Writing Tools

In honor of writing here is an article that discusses different devices for writing:  “Do You Have Something to Write With?”

From notepads on phones, to real notepads, to post-its or PicoPads there are dozens of ways to write down information. And of course, there are dozens of situations one may find themselves in with the need to write. Sometimes there isn’t a writing utensil or paper within reach (although some of the truly dedicated are never caught without these items) and a phone or other electronic device will have to do. At other times a small scrap of paper found at the bottom of a purse or pocket will have to work. Whatever the circumstance, those who are dedicated to writing and acquiring knowledge will find a way to write no matter the situation.

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Potatoes, Laws, and Reversals

What do Facebook,
potatoes, and immigration have in common? Well, they have all been recently
reported on in the context of education. Educational laws, bills, and rulings
have been making the news in the past few weeks with an emphasis on the
negative aspects of the newest bunch.

Complaints about the
nutrition of the food being served in schools have been rolling in for years
(see 162School Lunches: Would You Eat
Them? One Teacher Did, And Blogged About It
).
Most recently, President
Obama has rallied to reduce the amount of potatoes consumed in US schools. However,
this proposal is being opposed by the Senate who believe that the vegetable has
received a bad reputation on poor grounds. This topic has garnered attention by
both The New York Times and edweek.org.

The potato is not the
only object of contention this week. Facebook is in the news again; this time
with a connection to education. Missouri once put into effect a law that
controlled teacher-student contact on the social network Facebook. Edweek.org  announced that this law
was recently repealed on the grounds that it violates the first amendment
rights of teachers and students.

While teachers and students may not have to fear the
loss of Facebook in the educational setting, students in Alabama may have
another thing to fear: deportation. A new law requires students who are new to
school districts to show a valid birth certificate in order to enroll. Although
students without certificates will not be turned away, there is still fear that
the families may be deported if the state finds out they are in the country
illegally. USA Today reports on
the consequences this law has had on attendance since the beginning of the
Alabama school year.

Bullying has also been a hot topic in the news
recently and has garnered enough attention to have 21 states writing laws. Education Week reports that these
states want to clarify what bullying means and set up guidelines for handling this
type of behavior.

Another bill currently in the works will offer
waivers on teacher evaluations as well as many other awards in order to find
better teachers for disadvantaged schools. However, The Washington Post reports that there is still much debate as
to what needs to be done in order to get teachers into these schools.

In other news, edweek.org announces a rewrite of No Child Left Behind is in the works that will
change many of its main features. Although the standardized testing
requirements will stay the same, the need for adequate yearly progress may
disappear.  This bill has been a long
time coming. Several proposals have been made before; however, they always met
with too much opposition. There were also several amendments to the bill
approved and discarded during the writing process.

The New York
Times
reports that this
Bill was passed due to many objections in the Senate over President Obama’s
idea to waiving of evaluations and other important proponents of NCLB. Iowa
Senator Tom Harkin was a major figure in getting the bill passed with a reduction
in the role the government has on public education. While there is much support
in the Senate there are still many who oppose the bill due to the lack of
accountability.

Teaching Writing in the Disciplines

Megan Fulwiler, Associate
Professor of English, discussed the history and Theory of Writing in the
disciplines. In the 1980s the Writing Across the Curriculum Movement (WAC)
began as a way to get students to write more professionally. Three functions of
writing were determined: transactional, expressive, and poetic. Expressive
writing is often used to improve transactional writing; which is the most
widely used form. According to Dr. Fulwiler, there were several principles to
the WAC movement. “Writing is the responsibility of the entire academic
community. Writing must be integrated across departmental boundaries” In other
words, it is not just the responsibility of English department. “Writing
instruction must be continuous all four years of undergraduate education,” and
lastly, “writing promotes learning.” While acknowledging these principles it is
also important to remember that “different disciplines value different things.”
So not every discipline will utilize writing in the same way. A final quote
from Dr. Fulwiler’s presentation, “Writing transforms students from passive to
active learners and deepens students’ understanding of a subject matter.”

David Goldschmidt, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, discussed
writing as a form of communication and as a form of communicating ideas with an
emphasis on coding. Coding – like any language – has different nuances or
dialects.  Coding can also have
errors/defects or bug in it just like any piece of text. Again like writing,
the goal is to have as few errors as possible. Dr. Goldschmidt listed the steps
to writing code; which are the same for most forms of writing. The steps are
figuring out the requirements, analysis, design, coding, and finally testing.
The sequence is repeated if the testing reveals defects. For his classes, Dr.
Goldschmidt requires his students to write journals, algorithms, and
requirement documents.

Robert Shane, Assistant
Professor of Art History, discussed Teaching Writing in the Discipline of Art
History. He often uses the technique of free writing in his classroom. Posing a
question and then giving students a few minutes to respond. Dr. Shane usually
bases his question(s) on a particular piece of art; however, this method can
work in any of the disciplines. According to Dr. Shane this form of writing
allows students time to think about how art history is viewed critically and
“ensures students are actively engaged.” Other forms of writing that were
mentioned are cover memos for formal writing assignments and argumentative
scripts. Cover memos allow students to informally write about the formal
writing process. They can share what was difficult or what was easy about the
assignment, or write about the actual process of writing. An argumentative
script involves students comparing and contrasting, thinking critically, and formally
analyzing art in a way that they are comfortable with.

