In my Teaching Writing class we had a develop a writing philosophy that we would present to students and their parents at the beginning of the school year. This philosophy would detail what and how writing would be taught over the course of the year. Of course this was all theoretical as none of us had even student taught yet. I’ve never used mine.
To: Secondary School Language Arts Students
RE: This years writing curriculum
First, let me welcome you to Language Arts. I will be your instructor this year, and I believe I have in place a curriculum that will excite and challenge you. I understand you may be a little nervous coming into a new school year, with new classmates and a new teacher. Trust me, I am nervous too. Teachers get graded by our district superiors just like students do by their teachers. You are not alone in what you are feeling. We are all in this together and we are here to support and help each other.
I do not know what you have heard about Language Arts, but I can tell you that you need not be worried. I said our curriculum is challenging. It is. We will be doing things you have never done before. We will be doing different things in different ways. We will be doing the same things in different ways. And probably we will be doing the same things in the same ways too. What I am trying to impress upon you is that although we have to work within the school mandated curriculum, there will be lots of freedom for us to do things that maybe are not normally done and that you may be expecting to do.
I want you to know that as your teacher I am on your side and want to guide through the learning process. This idea is important to me as a teacher. I do not think it is productive if we have a contentious relationship. Not for you as a student, not for me as a teacher. The closer and more open trusting the classroom is, the greater the learning experience it will be for us all.
I would like to begin the year by telling you about the writing curriculum I have designed. Don’t be afraid of the word writing. I understand writing is not something that everyone loves to do and I have ideas to address any problems students may have with writing. I am going to outline the things we will be doing this year. I should warn you, I love lists. So this will not be the first list you see:
1) The writing curriculum will be implemented keeping in mind that not all students like to write. There will be one process for students who like to write and a different process for students who do not like to write and struggle throughout the writing process. This may seem a little confusing so let me explain. Writing is only one part of Language Arts. It is an important part; just as important as reading and discussing what we’ve read. But it is the part of the class that some students find to be the most difficult. What I want to do then is to divide the class into those who like to write and those who don’t. The students who like to write will of course be writing more. This is not to be seen as a form of punishment or as a way of creating extra work for those students. Students who like to write should be allowed to write and encouraged to write as much as they want. While other students are working on different things, like reading or giving oral presentations, the writing students will be doing collaboratively designed writing assignments. I believe that the more students enjoy doing something the more they will do it and the more they will learn from it. So I want those students who truly like to write to do this as much as possible.
Now, that isn’t to say that the other students will not be writing at all. They will be. They will be writing a great deal in fact, just not as much as the writing students. Writing is a part of the Language Arts curriculum, and learning to write well is not something to be taken lightly. The basic writing instruction and assignments will be the same for both groups of students. This group will be doing the writing required by the school and department and spend the rest of its time and efforts on reading, researching, and doing presentations.
2) Second on my list is a clarification of number one. I want to talk more about what I mean by self-designed curriculum. The students in the writing group will be doing writing assignments that they and I develop together. Everything we do must have some educational purpose behind, this is school after all. My goal with this group is to let them do what they want to do. If they love writing then by all means they should spend their time doing that.
3) I think this would be a good time to explore my definition of writing. Writing is, well, writing things. It may be done by hand with a pen or pencil, or by typing on a computer keyboard. There is no way around that. There will be times when you will have to sit down and write something. Probably more times than some of you may like, but, again, this is school and in Language Arts class students write. But I want to open up the definition of writing to include genres that normally aren’t seen in a secondary school classroom.
Take drawing for instance. The act of drawing may seem more appropriate for art class. That is where drawing is taught and done. But ask yourself. Are graphic novels, comic strips and books, animated movies and television shows, and computer games writing or artwork? Graphic novels and comics are almost always accompanied by writing of some sort; captions, stage directions, dialogue, exposition, etc. Animated movies have characters speaking dialogue to each other, which is writing. And all of these things need planned and laid out first before anything can be drawn. So the artists must either pay someone to write the stories their characters will be following or do the story writing themselves. I believe this is called storyboarding. So in the coming days when I ask “Who likes to write?” and “Who wants to be in the writing group” if you have interest in any of these particular genres your response to those questions can be yes.
