Andrew B. Watt's Essay Encouragement

Writing Essays

One of the teachers I seem to visit with the most regularity doesn’t work at my school. He doesn’t even live in Vancouver, or British Columbia, or Canada. But I read about what goes on in Mr. Watt’s classroom through his blog – which I have mentioned thinking quite highly of elsewhere in these pages – and appreciate the parallels that often crop up between our two classrooms, even though they’re on opposite seaboards.

One such parallel arose this week, as each of our classes were working on historical essays in class. And while I may not have experienced the same angst expressed by Mr. Watt on this occasion, I still thought it would be valuable to ride his coattails in presenting this slideshow he made to help his students with historical writings.

And while my class is now benefiting from Mr. Watt’s help, I implore them – via their blogs – to help right a wrong he wrote about here. In posing the question “What’s wrong with the Edublogosphere?” Andrew replies as follows:

I think the biggest difficulty is that there are no prominent student bloggers writing about education, of which I’m aware.  There isn’t a vast crowd of students telling us what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, or even if we’re going in the right direction.

If someone has some student writers, who write about their educational experiences, to recommend — please pass them my way.

For that matter, I think it’s important that we start encouraging our students to look at, and respond, to some of the big names in educational blogging, so that we begin to get a sense of who really is on the right track to understanding what “the kids these days” are all about.

Of late I have been thinking about the possibilities of truly open-learning. Inspired by the likes of Andrew, and people like Alec Couros, Dean Shareski, Ira Socol and Shelly Blake Plock – each of whom have been involved in broadening the reach and breadth of our classroom, and directly or indirectly helped TALONS learners explore and expand on their individual learning experiences – I am always on the lookout for opportunities for the class to engage in a more global conversation about their education.

And now they speak to Dean’s audiences, and Shelly’s students, and are read by teachers in China, and on each of the continents. They write about music, and history, and running, and the Olympics (and the Olympics, and the Olympics, and the Olympics and the Olympics), and they continue to define themselves in conversation with those in their local, as well as global community. The people from outside the classroom who find their work and thoughts are each at different times teachers; and likewise do many of the TALONS no doubt become teachers, mentors, and sources of light for others immediate and afar.

So I am proposing to the TALONS class that you answer Mr. Watt’s call to become those Prominent Student Bloggers, to engage with voices in the Educational Blogosphere like those listed above – but also Will Richardson, Karl Fisch, David Warlick and others – and help shape the direction of education as you are experiencing it. In countless conversations in our Coquitlam classroom, your input is the strongest aid in developing an approach to not only your individual, but your collective learning, and I don’t see how this shouldn’t be the case on a much larger, and more effective scale that is becoming available to us.

After all, if Mr. Watt is going to be your teacher (for instance, he has a bevy of essay-resource materials available online), he may as well have the benefit of you being his.

Novel Study Blog Post Topics

Prayers for the Dead - Dennis VannattaAs the TALONS class sets out on a novel study that will see them reading a range of five different novels in small groups, much of their “work” in flushing out the themes, symbols and technical aspects of the stories will be happening on their blogs, a process I am not alone in harbouring excitement to begin. In a class of voracious readers, with several leaders in not only the study and criticism of literature, but also the appreciation, and honouring of it, I mentioned on Twitter yesterday that I felt a little like Santa Clause yesterday handing out copies of the novels the class had chosen from the predetermined short list. And today, on a sunny afternoon, late into the first week of local Olympic hysteria, as we sat down to begin an hour of Sustained Silent Reading – or Writing, but more on that in a minute – the group quickly fell into rapt meditation over their selected books; a few put finishing touches on blog posts introducing their stories, but for the most part, all was quiet, as the enjoyment of literature is meant to be.

To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by. Yann Martel What is Stephen Harper Reading?

stillnessDuring class for the next few weeks, we will be using our study of literature in the form of novels to cultivate this stillness so difficult to attain in our modern surroundings. As someone who spent my most illuminating college years locked in dorm, apartment or rented rooms with books, blank pages and music, but who has since succumbed to becoming the doting father of both a laptop and iPhone which are all but constant appendages in my working life, I know that at least some of my job as an instructor and mentor of English literature and writing – indeed, the reflection upon the very aspects of life which demand stillness to be appreciated – depends on creating opportunities for my modern students to enjoy silence, stillness, and the sounds and creations of their imaginations.

To this end, the class will set aside ample time – an hour and ten minutes this afternoon – wherein the class will be silent, still. As a means of progressing in their novel studies, students are asked to work quietly, and individually, toward a better understanding of their selected novel, whether in silent reading or writing as reflection or creative product. A novel is a personal experience, and with the following reflective writing prompts, I hope to share in my students’ struggle and enjoyment of reading over the next few weeks.The home office

I am asking that students blog regularly, trying to bear in mind Wesley Fryer’s recent advice (as well as this superb resource composed of Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Become a Better Blogger posts), and help to foster depth and discussion of their peers’ novels through avid commenting and discussion online, and during classes set aside for oral dissections and Book Talks with their peers (though stillness is one of my aims, I hope to not sacrifice the fervor and glee that accompanies the traditional TALONS literary arguments and informal debates). To this end I have proposed the following possible prompts for blog posts:

  • My Choice is… – Which novel have you chosen? Why? How do you hope for its reading to affect your study of English? See Andrea, Katie, Julie, or Donya’s examples.  
  • Passage Reflection – Take a passage from the text and supply as block quotation at the top of a post. Outline and explain the significance of the quote in terms of its relation to elements of the novel’s character, plot or theme development, as well as your personal connection to the piece. Clare asks a great question in hers (and shares a wonderful passage from another book here), and I particularly appreciate this lengthy passage very clearly articulated by Andrew.
  • Theme Synopsis – In developing your personal response to the novel’s theme, formulating ‘guesses’ at the author’s intended themes, symbols and underlying messages is an effective way to construct your own interpretation. Beginning this process early in your reading can be an effective means of noticing, and interpreting subtle details throughout the novel. Outline and support one (or many) theme statement(s) with your own personal reasoning supported by details and contextual evidence from the story. Nick, Andrew, and Katie have great theme posts already.
  • Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict or Point of View Analysis – Reflect upon one (or more) of these technical aspects of the author’s craft by utilizing the terminology applied to each of these major elements to summarize the unique choices and presentation used by the author. Check out Justin’s look at Atticus Finch, Louise’s description of Ishmael, or Jenna’s description of Little Brother’s Marcus.
  • Reflection on the Author’s Style Prose Language – There are as many ways to write as there are people using a given language, and as we delve into the works of traditional and contemporary masters of the written voice, I will be curious to hear your reactions and responses to the use and manipulation of language employed by your author. Veronica starts things off with a look at some of the NewSpeak in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.
  • Connection to Other Readers, Bloggers – Within and beyond our class are many various opinions, reviews and interpretations of the books we are reading, reading in general, or the craft of the novel and technical aspects of each story’s composition. Use this post as an opportunity to write a response, critique, or continuation of someone else’s thinking, and be sure to link back to their work!