Podcast of the October session.

Links from the Session:

Dr. Shane’s Handout

Dr. Shane’s Argumentative Script Assignment

Dr. Shane’s Presentation

The WAC Clearinghouse at Colorado State

Rehearsing New Roles for Writers

David Russell’s book:
Writing In The Academic Disciplines

“Writing and the Disciplines” by Jonathon Monroe (from Cornell)

Top 10 schools for writing

Michael Carter’s article, “Ways of Knowing,
Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704631504575531932754922518.” target=”_blank”>Handwriting First

Personalize Your Textbooks

When it comes to picking a textbook, college professors may find it difficult to find the perfect book to fit their class. For instance an English Professor may find an anthology with a few stories that would work well for her class, another that has the short stories she wants to use, and yet another one that is dedicated to Victorian Literature. At this point her students would probably be spending about two to three hundred dollars on textbooks for one class.
College professors may rejoice. There is finally a solution to the textbook conundrum – at least a solution that does not require countless hours of piecing together online sources. AcademicPub allows a teacher to create their own textbook. These books come in digital copies, paperback, and hardcover.
While AcademicPub is a wonderful new tool, there are still several other options out there for modifying and building textbooks. Some of them – along with more details on AcademicPub – can be found in the article New Digital Tools Let Professors Tailor Their Own Textbooks for Under $20.

The Economy and Education

One topic has been on everyone’s
minds for quite a while now: the economy. While most businesses and people have
been hit pretty hard by the recession, the education system seems to be the
most recent target. Problems started off simple with cuts in school funding and
have since spiraled out of control with state testing scandals, lawsuits, bribes,
and a problem so big even Sesame Street
is talking about it.

An article on edweek.org
discussed one of the most common impacts the recession has had on school
districts: a restructuring of schools from the loss of funding and faculty
members. What has been left in several school districts is the bare minimum in
staff positions being kept. The loss of secretaries, janitorial staff, school
specialists, and other support staff has caused many faculty members to step in
and pick up the slack – this means dealing with more paperwork, cleaning, and
maintenance issues previously relegated to more experienced staff members.

Budget cuts and reduction in aid
have caused a backlash from school districts, some who have decided to take
matters into their own hands. Such as several schools in California, whom
edweek.org reports are suing the state for unlawful budget cuts.

While schools in California hope
to win back funding through the court system, some New York City Schools are at
a loss as to how to remedy their situation. Several news reports from The New York Times have recently highlighted layoffs in New York City that
are affecting the schools that need the staff members the most. Almost 700
employees
 (mostly full and part-time support staff) lost their jobs in NYC
schools just last week. To make the situation even more stressful, intimations
have been made that had the workers unions compromised more some workers may
have been able to keep their jobs.

The New York Times also reported that to combat the continuing cuts
in educational funds, some educational commissioners may even be involved in what could be considered amoral tradeoffs with a major educational group. With
the increasing number of cuts comes an increase in the number of commissioners
accepting free offers from the Pearson Foundation.

The recent surge of the questioning
of ethics in education seems to over shadow the stories that put educators in a
good light. For instance, many schools in Oakland California are enlarging
their free meal programs. A recent article in The New York Times  discusses these schools and their
dedication to helping families in need. Another article from The Washington Post discusses the
role poverty plays today in our schools and how it will continue to undermine
any educational reforms set in action.

School districts aren’t the only
ones taking action against hunger either. The PBS show Sesame Street has stepped up with a new character that will
relate to the growing hunger epidemic children are facing.

These tumultuous times are not
solely for the k-12 educational world either. College students may be seeing a
change in their financial aid packages that could potentially affect the number
of students able to complete their degrees.

The Pell grant  – along with
several other programs – may be cut. While the same amount will be dispersed to
students, the qualifications would become stricter and the number of years of
eligibility would be reduced. This would force some students to complete their
degrees – both bachelors and masters in some cases – in a more crunched time
frame of six years (although breaks may be taken).

Although this proposal seems to
be aimed at reducing funding for students who may not be serious about their
studies – part timers just looking to take a few interesting courses or
students staying in college for lack of anything better to do – this may
actually end up hurting the college students who need the aid the most; such as
those who can only go part-time because they don’t qualify for scholarships or
are unable to secure loans, or those who have decided to double up on degrees
or take an intensive eight year course track (doctorate programs). Thankfully
this plan has yet to be put into action, and according to educationnews.org it
is being opposed by many.

What do all of these stories
have in common? They were set into action due to lack of funding in schools and
in students’ homes. While budget cuts and job losses have caused some schools
and even TV shows to step up to the plate they have also caused others to use
less favorable means in order to save money.

Classroom Writing Time: Remedial or Beneficial?

Many teachers have their students write during class time. However, how many teachers actually have their students go through the entire writing process for an assignment in class? This does not mean writing quick responses or responding to essay questions on tests. All the work that goes into writing can include research, outlining, writing several drafts, and asking for peer or teacher help. Do teachers and students even have time to do this in class? The answer seems to be that they should make time. After all, it is not about the quantity of work that is accomplished it is about the quality of work.
In his article “Writing in Public (in the Classroom),” Ryan Cordell discusses the importance of making time for what he calls “writing in public.” He lists several benefits for why students should work on writing during class time. He believes that the overall benefits far outweigh the time that is lost and the content not taught.