4) The purpose of the writing assignments will be to teach writing and improve writing skills, not just to give grades. Assessments of work will be done and grades will be given naturally, however it is not my “deal” to flunk students. I am here to help. On the flip side, students will be given a grade based on the work they have done and the progress they have made. A work gets an A grade. F work gets an F grade. I may end up being too lenient but that’s ok, I don’t want to kill enthusiasm for writing.
5) Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other mechanical issues will be addressed. I do not want you to think that this aspect of writing will be as important as the content of what you write. However, good mechanics are important. Writings with good mechanics are easier to understand and comprehension is an important bond between reader and writer. To work on problem areas with grammar I will be introducing something known as Error Journals. In these journals students will keep a record of the mistakes they make and the corrections they make based upon the research they do to correct those mistakes.
6) Notebooks, journals or diaries will be a place for students to keep track of their thoughts and ideas about writings and readings. Assignments will be given to direct students into their notebooks/journals/diaries. These will be especially important when doing creative writing work, but I will get into that more at the appropriate time.
7) Peer editing groups will be used extensively to improve writing. These groups entail having small groups of students get together, read their work to each other and other constructive insight on the work. This idea will provide several different types of feedback allowing students to revise papers before handing them in. It is not my position to look for ways to give out bad grades or fail students. That is why I will have them revise and rewrite everything at least once or twice before turning them in to be graded. I would like to teach stuff so the one-shot deals where you write something, hand it in and take your grade won’t go on in my class.
8) Portfolios will be kept to gauge progress throughout the year. Also students will be allowed to pull their best work out of their portfolio to hand in for grading. Grading this way may present a problem, so students will have to have so many assignments to turn in, plus a sampling from every genre. The portfolio will be individual folders for each student.
9) Differentiated instruction – use of voice-recognition software whenever possible. There is also the Kurzweil software program that takes a scanned text and reads it back. This I am doing to eliminate the problem of students not really minding the creating and researching aspect of writing so much as the actual sitting down and writing or typing part of it.
10) Lists, FAQ, Interviews and other non-traditional genre types like Wikis will be used, or will be allowed to be used, to aid with research and organization. These are generally the things most students don’t like about writing. Allowing the untraditional will, I believe, make the traditional more accessible.
11) A note about grading. You will receive grades for every completed assignment. And by completed I mean after you have had a chance to have your work peer edited and revised, several times if necessary. The purpose of us being here is to learn and become better writers. To that end I believe it serves no useful purpose only giving students one shot at doing an assignment before it is graded. Of course there will be times when you will have to take written tests and assessments where you are not given the opportunity to revise. Between all the writing we will do for normal class assignments and assessment practice tests, I believe you will be well prepared for those occasions.
This list is just an introduction to the writing we will be doing throughout the school year. When the time is appropriate I will explain in more detail the assignments. For now, I want you take with you the notion that writing is not something to be feared but instead to be embraced. And you need not worry; you are not alone in your feelings about writing. If you love writing or hate writing, you will have your classmates and me to encourage and help you.
p.s. All students are required to take this letter home and have their parents read it then sign it to show they have read it. Your parents play an important role in your education and I think it is important for them to know what is expected of you and what we will be doing this school year.
Parent(s) or Gaurdian(s),
As you have read I am your child’s Language Arts teacher. In this letter I have detailed a little bit of what will be happening in Language Arts this year. This letter also explains tells your child a little of what will be expected of him/her. Now I am going to tell you how you can help your child learn as much as they can. I think everyone knows that learning is a round-the-clock experience everyday of our lives. This includes your son or daughter too. Their learning, or education, does not begin when they arrive at school in the morning and it does not end when they deboard (?) the bus or drive themselves home at the end of the school day. Because I believe this to be true I am going to ask for your help in creating a learning environment at your home. I am not going to ask you to spend several hours (though the more time you spend helping them the better off they will be) with your child every night or to hire tutors. All I am basically asking is for your child to have a quiet place in the house, away from the noise of house (ringing telephones, televisions, stereos, barking dogs), which is free from any other household activity (washing dishes, weekly poker night), where they can spend time in peace and quiet doing their schoolwork. It this means sending them to their bedroom where there is nothing to distract them a couple of hours early every night, fine. If this means putting them at the kitchen table and turning down the television set, that is fine also. All I’m asking for is some consideration that your child needs to be able to get away from everything else for a few hours and concentrate on their studies.
I look forward to being your child’s teacher and am available if you would like to ask questions or talk to me about our class.