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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

As a basic-level writing teacher, I work primarily with students who aren’t pleased to be in my class. Most have received low scores on their Accuplacer tests and come to the first day of class angry at the system that failed them and resentful toward the college that requires a course which, in some cases, won’t even reward them with credits. Many of these students have already labeled themselves as “underachievers” and are resigned to being in low-level courses that teach by rote and never require active engagement. Some have been diagnosed with learning challenges; others simply learned that the bare minimum was the academic path of least resistance. Many of these students were taught English skills using a “segregated-skill” approach, in which the mastering of language skills is separate from that of content learning. This is especially true of ESL students, who may have learned many rules but are unable to understand and express more complex thoughts in a cohesive manner when reading and writing.

It is for these reasons that I have begun using a more integrative approach in my classroom. In its simplest form, a course bearing a single-skill title such as “Basic Writing” would actually involve multiple, integrated skills. For example, I might give oral instruction on a writing assignment, requiring students to use their listening abilities to understand the lesson. Then we might discuss the many ways the assignment could be developed, thus employing speaking and listening skills, as well as group interaction and peer review skills. Finally, I might require students to continue the lesson at home, not only by creating a map, outline, and/or first draft of their writing assignment, but by generating a list of questions the initial assignment has conjured for them. Now the students need to use organizational, analytical, and creative skills to complete the assignment, while the list of questions encourages them to think outside the box, applying metacognition (the act of thinking about thinking) to their writing process.

Some say that all learning is integrative because each new idea must be connected to prior ideas, but when integrative learning becomes the focus of one’s teaching style, it requires larger leaps of imagination. Integrative learning is about linking ideas and concepts that are not easily or typically connected. In content-based instruction, students practice writing skills using the theme-based model (Scarcella & Oxford, 1992). The theme-based model integrates learning into the study of a theme, such as violence in video games, social justice, recycling, the current political climate, or any topic the students find interesting and engaging. The topic must allow a wide variety of skills to be practiced and clearly stick to the idea of communicating about the theme. One simple example of theme-based learning that I’ve successfully used supported an introduction to the school’s library, online research, and citation formats. In an all-female basic composition class, I gave the students a topic: “Women in the 21st Century: Still Paid Less Than Men.” Students were to find one legitimate source to support the topic, quote or paraphrase from the source, and correctly cite their work. The task generated much enthusiasm, encouraged communication and peer interactions, and students learned essential research and writing skills.

The other method of skills integration—task-based learning—is only now beginning to influence the measurement of learning strategies in higher education. (Kavaliauskien, 2005) One of the fundamentals of task-based instruction is group or pair work, which is utilized to increase student interaction and collaboration. At the beginning level, students might introduce and share a particular item of interest learned about each other, or write and edit a class newsletter. More advanced students might bring in another element of integrative learning to their task—civic engagement—by taking a public opinion poll at school or creating a digital film short to promote a service, idea, or political stance. I have had some very positive results with task-based learning using civic engagement. During the 2008 presidential election, as part of their lesson on the rhetorical mode of persuasion, my students worked in groups of four to create multimedia presentations to encourage voter registration. Not only did we achieve near-perfect attendance and participation during those weeks, but registration of first-time voters among my students climbed from a paltry one-third to one hundred percent.

In addition to civic engagement, service-learning is another task-based integrative learning technique that is capable of creating enthusiasm in students and instructors alike. Service-learning links meaningful community service to academic course content, enriching the learning experience while teaching civic responsibility and strengthening community. In a foundational writing course, students can learn how language gets things done in the world by undertaking a community-based writing project. A class might decide to adopt a non-profit such as a local homeless shelter, and write or edit any flyers or brochures needed. Alternately, students could elect to write a series of articles promoting public land use for a community garden space to support the local food bank. Reserving class time for reflection, however, is critical to the success of service-learning. If students are unable to differentiate between service-learning and volunteerism, they may not understand how they will benefit from the exchange. I have had students initially balk at the idea that they would be “doing something for free.” Reminding them that service-learning combines “service” and “learning” in intentional ways—by integrating community service with classroom learning—helps them to appreciate this approach to academic enrichment.

Integrative learning isn’t just for the best-prepared or most-accelerated students. Indeed, it is particularly important for those who are under-prepared for college-level learning, because it helps them to link basic skills with meaningful experiences, both within the course and across disciplines. In a world that is at once interconnected yet fragmented, integrative learning serves to heal this dichotomy by making real-life connections and creating authentic experiences. Even in remedial classes, students will be able to link their coursework to the rest of their lives.

Scarcella, R., & Oxford, R. (1992). The tapestry of language learning: The individual in the communicative classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Hsiao, T., & Oxford, R. (2003). Comparing theories of language learning strategies: A confirmatory factor analysis. The Modern Language Journal, 86 (3), 368-383.

