Monday, April 12, 2010

Sommers Article: "Responding to Student Writing"

Sommers raises some interesting points about commenting on students' drafts. I really liked the point that Sommers said about the reason behind teacher commenting. She states that the comments are not so that the teachers can feel as though he or she has done their job, but rather for the students to benefit from. Sommers says that commenting is important because it lets us know when we as writers have effectively communicated our thoughts and have had shared meaning with our readers. I never have thought about editing in this way. In this sense, it helps the writer develop even more control over his or her writing because it is letting the writer know what areas are unclear and need some work. As writers, we sometimes focus in on why a teacher commented on something, instead of the big picture- which is our purpose in writing the paper. I think that the best way to review a paper is to do it face to face and conference with a teacher. This way, comments can be specified (another weakness of teacher revisions that Sommers picks out). Face to face a student and a teacher can develop more shared meaning and weaknesses in the paper can be more clearly pointed out. A brief comment on a paper is difficult to work with when editing. As Sommers also states, many teacher comments are universal and too vague. They can be stamped on just about any paper and are not specific or clear. What do you think is a good solution to the problems that Sommers brings up?

Monday, April 5, 2010

I am beginning to think that grading is going to be one of the most difficult aspects of being a teacher- especially grading students' writing pieces.  For homework tonight, I reviewed a persuasive college essay.  I found many awkward sentences and slang language used throughout the essay.  I also took note of the writer's voice and tone throughout the paper.  The writer, a student criticized by the public and many members of his own family for street racing, used a bitter and angry tone throughout the entire essay.  I found myself bored to death hearing about this student and how much he hates that no one understands his love for street racing.  Looking at the holistic scale, I found it difficult to put this student's piece in a specific grading category.  When I did the "checklist" on the back, it made my job much easier because I could specifically locate which items for lacking in the essay and take points off.  But then I ask myself, should I really take THAT many points away because this kid is angry at the world?  Am I just not a good listener?  Ahh the duty of grading students is sure to be a challenge when I do begin teaching.  I've learned from reading this essay how important it is to "back up" a teacher's grade by providing a checklist of components that are required for points.  While this does limit a writer's freedom, it also helps them because the teacher can be more objective in order to justify a grade.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review Paper

Lindsey Halverson

Embrace Your Insignificance, Bob Gaulke



            In Embrace Your Insignificance, Bob Gaulke attempts to illustrate his personal experience as an assistant teacher in Japan.  The book reads much like journal in nature.  Each entry focuses on a story that may be completely unrelated the previous entry.  This characteristic of the text makes the book easy to read during multiple sittings.  Gaulke’s dry humor and witte sarcasm make his style of writing highly intriguing and often humorous.  I found reading about his out of school experiences at faculty gatherings and non-school related functions to be exceptionally stimulating.  Regarding audience, this book would be most useful for any teacher that has future plans of teaching abroad. 

            Although the text sheds light on many characteristics of the Japanese culture and school system, it lacks the ability to incorporate the use of theory in the Japanese culture, especially theories regarding the writing process.  Gaulke is merely an assistant teacher that has little control of the classrooms that he observes while in Japan.  Gaulke’s main concern while interacting with the Japanese students is to ease their fears with regards to speaking in English. 

            While in Japan, he strives to get the students to “open up” and “be creative” about the speaking process.  These two goals that Gaulke demonstrates throughout the book are highly unheard of in the Japanese culture.  Expressivism involves the use of felt sense- and inner reflection that focuses on the writer’s goals with less of a focus on writing form.  I would imagine that expressivism would be highly unheard of in the Japanese culture due to their emphasis on form, drill, and correctness.  Perhaps Gaulke was striving to incorporate more of the expressive theory in the way that English is taught in Japan. 

            With regards to teaching philosophy, it was evident in the text that essentialism was the most widely accepted practice of running the classroom.  Students in Japan were taught by a teacher who was considered the head of the class, while the students’ roles involved absorbing the information through drills and quizzes.  No group work or collaboration was seen in any of the experiences presented in Gaulke’s book.

