TIW Reflections

Laura Lopez

Kean University Writing Project- ISI

Teacher Inquiry Workshop- Reflection

July 2015

Further Teacher Inquiry

I knew all along that I wanted my TIW to showcase the impact that modeling the writing process can have on student writing.  While my focus is on narrative writing, I also believe this can translate to other genres as well.  In my mind, however, this concept was much more than just a simple line or paragraph crafted in front of the students to demonstrate a particular skill or strategy.  Modeling, as I defined it, was teachers immersing themselves into the writing process alongside their students in a way unlike ever before.  Going through the process, no matter how messy, and revealing a part of ourselves is the underlying foundation of my TIW. No matter what the grade level, I strongly believe the benefit to the students would be immense.  This is the practice that has led me to fall in love with teaching writing.

When I think about it, it doesn’t make any sense for me to NOT use this practice.  Imagine a lesson about brainstorming ideas for a personal narrative.  There are a number of strategies I would teach my students to use.  How could I not try them out for myself to see whether or not they actually “work?”  If I tell them drawing a picture of their neighborhood or other memorable place will conjure up great inspiration for stories to share, how could I not draw a picture of my old neighborhood and see what comes to mind?  This practice continues throughout my teaching and I am consistently amazed by the results.  By the same token, if I teach a lesson using a mentor text as inspiration, the heart of the lesson is still the teacher modeling, as I have explained it, that takes center stage.  I do not always produce fantastic writing samples, and the work is draining, but it’s necessary work. Even through my falters and stumbles, the students gain valuable insight into the process of writing.  Also, the learning process is recursive, moving from teacher to student and vice-versa throughout.

As educators, it is often difficult to think of our students as “knowing more,” or being “more capable” than ourselves.  Writing is like playing sports, in some ways.  There is an undeniable natural ability in some, but that ability must be honed and refined.  Is it not common for a coach to train an athlete that has more raw talent that him/herself?  To think that we will always be the best writer in the room is a disservice to our students.  It is our job to “coach” our students into becoming authors.  Like in sports, our young authors must be guided to practice, understand technique and demonstrate continued effort if they are to be successful.

In addition to moving back and forth between the stages of writing with the class, I hold that teachers need to be willing-at least on some level-to tell their own personal stories.  I understand there is a certain amount of reserve that we, as teachers, must uphold.  However, much literature about composition studies fails to recognize this one simple component, which I am certain is essential in the teaching of writing: teachers must write!  Writing is a humanities subject in the truest sense of the word.  With literature as its counterpart, writing studies is a reflection on and of the human experience.  Teachers bring to the classroom that human element that has not, or cannot, be written into the curriculum.

I now have a better understanding of why I tried to include too many revision strategies into my TIW lesson.  It was never really about showcasing any one particular tool I have found to be successful with my students.  My lesson was really about demonstrating what revising can look and feel like.  To revise, whether it be to bring out a deeper meaning using figurative language or realistic dialogue, means to be vulnerable and trust in the process.  I think we can all agree that there is no “one right way” to teach writing to others, but, perhaps, “teaching” ourselves how to write will, in turn, teach our students.


Balcony Reflections

I was pleased that our google hangout connection worked and I was able to listen in on Martha’s author’s chair submission. Many family members call me ambitious, but I am in awe of the work ethic, commitment and drive of not only Martha, but the rest of our group. It’s inspiring!! Her essay, written as a submission for a scholarship, was large undertaking. I loved Phyllis’s comments about how the discussion that followed was an example of the writing process in action. I hadn’t thought of it that way before I read her reflection, but I completely agree. Although I do utilize partnerships and conferencing tactics in my classroom, I really think of the writing process as more of an individual experience. This was a great example of how writing can truly be a group effort that yields great results. Martha’s first draft was solid, but I am sure with the feedback provided it will become even better. We want drink on her if the essay is selected!!!


I had a chance to speak with Phyllis about her author’s chair in person, but have been meaning to post something formally in response to her reading…

I felt so privileged to have had the chance to hear Phyllis’s narrative on Monday.  Given the background of her situation and the reluctance she expressed in telling her story, I was moved by the experience.  She was able to express herself in such a natural an seemingly effortless way…it was refreshing!  She truly took me on a journey with her and I loved her attention to detail and the way she wove in various elements throughout.  Thanks so much, again, for the experience.

Feeling sad that tomorrow will be the last official time I have the pleasure of meeting with all of you in person (formally, anyway).  My experiences in previous classes and workshops do not live up to the experience I’ve been able to share with all of you.  I am forever grateful.  I am not always a “joiner” and often sort of blend in the background in settings such as these, but the group made it easy for me to engage and open up.  You are all such amazing, talented women and teachers and I am so happy to have met each of you!!!

I can’t wait to hear the last 3 TIW’s tomorrow…I know they’re going to be great and helpful for me in my own practice.

Sorry for the sappy post….feeling emo, I guess…..off to some other classwork things I need to work on before I head out this weekend…

Meeting Log for 7-13-15

July 13, 20015

Arrivals began shortly before 9 AM. Kim brought us munchkins..yea! Martha inquired about the research portion of the TIW (theoretical lens) and was given some sample TIW’s to review. Tobey distributed materials for her TIW presentation tomorrow.

We spent some time collaborating/discussing our TIW’s. We confirmed that we will meet with Mia at 11:30. We took turns meeting with Kim and/or Leslie to review any last minute concerns/questions we had regarding our TIW.

We discussed Nancie Atwell’s recent Global Teacher award of $1 million and the speech that followed which, essentially, discouraged others from joining the profession. We also discussed the current state of teaching with regards to the PARCC test.

10:00- Kim shared with us her wonderful experience with meeting the Dalai Lama last week at a Tibetan conference in NYC. His basic message: Religion does not matter; it’s what you do that matters most.

