Wednesday, September 13, 2006

“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” by Jensen

Jensen in an article for Language Arts (March 2002) “names names” in the teaching of writing, and many of these names are the first that may come to mind. She mentions work and research by Moffett, Graves, Hunt, Britton, Hillocks, Macrorie, Elbow, Murray, Kinneavy, Calkins, Gray, Strunk and White, and Emig. She also mentions others that are not as familiar. The article focuses on a few teachers who don’t speak at the yearly NCTE or IRA conference and who did teacher research before it was called that. Those teachers who wrote about teaching writing in their classroom include Sylvia Ashton Warner, Natalie Robinson Cole, Julia Weber Gordon, and Alvyna Treut Burrows. Jensen outlines a more extensive history of these four teacher researchers. Ashton Warner is a more common name, especially for those in elementary education. Ashton Warner wrote twelve books, most famous of those being Teacher (1963). She, early on, recognized what Piaget wrote about, that the most critical interaction is that between peers. She writes, “They are teaching each other, far more effectively than I could teach them myself” (qtd. in Jensen, p. 359). Robinson Cole, in The Arts in the Classroom (1940), writes “no tedious correcting-grammar-and-punctuation ordeal” (qtd. in Jensen, p. 359). According to Jensen, “Cole carefully preserved an emphasis on expression: ‘The writing must come as best it could and be accepted on its own merit for the thought, the feeling, the life force, the creative personal touch that is contained’” (qtd. in Jensen, p. 359). This idea is a goal of today’s writing workshop. Jensen outlines the main ideas that each writer focuses on. Jensen says to “think of Natalie Cole when you read about these topics:

· the challenges of teaching children from backgrounds unlike one’s own different priorities at different stages of the writing process

· the way publishing can give writing a purpose

· the value of peer coaching

· the importance of writing from one’s own experience

· writing, reading, talk, and life as being inseparable” (Jensen, p. 360).

Jensen writes about what Weber Gordon, author of My Country School Diary: An Adventure in Creative Teaching (1946), had students do in her class:

· “Made notebooks in which they stored their writing, as well as keeping records of problems and accomplishment and of books they had read

· Produced three issues of a multipage newspaper each year, and as a spin-off from their newspaper work wrote an elaborate, multichapter book that they presented to the county library

· wrote scripts and dramatized them

· created a post office and wrote letters in order to report, inquire, thank, invite, seek permission, and make plans

· Raised questions constantly and pursued answers: ‘Purpose,’ Gordon wrote, ‘is at the heart of a wholesome learning experience’ (p. 163). She continued, ‘It is no hardship for these children to learn to write. They have a purpose for writing’” (p. 212).

Jensen lists the following topics that Treut Burrows treats in her book They All Want to Write: Written English in the Elementary School (1939):

· “how teacher researchers function

· the need to experiment and to fumble as a writer

· writing conferences and writing folders

· a multistage writing process and writing workshop

· opportunities for children to hear, see, and talk about each other’s work

· the importance of literature in a writing program

· print-rich classrooms

· concrete experiences that give writing practical value

· mini-lesson” (qtd. in Jensen, p. 361).

I liked this article because it is a very good overview and introduction to some names in the teaching of writing or literacy that we may not be familiar with.

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