if a relative dies or they go through an economic crisis. If someone gets pregnant on accident and they can’t afford the baby, and they realize they would never be able to support it, why have the baby [if] they don’t want it? If a young girl gets pregnant and [is] forced to keep the baby her life may be ruined if she doesn’t have the support of parents. [The] baby may end up having a life filled of foster [care] and trouble. Abortion should at least remain an option for every woman.”

I threw another curve ball at her: “It’s true the system is flawed, but that’s no justification for murder.”

Her response: “I don’t consider it murder if they’ve never seen life. And if they are unjustly born, the chances of them having a good life may be slim.”

A fair point. But then it raised a different question, how does she define life? I waited for her answer with baited breath.

“Life is living through experiences and feeling emotions. Feeling love, compassion, anger, sadness, and hope. Growing up and living.”

Now I understood a little more. She and I define life differently, which is absolutely perfect. Everyone holds different perspectives and beliefs, but unless we see what others believe too, it is impossible to be 100% sure of ourselves. In no way was I attempting to change my cousin’s mind. I only wanted to make sure she was seeing a different perspective. I may have lived longer, but, in some respects, she has gone through a hell of a lot more than I have. She is one tough little lady. I absolutely respect her and her opinions. Even though we are from the same family, we both grew up with completely different lives, in completely different homes, with completely different backgrounds.

When I am a teacher, I know I need to be prepared for any and all perspectives, as well as how to help expand my students’ “social imagination so that [they] can readily see others in [themselves] and [themselves] in others” (67).

*** Information from Modesto Pregnancy Center’s website

Picture This

According to Vicki Spandel, every writer has 9 rights:

  1. The Right to Be Reflective
  2.  The Right to Choose a Personally Important Topic
  3. The Right to Go “Off Topic”
  4. The Right to Personalize Writing Process
  5. The Right to Write Badly
  6. The Right to See Others Write
  7. The Right to Be Assessed Well
  8. The Right to Go Beyond Formula
  9. The Right to Find Your Own Voice

Here’s a collage of pictures I chose to represent these rights. I labeled the pictures to match the 9 rights. A few of them have two pictures representing each right.

1. A car mirror. This is kind of obvious for “The Right to Be Reflective,” right? A mirror not only reflects what’s in front of it (say, yourself), but a car mirror in particular has the ability to let you see what you’ve already passed. Reflection is particularly necessary in writing memoirs, but it can also help in other forms of writing.

2. For “The Right to Choose a Personally Important Topic,” I chose a picture of a ballerina. I was a dancer for 14 years. Ballet and ballerinas still cause my heart to flutter with nostalgia. They make me happy.

3. I chose two pictures for “The Right to Go ‘Off Topic’.” The first is a picture of a butterfly. It represents an author’s ability to flutter from flower to flower (tangents) and be free with his or her writing. The second picture is the Storm Trooper sunbathing on the beach, simply because it made me laugh.

4. I also chose two pictures for “The Right to Personalize Writing Process.” The first is hidden behind the butterfly. I’m not sure if you can tell what it is, but it’s a picture of a cup of tea. I love sitting down with a cup of tea when I write. The second picture is the woman sitting at her sewing machine. I can’t think of a better example of personalizing something more than crafting.

5. For “The Right to Write Badly,” I chose a picture of these 80s-prom clad women. I think the picture speaks for itself.

6. “The Right to See Others Write” was difficult. I chose a picture of Lady Gaga. Originally I planned this picture to be number 5, but I changed my mind. Even though she’s strange and I question her sanity sometimes, she still writes good music. She’s unique.

7. This picture may be difficult to distinguish as well. For “The Right to Be Assessed Well,” I chose a picture of an extremely organized bookshelf. I thought of having company over and wanting to have everything cleaned and clutter-free. At least, that’s how I like my house to be when I have company.

8. For “The Right to Go Beyond Formula,” I chose a picture of a pharmacist holding a prescription. The entire picture actually showed this miniature pharmacist inside a medicine cabinet, holding the bottle out to a woman. I thought this could represent putting the prescription for writing into the cupboard, leaving it there, and choosing to do something different.

9. For the final picture, I chose a picture of a protestor for “The Right to Find Your Own Voice.” Her sign reads, “I AM VERY UPSET.” She is showing her views through her actions and words.

