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The author takes a chance bringing a new form of writing to a middle school, a technique that is innovative but not commonplace, thus would give rise to much questioning, which may be an obstacle teacher's would face trying to implement this type of learning style. This learning approaches views all students as independent, thus in an environment where everything is "sterile" or "sterilized and standardized" this type of learning system may receive some objection. By and large however, once educators realize how significant the improvements are among students adopting this method, they are likely to become more compliant and willing to place more effort at implementing this type of program.
The baseline approach used by the researcher to measure improvement is the ability of students to write using their own thinking skills, so they can in theory, teach others about writing. This is difficult to do, because this learning approach is not one that emphasizes grades. In fact, the author clearly states that she believes the grading system can be detrimental, especially when teachers provide students with a grade but do not tell them what factors contributed to their grade, and what steps they can take to make their papers or other writing assignments more effective and efficient. This is the key to success according to the author, so implementation of this type of learning may require that teachers relearn the learning or teaching process by learning what exactly it is or what information they should be providing to students along with the "grade" a teacher may assign a student.
Early in the research the author notes how she was never "taught" how to write but rather given assignments which required that she investigate, document and report back on the findings of others. While some people may find nothing wrong with this premise, the author emphasizes that this approach does not encourage independent thinking, and therefore can't possibly work to improve the writing skills of the student. The only way to improve the writing skills of the student is to have them read but also write. When they write, they must not simply provide a "reiteration" of what it is they read, as this is useless and will not contribute to their learning.
Rather, students must learn to objectively analyze the information they read and then relate this information to their own life experiences and interpretations. This type of learning and teaching approach could easily be combined with other approaches including reciprocal learning, because it encourages the student and the teacher to make changes when they embark on a writing adventure. The author notes that writing about writing must include the writer's "beliefs, feelings, discoveries, opinions, or stories" (p.32).
The questions students must ask to achieve these goals include asking "what do I believe and why." This may be difficult for students that are accustomed to traditional methods of teaching, and have never been required in the past to think interpretively about their learning method or the thoughts they have while learning. This method may also prove challenging for teachers, because they will have to also think about the material they provide to students, and the reasons students provide information back to them. They must also determine whether the papers returned to them provide active insights about the learning materials reviewed. If they do not, the students are likely not learning, but rather reiterating what it is the author of the works they read have to say. Teachers must for example, consider their students, and ask, "Who are the students with whom I learn and teach, for whom I care and have a responsibility?" (p.33). These are deep and probing questions that suggest a students must learn to write not by reading and writing about others but by expressing one's own opinions of others.
The author's main premise is that it is critical that writers receive "constructive responses" when they hand in papers rather than just a grade; these responses according to Rief, must include questions posed that cause the author to think and revise their writing in a more complex manner, one that encourages cognitive thinking and cognitive responses. When evaluating writing, the teacher must understand and pass the understanding on to students that writing involves thinking, and on evaluating writing, the teacher will "highlight the strengths of process, content and conventions" and provide tools to enhance a student's weaknesses (p. 34). The problem with implementing a writing program using this creative approach is that many schools are standardized in the way they teach and the way they approach writing.
Thus, it may be difficult to pass administrators and prove that writing will improve based on this study or a combination of studies like this alone. Actual empirical analysis will have to take place that will allow educators to generalize the findings to students at large, especially at the high school level as this is the objective of this inquiry.
Also standing in the way at least according to Rief are tests and the lack of tools provided to students; meaning, today students have computers with spelling and grammar checking, so they never really learn the process of writing because their writing is automatically critiqued by the machines they use to facilitate writing. Testing says Rief, is a "scripted lesson mandated for all students by all teachers at the same time" which is the antithesis of the point Rief is trying to make, which is that students must be considered as individuals when evaluating their writing skills, thus scripted lessons serve no purpose (p.39).
Angelillo (2005) agrees with this sentiment, noting far too often testing gets in the way of learning. Tests that are "standardized" are particularly daunting to students that believe their writing skills are not up to par (p. 21). Others have also noticed this trend, and while they approve of the techniques offered by Rief, they also acknowledge that introduction of this method will be a process rather than an instantaneous change. Atwell (2002) suggests that it is critical that professionals and teachers take courses to improve their teaching and writing skills so they can enhance the learning of students in her work, Lessons That Change Writers.
In two other forms of writing, Smith, Rook, and Smith (2007) discuss effective and metacognitive writing strategies. In their published work, "Increasing Student Engagement Using Effective and Metacognitive Writing Strategies in Content Areas," the writers note school failure in high school is commonplace and is the result of conventional teaching methods. The researchers propose that cognitive, affective and metacognitive questioning strategies at the high school level will increase students "engagement and academic successes" (p.1). The baseline measurement used to prove the researchers findings include evaluation of "structured journal questions" that take place over a three-month period, where the researchers found that no benefit resulted from students answering "text-related questions only" when compared with students who responded to "metacognitive and affective questions" along with text-based questions were better able to retain the content learned "as evidenced by course grades at the end of the study" (p.2). This baseline measurement is powerful because it evaluates students grades which clearly show improvement when a metacognitive or affective component is added to conventional learning structures. One reason for this is that these types of components (metacognitive, affective) enhance student learning by encouraging them to think more, and create more personal connections to the work they are reading or working on. As they relate course material to their own experiences and lives they are more capable of retaining the information and material.
Rief (2003) in her work "100 Quickwriters: Fast and Effective Freewriting Exercises" notes a combination of writing about writing and affective components can dramatically increase learning and academic grades, confirming the research provided by Smith, Rook and Smith (2007). It is important to note that since the 1980s researchers have noted just how well creative techniques as those stated thus far have enhanced learning. Like Smith, Rook and Smith (2007) and Rief (2003) William Zinsser in his second edition of, on Writing Well (1980) noted that to write well students and individuals must learn to include a creative thought process to enhance learning, otherwise learning becomes tedious in nature and not interesting to the participants engaged in writing.
Zinsser is one of many of the earliest researchers to pay attention not to grades or to outcomes except when they were a reflection of the student's own opinions, ideas and the thought processes they used to come to a decision or conclusion when writing for self or when writing for the masses. One of the most important aspects of creative writing is that it is creative, and not just verbatim information gathered from others without interpretation.
O'Donnell and King (1999) discuss…[continue]
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