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Literacy Narrative

Literacy Narrative

Sarah Cash
A Literacy Narrative

Although I have no memory of the event, my Mother insists that I began to speak when I was three months old. As impossible as this seems, she maintains that it is true. I mention this fact to reveal the beginning of my literary journey and my love affair with words. I love words that are spoken, words that are written, words that are sung, and words that are thought. I love the way words work together to express my thoughts. I love the way some words feel in my mouth when I say them. I love the way words look when they are written on a page. I love the way pages are bound together to make a book. I love the way books feel in my hand before I open the first page. I love the way they smell. I love to open the first page of a book and wonder what each new page will hold and what new words it will reveal.

One of my earliest memories is of my Father’s library. Actually, it was a three car garage that he converted into an office with every wall covered, from floor to ceiling, with huge bookshelves. I remember going into his office and gazing up at the thousands of books, wondering if he had read them all, if anyone could have read them all. I began to wonder if I could read them all. Of course, I never did, but I searched the shelves everyday for a new book to take down and explore. I do not know if my life would have been different if I had not started reading voraciously when I was very young, but I do know that reading books from my Father’s library has influenced every aspect of my life, from my choices as a child to read rather than play, to my choices as an adult to study literature.

My grandmother died very recently, and a cousin, who I had not seen or spoken to in many years, came to her funeral. When he saw me, his first comment was: “Do you still read all the time?” We all laughed, but I thought that his comment was interesting. I read so much when I was young, that, even years later, I am still associated with reading. Reading has become a part of my character. Of course, I had to answer that I did still read all the time, though I was not as obsessed with Star Trek books as I used to be. I find I tended, when I was young, to read by becoming obsessed with a certain genre or author. I experienced my romance period, where all I read were romance novels; my mystery period, where all I read were Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie books; my science fiction period, where all I read were Star Trek books and books by Tolkien and Lewis ( I think that I still have several hundred Star Trek novels in a box somewhere); my sea phase where I was only interested in books about boats; my Dickens phase, my Russian phase; my Austen phase; and other phases that I can’t even remember. Even as an adult, though my reading has become more eclectic and varied, I still find that I get interested in a genre or author and like to focus my attention in one area at a time. Studying literature formally has helped to alleviate some of that tendency as I am forced to broaden my reading palate and compare literature from different authors and genres.

I think that my love of reading combined with a formal study of literature has helped me to become better informed about the world and culture I live in as well as the culture and history that has come before me. I think that reading has helped me to understand and appreciate how literature reflects culture and culture reflects literature. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said: “we read to know we are not alone.” Reading helps me to understand that I am not alone in the world, I am a part of a community and a history. Reading helps me to know that I am not alone in my thoughts and feelings, that others have thought and felt as I do. Reading helps me to know that voices from the past, telling the stories in the pages of a book, can transcend time and speak to people today and tomorrow. Through reading I can see through other’s points of view and appreciate the differences in all people.

Words and especially words in literature are and have been one of the most important influences in my life. I remember when I was a teenager and other girls were going out and talking about boys and clothes, I found myself walking down the street to the library and coming home with stacks of books. I locked myself in my room for hours every day and read. We did not have cable at our house and my parents were very strict about any movies we watched, so after dinner, when other kids were watching television, I went back to my room and read. Sometimes I think that I would have been better off had I not read so much when I was young because reading instead of socializing when I was a teenager has given me, in some ways, a sense of being detached from other people, but in other ways, I feel very connected to people through literature and language.

In the epilogue to War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy talks about the perception of a bee. He says that to a child who has been stung, a bee something to fear; to a poet, a bee is beautiful; to a bee-keeper, a bee is functional; and to a botanist, a bee is scientific. Tolstoy sees the bee as an example of the multiple purposes of a thing. I see Tolstoy’s bee as an example of the infinite perceptions of a thing. Of all the things I love about words and literature, the thing I love most is the ability of literature to help me see an infinite number of things from an infinite number of perspectives. Through literature, there is always a new way to look at the world.

Introduction and Reflection

Reflective Memo
An ePortfolio and Pedagogical Experience

Although my Teaching ePortfolio was originally constructed as part of a class assignment, it has become an ongoing resource that I intend to enhance and use throughout my teaching career. The e-portfolio is not only something that we, as students, can use to gather our information and resources together in a coherent, logical format; it is also something that we can continue to use as we teach rhetoric and composition at the college level. My ePortfolio has given me a creative avenue to collect and organize teaching strategies, classroom lesson plans, group activities, and a host of other important information.