            While the book’s scope is limited with regards to how theory is presented and used in the classroom, it does do an excellent job at describing cultural differences that may be seen when teaching abroad.  In the Japanese culture, the students learn in a very collectivist society.  They are taught not to strive for anything “outside of the box.”  Individual goals, creative lesson plans, and collaborative learning are completely foreign to the typical Japanese student.  One quote from the book that especially resonated with me was the following:


            “In America, we’re given a lot of encouragement to discover who we are.  A lot of positive reinforcement.  This is great for kids, but maybe it also creates some sad adults who feel ‘I was super as a kid, but now I am deeply mediocre.’ In Japan, these stresses don’t seem to be on the surface.  You’re on a team. We’re all together.  You’re replaceable.”


            In contrast to the Japanese culture, students in America are raised to follow their dreams and pursue any goal they desire.  What is most compelling about this passage is in the concluding pages of the book.  In these pages, the students write Gaulke goodbye cards before he returns home to New York:


“I want to be a pro basketball player.  If I play in the USA, please come watch.”

“When I grow up, I look forward to see you one day.  I want to be a fireman.”



            These concluding statements from the Japanese students illustrate the unknown impact that Gaulke had on the students he interacted with in Japan.  Although teachers in Japan do not seem to put effort into captivating the students with engaging activities, nor do they care to nurture the individual child it is evident after reading the final pages Gaulke indeed played a significant role in changing these students’ lives- by simply teaching them how to set a goal. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Club 3/16

Book Club

Embrace Your Insignificance

Bob Gaulke


I found the following passage compelling:


“Embrace Your Insignificance” p.37


“In America, we’re given a lot of encouragement to discover who we are.  A lot of positive reinforcement.  This is great for kids, but maybe it also creates some sad adults who feel ‘I was super as a kid, but now I am deeply mediocre.’  I think some forms of depression might come from this adult letdown.  In Japan, these stresses don’t seem to be on the surface.  You’re on a team, we’re all together.  There are millions of us. Relax, we’re replaceable; you’re not really that crucial.”


            Pretty depressing to think about?  I think so.  When I was calling around local libraries and Barnes and Noble stores, I couldn’t help but feel a little pathetic requesting a book entitled “Embrace Your Insignificance.” I thought maybe the reference desk lady thought I had some issues.  Honestly, I didn’t even understand the title of the book until I read the previous passage in the beginning of Gaulke’s story. 

            Gaulke reveals first-hand the collectivist Japanese culture.  He tells about how students are basically just “pushed through” the school system so that they can join the work force.  Teachers don’t seem to really care about captivating the students with creative lessons that are engaging- a skill that Gaulke tries to master throughout his time in Japan. 

            In contrast to the Japanese culture, students in America are raised to follow their dreams and pursue any goal they desire.  What is most compelling about this passage is the concluding pages of the book.  In these pages, the students write Gaulke goodbye cards before he returns home to New York:



“ I want to be a pro basketball player.  If I play basketball in the USA, please come watch my team.”

“When I grow up, I look forward to see you someday.  I want to be a fireman.”


Discussion Questions


  1. Do you think that Gaulke enjoyed his experience in Japan?  What pro’s and con’s do you think he would say about his time there?
  2. Evaluate the treatment of the faculty of the Japanese Schools.
  3. Would you want to spend time teaching in another country?  Why or why not?


