National Writing Project

NWP's E-Anthology Generates Thoughtful Discussions

By: NWP Staff
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 5, No. 5
Date: November-December 2000

Summary: NWP's 2000 summer E-Anthology was enormously successful. Contributors talked about teaching and learning issues, and posted book reviews, memoirs, fiction, and poetry.

 

This summer's E-Anthology was enormously successful, with more than 450 participants. E-Anthology contributors talked about the teaching and learning issues they confront in their classrooms and posted book reviews, memoirs, fiction, and poetry. Readers can still view the postings, comment on individual pieces, and make suggestions for next year's E-Anthology by visiting NWP's Web site at http://nwp.berkeley.edu. The discussion excerpted below shows the kind of dialogues the E-Anthology has generated.

Message posted by Karen McComas

TC, Marshall University Writing Project

Hello Everyone!

As we worked through our first week of the summer institute, I paid careful attention to the questions (both implicit and explicit) that seemed to keep coming up. I wanted to make a record of those questions and thought this might be the best place to do so.

  • What happens in a classroom when students sit in a circle instead of rows?
  • How can we differentiate between what students know and how they come to know?
  • How can I integrate and balance technology in my classroom to facilitate learning?
  • How much of the Internet architecture do I need to understand in order to successfully facilitate my students' journeys on the Internet?
  • What factors might be present in our students' lives that would serve as negative reinforcement for learning?
  • How can we help children create, with writing, their own "thinking places"?
  • What happens to a student when he/she has a "thinking place"?
  • How can I/we proactively work to influence public opinion that teaching is a noble and soulful profession?
  • If teachers are pioneers who plan and lead adventures, what kind of pioneer am I?
  • Why does the school administration seem to believe that the prescription method for teaching writing is the best way?

Message posted by Carol Long

Director, Oregon Writing Project

Hi Karen: Thanks for posting these questions. I think this is a very helpful way of encouraging us all to discover the questions which drive or lead us in our teaching and to formulate these as research agendas. See my favorites below.

  • How can we differentiate between what students know and how they come to know?

This is a fascinating issue; the longer I teach, the less I am interested in what exactly the students come to know and the more curious I become about how they come to know things and what they choose to focus on. Reflective writing about their assignments has come to be some of the most interesting stuff I read!

  • How can we help children create, with writing, their own "thinking places"?
  • What happens to a student when he/she has a "thinking place"?

These two questions about creating and living in a "thinking place" likewise seem key to me. Writing can make visible such a "thinking place" in a way recognizable to those of us at home in the old literacies. I sometimes wonder if the newer forms of literacies create different kinds of "thinking places"..... am I helping students by encouraging this written "thinking place"? Of course I believe I am, and I strive to do so, but occasionally I wonder if the long narrative spaces I have always sought are the best or only ones to encourage . . . .

Message posted by Karen McComas

Carol, I'm so glad you responded to my posting ... your thoughts take me a little farther down the road of thinking about some of these issues. Like you, I am most captured by the HOW of learning, not the WHAT. I agree that reflective writing by students is interesting, but every once in a while it also humbles me ... because of the sheer magnificence in witnessing a personal transformation. This happened with JH, a freshman I had in an Introduction to Communication Disorders class last spring. As part of their final examination, I asked them to review their work (particularly their reading logs) from the semester and write a cover letter identifying instances where they either analyzed the reading, synthesized the reading, or evaluated the reading ... in addition, I asked them to make general observations about themselves as learners. JH wrote:

When I began to look back through my reading logs, I saw that in some areas my thought process was impressive to me. I suppose I have never really taken my thoughts that far for a class. I knew this type of thinking was there somewhere, I just had not found it yet.

Not only did JH discover abilities that she suspected she had but had never used, she also was able to identify an area where she needed to improve. She wrote:

Evaluation was the hardest to detect for me. I think evidence was more difficult to find because I stopped writing. Now that I look back, I did not write enough to complete my thoughts. In many of my entries, I saw the potential for an evaluation, but it lacked development. I needed to expand on my thoughts.

She proceeds to give an example of an excerpt where she questions some concepts the text is addressing regarding acoustics. Then she writes:

With this example, like many others, my opinion and assessment of the significance was done through questioning. A little more elaboration about the matter in question probably would have given me a conclusion.

Now, all of this, along with your comments started me thinking about the kind of "thinking place" that writing provides for students . . . I thought immediately of JH and dug out her writing to read it with the issue of thinking places in mind. Clearly, the reading logs provided some type of thinking space for her . . . as did the final cover letter . . . one of the things I stress with the writings I assign students is the need to sit down and focus on what they are doing . . . this type of writing/assignment can't/shouldn't be done in front of the television or while on the phone. Perhaps the physical act of writing satisfies some needs of the new literacies (more active involvement) but not the kind of action that interferes or prevents learning.

Message posted by Herb Budden

Codirector, Indiana Teachers of Writing WP

Thanks, Karen, for posting the potential research questions—by doing so you've encouraged us to do the same ... I definitely think it's by teacher action research that we will move our profession forward!

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