Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Bee and BW's

I'll write my cc essay this weekend when I have some energy. For now, let's look at the derivation of the word "bee" as in spelling or quilting. According to the Information Please Fact Finder:

The word "bee" has long been used to describe a busy gathering of people who come together for a special purpose, such as quilting, spinning, logging, or raising a barn. "Spelling bee" in particular is an American term that came into use by the 1870s.

Many think that this use of "bee" was inspired by the hard-working social insect of the same name. But some scholars believe it comes from the Middle English "bene," meaning a favor, which was sometimes used to describe neighbors helping out with a particular activity.

Seems like the word has a strong association with community. I like that. I like it very much. What prompted this ety-entomological turn was my just finishing a Powerpoint spelling bee for my BW classes tomorrow. I told my classes I'd put them in groups, and we'd play the college- level version, which I just invented an hour ago. Because the spelling (from Evergreen)focusses on look/alikes and sound/alikes, I needed to have a visual medium to show the questions-- hence Powerpoint, and hence a game that looks like a hybrid of Jeopardy! and a spelling bee.

My plan is that tomorrow we will have fun reviewing the chapter, and my bigger plan is that we will start looking at Powerpoints as a means for the students to create grammar projects for class.

I am part of a pre-pilot pilot this semester--using portfolios instead of an essay and a very old grammar test from Evergreen. One of things I am changing is the grammar component of the course. While I've always taught grammar in a way that had immediate application to what the students were writing, I'm moving a few steps beyond that, liberated as I am from having to teach all of the chapters of E for the final. Last week, we looked at the concept of person and number, this week we're looking at spelling, and next week, we'll be going more deeply into sentences. What I've wanted to do is to postpone teaching grammar until the students reached a point where they could see that they needed to brush up. In both sections, we've hit that point.

How does this relate to the writing and portfolio-ing in the class? My end -of-the semester goal is that they will be writing their own rubrics for their papers, which will contain two parts: One, the general assignment requirements, and two, their own list of things to go over--so, if Cindy the student needs to make sure that she doesn't fuse sentences, then that wil be on her rubric. If Jocalo can write a sentence but gets tangled up in apostrophes, then that's what he'll have on his rubric. One of the ways that each student will work out the tangles will be to create a Powerpoint presentation of about 5 slides.

When my students leave my class, I want for them to have improved as writers, and the way to get there is to teach them to be more aware of their writing and themselves as writers.

And the hardworking bee is the official symbol of Genoa, Italy, from where my grandmother's family emigrated, and there's no real point to this last sentence so ciao for now.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I believe the bee was also used as a symbol for Josephine in Napoleonic France.

That is a very interesting concept, having the students develop their own rubrics for grading. It gives them more responsibiliyt and control over their own writing, which contributes to the whole idea of the portfolio approach as a way for students to showcase their voices and have complete control over what they write, which I think is so important.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger jocalo said...

I agree that the strength of Rosa's approach is getting students to assess their own issues in language use and conventions and figure out a way to use their self-assessment in editing papers for presentation.

Early in my teaching career, when I taught the comma splice or the run-on sentence, I discovered that's exactly what I was doing. For as many students who figured out how to correct errors there were as many who started making errors. What happened was the latter group had an intuitive sense of how to write a sentence correctly, but when made self-conscious of "rules" they started second-guessing themselves. Since then, I don't "teach grammar" anywhere but my Introduction to Linguistics class.

I've also found that many students who present texts riddled with errors actually know the conventions, but just don't bother to apply them. So I work more on getting students committed to their writing, caring about their subject. When that's the case, they do a better job of editing. And Rosa's approach of having them tailor their rubric to their own needs puts the responsibility on each student writer, which is where it has to be.

Finally, jocalo will note that he rarely tangles apostrophes, but in the 5th grade he lost a spelling bee by overconfidently spelling a word "broCken". Funny the school moments you never forget.

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chris and Jocalo for your comments--the actual bee went off with a few hitches, one being a cautionary do not attempt to make a powerpoint beee while half-listening to the presidential debates. It's hard work ; ).

But, given that out of 13 slides, there were three with errors or weak questions, I think that it went off well. And, in the end, I asked my student groups to create their own contribution to the bee and email their question to me. Then, I'll put it on the slide show. My next project will be to post the template in our course folder and have each student contribute a slide to whatever concept I'm teaching.

The students enjoyed the game, and I think that next time, I'll make it twice as long and revise some of the rules.

Rosa G.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Sonja said...

I agree that asking students to take primary responsibility for their writing is what we should be about. And portfolio making does that to a large degree. I have been teaching with portfolios for years now, and could never go back. I find it liberates both the student and me, allowing us both to re-envision the work throughout the semester.

But I don't teach correctness. I know that BW students and also regular students need to brush up on some of that. I make a handbook selection at the beginning of the term, ask the students to buy it, give a few assignments out of it related to reading, writing, and/or researching. And then I refer students who really struggle with a particular issue to the book. If the next paper is not better, I take the time to meet with the student one-on-one. It makes sense, really, since teaching "Grammar" (when what we mean is correctness) has little transference into students' own writing unless the teaching is in context--and even then I have trouble seeing much difference until I walk the student through the mistake and correction F2F. ANd if I blanket-teach an issue like that, much like another comment states, students who were not making the error begin to.

I find that having students read one another's work for peer review of ideas and development, and then teaching students to make stylistic choices--to become better rhetors--actually helps to clear up much of the "correctness" problem, as well. When students are reading other essays for the rhetorical nature, they begin to become sensitive to the ways that mistakes and errors can interrupt the meaning making. And they also see why word choice and determined punctuation mean so much to me. They see the elements of a sentence, of a paragraph, of an essay really working together to create the argument.

And that's what I want to be about.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger clc said...

I tend to approach issues of correctness in the same way as Sonja, for the same reasons. There are very few error problems which plague a whole class, I find. ESL students have problems with verbs, but native speakers tend not to. Maybe three students in a class tend to write fragments. Another group have run-ons. The only error I usually can say *most* of the class makes is the comma splice, and I usually find that it stems from an honest belief on many of their parts that it is perfectly o.k. to separate independent clauses with commas. I address that issue with the whole group to clear up that bit of misinformation, but other than that, I tend to deal with error on an individual and in-context basis.

I know this makes me different from most of my colleagues at my campus, but I think it's the right thing to do.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

Sonja, could you write a bit more on the handbook that you select? Do you order it through the book store or wait to decide what you want as the semester begins? Which books have been most useful for you?

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