  1. I think that Gaulke’s experience in Japan was bitter-sweet.  I think that he learned a lot about being persistent in tapping into the minds of the Japanese students and never giving up.  It was evident in the final pages of the book that Gaulke had an impact on many of the students.  I think that he was probably very lonely and this memoir served as an outlet to express his struggles during his time there.
  2. I was surprised by how the faculty was treated at the schools in the book!  Many of the teachers suffered physical abuse from the students and it seemed like many times, the classes were very unorganized and disruptive.  It would be very difficult to get through some days, I would imagine.  I can’t believe that the students in the book did not suffer more severe punishment for the rude and abusive things that they did during class.
  3. I think that it would be very interesting to spend time in another country and gain cultural insight into the lifestyles in that country.  Gaulke certainly learned a lot about the collectivist culture that I am sure made him appreciate the support system and persistence that USA schools generally demonstrate.  I would be willing to go abroad, but I would like to teach permanently in the USA. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chapter 2 Calderonello

This chapter is mostly regarding grammar rules and not much text, however I did learn a lot from reading the section towards the end regarding sentence splices and fused sentences. The text states that it is actually considered "better" for a student to have a spliced sentence rather than a fused sentence, because in a splice, the 2 individual sentences are still seperated by a puntuation- just not the correct one. Therefore, the complete thought or statement of the sentence is being identified as having a beginning and somewhat of an end. However, in a fused sentence, the two sentences are simply lumped together with no puntuation seperating the two thoughts. The text also states that if a teacher has a student who experiences much difficulty in completing full sentences with correct punctuation at the end, then it may take the entire course of the year to get the student to correct this problem. If you had a student with this difficulty in producing correct sentence structure, what activity would you use to help him or her?

I especially liked the idea about dividing the class into groups and having each group be given a text with incorrect punctuation at the end of sentences and having each team compete to find the errors and turn in a correctly edited copy. I like this idea because the students are not critiquing their own work- it gives the idea that "everyone can make this mistake." I also think that by simply reading out loud throughout a school year and clearly pausing at the end of sentences can help a student to hear when a sentence ends. Finding creative activities in editing and by using auditory techniques throughout the year can improve a student's ability to know where to place a period at the end of a sentence.

Calderonello Chapter 1

I'm finding the Calderonello text much easier than Williams to read. I feel like he is really talking to me about how to be an effective teacher and I don't mind listening! One section of the chapter one reading assignment interests me- the part about the transformational approach to writing. The text describes this approach to teaching grammar as taking the ideas and descriptive nature of the structuralist approach several steps farther. It does this by stating that in every language user's mind there are innate understandings of grammar that are used in producing meaningful sentences. The text claims that we have this "natural grammar" before we even start going to grade school. I have always considers grammar more of a "black and white" subject area- there are strict rules that govern our writing and categorize it as being either "correct" or "incorrect." Needless to say, when I read this section of the text, I was a bit confused. I think that when we are children we do learn very simple sentences, maybe something like, "I go to the playground." This sentence appears to have a subject and a verb, but I'm not sure i'm comfortable as saying this sentence come from an innate grammar source. I think that it is more of a "learned process" that we acquire socially as children. If grammar was an internal natural ability, then why do we have grammar classes in the first place? Do you find yourself questioning the description on the transformational approach as I do?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Educational Blogging?

Blogging: New Journal or Old Bulletin Board?
for secondary grade students


This article examined the use of blogs in the classroom as an educational tool for students.  The article took a positive standpoint promoting the use of blogs in the classroom, rather than using paper-based writing.  In my own experience, I have taken three classes at JMU that required a blog as part of my final grade.   I personally think that a blog can be beneficial if the student is given very open-ended topics to write about.  During one class I took last semester, I actually found the blog somewhat "therapeutic" to write it.  It provided a space to type out my responses from class and express my own opinions on topics we had learned or read about.  Here are a few pro's that this article gives about merging technology with writing, specifically, the use of blogging:
  • blogs offer a great way for students to be involved in reflective writing
  • students are writing for an audience other than their teacher
  • blogs often produce more thoughtful writing since the audience is larger
  • parents can be connected to their child's work electronically
  • a blog can easily display any improvements in classroom writing
  • easily manageable by student, teacher, and parent
  • fast feedback from teacher and other students than a paper-based writing piece