Fostering Creativity

I have to admit – I am really enjoying this book. I wish I hadn’t gotten it as a rental now. 🙂

Again, what struck me is the practical advice on how to draw more out of students. I was discussing this with a friend recently. She works one-on-one with an autistic boy in a regular kindergarten class. She explained to me how these kindergarteners are doing exactly what this book talks about – learning who they are as writers. She said something interesting that I thought could have been written in this book: “It takes a teacher who is really good at encouraging the creativity [in kids], but can also handle the silliness that comes with it.”

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I’ve noticed that this book seems to beat the same drum of encouragement and guiding. As teachers, we encourage these students no matter if we think it isn’t correct. The guiding helps to prod more from them, not necessarily correction. It doesn’t matter if they are kindergarteners or eighth graders. Certainly, we’ll expect different levels of performance from each, but that doesn’t mean we talk them down from simply trying.

Identity Theft

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I began by reading this chapter out loud to a coworker during a lull in the action at work.

I started with the chapter title, “Identity.”

She chimed in, “THEFT!”

“No,” I said. “Just listen.”

But no matter how I tried, every time I read the word “identity” aloud, she finished my sentence with, “THEFT!”

That got me thinking. Even though the chapter said nothing about it, it would be just as easy for us, as teachers, to inadvertently steal the potential identity of a budding author. All of the phrases offered in the chapter would help to avoid this, but ultimately it is up to us to encourage students at any age.

 

Recently, in another of my classes, my fellow students and I were being instructed on scoring CAHSEE essays from tenth grade students. We were looking at an example of an essay with a score of 4 (found here page 3); however, when looking at the breakdown of how an essay is scored, the majority of the voices in the class were criticizing the paper more than praising the student’s work.

“They aren’t varying their descriptions because they keep using the same words repetitively.”

“The support is limited.”

I was actually shocked at how critical and nit-picky some of my classmates were. These were tenth grade level papers, after all. I thought the student was particularly imaginative in his or her descriptions.

Our professor then piped up, “Remember, this is a paper with a score of 4. You’re college students, okay? You know more, so you should be writing at a score of 7.”

I thought the tips and phrases in this chapter need not only be read, but applied. Otherwise we run the risk of committing identity theft.

Noticing

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I read the chapter and I enjoyed it, thinking that there were lots of practical tips in there for aspiring teachers. So I figured I could do what the chapter was about: “naming” the things I “noticed.”

My favorite part was the exercise used to teach kids a word of the day. I thought it was not only useful for expanding growing vocabularies, but it also serves a purpose for helping kids to start “noticing”. However, I think that the use of a visual connection would help solidify the learning for them. If they’re learning about something, they should not only learn its definition, but also what it looks like. My mom and dad have always made use of every opportunity to teach me new words and their meanings. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember exactly where I was when my mom taught me the word “dissipate”. We were driving through the industrial part of town and she asked if I knew what the clouds of exhaust were doing. When I didn’t, she told me they were dissipating. Since I had the visual in front of me, watching the exhaust clouds slowly getting fainter, I was able to understand. Another instance was when I was 18 months old. As my parents tell the story, I pointed to a dent in my crib and asked, “Daddy, what’s that?” He replied, “It’s a….It’s an indentation!” Allegedly, I then jumped up and down in my crib repeating the word over and over.

Another thing that I “noticed” about this chapter was all of the open ended questions that were used to help kids to begin noticing new things.

  • “Did anyone notice…?”
  • “Remember when…?”
  • “Do you see how…?”
  • “How is this different?”
  • “What went well?”
  • “What kinds of questions do you have?”

Most of these seemed like they would be fit for elementary classrooms where students are just learning to read and write well. Still, I do notice many of these questions popping up in my college classes to help inspire discussion.

  • “What did you notice?”
  • “How is this different?”
  • “Where did you agree?”
  • “Where did you disagree?”
  • “What do you think that means?”
  • “Have you explored ______ as a possibility?”
  • “What questions do you have?”

It’s nice to know that even though we are college students, we can still be taught to notice more. I think this is essential, especially for aspiring teachers, to be in a constant quest for how we can notice more and then, in turn, inspire others to do the same.

Verily, Forsooth, Egads

Say all the right words with the right emphasis at the right time. Oh, you can make men weep or cry with joy, change them. You can change people’s minds just with words….You’re the wordsmith…. When you’re locked away in your room, the words just come, don’t they? They’re like magic. Words. The right sound, the right shape, the right rhythm, words that last forever.

