Create Compose Connect!

I chose Create Compose Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks as a focus for my second professional reading. I chose this text because I find digital literacy to be a not only interesting but integral component of a successful classroom. I also find it difficult to stay current in these practices, however. Because of this Hyler and Hick’s text was a perfect fit for my professional reading.

There were several aspects of this text that I greatly appreciated. The first being that the authors were honest in their digital literacy origins. Hyler is honest in his description of his process from his beginnings of being a member of the “cell phone brigade,” a community of teachers who pride themselves in the confiscating of cell phones and various other distracting technologies that can be found at most any school, to a teacher facilitator in a nearly paperless classroom. I appreciated the way that the text began with a personal recount of Hyler’s process because it makes the act of incorporating digital literacies in one’s own classroom seem much more feasible, as most teachers find themselves somewhere in the middle of the spectrum rather than at either end.

While discussing the spectrum, it is also important to note that Hyler and Hicks do not treat a paperless classroom as the end goal. They are aware that each educator reading this text is picking it up from a different starting point, with different levels of digital comfort, is combating different school policies, has different resources available, and different end goal in mind. They never belittle a starting point or pride one purpose over another, rather, each reader is made to feel accepted and proud to be bettering their classroom through the incorporation of one or  two additional digital literacy tools. In fact, much like Dean in What Works, Hicks and Hyler reccommend starting small and incorporating just a few components before moving on to the next.

A few new digital literacy tools that I intend to incorporate into my classroom next year include Grammar Girl, “an educational podcast designed to give the listener tips and grammar exercises to help tackle all of the grammar, punctuation, and word choice rules” (Hyler, Hicks, p. 30), “This I Believe” essays, Wordle and Audacity as a part of the prewriting process, and believe it or not, Google Maps in unit exploring myths and the areas of the world they represent.

I also intend to incorporate Twitter memoirs in the form of paper tweets because I love the idea but am not at an appropriate level of comfortability to incorporate Twitter into my classroom just yet. I appreciate that the authors make the reader feel that feelings such as this are perfectly acceptable. They often provide slightly more traditional alternatives to some of the activities that are beneficial to incorporate if the initial example feels to uncomforatble or is not feasible in a particular enviornment be it due to resources or school policies. In fact, Hyler explains that a certain level of comfort by the facilitator is necessary for the implementation’s success in the classroom. He describes an experiement with his own students that went wrong because he incorporated the use of cell phones simply to try incorporating the technology without any real educational benefit. He explains that he spent his time bouncing around trying to oversee its proper use rather than creating an authentic and useful learning experience highlighted through the use of digital tools (Hyler, Hicks, p. 3).

As an overarching point, the text highlights the importance of incorporating digital literacies but at ones own comfort level and in a way that truely enhances the learning process. As the author’s state, “The foundation of English and language arts is not changing, but the way our students are learning is. As educators we are responsible for shifting our thinking on how we do things in teh classroom. We need to teach students how to be effective learners of English through these different venues” (Hyler, Hicks, p. 33).


What Works Reflection

What Works in Writing Instruction: Research and Practices by Deborah Dean was the first professional reading assigned to this summer’s UIWP fellows. Dean describes the text as “an explanation of the elements reported in Writing Next to be effective, with each element presented in one of the…eleven chapters” (Dean, p. xi). The biggest oppositions to this text held by my colleagues is that the text is a mere reccount of theWriting Next report and does little to provide new and innovative information nor does it allot much insight into the teaching practices of Dean herself, (from the suggestions alone, it is difficult to envision Dean’s classroom), and finally, that several of the chapters do not easily lend themselves to particular grade levels or content areas.

Personally, I feel these are unfair oppositions to the text as Dean is upfront about both what this text is as well as what it is not in the introductory chapter. She writes of the limitations of the Writing Next report specifically referencing practices such as instruction in text structure and vocabulary that are not accounted for in the report and thus are also absent in What Works. Also, Dean writes that “[her] intent is for readers to choose individual paths through this book – each person finding a path that fits her or his needs” (Dean, p. xii), thereby stating her understanding that some chapters lend themselves to particular grade levels, content areas, and individual needs more than others. In fact, Dean reminds readers throughout the text of the importance of not feeling overwhelmed in the reading of professional texts, that it would be impossible to completely revamp one’s curriculum in relation to each of the elements at once, and that a complete curriculum overhaul is more than likely unneccessary in the first place. Instead, she suggests that readers find one or two areas in which they see the strongest need or feel the strongest desire to adapt instruction, something I greatly appreciate as a practicing teacher, especially one who tends to bite off a bit more than they can chew in terms of curriculum mapping.

