Ashley Beeman's Reflection

When I first decided to take on the challenge of the Sam Houston Writing Project, I honestly didn’t have any idea what it consisted of. I had heard of The National Writing Project, and I knew the Sam Houston Writing Project was affiliated with it, but even after reading about it on the website I still didn’t fully understand what it was about. It was at the end of the first week of the project that I truly began to understand what the purpose of this project was: to teach kids how to write like a professional in a discipline, not just how to write in order to pass a standardized test. Although the concept of teaching writing this way intrigued me, I was overwhelmed when I first read the syllabus. This seemed like such a daunting task and I did not know if I was up for that challenge, especially since I was just beginning my summer vacation. Not only did the project scare me because it seemed like so much work, but it was also completely online. I had never taken an online course prior to this and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

 After the second online seminar, I felt a little more comfortable about the project. I began to understand that we weren’t just teaching students how to write like one certain professional in a field of study, but we were teaching them the skills they would need once they left school. By taking them through the process of reading anchor texts, analyzing the characteristics and then having them emulate that style of writing, we were teaching them how to write in different ways. They would now have this process and these skills to use on their own if they ever faced a writing task when they didn’t have a teacher there to give them the format. This forced them to ask questions about the writing and the content. They learned to look at writing from the viewpoint of a writer, not just someone who is reading the text to gain information about a topic. This is a skill I wish, as a student in middle school or even high school, that I had been taught. College writing would have been so much easier if I had been taught how to look at other text in order to write in a certain way.

For my unit of study, I chose an expository problem and solution genre. As a 7th grade writing teacher, my curriculum focuses mainly on expository and personal narrative writing due to the STAAR test. When I chose an expository genre I knew that there were many types expository writing and it would be difficult to focus on all of them in one unit of study. I narrowed it down to problem and solution because that is one of types of expository writing that my students struggled with last year. I wanted them to have a creative way of answering the same prompts they always see. I wanted them to see that these are types of writing that journalist use every day in the real world.

While reading the anchor texts, I noticed that most of the articles used many short paragraphs compared to the three that I previously told my students to use. There was also many short sentences and sentences that began with conjunctions. These are all things I have taught my students not to do, but I realized that this would be a good lesson to show students that every writer’s style is different. We don’t all follow one format and set of rules. The articles also used quotes from people who are relevant to the topic being discussed.  In my individual piece I chose to write in short paragraphs, use conjunctions at the beginning of sentences and used several quotes from a parent and from well-known people. This format was a struggle for me because it went against everything I had ever been taught about the structure of writing.

I think struggling with this project was a good thing for me and for my students. It allowed me to feel what my students feel when they are trying something new. I will be able to predict when the students might be struggling because I had to go through the same process they will be going through. I think this project will be a challenge for my students, but I think they will benefit from it. I feel my struggling and reluctant writers will be more willing attempt this writing because they can put their own style in it. It isn’t formulaic and they will have more freedom with it. This will help them enjoy writing and learn to look at what they read in a different light.