Thursday, July 22, 2010

What I learned at the Iowa Writing Project (IWP)

July 6-23, 2010 I attended the IWP at Morningside University, through University of Northern Iowa.
I'm not an English teacher, but I've always been an avid writer. I love writing and I'm convinced that if students could become more comfortable with it and less averse to it, everything else in school would become easier for them. I highly recommend taking the Iowa Writing Project to all teachers, no matter what your discipline. If you're not in Iowa, try finding one in your own state at the National Writing Project.

Here are some reflections on the various components of the 3 week course and some ideas for how I can apply what I've been learning to my classes.



Some of what was meaningful came from these journal articles, much from our class discussions, but a great deal came from insights and ideas from our instructors Marty and Rod.

A number of big things stood out to me in this section. Attending the IWP on the heels of having attended a conference at Buena Vista on integrating technology in the classroom, I was interested in the ways in which texting and social networking have influenced writing as well as how I can implement things like wikis and google docs in the classroom- especially for response and collaboration.

As a writer, one of the most important lessons I will walk away from IWP with is the realization that writing doesn't need an audience or publication to be valid and valuable. Writing is an end in itself, not just a means to an end.


In this section, writing as both a means and an end was fleshed out for me. I've long believed that drawing is a cognitive tool for analysis, exploration and processing of thoughts and feelings. I feel ridiculous for not having recognized and appreciated the enormous potential that writing has as the same kind of tool

Certainly we all learned that the writing process is diverse and sometimes messy but almost never as uniform or linear as conventional Language Arts teaching methods might suggest. Collaboration is also an incredibly untapped resource for writers and thinkers that teachers really owe it to their students to explore more often and more thoroughly.


The Praise-Question-Polish (PQP) technique is going to be a phenomenal new tool for me in my teacher's toolbox.  I intend to put it to use in all of my Art classes, especially Drawing. Come to think of it, it will be useful in technology classes as well. Our instructors introduced us to a wide variety of techniques for providing students with feedback, whether just connecting with them, offering time in large and small groups, pairs, and individually for reflection and input or for informal formative assessment. 

These were days when I really came to appreciate the potential for learning and project journals and/or reflection writing. I may not have all my students in every class keeping daily journals- I'm not an English teacher, after all- however, I do plan to use some of the techniques we learned here as well as wikis or blogs to get kids collaborating and peer-responding.


I think that reading and writing are perhaps the most vital tools that teachers of ANY discipline have for helping students derive deeper meaning from what they learn and helping them transfer that learning to other subject areas and other areas of their lives. If students are to gain critical thinking skills, reading, writing, and sharing are the vehicles which will get them there. That said, it is imperative that we all work together to develop a climate and culture that is not only hospitable toward but that nurtures and encourages positive attitudes toward writing. Kids shouldn't fear it, resent it or be intimidated by it. Students should be comfortable with it and encouraged to see it as natural and necessary to thinking and learning.

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing." ~Scout in Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird

I certainly hope that I can foster such a climate in my own classroom and hope to convince my administrators and colleagues of the importance to do so school-wide.

Writing to Learn

Reading, Writing, Sharing, and Thinking- these are keys to learning and growing. In this section we saw a variety of ways in which teachers across the disciplines use writing and inquiry to encourage learning for depth, not just breadth. Many of these ideas also have a way of transforming students and connecting them to the world and their communities around them. It is important to remember that engaging and developing students' social consciences is not necessarily a political or partisan venture.

Growth and Development

Again, writing aids understanding. Writing is a cognitive strategy for  critical thinking and self-understanding, which leads to maturity and empathy for others. Sometimes play and experimentation can get you un-stuck when you don't know what to write or how.

Evidence and Assessment

Just as the writing process is diverse, so should assessment of it. Portfolios can be useful for formative, summative, and student self-assessment, but they can also be problematic. Rubrics can be useful, but it's difficult sometimes to sort through what's subjective and what's objective. It isn't always possible to be fair- every student writer is different and has different needs. Teaching is about relationships.  There may always be arguments over standards and testing, skills and content, system expectations and individual classroom methodology. As usual, technology is offering more tools, but also perpetuating problems.


ART CLASSES: Drawing/Drawing II/Ceramics/Painting/MS Art

I am absolutely adding PQP to my repertoire in these classes for both ungraded response and feed-back as well as for assessment purposes. Not to mention to better promote a creative culture in my classes, so that students can appreciate each other's work more and become more actively engaged in each other's learning. I also have some new strategies that will make the analytical and reflective writing that I already employ more effective and hopefully more fun. 

TECHNOLOGY CLASSSES: Web Programming&Design/Digital Photography/Yearbook

Up till now, I fell like I have been dropping-the-ball in terms of frequent feedback for my students and getting them to reflect on their processes. I suspect that, like the examples of math teachers in some of our journal articles, writing can provide a way for students to review and improve their understanding of what they're being asked to do in these classes. I also plan to use wikis to help them see what each other are doing and give each other response and collaboration. Unbeknownst to them, writing will be the means for them to learn and cooperate in the ways that the web, "the cloud," business, and the Iowa Core's 21st Century Skills all promote.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cyberwarrior Shortage Threatens U.S. Security : NPR

Cyberwarrior Shortage Threatens U.S. Security : NPR
"We don't have sufficiently bright people moving into this field to support those national security objectives as we move forward in time," says James Gosler, a veteran cybersecurity specialist who has worked at the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Energy Department.
 This is a story about how America needs hackers!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Report

Psicologia para todos/ Introducing Psychology Psicologia para todos/ Introducing Psychology by Nigel C. Benson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The 'INTRODUCING' series from do a wonderful job of explaining things in a concise yet engaging way. It's not a textbook, but it's not a graphic novel- it's this strange hybrid that uses Victorian era clip art.

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