– Doctor Who, 10th Doctor, The Shakespeare Code

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I love words. I recently started compiling a list of favorite words and add to it whenever I read. My current list includes:

  • Betwixt
  • Chortle
  • Colloquial
  • Dismal
  • Eloquent
  • Endeavor
  • Evanescent
  • Facetious
  • Gait
  • Guffaw
  • Idiosyncratic
  • Incandescent
  • Loquacious
  • Nonsensical
  • Purloin
  • Quintessential
  • Superfluous
  • Tempestuous
  • Whimsical

I have given quite a bit of thought as to the power that words have. Having grown up in a religious home, I have grown up reading many passages from the Bible about the power of the tongue.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. (James 3:3-8)

The words of Johnston in Choice Words echo this ancient text. Teachers hold an enormous amount of power in their words. Just like the mockingbird in The Bat Poet, the teacher is a role model for the student. Hopefully UNLIKE the mockingbird, the teacher will be patient, uplifting, and encouraging as the student learns in the classroom.

I also thought it was interesting that Johnston pointed out that “Children, in their own ways, teach us about the language of our classrooms.” I have always been a big talker. I was also an early talker. When I was 18 months old, I was asking questions and using words in context, such as “indentation”. Johnston points out that talking is the main mode by which students make sense of everything in the classroom.

What a relief (for me)! What I pulled from this is that even though we want to maintain order in the classroom, students should be encouraged to ask questions, discuss, and come to conclusions on their own with their classmates. It’s okay if this discussion time gets noisy or even disorderly if it means that the students are learning from it and making sense in the classroom.

The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21)

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Close Encounters of the Bat Kind

I’ve always been fascinated with bats. I remember reading Stellaluna in Mrs. Mead’s third grade class and wanting to learn more. We learned about fruit bats, vampire bats, echolocation, wingspans, and all sorts of other facts having to do with bats. Though my research does not extend much farther than what I remember from my class in 1997, fifteen years later I still love bats. I’ve had exactly two real-life encounters with bats in my entire life. Call them close encounters of the bat kind, if you will.

The first was in my dance studio circa 1999 (?). I was in the middle of one of my dance classes when we discovered something was in the window, and it was alive. To my delight, we were able to distinguish the form of a small bat climbing up the window. Though I was enchanted by the little creature, all the other girls were quite unsettled. In the last five minutes of class, the bat zoomed straight out at us! Everyone else screamed and ran for the door, but I thought it was mesmerizing. I had never seen a real-live bat before! I was excited to do some studying up-close; however, someone yanked me out of the door before I could observe it for more than a few seconds.

The second time was June 25, 2011 – my first wedding anniversary. My husband and I had escaped for the weekend to spend some time at my Granddaddy’s cabin in Arnold, CA. We had enjoyed a fantastic dinner, taken a walk in the woods at dusk, and had just gotten back for the evening. We were in the middle of setting up the Scrabble board when a bat started swooping, flying around the perimeter of the living room. Having no internet or cell phone connection, we used the land-line to call my family so we could figure out how to get it out of the house! After a few hours, we couldn’t find it anymore, so we assumed it had flown out the window we left open in the upstairs loft.

(Photo credit: Mine. Taken June 25, 2011)

I liked the bat. I decided to name the bat Bruno. Little did we know Bruno hadn’t escaped after all. We later learned that he had flown into a wall sconce, getting stuck under the light bulb. When my Granddaddy went up to the cabin during the following week, he trapped it with a heavy book and let it die. It still makes me sad when I think about. Even though poor little Bruno experienced a poetic death, I never imagined that a bat could write poetry.

I have attempted to write poetry in the past, but let’s face it – I have several redeeming qualities, and writing poetry is not one of them. The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell is a charming tale of a lonely, little brown bat. This is no ordinary bat. He stays awake during the day and writes poetry. Though I am fully aware of my own short-comings when it comes to writing poetry, this poor little bat doesn’t know where to start. When he writes his first poem, he is so proud to recite it to the mockingbird, his role model. I was disappointed with the mockingbird’s critical review.

If you go into a kindergarten classroom and ask, “How many of you are artists?” nearly every child will raise his or her hand. If you follow that same class for a few years and ask again in third grade, about half the class will raise hands. But if you ask again when the class reaches high school, you will see only a few hands raised. Even though the exact same children are in the class, what is it that caused so many to stop believing they are artists? It’s because sometime, someone in the world looked at their masterpiece and told them that it wasn’t good enough.

We, as teachers-in-training, must learn to find a way to encourage students while teaching them to write instead of only offering criticism and corrections. We cannot be like the mockingbird, only pointing out things that “aren’t good enough.” We must allow them to learn, grow, and improve their writing as they mature as writers.

How can we technical grammar Nazis begin to transition our thinking to nurturing students to become writers, rather than being legalistic in our approach to how writing “should be done”?