The first section of my ePortfolio is titled “About,” and in this section, I have included professional and pertinent information about myself, including my biography and curriculum vitae. I included this information because I wanted those who visit my site to know who I am both professionally and personally, and I wanted any teachers or future teachers who may want to use my e-portfolio to have the opportunity to see my experience, education, and other qualifications as an instructor.

The next section of my portfolio is titled “Course Material,” and in this section I have included grading guides and rubrics, sample papers, sample syllabi, and unit plans. The “Course Material” section of my e-portfolio is designed to contain practical and useful information and actual lesson plans for the composition classroom. The section on grading guides includes samples of different grading guides and rubrics from different instructors. I included these grading guides so that teachers can compare other instructor’s rubrics and perhaps obtain new ideas to supplement their own grading concerns. Also, some of the grading guides were created to go with specific assignment sheets and lesson plans. Each grading guide can be matched with its lesson plan and assignment sheet through the category (literacy narrative, informative essay etc.), and the corresponding letter. In this way, the grading guides can be used either as supplementary material for a unit or can be combined with assignment sheets and unit plans to form a complete unit guide. In the “Course Material” section, I have also included sample papers from students in my own ENC 1101 composition class. These papers, which are used with permission from the students, include my own comments and grades so that teachers and other educators can see, not only the kind of papers that students produce using the different teaching units, but also my own grading and commenting process. In the syllabi section I have included several different syllabi created by myself and my classmates as part of our unit plans as well as a syllabus created by my mentor instructor. These syllabi adhere to departmental guidelines while also demonstrating the particular concerns and preferences of the students and instructors who created them. The final section under “Course Material,” is the section of unit plans. In this section I have included complete unit plans for teaching an ENC 1101 composition class. These unit plans were designed by me and my classmates as part of a group project. I have also included additional daily plans created by my mentor instructor. The plans in this section are divided into units based on the class essay requirements: literacy narrative, informative essay, classical argument, and timed writing. The units include a separate section devoted to assignment sheets. In this section, instructors can view different assignment sheets designed for each essay requirement. Each requirement section includes several different assignment sheets so that instructors can compare and choose the assignment that best suits their needs. Each assignment sheet also corresponds, using the essay titles and corresponding letters, to a lesson plan. The lesson plan section, which is also divided into sections based on the essay requirements, includes daily lesson plans and class activities, homework assignments and student and instructor reading, unit and daily goals, and grading criteria designed for each specific unit. My hope is that instructors, including myself, will be able to use these lesson plans to help facilitate an active composition classroom experience. The plans are detailed, but also flexible enough to offer instructors a complete plan with the option of altering or changing different aspects to suit their own classroom needs and preferences.

I have recently included a new section in my ePortfolio titled “Essays.” In this section, I have included links to different essays and articles that teachers can consider assigning for supplementary student reading during the semester. Closely related to the “Essays” section is the section titled “Resources,” and in this section I have included links to different resources where teachers and other educators can find useful information on teaching rhetoric and composition. These resources include journal articles, writing center links, and different educational databases on a variety of topics. These links and articles have become important resources for me as I further my education and understanding of teaching rhetoric and composition at the college level.

The final section of my ePortfolio, titled “Teaching Reference Notes,” includes my notes on the different theories and strategies from my own pedagogical reading and experiences in the classroom. In this section, I include notes and observations on a variety of topics including: ESL writers, classroom management, grading and commenting, kinds of writing, open and closed forms, peer writing groups, reading difficult texts, research and plagiarism, revision, student conferences, teaching style, and technology in the classroom. This section also includes a small section with different classroom activities for peer groups and discussion classes. Although most of the activities in my ePortfolio are embedded in the lesson plans, these activities are supplementary activities that can be used anywhere in the composition unit. I created the “Teaching Reference Notes” portion of my portfolio to demonstrate and discuss different philosophies and theories of teaching rhetoric and composition in the classroom, and offer teachers practical information for use in the classroom. The teaching strategies that I highlight in the “Teaching Reference Notes” section of my ePortfolio are designed to help the instructor implement an active classroom where the students learn through discussion and group workshops in collaboration with their instructor and their peers. Through these teaching guides, the composition instructor takes on many roles in the classroom, guiding the students and creating a learning atmosphere that promotes the best possible student experience and helps every student reach their potential as a writer.