11:00-We agreed to meeting tomorrow (7-14-15) for in-person TIW’s. Wed will be independent study. Friday will also be a F2F day.

Phyllis shared her beautiful story about her co-worker’s battle with breast cancer. We followed-up that reading with an informal conversation about the growing prevalence and possible nature of autoimmune diseases.

At around 11:30 we met with Mia at Starbucks. Each of us summarized our TIW concepts for Mia and she provided us with some feedback. She also invited us to think about how we may incorporate aspects of our TIW work within the CLMOOC and urged us to look at an email and accompanying google doc she shared with us. We all agreed that making up up of next year’s Make Cycle’s might be something we would be interested in doing. We were asked to think about some concepts and bring them to next Monday’s F2F.

We departed around 12:45 to continue our independent work….

Reflections on “The Silenced Dialogue” by Lisa Delpit

In “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children,” Lisa Delpit leaves us with a powerful metaphor in an attempt to explain what we, as educators, must do if we wish to “initiate a true dialogue” surrounding the pedagogical debate relative to the needs of Black and poor students in America. She states, “To put our beliefs on hold is to cease to exist as ourselves for a moment…it means turning yourself inside out, giving up your own sense of who you are, and being willing to see yourself in the unflattering light of another’s angry gaze.” This, she argues, is the only way to start the dialogue. Written in 1988 as a follow-up to her 1986 article entitled “Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator,” “The Silenced Dialogue” attempts not to determine whether the best instructional approach is skills or process-based, but rather uses ethnographic research to expose and analyze non-white middle class students’ experiences with each approach. Delpit outlines 5 distinct aspects of “the culture of power” which she uses as the foundation for her exploration. Many of the issues tackled in this article were also grappled with in Peter Elbow’s 1999 essay, “Inviting the Mother Tongue,” as well Linda Brodkey’s “On the Subject of Class and Gender,” in 1989.

As I read Delpit’s piece, I couldn’t help but think about my own role on the pedagogical spectrum: How much “power” do I exhibit in my own classroom? Is this intentional or not? Am I truly conscious of the moves I make? To what extend do I dismiss or stifle the non-dominate dialects of my students? Do I acknowledge their importance? Do I convey that to my students?

An ironic point she made regarding the role of “the best intentions by middle-class liberal educators” stuck with me. She explains how their attempts to advocate for the underprivelaged may actually, in effect, ensure the culture of power maintaines in the hands of those who already have it. I found this to be somehwat true of the teahcing practices Peter Elbow employed whereby he encouraged students to write in their “native tongue” in an effort to bring forth meaning, rather than being concerned with grammar and conventions. However, he then called for students to revise and edit with the assistance of writing centers to “correct” such “errors.” While I understand the value and theory behind it’s tactics, I, too, find fault and contradiction in the methods. I believe I expressed my ideas on the subject in class and will again express my sentiments here. Through my years of teaching I have been able to recongize the sincere desire and willigness of my students to acquire the skills associated with SWE. I have not encountered any resistance to such. While this may be due to the fact that they are 6th graders, rather than college students, it is my belief that all students want to be skilled in the language of power, regardless of the oppressive roots of such. This sentiment is reflected in Delpit’s essay which quotes a Black doctoral student who had recently been assigned to a remedial writing class. Frustrated with the White professor’s lack of instruction (focus on the process rather than the skills) he states,”She wanted us to correct each others’ papers and we were there to learn from her. She didn’t teach us anything, absolutely nothing….When I’m in a classroom…I’m looking for structure, the more formal language.”

Delpit explains how she prefers to be honest with her students when discussing the acquisition of SWE. She is sure to explain to them that “their language and cultural style is unique and wonderful but there is a political power game that is being played, and if they want to be in on that game there are certian games they must too play.” This tactic could also be see in David Foster Wallace’s article “Authority and American Usage.” I do not have these conversations with my students. I have not yet felt the need to do so. They simply want to learn how to write effectively. I get it. Really, I do. However, I can’t help but think about a recent joke by comedian Sarah Silverman that has me wondering how much we should be exposing the inequalities that exist. Will they not eventually figure them out for themselves? Silverman says, “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t.” Sure, maybe the world will eventually reveal to these girls that there are certian perceived limitations of females in our culture, but should parents be the ones to perpetuate this myth?

Our students, similarly, will likely soon realize the inherently oppressive nature of the education system. But I wonder, will knowing this at an early age help or hinder their journey. Knowing is one thing, but will it come with resistance? Added resentment? What is my role as a teacher? What would I do if it were my child? How much sheltering is beneficial? Can a White teacher be the one to relay the idea that there is not a “level playing field?” Or, can this message only be conveyed by a non-white educator? What would this message sound like coming from a conservative’s mouth? How would it be received?

Believe it or not, prior to my Writing Studies coursework, my understanding of the development these concepts was in my subconscience, at best. I did not spend time comtemplating the historical context in which inequalities came to exist in the classroom. I would imagine the same is true for many other educators. Ignorance is bliss?

With a perhaps somewhat naive outlook, I dare to specualte that, all parents want the same thing for their children: a better life than they had. I would guess that parents of students who do not possess a command of SWE would, themselves, not be opposed to learning the rules. Like it or not, there’s no arguing that it DOES afford power in this country. Only once you have it can you begin to change it.

Yes, there are questions, but the dialogue has begun……

Day’s End

My son: Mom, are you even going to wash the dishes or go grocery shopping? You’re spending your whole summer in front of that computer typing away for your college class

Me: Huh? wha? oh, yeah.

So I haven’t left my computer since our hangout this morning…very productive in some areas, not so much in others. The TIW, which I originally thought was going well have completely taken me off track…ahhhhh….tomorrow is another day.