This in mind, I decided to place the majority of my focus on chapters relating to the process writing approach, most specifically prewriting, (the focus of my demo). Dean begins the chapter on prewriting by making a reference to Calvin and Hobbes. She utilizes this reference as a way to relate Calvin’s procrastination in the writing process to that of all too many of our students. She writes, “Calvin is like many students in our classes: they have limited knowledge about their topics, they have limited strategies by which to access more knowledge (either in their own heads or outside of themselves), and they are reluctant to spend time on these processes that they don’t consider valuable for their writing” (Dean, p. 99). This led me to two questions that drove the creation of my demo:

1. How are we as teachers helping student’s access the knowledge they need to begin the writing process effectively?


2. How can we help students see prewriting as a valuable component of the writing process, one that is both practical and purposeful?

As I sifted through What Works, I found some enlightening information in relation to the questions at the heart of both my demonstration and the areas in which I would like to focus my curriculum change for next year, the most critical shift in my thinking being the way in which I define the task itself. I typically used prewriting in my classroom in the form of graphic organizers and outlines, as a neat and orderly process in which all students were visibly engaged in the same practices at the same moment in time. It was not until reading What Works that I began to think of it in a new light.

I now understand that “prewriting can be not only the actual activities (such as writing or talking or researching) but also the thinking that occurs. In fact, for many writers, much of prewriting is invisible” (Dean, p. 100). The idea that prewriting can be invisible, that it includes brainstorming, discussion, and reflection really changed the way I intend to utilize the practice in my classroom. I will now try to include time for thinking and observing both inside and outside of the classroom. I will try to instill within my students Henry Miller’s belief that “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away form the desk. I’d say it occurs in teh quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or playing a game, or even talking to someone you’re not vitally interested in” (as cited in Dean, p. 135). Perhaps most importantly, I will understand that this step in the process can work differently for different students and even for the same student at different times. I will expand not only my definition of prewriting and the time in which I allot students to work, but also the avenues in which I provide students to complete the task, for as Dean states, “Unless students see these practices as useful in crating a more meaningful writing product, it’s unlikely that they will use them in purposeful ways in their own writing processes” (Dean, p. 107).

All in all, I found What Works to be a very useful text in improving my instruction. I appreciated its explanation of what is at the heart of each element, what the element was meant to be regardless of how it is typically used in the classroom, as well as suggestions for purposeful implementation. Perhpas it was my lack of familiarity with Writing Next that allowed me to appreciate the text, perhaps it was my acceptance of Dean’s explanation of both the strenghts and the limitations of this piece before I began reading. Either way, I believe that when viewed with an open mind, this text can be a very useful tool for practicing teachers and I am grateful to have been exposed to it through this year’s summer institute.

Writing Marathon

Bright bold flowers, sweet fragrances, a slight summer breeze, much better circumstances than my introduction to the gardens. It was late October 2006, the setting of a first date. This will be so romantic, or so my eighteen-year-old self thought. As we walked along the deserted gardens drinking warm white wine out of plastic water bottles, a cold breeze brought continual discomfort. Hand in hand, Joseph and I walked, and as we walked we talked among other things of why I should switch to organic shampoo, the simple joys of techno music, and why it’s more interesting to be unreliable. It really should’ve been a sign…

Week 1: Reflecting On My Emotions







Appreciative, and

Scatterbrained (Borrowed from Dayna. Thanks, Dayna!)

Reflecting on Video Project 1

In creating this video project, I not only learned how to use iMovie (embarrassingly enough) but also that I am not alone in my current lack of engagement in the reading and writing that I once loved. It turns out that it is not uncommon for practicing teachers to become detached from the content in which they teach. For better or for worse, many of us haven’t been devoting the time that we wish we could to continuing the craft of reading and writing for pleasure because we spend so much of our “free” time lesson planning, grading papers, and the like. Through the interview process and the conversation I have had with other UIWP members, I have taken away that this long lost idea of pleasurable reading and writing is something that doesn’t need justification. It does not need to be the last thing on my to-do list. I don’t have to feel badly about taking 30 minutes out of my day to write in a journal or to read a best seller. In fact, I think it will make me a more well-rounded teacher (not to mention a happier person).

