Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mentoring Students at Hawthorne

Through this mentorship experience at Hawthorne, I have discovered the importance of teaching proper editing techniques in the writing process. Working with a group of gifted young writers, it is clear that consistent editing is crucial in allowing these students to express their ideas. The student who I have been working with has been struggling with proper paragraph format. I was able to assist him in revising his writing by suggesting he read the first few sentences of each paragraph as well as the last few. If the sentences did not connect in any way, it was clear that he had moved on to a new idea at some point in the paragraph. From that point I was able to guide the student in looking at his paragraphs and figuring out where to break them up based on individual ideas.

I also admire this teachers methodology of creating assignments for students. By using short descriptions of what is expected, the teacher is able to facilitate inquiry based learning for his students. The students are given a topic and limited guidelines to explore the subject in their own way and express their ideas through different forms of writing. In order to place agency on the students and engage them in their learning, I would like to implore a similar practice in my own teaching.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Teaching Essay Writing to English Students

As an English teacher the organizational chart I have chosen for writing essays (the most consistent form of writing in the English classroom) is the commonly used reverse triangle graphic organizer. This organizer can be used in conjunction with a PPE (point, proof, explain) chart for students to fill in with their points, a quote from the text, and an explanation of how the quote supports their point. 

While this type of organizational chart has come under scrutiny for teaching students to write a basic intro, three bodies, and concluding paragraph essay, I believe that it is still a useful tool as it teaches students the basic elements of writing an essay. Teachers just need to stress that essays do not have to always have three body paragraphs, otherwise this graphic organizer is useful for focusing students' ideas. It is differentiated because even though students are performing a writing task, they are using a visual template to convey where information should be placed and how the essay should flow. As a majority of students are visual learners, this organizer can be used to make the steps of writing an essay explicitly clear to students.

"Inverted Triangle Model." Retrieved from

Monday, January 26, 2015

Poetry in the History Classroom

The Peterson chapter on poetry was interesting as I had never thought about employing poetry as a pedagogical tool outside of the English classroom. As poetry can be a daunting form of writing, even for english students, I feel many students would be hesitant to take it up as a means of expressing their thoughts about a subject area. Peterson’s ideas about the precision of the language are enlightening, however, as poetry really does demand the writer to focus on what they are trying to convey and can be used as an outlet for properly organizing a student’s ideas and articulating them to an audience. 

While poetry can be used extensively in the English classroom, I am interested in exploring how it can be utilized in the History classroom as well (my second teachable). It can be a very important tool in history for developing a historical perspective. The ability to take on the perspective of individuals within a historical context is an important, but potentially challenging skill for history students to develop. As poetry requires precise and meaningful language, students can organize their thoughts about historical figures and their world-views. This is demonstrated through the “two voice” poem in Peterson’s text detailing the perspectives of both french and english Canadians in the early formation of Canada. Through this form of poetry, students must complete extensive research of two opposing sides and articulate their findings in a concise and focused piece of writing. Through this process, students can refine their writing ability while also developing a historical perspective.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Using Articles as Mentor Texts

As a mentor text, I chose an article from the website entitled “Woolly Mammoth Sparks Debate Over Cloning” ( This article informs readers about the discovery of a Mammoth embedded in ice, and so well preserved that scientists believe it’s DNA can potentially be used for cloning. The article follows the traditional conventions of a newspaper article, and can be valuable in the English classroom as a mentor text for students working towards writing their own articles. Through this style of writing, students are introduced to this specific story through the who, what, when, where, and why details of the event, while also being introduced to the history of the Mammoth as well as the process of cloning. While these details are not specifically relevant to the study of English, using articles similar to this one as a means of teaching newspaper article conventions conveys to students how they can draw interest in the reader while following the proper form and style of this genre. In my practicum experience, I taught newspaper writing to Grade 10 Applied students and always found that interesting headlines and stories really drew them in and allowed them to maintain a better understanding of the conventions. Using this resource, teachers can draw from a variety of interesting news stories geared specifically towards students across a variety of subjects and written in a way that students can recognize the conventions and form of the article. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nancie Atwell and the Development of Teaching Practices

The thing that struck me most about Atwell’s story was her commitment to being a lifelong learner in order to continually serve her students in the most effective way possible. By describing herself initially as a “creationist,” it seems that Atwell was very independent of her colleagues and had the unrealistic goal of creating her own curriculum and using it as an exemplar for others. Atwell was undoubtedly ambitious, but was misguided in her initial goals and ideas about the profession. It is only through the input of both colleagues and her students that Atwell came to refine her teaching process and really break through to the students.

It seems that Atwell really made a breakthrough with her teaching when she says that “students can’t be the only learners in a classroom. Teachers have to learn, too" (p. 9) This relates to Peterson’s notions about freedom in writing; advocating for some structure and guidance in writing, but allowing students to express their ideas in a variety of different writing forms. When Atwell takes the time to discuss the curriculum with the students and allow them to choose the direction of their writing projects, she makes a genuine breakthrough with them. This democratic form of teaching provides students with more power over their own learning and writing. 

In adjusting her practices, Atwell further exemplifies the ideas set forth by Peterson in her use of mini lessons and one-on-one conferences. Through these short and focused lessons, Atwell retains authority over the classroom, but allows her students sufficient time to write on their own. Peterson states that it is important to provide these mini lessons as they give students necessary information to progress as they face new steps in the learning process. He also advocates for one-on-one conferences because it allows the teacher and student to share ideas without having the student’s writing made public to the entire class. As Atwell develops her approach to teaching she adopts many of Peterson’s ideas about teaching writing. 

Ultimately, Atwell comes to take on a position of being a guide for the students. Atwell provides mini lessons and conferences to ensure students are receiving the knowledge and feedback necessary for improvement and progression in their writing, but gives them the freedom to explore different forms and concepts relevant to their own interests. Atwell only arrives at this through a commitment to her own development as a learner. Atwell continuously states that she was always “beginning again” when she set forth new practices in her classroom, but she was really just committing herself to constantly trying new things rather than being complacent in her teaching philosophy. At the end of the article she talks about “responding to the kids” which is crucial to teaching any discipline. Different groups of students will learn in different ways and it is the responsibility of teachers to be adaptable. Atwell’s success as an educator can be attributed to her commitment to her own learning and growth.

Personal Narrative

In my opinion, writing is the communication of ideas. In the English classroom, this is a crucial component of learning as English revolves around the ability to find both meaning in texts, and to express this meaning to others. While oral communication is an undoubtedly important discipline and is necessary to students' social development, it is through writing that students are able to refine and focus their ideas. This idea is articulated by Peterson when he states that "students' thoughts have to slow down so their hands can capture them" (p. 2-3). Writing is essential to English as it demands that students sort through their thoughts about a topic and funnel them into a cohesive piece of writing. While it is this focus that causes frustration in the writing process, writing is an essential tool in critical thinking and the development of thoughts and ideas, and thus, is essential to the English classroom. In my practicum experience, I found that the teacher was most essential in the planning portion of writing. While short lessons on form and conventions are important, the teacher must also act as a guide by providing students with the tools for writing and helping them in developing ideas that the student can form a piece of writing around. While leading a unit on short story writing, we spent class time going over genres students could write about and bouncing around ideas about the types of stories told through these genres. By giving students broad boundaries (they had to choose a genre) and guiding them towards a story they could tell within these confines, myself and my AT acted as guides for students in developing ideas. From this point, students can begin to refine their ideas and tell their own stories through writing while the teacher provides guidance and support.