The section in “Teaching Reference Notes” on grading and commenting on student papers is, for me, one of the most useful and surprising sections. Coming into my first composition pedagogy experience, I had never graded and commented on student papers. Before I attended classes and read about grading and commenting, I thought of grading and commenting on student’s papers more as an exercise in editing. I imaged myself, red pen in h and, marking grammatical mistakes and circling awkward sentences. As I attended class and read different philosophies of grading, however, I came to understand that grading with, as Dr. Harrison our pedagogy instructor terms, a “teacherly” hat is often not effective and can hinder the student’s writing more than it helps. Through our classes and reading we, as instructors, learned to read and experience student writing as “readers,” and though, there is, of course, a place for correcting student work, we, as teachers, should not read student papers like editors, looking and marking every little mistake. We also learned that students need to correct higher order issues like theme and organization before they can look at lower order issues like grammar and style. If we, as instructors, help the students look for and correct higher-order issues in their work, the lower order issues will often take care of themselves.

In conjunction with grading and commenting, having student conferences is another way that we, as instructors, can help facilitate student learning and create an active, productive learning environment. Having student conferences helps the instructor learn about, not only the student’s topic and potential problems, but also their writing process. In conferences, the instructor can get to know their students and their student’s writing on a professional, but more intimate level. The students also feel that their instructor knows them and cares about their work. Through my own reading and actual experience with student conferences, I found that most students are grateful and excited to have the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns with their instructor and receive pertinent and helpful feedback in return. Grading and Conferences are just two of the sections that I have included in the “Teaching Reference Notes” section of my ePortfolio and I think that all of the sections have a lot of interesting and useful information for composition classroom instructors.

One additional aspect of my e-portfolio is my literacy narrative. This narrative comes from a class assignment where the pedagogy students, as instructors and potential instructors, put ourselves in the position of first year composition students and completed one of the student assignments, in this case, the literacy narrative. I had never written a literacy narrative before, and, though I did not find it difficult, it was a new experience. As a literature major, I generally write more academic papers and I rarely have the opportunity to write creatively about myself. Through this narrative and other activities and discussions in our classroom, I had to opportunity to think critically about my own writing process. Since one of the main aspects of teaching composition is helping the student’s understand and improve their own writing process, I think that looking at and refining my own process was an important step in my pedagogical training. Through this process, I began to understand that though I often have difficulty with invention, I can use many different strategies and exercises to help me develop topic ideas. Once I began to use these different strategies, like writing short exploratory essays, journal writing, brainstorming, clustering, and freewriting, I found myself better able to help students use these same techniques to find and explore their own topics. I also discovered that I have a very organized writing process, and begin by doing a lot of back ground research before developing my outlines and organizing my papers. Though I tend to be organized, I also discovered that I often change my thesis several times during the course of my writing project and that my introduction also goes through several drastic revisions. Using this understanding, I can better help students understand that writing is a process that can and should be revised. Thesis statements, while important, should not be rigid and unchangeable, and will often grow and develop as the paper progresses. Writing is also never finished. Through my writing process, I understand that my work is never completely done, and there is always room for revision. Revision has always been an important part of my writing process, and I would like students to understand that they should revise their papers again and again.

Overall, I found that creating this e-portfolio has been a time-consuming, but rewarding experience. I know that I plan to use the information and resources available on and through this portfolio to help me as I continue to learn and eventually instruct my own composition class. I also hope that other students, teachers, and instructors will be able to use my portfolio to further their own education and find useful tools, ideas, and activities to use in their own classrooms.

Reflection Addendum

Since writing the above reflection, I have added several interesting and significant sections to my e-portfolio. The most extensive additions can be found in the section titled: Course Material. I have created two new pages under this title – Quizzes and Reflection and Assessment. The section on Quizzes includes 8 excellent quizzes that were created by Patricia Warman for an ENC 1102 classroom. However, since they are based on the chapter readings in the Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing, they can be used for any classroom that uses this text book. In our class, we used the quizzes as an online supplement to the assigned reading. The section called Reflection and Assessment is a page that has several links to potential questions and reflection letters for composition students. These questions can be used for midterm or final classroom assessment as well as essay refection.

In addition to the two new sections in Course Material, I also included new syllabi for ENC 1102 classrooms, and several grading guides and assignment sheets for the ENC 1102 required essays: Rhetorical Analysis, Exploratory Essay, and Proposing a Solution Essay. I also included lessons plans for these three essays with different daily activity suggestions and different readings and other materials.

The Essay section of this e-portfolio, which contains supplementary readings for students, has been updated to include several new readings for ENC 1102 classrooms, including samples to help students understand the rhetorical analysis, exploratory and proposing a solution genres.