I am tossing around the idea of having my students spend a small portion each day or each week, perhaps in the classroom, perhaps as a homework assignment, to read or writing something they enjoy and then create a literacy video at the end of the year in which they reflect on how taking time out to read and or write for pleasure has or has not changed or (fingers crossed) perhaps improved their reading and writing abilities. 

Literacy Narrative Video

Rekindling A Passion For Writing: Laura’s Story

Narrative inspired found poem

So I guess this is my push to publish one of the stories that I have been working on here at the summer institute. On Friday morning, I began writing a short end of days story about a tree in its final moments. Below is the narrative that I began and then immediately following it is a found poem that I have composed from isolated words from this text. Again, one of my goals here at the summer institute is to begin writing for pleasure in hopes that it will improve my teaching practices so I invite any constructive criticisms. That said, please be gentle! : )

And then the lightning came, a jagged fiery blast illuminating the sky. A thunderous roar follows not far behind. At first I don’t even notice. I must be in shock. Moments later I begin to feel it, sharp pains like daggers splitting through my trunk. My bark begins to crack and peel away like an old floorboard being ripped up. The pain is constant. This is the end, I realize. My time is limited now.

 Then I see her, the woman in the red dress. She is so beautiful and full of life, her curly blond hair blowing in the breeze of the warm spring day. It must be her husband next to her. They look so nice together, her in the red dress, he in the blue shirt with the buttons. They were good people that planted me, right outside their home. “A nice shady spot,” I heard her say.

 “A place for our future children to climb,” he adds. They look at one another and smile, the bright sun gleaming down upon them.

Years later, there is another family, a family with the children my first family never had. In my fondest memories, the children are there. A young brown haired boy eager for adventure boosts a blond haired girl into my branches. I can hear their cries of laughter as he digs his fingers into my bark and swings from my branches. I can still feel the little girls arms, trembling just a little as she hugs me tight.

And then there were the piles of leaves. Who knew how much joy my discarded leaves could bring. Every year when those colored like a sunset would fall delicately to the ground the children and their ever faithful companion would come round them up. Hours would pass. They would pile and pile until each leaf was in its proper place in the pile. They were careful to exclude any sticks or rocks that might bring about pain to their afternoon of joy. Then they would take turns, always the youngest first. It was the boy’s gift to her. They had different styles. She would turn herself around and flop backwards, surprised at just when her back would hit the still perfect pile, at when she would begin to hear the sweet crunching and crackling beneath her. The boy on the other hand, he would start further back, and he would come running full speed like a train on the tracks, the ever faithful companion yipping at his heels. Then he would jump, jump high into the air, arms spread wide, teeth beaming wide across his face. I loved being part of those beaming smiles.

There were sad times too, times of great honor, like the day they chose me, me out of all the other trees in the yard to be the eternal guardian for their faithful companion. The children are older now, I haven’t seen them in years, really they aren’t even children any more. They little blond haired girl is wearing a red dress, different than the sweet woman who planted me, but red all the same. She is there with the brown haired boy, all grown up, but he isn’t seeking adventure this time. They both stand before me with a shovel, salty tears streaming down their face like the raindrops that fall from my spring leaves. Every now and then I hear a sob as they dig into the earth near my roots. They too, recall the piles of brightly colored leaves and the faithful companion yipping at their heels.

It is almost over now. I can feel each side of my trunk growing further and further apart. I’m losing my balance, inching closer and closer to the ground. The rain is coming down hard. The drops are relentless pellets. The wind is howling around me, and there are more jagged bolts further away, claps from the heavens following after.

What will become of me? Will they makes books out of me, printing vividly colored pictures on each page so I can continue to bring joy to little blond haired girls and adventurous brown haired boys? Will my owners bring me inside and use me as firewood to warm their home as well as their spirits? Will I remain here, on the ground now, forever guarding the faithful companion? Time will tell…


Found Poem: 

Sweet fiery blasts

Faithful daggers

Fallen laughter

Splitting spirits

Eternal sunsets

Thunderous roars

Raindrops beaming down

Vivid cries of memory