Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Minor jangling of the nervous system

So... posted this to a couple of my livejournal communities:

Today we got handed a packet about Writer's Workshop. It sounds intriguing, but all the information is in anecdotes; there is absolutely no data that shows which students benefited from this particular style of teaching, which students did about the same as they would have in a traditional classroom, which students did worse, etc. It's just little stories.

I feel very... uninformed. ;p I got a little bit of "what," a whole lotta weak "why" (lots of theory and idea, no statistical data), and "how" was left out of it entirely.

This is at the high-school level, by the way. How long is each one-on-one workshop? How can I believe that 31 freshmen, left to their own devices, will work quietly and cooperatively? How is subjective, individualized work going to align with our computerized gradebook that demands a grade from every student on the same assignment? What's the difference between "introspective writing" and "imaginative BS?" Between "self-reflection" and "self-absorbed navel-gazing?" How do we judge the authenticity of the work? What about when students just don't DO the work?

Can anyone fill me in?

A book I've particularly enjoyed recently (well, in the last few years, anyway) is Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty. One of its criticisms is how much Shalit uses anecdotes, rather than statistical data, to support her ideas. While it makes for a fun, thought-provoking read, it does cause one to wonder how reliable her conclusions are.

I'm concerned for my students. They NEED practice with fundamentals - I have high school freshmen who, when they arrive in my class, cannot differentiate between action and linking verbs, let alone between verbs and, say, gerunds. That's the MAJORITY of the class. A significant minority cannot find action verbs in a sentence of any complexity.

Don't get me wrong - I like trying new things. Believe me, I have NO wish to turn into a slime-covered, mosquito-ridden pool of stagnation. ;D Change, even just for its own sake, can be a good thing. But I'm worried about change without thought. I wouldn't mind doing something different even if there wasn't much of a positive outcome. I just don't want to make things worse for my students!!


Nellie said...

I am a parent with two children who attend NYC public schools, and Writer's Workshop has been used here for several years now. My kids' teachers have had a lot of PD on it. Most of the work is done in class, so as a parent, I don't see much of it until I view their portfolios at parent-teacher conference time. I have friends who are elementary school teachers and they say there is a lot of record-keeping involved. There are short "teaching moments" followed by an example, then the students work on their own on whatever the day's lesson is. The teacher moves among the students, consulting with them (and taking notes on the consultation). Outlines, rough-drafts and revisions are part of the process and have to be turned in and are graded, as is the final product. In theory, it sounds like a methodical method to get students writing - from seed idea to final draft, but one of my children hates it because he finds it too regimented and keeping the notebook going is tedious for him. My daughter, on the other hand, "gets it" and fills her notebook...
Grammar, punctuation, spelling are not necessarily part of the process.
High School seems a little late to be starting Writer's Notebook.

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