In the Resources section of this e-portfolio, you will find new links to additional resources for instructors, including a very useful double entry research journal designed by several FIU composition instructors. This journal is based on the double entry observation journal, and it can be used to help students organize and understand both their research process and the research itself. The journal not only helps students organize their research, it also forces the students think critically about their sources.

I hope that anyone who reads or uses this e-portfolio will find these new additions both interesting and helpful in the composition classroom.

Teaching Reflection

Reflection on Teaching ENC 1101

Today I taught an ENC 1101 class for the first time. I must admit that I was surprised at how nervous I was. I prepared the lesson plan a week earlier, and I thought that, since I had a lesson plan, I would not be nervous. Last night, however, I began to think of all the things that could go wrong, even with a plan. What if the computer didn’t work and I couldn’t display the class prompts? What if the class did not complete their homework assignments and no one bought drafts to work on in class? What if everyone left early for Thanksgiving and the class was empty? What if my workshops were boring and the students just sat there with nothing to discuss? I had a terrible time getting to sleep because I kept picturing myself, standing in front of an empty classroom with one lone student who was sitting in the middle of the classroom without an essay or anyone to work with.

Of course, none of these things actually happened, but, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before reflecting on my actual teaching experience, I am going to talk about the foundation of my class, my lesson plan. Earlier in the semester, I spoke with my instructor, Nick, and we decided that I would teach one of the classes on revision. The week before the revision classes, Nick e-mailed me and asked if I could coordinate with the other TAs, and discuss the areas that we felt the student’s needed to work on in their literacy narratives and informative essays. After I e-mailed Nick back with the results of our discussion, he asked if I could put together a two-class lesson plan based on our observations and conclusions. I drafted the two plans and sent them to Nick, who sent me suggestions and concerns about some of my ideas. I spent some time thinking about the plans and then I revised them based on Nick’s suggestions. This time, he felt that they looked good enough to use in the classroom. As I mentioned before, since I had instructor approved lesson plans, I thought that I would feel confident as I taught the class for the first time. I think that I was a lot more confident than I would have been without a good lesson plan, but I was still nervous. I got to the class early, so that I could hook up my laptop and pull up what I needed on Moodle and Word. Unfortunately, the professor in the class that meets before ours stayed in the classroom, talking and working long after his class was dismissed, and I had to wait outside the room for a while before I could go in. This had the effect of making me more nervous, but eventually I got into the classroom and prepared my computer. Once my computer was hooked up and my material was ready to go and projected on the screen, I must admit that I felt better.

As class started, I began by talking to the students about their upcoming Thanksgiving break. This seemed to break the ice, and got the class laughing. Once this happened, I launched into a brief discussion about the importance of using the assignment sheet when revising. One of the things that we noticed in the student essays is that, even when they wrote the first couple drafts, many of the students were not looking carefully at the writing prompts and so many essays received lower grades because they didn’t fulfill the assignment. I asked the class if anyone could tell me why the assignment sheet was important when revising an essay, and several students did raise their hands. I wouldn’t say that we had a particularly lively discussion, there is only so much to say about using prompts when revising, but the students were engaged in the process. Most of the class, however, was not discussion based, and we very quickly moved into groups to begin the workshops. The students brought in copies of their literacy narrative, and, using several different prompts, spent the class revising both individually, and in peer groups. I projected the prompts on the overhead screen, and before each activity, I made sure to explain each prompt and ask the class if they had any questions. While the student’s worked, either individually or in discussion groups, I walked around the room, making sure that the groups stayed on task and answering any questions. Overall, I think that the lesson worked well. The students seemed engaged and interested in the activities. My only concern was that, though I tried to time each activity and watch the groups to make sure everyone had an opportunity to finish and share before moving on to the next activity, several of the groups still finished early and began talking about other things. After class, when Nick and I met to discuss my teaching, we talked about the problem. Nick felt that I timed the workshops well and kept the class moving at a good pace, but, no matter how well activities are timed, some groups will always finish before others. Nick also felt that, overall, the class went well. He made several suggestions including the possibility of saving the assignment sheet discussion for the end of class and having the class make up a revision plan based on the prompts. I felt that this was a good suggestion, and, if I teach this class again, I will try to adjust the order of activities to make room for a small final journal activity so that the students can make a revision plan.

Overall, I feel good about my first teaching experience, and I am looking forward to my next teaching opportunity. I think that, next time, I will probably be a little less nervous, although, I’m sure that it will take at least a full semester of teaching to make the fear entirely go away.