Published: Innovation Abstracts. National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD). 31(3). 2009.

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waterI am practicing water mind.

Water is the great connector, uniting the infinite and the miniscule without bias, without preference. From the body’s cells to the earth’s land masses, water connects what seems separate, distant, and different, into one seamless whole.

Water unites the earth with the sky through the never-ending cycle of evaporation and precipitation. This process of flow mirrors the path all beings follow—becoming, being, dying…life, death, recycle. Our destination of returning is never in question.

Steam above a sizzling street
Smoky fog that claims the sea
Rising mist, descending rain
And it all begins again.

Water is able to both expand and contract, and the same is true of the human spirit. When we are harsh to a child, their spirit contracts. When we love a child, their spirit expands. This is why the practice of metta—of lovingkindness—is so powerful. An expanding spirit is capable of touching all living beings.

May all beings be happy
May all beings be healed and whole
May all have whatever they want and need
May all be protected from harm and free from fear
May all beings enjoy inner peace and ease
May all be awakened, liberated and free
May there be peace in this world
and throughout the entire universe.

Regardless of the obstacles encountered, water does not stop. It does not give up. Water will rest, however, and wait for the proper circumstances—a path, an opening.

I am practicing water mind. Moving, joining, nurturing, cleansing, renewing…when everything is experienced as this “One”—when flow is simply flow—then there is no separation…no pain, destruction, lack, hurt, death. There are no hard surfaces to bump up against and nothing to grab hold of. This mind of endless, effortless rest, renewal, and movement, is as calm as doing…as simply Being.

The end of every journey is a new beginning, every destination is temporary, every goal is cyclical.

Beginning complete, we remain complete.

With nowhere to go,
There is nothing to fulfill
Except our destiny.

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Well, it’s been a few days and I think I might understand this writer’s block thing a bit more. Although life itself is an act of creation, inspiration encourages that life to blossom to its full potential. Plato told me this by way of Statesman:

“…the concept of poetic inspiration, enthusiasm, or madness…is a necessary condition for poetic creativity…”

I think he was saying that one needs to have something to say in order to have something to say. Maybe that’s the problem…my concept is good but I’m not too sure what I’m trying to say. Damn.

Well, obviously I was able to write this, having been inspired, ironically, by lack of inspiration. As for my book and its looming deadline…perhaps I should try a little madness instead…

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I’m trying to finish a book. It’s supposedly going to be similar to my first one…more of a manual and curriculum guide. The problem is…it’s not happening.

I have a deadline. I’ve known about it for many many months but, knowing that some of my best work happens at the last minute, I’ve waited until…you guessed it…the last minute. Usually deadlines serve to motivate and inspire me. Days before a given time is up I can usually be found coaxing text from my computer, experimenting with ingredients in the kitchen, and laying down another track in GarageBand. When deadlines loom, creative production swells exponentially. This time is different, though. The impending deadline is not working. No music is pouring forth, no desserts are being invented, and no amount of coaxing is convincing those words to organize themselves into cohesive sentences.

Writer’s block (or any creativity breakdown) happens to all of us, I know. It just doesn’t seem to make sense! I mean, our very existence is defined by creativity. From the first meeting of egg and sperm, to every personal aesthetic action throughout life, creativity abounds. The way we adorn ourselves, how we decorate our homes, the political parties we align ourselves with—every motion in life is a creative interpretation of existence. Whether we choose to write a poem or run the fastest mile, we all share this common expression of life. As we place aesthetic value upon our lives, we make our selves living art. Ergo, with my creative self being an intrinsic part of my psyche, I should be able to create.

“All living art will be irrational, primitive, and complex; it will speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification but of paradox.”
~Hugo Ball

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The Sound of My First Blog

 

 

The air is filled with sound.

 

A breeze gently moves the sky, stirring the stench of daisies as it finds refuge in the spaces between shifting leaves and the incessant circling of a paper wasp. The age-old dialogue between crickets and trees vibrates the air, oblivious to the tiny butterflies covering the road like fragments of dust. Catbird leaves a song behind her, catching the wind as she swoops down for a taste.

 

Like a preliminary sketch, growth accumulates in one addition of detail, one elimination of structure. The hourglass may be a mandala, so try again, for mistakes are the joy of Now and the sound of knowledge.

 

Sun beats a familiar tune for the chorus of crackling grass and dry air. The sharp scraping of pen to paper describes The Now, while roots shift the ground imperceptibly as they continue their desiring. Air pulled in by lungs rushes out, transformed by purpose. Feet shift, chair creaks, fingers dance with thoughts elusive. Crow calls out in triumph.

 

To sit completely still for just a moment, to breathe the ebb and flow of time, to give up expectations and gain even more — these are the acts of growth, the joys of true nature. In this moment there is much, yet I am nothing, all the while life continues its dance.

 

While waiting for words to flow, there is space to listen.   

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